Why Are There So Many Gods in Greek Mythology?


Most people are familiar with some of the Greek gods, with Zeus, Hades, and Poseidon topping the list. However, there were many other deities in the Greek pantheon that don’t readily come to mind, leaving some people to wonder just how many Greek gods there actually are and why there are so many.

There are so many gods in Greek mythology because the Greeks used their gods to describe everything around them. The Greeks had gods of the sky, earth, sea, war, wisdom, harvest, and more. Because they used their gods to make sense of the world, there had to be several of them.

This article will explore the Greek gods more in-depth and break down how many of them there actually are. It will also compare the number of Greek gods to the number of gods in other famous mythologies, such as Roman and Norse mythologies. 

Also see Why Are Greek Gods So Cruel? to learn more.

Greek temple Athena
How many Greek gods are there? See below (Image: Temple of Athena)

How Many Greek Gods Are There?

Websites, stories, and people often refer to “the 12 Olympians,” insinuating that there were only 12 Greek gods – six male and six female. However, there were more than that. [1]

There were eight main Greek gods: Zeus, Poseidon, Hades, Ares, Apollo, Hephaestus, Dionysus, and Hermes. They were the most prominent male deities among the Greek gods.

Here’s a breakdown of the gods and their functions in Greek mythology:

  • Zeus: Supreme god; ruler of all other gods; the sky was his domain
  • Poseidon: Zeus’ brother; ruler of the sea
  • Hades: Zeus and Poseidon’s brother; ruler of the underworld; sometimes not considered among the 12 Olympians because he didn’t live on Mount Olympus
  • Ares: The son of Zeus and Hera; god of war
  • Apollo: The son of Zeus and Leto and twin brother to Artemis; the god of light and sun
  • Hephaestus: The lame god and son of Hera; sometimes not considered among the 12 Olympians because Zeus threw him off Mount Olympus
  • Dionysus: The son of Zeus and Semele; god of wine, revelry, and ecstasy
  • Hermes: The son of Zeus; messenger of the gods; god of thieves

However, even those eight weren’t the only Greek gods. There were Greek gods among the titans, who came before the Olympians, and the primordial gods (or forces) lived before the titans and created the world from nothing. 

There were also numerous other demigods and creatures that were famous in Greek mythology. Some of these, like Heracles, were granted immortality and elevated to live among the gods after their deaths or after performing some fantastic feat. Generally speaking, though, the eight gods listed above are the ones most scholars refer to when they mention “Greek gods.”

Also see Why Are Greek Gods So Muscular? to learn more.

Greek mythology temple worship
How many Greek goddesses are there? See below (Image: Temple of Athena)

How Many Greek Goddesses Are There?

There are seven prominent Greek goddesses: Hera, Demeter, Hestia, Athena, Artemis, Persephone, and Aphrodite. Hera, Demeter, and Hestia were among the original daughters of Cronus and Rhea. The other four goddesses were younger and had different parents.

Here’s a look at each goddess and her role in Greek mythology: 

  • Hera: Wife and sister of Zeus; Queen of the heavens; goddess of marriage and childbirth
  • Demeter: Sister of Zeus and Hera; goddess of the harvest whose moods determined the seasons
  • Hestia: The Olympians’ eldest sister; the virgin goddess of home and hearth
  • Athena: The daughter of Zeus; goddess of war strategy and wisdom
  • Artemis: The daughter of Zeus and Leto and twin to Apollo; virgin goddess of childbirth, wild animals, and the hunt
  • Persephone: The daughter of Demeter and wife of Hades; sometimes not considered among the 12 Olympians
  • Aphrodite: Her parentage is disputed; goddess of love and beauty

As is true with the gods in Greek mythology, these aren’t the only Greek goddesses. There were female deities among the titans, and the original primordial Greek goddess was Gaia. There were also many minor Greek goddesses, such as Moirae (the goddess of fate), Tyche (the goddess of luck and good fortune), and Selene (the moon).

Does Greek Mythology Have More Gods than Norse Mythology?

Strictly speaking, there are more Greek gods than Norse gods. In terms of the primary pantheon, both mythologies claim between 12 and 15 “main gods.” Greek mythology, though, has many more minor gods, demigods, and elevated gods than Norse mythology. 

Some scholars claim that 12 “main” Norse gods make up the Aesir; others cite different numbers, including seven, ten, or even 17. The discrepancy comes in when determining what a “main” god is. Generally speaking, the most recognized Norse gods and goddesses include the following: 

  • Odin: The supreme ruler of the Aesir; also called “All-father;” he sacrificed his eye for wisdom and is known as the wisest of the gods
  • Frigg: Odin’s wife; the Queen of Asgard; had powers of divination and was the supreme mother figure in Norse mythology
  • Thor: Odin’s son; wielder of the powerful hammer Mjolnir; strongest of the Norse gods and a great warrior
  • Loki: Odin’s sworn blood brother; wasn’t technically an Aesir; god of trickery, chaos, and deception; the cleverest of the gods
  • Baldr: Odin and Frigg’s most beloved son; god of radiance and beauty
  • Hodr: Odin and Frigg’s blind son and Baldr’s brother; tricked by Loki into killing Baldr
  • Heimdallr: The son of nine mothers and guardian of the Bifrost
  • Tyr: The one-armed god of war
  • Hel: The daughter of Loki and the giantess Angrboda; ruler of the realm Hel, land of the dead
  • Njord: Father of Freyr and Freya; a god of the Vanir; ruler of the seas
  • Freyr: Freya’s twin brother; god of fertility
  • Freya: Freyr’s twin sister; goddess of beauty, passion, and war

Other lesser-known Norse gods include Vale, Vidar, Ullr, Bragi, Idunn, etc. There are also other prominent figures – giants, dwarves, elves, etc. – in Norse mythology, so the stories are just as rich and full as those of the Greeks. Still, most scholars agree that the Greeks had a greater number of gods.

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

Does Greek mythology have more gods than Roman mythology? See below

Does Greek Mythology Have More Gods than Roman Mythology?

Greek and Roman mythologies have the same number of gods. With very few exceptions, every story about Roman gods and goddesses has an equivalent tale in Greek mythology. The two mythologies have the same essential gods, goddesses, and demigods, though each uses different names for them.

In rare cases, the gods and goddesses have the same names in both Roman and Greek mythologies. [2] The most notable example of this is Apollo, who goes by Apollo in both sets of stories. 

Conclusion

There were many Greek gods because that was how people explained the world around them. Their world was vast and required many gods to explain.

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

References:
[1] Source
[2] Source

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