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Category Archives: Mythology

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Zoroastrianism: Divinity and The Struggle Between Good and Evil

by August 28, 2020

Written by Lydia Serrant, Contributing Writer, Classical Wisdom
Zoroastrianism is one of the world’s oldest religions, of which numbers are in decline. Otherwise known as Mazadayasna by those who follow it, the roots of Zoroastrianism date back as far as the Second Millennium BC and served as the state religion of Persia and other Iranian Empires for more than a millennium.
The Origins of Zoroastrianism
The religion is named after its founder, Zoroaster (or Zarathushtra) who lived sometime in ancient Iran (the exact date is currently contested). Born under a Polytheistic religion, Zoroaster received a vision of Vohu Manah (roughly understood as the God of Good) who took him on a journey to the Amesha Spenta, a cohort of divine entities and the Lord of Being and Wisdom known as Ahura Mazda – the highest Deity in Zoroastrianism.
And thus, Zoroastrianism was born. Zoroaster condemned the worship of multiple Gods, politically opened the wedge between Iranian and Indian Aryans in Ancient Iran, and historically introduced the world to one of the first monotheistic faiths.
The Birth of Good and Evil
From Zoroastrianism, the concept of a singular God made its way into the Big Three Religions – Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. And whilst the Zoroastrianism did its best to spread the concept of a singular God of Good and Wisdom throughout early civilization, another concept spread along with it – Evil.

Jacob Wrestling with the Angel, Alexandre-Louis Leloir, 1865.

Whilst they are not worshipped by the major religions, Evil and spirits that represent Evil were certainly considered as deities in Zoroastrianism and are still to this day in the Big Three religions in the form of Demons, Jinns, and Dybukks.
As in the major religions of today, Zoroastrianism is primarily concerned with the battle between Good and Evil, whereby spirits and forces from both sides do their best to influence humanity and manifest in the material world via the actions of mortal beings. Evil and the accompanying concept of Temptation, play a vital role in Death and the formation of the Afterlife.
The battle between Good and Evil brings to light that most Monotheistic faiths are religions of Duality. The influence of dualistic monotheism is evident in the development of Heaven and Hell where reside the Gods of Light and Darkness, who meddle in the lives of men until all is destroyed in the days of Final Judgement.
The Afterlife and the Evolution of Paradise
There is some evidence to suggest that these themes made their way into Judaism and later religions that stem from Judaic teachings, upon the liberation of the Jews by Persian Emperor Cyrus the Great. Shortly after and during this time, deities such as the Beelzebub emerged, a figure that later became Satan of Christianity and Sheytan of Islam.
After the Persian conquest of the Greek territories, even Greek Philosophy began to adopt some features of Zoroastrian thought. Until the Persian influence, the Greeks believed that humans were merely puppets of the gods and the course of one’s life was spun by the Gods of Fate. After Persian Zoroastrianism reached their shores, the Greeks began to speak of the power of the individual, and how the choices we make in life had an impact on the quality of our death.
Winged Guides
Gods of Good and Evil often rely on agents to interact with humanity to do their bidding. When asked to think of an agent of the Gods, images of feathered Angels or Demons with Bat-like wings often come to mind. But where did these images come from? What is the link between flight and divinity?
Peri Banu

Peri Banu and Price Ahmed, Edmund Dulac 1882

Peri, (or Pari) are beautiful winged women of Persian mythology. They could be likened to Angels of Christianity, except for their origin.                                         
Initially barred from entering heaven until proper penance was paid, the Peri represent spirits that drift between worlds. Whist initially being described as spirits of mischief, once introduced to Islam and incorporated into Turkish and Armenian mythology, Peri became benevolent sprits that stood in opposition to Jinns, Divs, and other spirits of Darkness.
From thereon, Peri became the guide of humanity. Religious texts speak of Peri in both psychological and physical terms, describing instances of humans being abducted by Peri to attend Divine social events, or Peri appearing in dreams to deliver messages of importance.
Even marriage was deemed possible between humans and Peri. In one legend, the Queen of Sheba is believed to be the product of such a union. However, due to the natural darkness that resides in all men, it is written that the relationship between Peri and Humanity is doomed to fail.
The images of human and bird hybrids, or birds sympathetic to humans, are not at all uncommon in ancient mythology.
A further example is Simurgh – an ancient Bird of Persian, modern Iranian and Kurdish Folklore that spread across most of the Eastern Roman Empire with the Persians.
Flight of Simurgh

