Classical Greek Mythology

Origins of the Greek Gods

What are the origins of the Olympian deities?

Most of the Olympians are listed in the Linear B tablets of Crete and Mycenae, indicating existence at least from the eighth century B.C.E. Several of the Olympians likely have origins in cultures that preceded Greek or Minoan culture. The Hurrian-Hittite civilizations of Anatolia dating from as early as the third millennium B.C.E. told a war-in-heaven story that in many ways parallels the war-in-heaven story told by Hesiod. In the Hurrian myth the head god Alulu was defeated by Anu (Sky) and was exiled to the Underworld. Alulu’s son Kumarbi then fought Anu and cut off his genitals. Kumarbi himself had a son, Tessup, who defeated his father and became the dominant deity, a storm god of the thunderbolt, like Zeus. Was this story passed down over the centuries and eventually used by Hesiod in the tale of the Uranos (Sky), Kronos, and Zeus successions, or are both stories simply examples of immortals acting out the eternal struggle among animals—including humans, if we believe Freud—between fathers and sons for dominance?

Several deities, such as, for example, Aphrodite, Artemis, Demeter, and Dionysos, have ambiguous origins.


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