The influences of ancient Greece on European civilizations are innumerable. From art and architecture to politics and philosophy, much of the foundation of the modern world were laid in ancient Greece. It is for this reason that their language and mythology finds a plentiful reference in the modern world, from Corinthian columns at Capitol Hill to the names of celestial bodies.
Nearly all of us are familiar with a handful of Greek gods, but Greek Mythology was diverse, malleable, and even contentious. Because of this, there are a handful of Greek deities that few in the modern world have ever heard of.
Morpheus, God of Dreams
Son of Hypnos, the God of Sleep, and Pasithea, the Goddess of Rest, Morpheus is the winged God of Dreams. Morpheus lived with Pasithea and Hypnos in the Dream World of Morpheus amidst the River of Forgetfulness and the River of Oblivion, but he ventured into the homes of mortals to hold them in his arms and shape their dreams. While making these journeys, Morpheus would take on many forms, but his goal was uniform. As a messenger of Gods, Morpheus shaped dreams that imparted divine will and premonition. During his own time of rest, Morpheus slept in a field of poppies, and it is hypothesized that it is from this that the etymology of “morphine” is derived.
Demeter, Goddess of Agriculture
Demeter was the daughter of the pre-Hellenic gods Cronus and Rhea. She is neither mentioned by Homer nor counted among the Olympian gods, which is surprising given her role in mythology. Demeter was Persephone’s mother and the Goddess of Agriculture, or more broadly of earth. When Hades kidnapped Persephone, Demeter, in distress, abandoned her duty, and famine spread throughout the mortal world. Hermes ventured to the underworld to free Persephone, to which Hades conceded, but before letting her go, he offered her a pomegranate. After eating the pomegranate, Persephone was cursed to return to the underworld once a year, during which time Demeter once again forgets her duties. Thus came about winter.
The Horae, Goddesses of Weather
Homer portrays the Horae as the Olympian divinities of the weather that guard the doors of Olympus. They are regarded as kind and benevolent in their deliverance of the seasons to man, but they are subordinate to Zeus, who commands the clouds. The shift of seasons is embodied in the dance of the Horae, though there is not a one-to-one relationship between the Horae and the seasons. In Athens, two Hora were worshipped, Thallo and Carpo. Ancient sources also point toward two gods, but various writers have described three.
The Kharites, Goddesses of Charm & Beauty
The Kharites, or Charises or “Graces,” were minor goddesses of less than minor phenomena:
- Human Creativity
Their parentage and numbers vary by source, said by different writers to be children of Zeus and Eurynome, Dionysus and Aphrodite, as well as Helios and the naiad Aegle, whereas their numbers varied from three to five. In other writings, younger Charis presided over play, amusement, banquets and various pleasures. Their depictions are usually as nude young women. The Charis were immortal but not counted among the Olympic gods and are, therefore, usually depicted in the sanctuaries of other gods. However, they did have their own temples and cults around their worship in Sparta and Elis.
Beyond Mount Olympus
Needless to say, the list grows ever longer with mythic creatures, immortals, and lesser gods. The nature of Greek city-states precluded the type of uniformity in theological tradition that the world later experienced under the Abrahamic religions. Even then, however, interpretations and schisms would find themselves plentiful across the pages of history. In our efforts to transcend the mundane and explain the wonders of life, mankind finds itself steeped in long histories of ever-deepening examinations of our religious, philosophical, and mythological foundations.