The Flight of Simurgh c.1590 Sadruddin Aga Khan Collection

Simurgh is often depicted as a bird with the head of a Man or Lion – however, the Bird is considered a Goddess, mother figure, and healer. Similar to the Peri, she is a messenger who travels between heaven and earth, offering divine guidance to those who are fortunate enough to catch a glimpse of her majesty.
Simurgh is known to adopt human men, and considering her role as the Great Mother, there are no reports of her giving birth to anything other than herself. Simurgh is the precursor to the Phoenix – a bird of fire that respawns from its ashes. She is the sum of all knowledge, having seen the destruction and rebirth of the world many times over.
Other interpretations of Spirits of Paradise appear in later Islamic texts in the form of the Houri, beautiful women who accompany the dead to the Afterlife. The Houri are also reminiscent of the Valkyrie, ancient Norse spirits described as beautiful women who accompany those who died in battle to Valhalla. The Valkyrie are depicted either with wings or riding the backs of winged-horses.
Although Houri do not have wings, upon death a human spirit receives one Houri as a reward for every day of fasting or a good deed done in life. With the Houri, we see the evolution of reward giving and the promise that deeds done in life will be rewarded – or punished – in the afterlife and that good fortune is a gift from the heavens.
The Huma, a Divine Bird of Sufi and Diwan mythology and ‘Bird of Paradise’ in Ottoman Legend, bestows gifts on those deemed worthy and can foretell or bestow Kingship. This is possibly an early example of the belief in the Divine Right of Kings.

Mosaic detail of the Huma Bird at the Nadir Divan-begi Madrasa in Bukhara, Uzbekistan Taken by RK

The Huma is androgynous, having both male and female attributes. Again, the underlying theme of duality resurfaces, and we are presented with a symbolic creature that embodies masculine and feminine harmonies that reproduces by itself, further representing the cycle of rebirth.
Representations of Bird and Human hybrids are symbolic of the forces of Good and Evil and other dualities in nature, that for every action there is a reaction and this process is an essential element of creation itself. This, I believe, is the message of Zoroastrianism and the religions that have followed. The wings of the Angels, Peri, and other winged creatures represent the Flight of the Soul, the Loftiness of Spirit and the Human Mind, in contrast with the physical world, materialism, and nature, as represented by human features, sympathies, and unions. The symbology speaks of a human spirit that is not born good or bad, but is shaped by the choices it makes over a lifetime (or many lifetimes, according to Buddhists).
The Huma, Phoenix, and Simurgh not only represent the cycle of life and death but also the Duality of masculine and feminine energies. Nature cannot exist without these reproductive elements. Therefore, Birds of Paradise are the link between life and death and serve as a reminder that every ending is a new beginning, and with every failure, new knowledge is born. These are archetypes as old as time.
The Zoroastrian representations of bird-like creatures have developed to appeal to the inner nature of humanity. Personal choice is central to the Zoroastrian text, as one has to earn their place in paradise, and personal responsibility for one’s actions could not exist without some basic concept of free-will. Zoroastrianism recognized that both Good and Evil are central to human nature, and now, as was then, we are vulnerable to external forces that challenge us to choose between the two.

Ares: The Greek God of War

by July 29, 2020

Written by Edward Whelan, Contributing Writer, Classical Wisdom
In the Ancient World, the most powerful forces that shaped human destiny were personified by polytheistic religions in the form of Gods. In this way, the ancients believed that they could influence impersonal forces and powers. One of these was war. In the past, conflict was a constant fact of everyday life, and peace was rare. This is what made the Greek God of War, Ares, so influential in mythology and religion.
The origin of the myth of Ares
Ares was the son of Zeus and Hera, was regarded as one of the Twelve Olympians, and was one of the major deities of the Greek world. The etymology of the name Ares means curse or ruin. Unlike many other religions, such as Roman mythology, the Greeks did not worship war. They were very ambivalent about the God who personified for them the power and bravery needed for victory in war. For the Greeks, he represented the worse in war and conflict.
Ares was worshipped, it appears, by the Mycenaean Greeks from at least 1200 BC. In some sources he was born in Thrace, which was an area populated with fearsome, war-like people. This god was never popular and there were very few temples and shrines to him. He was mainly worshipped by armies who obviously needed his support in battle and on campaigns. There were some archaic practices and rituals associated with this god, such as the sacrifice of a dog in the night.

