Why Are Greek Gods So Muscular?


When people see statues and paintings of Greek gods, the gods are often extremely muscular, almost like bodybuilders. Since Greek gods are part of mythology, it’s likely that no one ever actually saw one, so why did people simply assume they were so muscular and toned?

Greek gods are muscular and attractive because they were an idealized version of the human race. Greeks didn’t see their gods as perfect; however, they did think of them as being superior to humankind in many ways. The Greeks also attributed muscles with strength, and the gods were very powerful.

The rest of this article will outline why statues and paintings of Greek gods often had lots of muscles, which gods were most often seen with muscles, and much more.

Also see Why Are Greek Gods No Longer Worshipped? to learn more.

Greek god Hercules
Which Greek god was the strongest? See below (Image: Hercules)

Which Greek Gods Are Depicted with Lots of Muscles?

There have been countless depictions of the Greek gods through the centuries. Many of the paintings and statues of them that exist today come from the period when these gods were actually believed in and worshiped. 

However, people didn’t stop painting, sculpting, writing about, and even making movies about the Greek gods once they stopped believing in them. New images and stories are coming out about the gods even now, as evidenced by Rick Riordan’s popular Olympians series and 2010’s Clash of the Titans

As such, there have been numerous and widely varying depictions of Greek gods over the years. Not all of those depictions have the gods looking the same. Still, there are a few gods who almost always have large muscles or at least lean, sculpted, strong bodies. 

The brothers Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades are almost always portrayed with sleek, muscular bodies. Ares, the god of war, and Hermes, the messenger of the gods, are also fit and athletic, befitting their stations. Additionally, Atlas, the titan god who holds the world on his shoulders, is very muscular. 

It isn’t just the male gods who are represented with favorable, strong bodies, either. The goddess of war, Athena, often has defined arm and thigh muscles in her depictions, as does Artemis, the virgin goddess of the hunt. 

Many of the Greek demigods and heroes also have muscular bodies. The most notable of these include: 

  • Heracles (Hercules)
  • Achilles
  • Perseus
  • Theseus
  • Chiron
  • Ajax
  • Hector
  • Jason

Also see Why Are Greek Gods Flawed? to learn more.

muscular Greek god Hercules
Did the ancient Greeks value physical fitness? See below

Which Greek God Was the Strongest?

Without careful consideration, the question of which Greek god is the strongest seems obvious. 

Most people would agree that Zeus, as the supreme god and “king” of the other gods, is the strongest god. [1] However, an argument could also be made in favor of the titan Atlas. After the war between the Olympians and Titans, his punishment was to hold the whole world on his shoulders forever.

That takes an immense amount of strength, possibly even more than Zeus has, at least in terms of brute force. 

Other people argue that Ares, Poseidon, or even Hades are the strongest gods, but since there’s no definitive written record that outlines the gods’ strength in terms of “strong, stronger, and strongest,” this matter is a debate that has no true answer. 

In terms of power, Zeus is probably the most powerful. He tended to have the final say over most matters, and the other Olympians usually deferred to him, at least openly. (Many tried to defy him behind his back.) However, determining whether he’s the strongest god in terms of physical strength is harder.

Also see Why Did Greek Gods Marry Their Siblings? to learn more.

Greek temple of Hercules
Temple of Hercules

Did the Ancient Greeks Value Physical Fitness?

The ancient Greeks unequivocally valued physical fitness. The very first Olympic games were held in Ancient Greece, and they were the ultimate test of strength, athleticism, speed, and endurance, and only the best of the Greeks could compete. [2]

The Olympics

The Olympics were a way to honor the gods, specifically Zeus. Allowing people to compete who weren’t “the best” would have been insulting.

Therefore, the Greeks put a significant premium on strength, power, physical fitness, and athleticism

However, as is usually the case, that applied at first only to the men. In time, however, the Greeks even valued these traits in women, eventually allowing them to compete in the Olympics, as well. [3]

Greek Heroes

Furthermore, with few exceptions, the most famous Greek heroes were all ones who were exceptionally strong and fit. Achilles, Hector, Heracles, Jason, Prometheus, and all the other famous “household name” heroes were exceptionally strong.

They were the best of the Greeks, and paintings and sculptures of them show them as handsome, athletic men with defined musculature. 

Probably the most famous Greek hero readily known for something other than being strong was Odysseus, and even he had stories that attested to his strength. 

For example, people love to tell the story of Odysseus because he was intelligent and cunning; he had a brilliant mind that allowed him to see, do, and experience things that other men couldn’t comprehend. 

Even so, The Odyssey clearly states that Odysseus was the only man strong enough to string, bend, and shoot his heavy bow. [4]

Because the Greeks placed such a high premium on physicality, even other heroes not known for their strength were still usually depicted as strong and athletic in paintings and sculptures.  

Orpheus is an excellent example of this. 

The only stories about him are those that praise his music, singing, and lyrical skills. Nothing in his stories talks about him being exceptionally strong or physically fit. However, painted vases of Orpheus from ancient Greece and later statues and carvings of him clearly show him with a well-defined chest, muscular arms, and a lean, athletic body.

Just as 21st-century people often choose physically fit men and women to put on magazine covers and billboards, so too did the ancient Greeks carve statues that showcased the things they valued most in a person’s appearance. These things were soft curves and delicate features for women and toned bodies and muscles for men. 

Final Thoughts

Society will always create idealized versions of its gods and heroes. That’s why Greek gods were depicted with such muscular forms.

Also see Did Greek Gods Have Last Names? to learn more.

References:
[1] Source
[2] Source
[3] Source
[4] Source

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