Four Greek Deities You Might Not Know
You have heard the stories of the great gods of Olympius and their closest relations, but how well do you know the lesser-known gods and goddesses of Greek mythology?
When Greek mythology is retold, the twelve major gods of Mount Olympus are typically the most prominent characters. Other major figures include many of their children, lovers, and allies.
The Greeks had hundreds of gods and goddesses, however. Many of these Greek deities are known only for their name and function but have no set mythology of their own.
Some have rich stories and important roles, though. Although they were not the most widely-worshipped Greek deities or the ones best remembered today, they featured in famous legends and served valued roles.
Clymene was one of the Oceanids, daughters of the Titans Oceanus and Tethys. These elder sea nymphs often had prominent roles in Greek mythology.
While she did not play a prominent role in the legend of the Titanomachy, her famous sons did. Clymene was the mother of Prometheus, Atlas, and their brothers.
They were Titans because she was the wife of one of the elder Titans. Iapetos was a brother of Cronus and one of the twelve original Titan gods.
Although Iapetos and Atlas sided with Cronus in the war, Clymene seems to have joined her son as an ally of the Olympian gods. She was so close with them that she is often shown in art as a handmaiden of Hera.
In some cases, she is even shown prominently in important scenes of Greek mythology, even if she is not directly mentioned in surviving accounts. In many portrayals, for example, she serves Hera during the Judgement of Paris.
Clymene was also the name of a nymph who was a lover of the sun god Helios. While many people believe that this is simply a shared name, some believe this may be the same character because at least one source gives her the same family background.
Clymene’s impact, however, is not based on her role as a mother, wife, or lover.
An alternative name often given for her is Asia. She was made the patron goddess of Asia Minor and today the largest continent on Earth is still named for her.
One of the most enigmatic Greek deities is Dione.
Sources vary as to what type of goddess she was. Some claimed that she was a Titaness, others said she was a nymph, and some named her among the three thousand Oceanids.
She is most often called a Titaness, despite not usually being listed among them, based largely on her association with oracles. Like other Titan goddesses including Phoebe, Mnemosyne, and Themis, she was associated with a great oracular site.
Dione was specifically the goddess of the temple of Dodona, which was dedicated to Zeus. There, she also had a somewhat unique myth that connected her more closely with the king of the gods.
According to the worshipers at Dodona, Dione and Zeus were the parents of Aphrodite. While most Greek legends said that she was born from the sea, Dione was named as her mother by a devout cult following.
Linguists also have reason to connect Dione to the king of the gods.
Like Zeus, Dione’s name comes from the root word dios. This Indo-European word gave many cultures their word for “god.”
Some historians believe that, if Dione is the “Goddess” that is paired with Zeus as “God,” she was the original partner of the chief deity in an early religious tradition. This lived on only in select areas of Greece, but was at one time more prevalent than the story of his marriage to Hera.
This appears to be a trend in many European religions. The Irish Danu, for example, is a similar ancient mother goddess with the same linguistic origin who was largely forgotten over time.
Asclepius is remembered as the god of medicine, but Paeon served a more specific role in healing.
In the writings of Homer, Paeon was the physician to the gods. Appearing in the Iliad, his skills were not used to heal any of the mortal heroes in the story.
When Ares was wounded on the battlefield, Hera immediately had him taken back to Olympus for care. There, Zeus called for Paeon to dress his wounds and administer medicine.
Paeon attended to Hades, as well. After being shot by one of Heracles’s arrows, the god of the dead made a rare trip out of his realm to seek the healing herbs of Paeon.
Homer specified that the treatments offered by Paeon were different than those that would help mortal men. Both Ares and Hades, he pointed out, were made differently than humans and needed a different treatment.
While Paeon was specifically the healer of the gods, he was later absorbed into the figure of Asclepius. His name, which translated as “Healer,” was used as an epithet for the patron of mortal doctors.
Apollo, too, was sometimes called Paeon for his skill in healing. He does not appear to be the same god referenced in the Iliad, however.
Ultimately, historians are torn on whether Paeon was a separate god who existed just to treat the Greek deities or whether he was always an aspect of another god with healing powers.
Many sea nymphs were the daughters of ancient water gods. Leucothea had a much different origin.
According to legend, she was once a princess called Ino. Her parents were Harmonia, the daughter of Aphrodite and Ares, and King Cadmus of Thebes.
Ino became the second wife of King Athamas, who abandoned the cloud nymph Nephele to marry her. Ino’s jealousy toward her stepchildren almost led to her having them murdered, but Nephele and the golden ram saved the young prince and princess.
After this, Ino settled into a calmer life as a queen and new mother. This peaceful existence would not last, however.
After the death of her sister Semele, Zeus asked Ino and her husband to foster her newborn nephew. Ino earned the wrath of Hera by agreeing to take in the infant Dionysus.
In revenge, Hera drove King Athamas mad. He went into a violent frenzy and killed his oldest child.
Ino was horrified and quickly grabbed her younger son. With nowhere to run, she leapt off a cliff and into the sea rather than be murdered by her husband.
In other versions of the story, Ino was driven mad as well. Instead of saving her younger son, she boiled him alive before throwing herself off a cliff with his dead body.
Although Ino had committed crimes in her life, the sea gods took pity on her plight. They made her into a sea goddess and renamed her Leucothea, “The White Goddess.”
Her young son was also spared by the Greek deities of the sea. He became Palaemon, a child god who accompanied his mother.
Because Leucothea had been saved from drowning, she spared others from the same fate. She appeared to sailors who had fallen overboard or been caught in shipwrecks to guide them to dry land, often with the aid of helpful dolphins.
In her most well-known appearance, Leucothea rescued Odysseus in this way after his raft was wrecked by Poseidon. Following her guidance and wrapped in her shawl, he was carried on the waves for two days to the safety of Phaeacia.
The Lesser-Known Greek Deities
Dozens of Greek deities had roles in well-known stories but are not widely-remembered today. While many daimones had few defining characteristics outside of their functions, some gods and goddesses were interesting figures who are not as well-known as many of their peers.
Clymene, for example, was one of the most prominent Oceanids. She was the wife of one of the Titans and the mother of Atlas and Prometheus.
In art, she was often featured as Hera’s handmaiden. Her most lasting legacy, however, is that her alternate name was given to the continent of Asia.
Dione was an even more enigmatic figure. According to the traditions of one of Zeus’s major temples, she and the king of the gods were the parents of Aphrodite.
Her name comes from the root word for “god,” just as Zeus’s does. Many historians believe that Dione was the female counterpart of Zeus and the queen of the gods in an older, largely forgotten tradition.
Paeon was the healer of the gods. In the Iliad he treated both Ares and Hades, seeming to specialize in caring for the needs of the Greek deities.
He was later absorbed into the character of Asclepius, the god of medicine. The Iliad seems to show, however, the that gods once had their medical needs met by a specialist.
Leucothea, “The White Goddess,” was born as Princess Ino of Thebes. As a sister of Semele, she and her husband were asked to foster the newborn Dionysus.
This drew the wrath of Hera, who drove Ino’s husband into a murderous rage. She threw herself from a cliff to escape and the sea gods made her one of them, a goddess who helped shipwrecked sailors find their way to safety.