Helmeted young warrior, so-called Ares. Roman copy from a Greek original—this is a plaster replica, the original is now stored in the Museum of the Villa. Canope at the Villa Adriana

Ares had a sister named Eris, who was the divine personification of discord and disorder. The character of Ares was not an attractive one. He was touchy and quick to anger and was something of a bully. However, during the war, he always favored those who displayed the greatest courage on the field of battle. The Greeks believed that he provided soldiers with the courage and strength to win in a war.
However, the support of Ares did not always guarantee victory, as is shown in the Iliad. The god of war did not save the Trojans from their catastrophic defeat. While many Greeks were ambivalent about this deity, that was not always the case. In Sparta, which was a society dedicated to war, he was revered as the model soldier and a paragon of manly virtue.
The loves of Ares
The god of war was, like other Greek gods, a serial adulterer. He never married, but his consort was Aphrodite, the Goddess of War. This union was intended to demonstrate that both war and love were forms of strife and struggle. However, Aphrodite was married to Hephaestus, the god of metalworking, a fact that would come back to haunt them.

Vatican, Rome, Italy. Statue of Ares, Scopas’s influence. Brooklyn Museum Archives, Goodyear Archival Collection.

The affair between Ares and the Goddess of Love was public, and the couple had six children. They had the attributes of one or both of their parents. For example, Eros, the God of Sex and Love, was their son and so was Phobos, the personification of fear.
Ares also had affairs with two of the Muses, a Titan, and one of the Furies with whom he had more children. Then he had several affairs and more offspring with semi-divine and human lovers. In one myth, Ares is the father of The Amazons, a race of warrior women, who were probably modeled on Scythian female warriors.
Stories of Ares
There are several tales related to Ares in Greek myths, often disrespectful of the deity of war and prowess in battle. In the Odyssey, Ares and Aphrodite are trapped in an iron net created by Hephaestus, enraged about his wife’s affair with a being he despised.
Ares and Aphrodite

Mars and Venus Surprised by Vulcan (1827) by Alexandre Charles Guillemot (detail).

The Love of Ares and Aphrodite Crowned with flowers …
how the two had first made love in Hephaestus’ mansion,
all in secret. Ares had showered her with gifts
and showered Hephaestus’ marriage bed with shame
but a messenger ran to tell the god of fire—
Helios, lord of the sun, who’d spied the couple
lost in each other’s arms and making love.
Hephaestus, hearing the heart-wounding story,
bustled toward his forge, brooding on his revenge—
planted the huge anvil on its block and beat out chains,
not to be slipped or broken, all to pin the lovers on the spot.

Also in Homer, Ares’ parents, Zeus and Hera, are shown as hating him, because of all the carnage that he caused. He also comes into conflict with Poseidon because his son had raped one of the God of War’s daughters.
Ares played an important role in the Trojan War, fighting alongside the Trojans—his intervention almost helped them to victory. However, Athena, the Goddess of military strategy, with the backing of Zeus, entered the fray on behalf of the Greeks and this forced Ares into a humiliating retreat.

Relief of Mars Ultor, 26–14 BCE; in the Cleveland Museum of Art. Source: Britannica.

