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The Realm of Poseidon: A Mythical Voyage Around the Aegean

by May 8, 2022

By Peter Marshall, Contributing Writer, Ancient Origins
“Poseidon
the great god
I begin to sing, he who moves the earth
and the desolate sea…
You are dark-haired
you are blessed
you have a kind heart.
Help those who sail upon
The sea
In ships.”
~Homeric Hymn to Poseidon
Gods and Legends
Poseidon was the Greek god of the sea, the shaker of the land responsible for earthquakes, and the god of horses. Usually living in the sea, he could make the waters either calm or stormy depending on his volatile moods. As a patron deity of Athens, Poseidon competed with Athena, who planted the sacred olive tree, by establishing a magical well of salt water on the Acropolis.
Poseidon and Athena
Poseidon and Athena battle for control of Athens – Benvenuto Tisi da Garofalo (1512). ( Public Domain )
If any boat was to survive in Poseidon’s Realm, its crew would have to appease him, usually in the form of sacrifices. The ancient Greeks would kill bulls on beaches or temples and offer up the sacrifices to the god; I preferred in my sailing voyage around the Aegean to make a libation to his memory and presence, usually in the form of the first glass of wine which I poured in the waters of Homer’s ‘wine-dark sea’.
Poseidon—Neptune to the Romans—was one of the three main gods of ancient Greece. He was the brother to Zeus, the most powerful god and ruler of the Heavens, and to Hades, the god of the Underworld where a soul goes to spend a ghostly existence after death. As with the other gods and goddesses, they intervened into human affairs and often took the form of what humans called fate.
Zeus, Poseidon and Hades
The Greek Trinity: Zeus, Poseidon and Hades — gods of heavens, sea, and underworld. ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )
When Odysseus, for instance, tried to get home to Ithaca after the Trojan War, Homer tells us in his epic poem The Odyssey, it took him many years because he had angered Poseidon after blinding one of his sons, the one-eyed monster Cyclops Polyphemus for eating his crew and for keeping him captive in a cave. On the other hand, Odysseus was helped on his way by the intervention of the goddess Athena who wanted the Trojans defeated.
The gods and goddesses normally lived on the summit of Mount Olympus (the tallest mountain in Greece, and only climbed by humans at the beginning of the last century, and by myself this century). Although in some ways idealized, they were all-too-human, quarrelling with each other, committing adultery, laughing as well as being downhearted. Zeus would often have arguments with his wife Hera, the goddess of marriage and childbirth, particularly because of his many infidelities.
Despite the cities along the coast of the Eastern Aegean being the birthplace of philosophy and science, with one philosopher saying we can know nothing of the gods and the afterlife, most Greeks firmly believed in their gods. They held Delos in the center of the Aegean to be a sacred island, the birthplace of Apollo, the god of light, music and knowledge, and his twin sister Artemis, the goddess of the hunt and the moon. And they readily consulted oracles, especially at Delphi, in their attempts to see into the future.
Heraion Temple
The priestess of the oracle at ancient Delphi, Greece. ( Public Domain )
But Apollo was also the brother of Dionysius, the god of wine and ecstasy. Many festivals of plays and songs were put on his honour. The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche for one saw the birth of Greek tragedy to a combination of ‘Apollonian’ spirit giving form to ‘Dionysian’ energy.
Aegean Voyage
Mythology was an important part of my voyage around the Aegean as it helps to understand ancient Greeks. I set off in a small sailing boat with a traveling companion and traveling at roughly the same speed as the ancient boats, I drew a great circle around the Aegean.
My voyage in space reflected my voyage in time, for I investigated the various stages in ancient Greek history, from the Cycladic, Minoan, Mycenaean, Classical and the Hellenic. I also wanted to test my hunch that Greek civilization cannot be properly understood except from the point of view of the sea. It was central to their lives; Plato described accurately the city states like ‘frogs around a pond’. With a mountainous hinterland and poor soil, they inevitably looked to the sea for foreign trade and new colonies.
The only time they stopped fighting against each other was when they declared a temporary truce for their Olympic games every four years and when they were united against a common foe. Twice they had to face the Persians who had at the time the most powerful empire the world had ever known, under Xerxes I, the ‘King of Kings’. They brought vast armies and huge fleets to conquer the troublesome and squabbling peoples on their western border.
However, believing themselves to be free, the greatly outnumbered Greeks managed to push back the far greater force which would have enslaved them and changed the nature of Europe forever.
Map of the Aegean Sea
Historic map (1528) of Aegean Sea by geographer Piri Reis. ( Public Domain )
After sailing for six seasons in my small sailing boat, covering over 5,000 miles, I visited many ancient sites both famous and obscure and met many Greeks and Turks on the way. I suffered a near shipwreck and sinking. But more than sailing narrative and personal quest, I returned with a remarkable portrayal of the Greeks and a fuller understanding of their history, mythology and culture.
It is certainly worth studying the art, sculpture, literature, philosophy and architecture of ancient Greece—not only because the people are valuable and fascinating in themselves—but because the culture forms the seabed of Western civilization. I have witnessed the unforgettable portrait of arguably the most beautiful and magical sea in the world.
Peter Marshall is the author of Poseidon’s Realm: A Voyage around the Aegean the recently published by Zena. ISBN 9780951106969. He has written 16 books which have been translated into as many languages. His website is www.petermarshall.net