They were not long about beginning, and Ares piercer of shields opened the battle. Sword in hand he sprang at once upon Athena and reviled her […] As he spoke he struck her on the terrible tasseled aegis—so terrible that not even can Jove’s lightning pierce it. Here did murderous Ares strike her with his great spear. She drew back and with her strong hand seized a stone that was lying on the plain—great and rugged and black—which men of old had set for the boundary of a field. With this she struck Ares on the neck, and brought him down. Nine roods did he cover in his fall, and his hair was all soiled in the dust, while his armour rang rattling round him. But Athena laughed and vaunted over him saying, “Idiot, have you not learned how far stronger I am than you, but you must still match yourself against me? Thus do your mother’s curses now roost upon you, for she is angry and would do you mischief because you have deserted the Achaeans and are helping the Trojans.” ~ Iliad, Book XXI
In another myth, Hades, the god of the dead, is outwitted by Sisyphus and imprisoned. With Hades in chains, nobody could die and war thus became meaningless. This, of course, directly affected Ares who rushed to set Hades free, delivering Sisyphus to him.
Ares and his influence
The Greek deity was very important even though he was not popular. For example, the Athenian court, the Areopagus, was built on a hill dedicated to this God. Ares was very influential in the Roman conception of Mars. Over time, the old Latin God of battle and valor in war became identical with the Greek God.

The Areopagus as viewed from the Acropolis.

Ares was often depicted with a helmet and a lance, and his symbol was the dog. The lover of Aphrodite and the personification of war has become a popular figure, appearing in movies, television series, and even video games.
The Greek God of War was one of the most important of all the deities in the Pantheon. He was not a popular God and he represented the worst aspects of war. As a result, the myths are not respectful of this deity and this signifies the hatred the Greeks had for conflict and battle.
  • Graves, Robert (1990). The Greeks Myths. London: Pelican.
  • Homer (2000). The Iliad. London: Penguin

Romulus and Remus: Murder and the Foundation of Rome

by July 8, 2020

Written by Edward Whelan, Contributing Writer, Classical Wisdom
The ancient Romans were so respectful of tradition and ancient practices that they revered the founder of Rome, Romulus, even though he murdered his brother Remus. In fact, the myth of Romulus and Remus was crucial to the construction of Roman identity and important in the development of their values and worldview.
The origin of the myth of Romulus and Remus
There is no single version of the myth about the two brothers. It may have been based on an early wolf cult that, at some point, became the foundation myth of the city of Rome. Archaeologists have found evidence of a shrine to Romulus and Remus in the heart of the ancient city, indicating that they were worshipped at an early date. There were many ceremonies dedicated to the duo, such as the Lupercalia. However, many Romans were uncertain as to the origin of these rituals and festivals. 
The story of Romulus and Remus
According to the generally accepted version of the myth, the twins’ father was the Roman War God Mars and their mother was the vestal virgin, Rhea Silvia. She was the daughter of the King of Alba Longa who was deposed by his brother, Amulius. He forced her to become a vestal virgin so she would not bear any sons.

La Lupa Capitolina “the Capitoline Wolf”. Traditional scholarship says the wolf-figure is Etruscan, 5th century BC. The figures of Romulus and Remus were added in the 15th century AD by Antonio Pollaiuolo. Recent studies suggest that the she-wolf may be a medieval sculpture dating from the 13th century AD. Source: Wikipedia. (Not so) fun fact: Benito Mussolini, in 1931, gifted a replica of the Capitoline Wolf to Cincinnati, Ohio to commemorate the Roman statesman and military leader Cincinnatus, who is the city’s namesake. The statue sits at Eden Park to this day. 

It was prophesied to the new king that any male children she bore would depose him. When he heard that Rhea Silvia was pregnant, he was enraged. Amulius ordered that the twins be exposed—a common form of infanticide in Rome throughout its history.  
A servant was ordered to take the boys in a basket and abandon them. However, the servant took pity on them and placed the basket with the twins on the River Tiber. The boys floated away and eventually were found by a she-wolf, who suckled them. They were later reared by a shepherd. As young men, they returned to Alba Longa and killed the usurper and restored their grandfather to the throne. They then left to find a new city and they eventually stopped at a place on the River Tiber.
The murder of Remus
According to Livy, the great historian, the two brothers began to quarrel over the site of the proposed city. Romulus wanted to establish the city on Palatine Hill, while Remus wanted to found it on the Aventine Hill. They came to a compromise, deciding to study the omens from the gods. They agreed to select the site that was chosen by the one who saw the most birds, a common Etruscan divination method.

A Roman relief from the Cathedral of Maria Saal showing Romulus and Remus with the she-wolf.

Remus saw six birds while Romulus claimed to have seen over a dozen. However, Remus refused to recognize the omens of the gods and decided to build his city on a hill neighboring his brother Romulus. The two men and their followers began to clash. Romulus, who was the shrewder of the two, began to build a ditch and wall around his settlement. Remus began to mock this and jumped over the walls in mockery of his brother’s efforts. This led to a fight.
One of Romulus’ supporters struck his twin with a spade and he was immediately killed. Another version of the myth has the Gods strike Remus dead. Livy reports that Romulus was aggrieved by the death of his brother and buried him with due honor. Remus’ death came to be regarded as the founding of Rome. 
Romulus: Rome’s first ruler
Romulus became the king of his settlement. He was to prove to be a great leader and warrior and greatly expanded his city. It was ultimately named after him and this is the origin of the name Rome.
Altar to Mars

Altar to Mars (divine father of Romulus and Remus) and Venus (their divine ancestress) depicting elements of their legend. Tiberinus, the Father of the Tiber, and the infant twins being suckled by a she-wolf in the Lupercal are below. A vulture from the contest of augury and Palatine hill are to the left. (From Ostia, now at the Palazzo Massimo alle Terme). Source: Wikipedia.

It is believed that he conquered the Sabines and Alba Longa. Romulus was also believed to have founded many of the political institutions of Rome, such as the Senate. He also divided the population into the orders of plebeians and patricians. Many of the laws of Rome are reported to have been established by Romulus. It is believed that when he died that he ascended into the skies or disappeared in a storm. In another version of the myth, he was killed by the senators and was buried in the Forum.
The meaning of the myth
The story of Romulus and Remus is a foundation myth in that it explains the foundation of a political community, in this instance Rome. It is important to remember that the twins and their actions are all predetermined by fate, and therefore, were sanctioned by the gods. The myth indicated to the Romans that their city was divinely inspired and would be divinely protected.
The figure of Romulus was used to explain many of the city-state’s political institutions and laws. The story of Romulus and Remus values concepts such as unity and respect for omens. The story was very popular and was a frequent subject of artists in the Republican and Imperial periods. 
Romulus and Remus

The Shepherd Faustulus Bringing Romulus and Remus to His Wife, Nicolas Mignard (1654)

The myth of Romulus and Remus was used to explain the early history of Rome. It played an important role in the public religion of the Republic and later the Empire. Moreover, the myth was used to shape the values of the citizens and was instrumental in the formation of a distinctly Roman sense of identity and mission.
  • Kuiper, K. (Ed.). (2010). Ancient Rome: From Romulus and Remus to the Visigoth Invasion. Britannica Educational Publishing.

Psyche and Cupid: Mythology’s Greatest Love Story

by June 10, 2020

Written by Edward Whelan, Contributing Writer, Classical Wisdom
There are many beautiful myths from Classical civilization. One of the most beautiful of all is that of Psyche and Cupid. Unlike most ancient legends, it is a romantic tale and has a happy ending. This myth has been enormously influential, and it has helped to shape modern romantic literature and even modern conceptions of love.
Origin of the myth
The main source for this myth is one of the greatest Roman novels, the Metamorphoses by Apuleius, which dates to the second half of the 2nd century AD. The story is narrated by the main character Lucius to a young bride who has been kidnapped by pirates. However, the story is much older and there are depictions of Cupid and Psyche in Hellenistic Greek art. Many believe that there are elements taken from Mystery Religions in the story. These were cults that promised their adherents salvation, which were popular throughout the Classical era.
The story of Psyche and Eros
Psyche was the daughter of a king and queen and she was stunningly beautiful. She was so beautiful that she was even compared to some of the Goddesses. This drove Aphrodite, or Venus in Roman narratives, the Goddess of Love, mad with jealousy. She devastated the kingdom of Psyche’s father with the plague. Aphrodite told the king she would only end the plague if she sacrificed Psyche to a sea-monster. When the King was tying his daughter up, Cupid, the son of Aphrodite, saw Psyche and he instantly fell in love with her. The winged god rescued Psyche and was so enamored with her that he married her, even though she was a mere mortal.

Psyche and Amor, also known as Psyche Receiving Cupid’s First Kiss (1798), by François Gérard: the butterfly hovering over Psyche symbolizes her innocence, prior to sexual awakening.

Cupid asked his new love never to look at his form. He could not let a mere mortal look upon him as she could be harmed. Despite this, the couple was happy and Cupid turned out to be a great husband. Psyche was so happy that she did not ask to see her husband and had no idea that he was a God. Cupid, as a God, could provide his wife with a lavish lifestyle. Now the two sisters of Psyche heard about this and they became insanely jealous. They began to plant seeds of doubt in Psyche’s mind about her husband. They asked her ‘why would he not let himself be seen?’
Psyche could no longer restrain herself and one night when her husband was sleeping, she brought a candle into the darkened bed-chamber. Psyche was transfixed by her husband and his otherworldly good looks. Cupid woke up to see his wife standing over him. She had disobeyed him and in a rage, he flew away. He returned to his mother, who had always hated Psyche and been opposed to her marriage to her son. Psyche was disconsolate and she vowed to do all she could to win her husband back.

Amore e Psiche (1707–09) by Giuseppe Crespi: Lychnomancy, a form of divination or spirit conjuring, is thought to be represented here in Psyche’s use of the lamp to see the god.

Psyche, with great bravery, approached Aphrodite and asked her how she could win her husband back. Aphrodite decided to torment her and set her four tasks. If Psyche could complete these tasks, then she would help her to become reconciled with Cupid. She was able to accomplish the first three tasks, thanks to her ingenuity, but the last task was by far the most challenging.
Aphrodite asked Psyche to descend to the underworld and to retrieve Persephone’s special beauty ointment. This was an impossible task for any mortal. However, Psyche went to a speaking tower who told her how to evade Charon and Cerberus and enter the realm of the dead, unscathed. The voice from the tower also told her how to approach Persephone, the Queen of the Underworld. She was successful and she managed to get the magical cream. Psyche became curious and wondered what the cream would do for her—would it make her perfect?  She opened the box, and when she did, she immediately fell into a deathlike slumber. Cupid heard of this and he immediately went to help his beloved.
Marriage of Cupid and Psyche
Cupid flew to Zeus, or in Latin sources, Jupiter in Olympus, and asked him to intervene. Zeus convened an assembly of the Gods and they decided that Aphrodite had been too harsh. Zeus agreed to bring Psyche back to life and allow her to enter Olympus and drink ambrosia, which made her immortal. Psyche became a Goddess and she and her husband had a daughter, Voluptas, who became the God of Pleasure. The marriage of Psyche and Cupid became a favorite topic of Classical and later Renaissance artists.

Voluptas is pictured with her parents, Cupid and Psyche, at far right in Banquet of Amor and Psyche by Giulio Romano.

The meaning of the myth
It is widely believed that the myth is an allegory. Psyche was regarded as the personification of the soul. Many believe that it shows how the soul can fall to its death by engaging in sexual love, represented by Cupid. The moral of the story was believed to be the dangers of excessive passion and sexuality. There are other interpretations of the myth. One is that it represents the story of the soul’s death and resurrection, which is central to the Mystery Religions of the Ancient Greeks, such as Orphism.
The influence of the story of Psyche and Cupid
The myth was adapted by many poets and writers. The story inspired many writers to compose romantic love stories. The elements of the myth, the separation of young lovers and their eventual reunification, was repeated in countless love stories. In this way, the myth has been crucial in the construction of modern ideas about romantic love.
The myth is an unusual one, in that it has a happy ending and celebrates romantic love. It is almost certainly an allegory related to the fate of the soul. This fable was important as it greatly influenced romantic literature and these works have changed the way we understand human love and romance.

Deimos, A Most Terrifying God

by May 6, 2020

Written by Katherine Kennedy, Contributing Writer, Classical Wisdom
In the immortal words from the musical Grease, ‘I got chills, they’re multiplying, and I’m losing control…’ and if you’ve ever experienced that sensation, then you’ve met the god of terror.
That skittering chill, which runs the length of your spine, and the gut-wrenching sense of dread which fills you; those sensations are what the ancients believed to be the influence of ‘Deimos’.
But who is this god? How and why did his influence cause humans to lose their minds? To understand this, we must look at Deimos’ parentage and who his siblings were…

Breeding Fear

Deimos was the twin brother of Phobos, both born to Ares and Aphrodite, and grandson to the Olympian god Zeus, and the goddesses Dione and Hera. Deimos’ name translates into English as ‘dread’. Thus, together with his twin, they are ‘dread’ and ‘fear’, making them harbingers of terror.

Aphrodite, Ares and infants Eros and Phobos, Greco-Roman fresco from Pompeii C1st A.D., Naples National Archaeological Museum

These terrifying twins had two counterparts; Eris the goddess of strife, and their aunt, the goddess Enyo, the deity of war and bloodshed. Together, the four would accompany Ares as attendants on the battlefield, striking at the combatants to increase the thrill of battle and blood to be spilled.

Ancient and Classical Influence

Deimos is described as riding along in Ares’ chariot with his brother, as the gods of war took their place on the ancient battlefields in mythology. Deimos is also repeatedly mentioned in the Iliad, where he is described as:
“So he [Ares] spoke, and ordered Deimos (Fear) and Phobos (Terror) to harness his horses, and himself got into his shining armour.” – Homer, Iliad 15. 119 ff
“Also Kytherea (Cytherea) [Aphrodite] bare to Ares the shield-piercer Phobos (Panic) and Deimos (Fear), terrible gods who drive in disorder the close ranks of men in numbing war, with the help of Ares, sacker of towns.” – Hesiod, Theogony 933 ff (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C8th or C7th B.C.)
Deimos’ notoriety held throughout civilization and history and the Romans adopted the gods, known as Formido or Metus.
You can also see Deimos’s presence at the monument to Leonidas, at Sparta and Thermopylae, where the king holds onto his shield with its depiction of the god. The god of terror is portrayed with wide eyes and a great bearded-mouth seeking to devour all; an image that would strike fear into the hearts of all mortal men.

On the monument to the Battle of Thermopylae, Leonidas

Deimos Today

Although the ancient gods are distant memories for many of us, Deimos’ influence can still be seen in our world today. He is included as a half-brother to Rick Riordan’s Clarisse La Rue in the popular Percy Jackson series.
The god is also seen in the animated movie Wonder Woman, where he commits suicide after refusing to reveal the location of his father, Ares, to Wonder Woman.
We also see Deimos in the popular TV series Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, and Xena: Warrior Princess, where he is ultimately slain by Xena. There are many pop-culture uses of his name for characters that exemplify the god’s characteristics.
Finally, Deimos is the name of one of the twin moons that orbit the planet Mars, named by Asaph Hall, after the god and his twin.


Deimos, although a lesser-known god, certainly has had a lasting impact on our world. His influence can be felt by those courting an adrenalin rush, or for others as a sense of foreboding before a disaster.

Phobos, Ares-Mars and Nike, Greco-Roman mosaic from Orbe C3rd A.D., Roman Villa of Orbe-Boscéaz

It’s interesting to remember that wherever Deimos is, his twin brother will be too. The god Phobos uses his skills to strike fear in all, and together they wield great power to coerce men to act irrationally.
At this time, of a global pandemic, we see the twin’s work; stockpiling of goods, anger and rage, fear and aggression towards others. We must be ever vigilant against these tendencies, and remember that it could well be these gods toying with our minds for their own amusement and vanity.

The Myth of Atlas: Holding up the Heavens

by April 29, 2020

Written by Edward Whelan, Contributing Writer, Classical Wisdom
Many of us are familiar with stories from the Greek myths. However, our knowledge of them is often imperfect. Many of us hear the story of Atlas, the Titan, but few of us know the full story.  The story of Atlas and his fate is one of the most important in all of Classical Antiquity.  There are many variations of the myth of Atlas and some of them are discussed here.
The Origin of Atlas
It is likely that the story was based on a Pelasgian myth, a myth belonging to the original inhabitants of Greece. Most myths relate that Atlas was the son of Iapetus, a Titan. Iapetus was the son of Uranus and Gaia, and one of the divine beings who ruled the world before the reign of the Olympian deities. The identity of Atlas’s mother is not known but it may have been an Ocean nymph.
Atlas was very strong and one of his brothers was Prometheus. In some accounts, he had many children, mainly daughters. The Titan fathered many nymphs including the Hesperides and the Pleiades.  The nymph Calypso, who played an important role in the Odyssey of Homer was also his daughter.

Statue in Paphos, Cyprus, depicting Atlas bearing the celestial globe.

Atlas was to play a very important role in the Titanomachy. This was a ten-year struggle between the old and the new gods in Greek mythology for the control of the cosmos. On one side was Cronus and his family members, known as the Titans, and on the other side were the Olympians, the children of Cronus, led by Zeus.
Atlas sided with the Titans and proved himself to be one of Zeus’s greatest foes. According to the myth, the Olympians feared him greatly. However, in the end, the Olympians were triumphant, and they utterly vanquished the Titans. Zeus imprisoned Cronus and the other Titans in Tartarus, which in Greek mythology is the underworld or hell.
The Punishment of Atlas
The Olympians gods hated and feared Atlas, so they devised a special punishment for him. Zeus condemned Atlas to stand at the western edge of the Earth. He placed the sky on his shoulder and forced him to hold it up for all eternity. Atlas had to use all his might to bear the weight and he suffered greatly.
Fall of the titans

Cornelis Cornelisz van Haarlem, The Fall of the Titans, 1596-1598

A misconception arose in later centuries that he was condemned to hold up the earth. This was probably a result of Renaissance-era artworks, based on misinterpretations of the original myths. The Greeks, who lived in a pre-scientific age, believed that Atlas held up the sky in the area where modern Morocco is located. Many believe that the Atlas Mountains are named after the mythological figure, so cruelly punished by Zeus.
Other Versions of the Greek myth
Myths are never fixed, and they are constantly changing and growing. There are a number of myths about Atlas. According to Plato, Atlas was the first king of Atlantis, the legendary kingdom. However, Plato’s myth is a political fable and the story of Atlantis was designed to illustrate the political hubris of kingdoms and city-states.
Another well-known story involving Atlas appears in Ovid. In this, he is a king in a distant land and is visited by the great hero Perseus, who was a son of Zeus. When Atlas heard this, he grew fearful as he was told a prophecy that a son of Zeus would kill him. Thus, he refused Perseus hospitality, which was a serious transgression in Greek culture. Perseus, in retaliation, turned Atlas into a huge block of stone or a mountain. This is believed to have been an origin myth that explained the origin of the Atlas Mountains.
Atlas mountains

View of the saddle under Jebel Toubkal (3,940 m or 12,930 ft elevation), from the final ridge

In another myth, Hercules, for one of his labours, had to steal the golden apples in Hera’s Garden. This was guarded by Atlas’ daughters. Hercules asked Atlas to steal the apples and in return, he would hold up the sky for him, for a period of time. Atlas kept his word and stole the apples. In one version of the myth a grateful Hercules built the ‘Pillars of Hercules,’ and these were used to hold up the heavens and free the Titan. In another version of the myth, Atlas tried to trick Hercules into holding up the sky permanently, but the hero was too cleaver and escaped.
Atlas, the First Astronomer
Possibly, because of Atlas’s association with the heavens, he was widely regarded as the first astronomer. In some myths, he is the inventor of the first celestial sphere or body and other astronomical instruments.
The Legacy of Atlas
The myth of Atlas is an enduring one. The popularity of the myth can be seen in its continuing influence. It is widely believed that the name of the Atlantic Ocean is derived from the name of the Titan. This is because his mythical kingdom of Atlantis was located in this great body of water.

Athanasius Kircher’s map of Atlantis, placing it in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, from Mundus Subterraneus 1669, published in Amsterdam. The map is oriented with south at the top.

In the 17th century, cartographers were mapping the world. The great cartographer Gerardus Mercator  (1512-1594) published a collection of maps and he named it in honor of the Titan. Hence, the name for a book of maps is Atlas.
The story of Atlas is one that still fascinates people and remains popular. The story of the Titan was used by the Greeks to explain why the sky was able to stay in place as well as the origin of astronomy. He also played an important role in other myths including that of Atlantis. The figure of the Titan holding up the sky or earth is one that is very influential and has inspired many artists.