The Myth Of Sisyphus And Lessons In Absurdity

by April 28, 2022

By Van Bryan
The legend of Sisyphus begins with a man who, if we are to believe Homer, was one of the wisest and most prudent of mortals. Nonetheless he would fall out of favor with the gods of ancient Greece. He was taken to the kingdom of the underworld and was forced to endure one of the most pointless and excruciating punishments of ancient mythology. Everyday he would carry a massive boulder up a mountain, straining and sweating all the while. When Sisyphus reached the top of the mountain, the boulder would immediately roll back down the hill in a matter of moments. Sisyphus would then make his tired march down the hill where he would start this task over again. It is said that Sisyphus would be forced to endure this for all of time, performing a pointless, tired task until the end of existence.
Myth of Sisyphus
Sisyphys (1548–49) by Titian, Prado Museum, Madrid, Spain
What did Sisyphus do to anger the gods? There are several different accounts. The one that Albert Camus seems to favor in his essay The Myth of Sisyphus, involves Sisyphus testing his wife’s devotion and love as he nears death. According to the story, Sisyphus asks his wife that, upon his death, she cast his unburied body into the town square. When Sisyphus dies he wakes up in the underworld only to find that his wife has indeed fulfilled his request. Sisyphus is angered that his wife would choose strict obedience to his word, rather than devoted love to his memory and dignity. Sisyphus is deeply troubled and (for reasons I don’t understand personally) asks Hades to return him to the world of the living so that he might scold his wife.
It would seem that Sisyphus’ wife is truly the tragic hero in this story, having followed her husbands request she is promptly confronted with a newly resurrected Sisyphus who scolds her for only doing as he asked. It doesn’t make sense, I know, but stick with me on this one. After Sisyphus returns to the mortal world he quickly decides that he does not wish to return to the underworld. He learns to love the trees, the cool oceans, and the feel of warm stone under his feet. He wishes to stay and so betrays Hades by refusing to return. It is only after Hermes swiftly captures the newly freed man, does Sisyphus return to the land of the dead. And there his boulder is waiting for him.
Albert Camus was born in Algeria in 1913. Only one year later, his father would be killed in World War I. Camus was raised by his mother in extreme poverty. At the age of 25, Camus traveled to France where he would develop into a highly successful author and existential philosopher. His book, The Plague, written in 1947, is particularly relevant today. He was involved with the French resistance during the Occupation of Paris during World War II. Editing and writing many underground newspapers during this time, Camus would attempt to undermine the Nazi control of Paris. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1957, only to die tragically in a car crash three years later.
Photo of Albert Camus
Albert Camus
In The Myth Of Sisyphus, his first essay published in 1942, Camus uses the myth of Sisyphus as a corner stone on which to build his unique school of existential thought. Following some of the teachings of the Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, Camus’ philosophy would later become known as Absurdism. Absurdism teaches that human beings struggle with an internal, never ending quest for purpose and fulfillment in life. This search for purpose is in direct conflict with the apparent purposelessness of the universe. Struggling to find meaning in a universe devoid of any is at the heart of the human condition, a condition that tortures us the more we fight against it.
“The Absurd” is the feeling that Camus describes when we are forced to confront the apparent meaninglessness of our existence. It is the uneasy realization that all purpose we may believe we have does not exist out there in the universe, but only in our own hearts and minds. And so life is an endless struggle to perform tasks that are essentially meaningless; we are born into this world, we fight vainly for understanding, and we are eventually sealed away by death.
It is not hard to see how Camus would find inspiration for this thinking from the myth of Sisyphus. The unfortunate mortal is unduly bound to his boulder. He will suffer for all eternity, straining all the while to perform a task that serves no purpose and inevitably must be repeated. It is this realization that would prompt a human being to tackle what Albert Camus considers the most important philosophical question. He poses this fundamental problem, rather bluntly, within the first few lines of his essay…
“There is but one truly philosophical problem, and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy.” -Albert Camus (The Myth Of Sisyphus)
Photo of the philosopher Camus
Albert Camus
It is important to remember that Camus is not necessarily advocating suicide, but he does admit to consider it, at least partially, to be justified when faced with the absurdity of life. Camus writes that any healthy man is capable of considering the possibility of suicide, even if he never acts on it. And much like Hamlet when he muses “to be or not to be…”, Albert Camus makes an eloquent consideration for the prospects of taking ones own life. Camus writes that he is not so interested in the observation of the absurd, but rather the consequences of realizing it. He explains that we can either ignore the absurd, continue to search for meaning in vain, or reject the absurd and rebel against the purposelessness of the universe. In his own words…
“There is no fate that cannot be surmounted by scorn.” -Albert Camus (The Myth of Sisyphus)
Despite how it may appear, and this is the important part, The Myth of Sisyphus is not the musings of a mad man bent on self destruction. It is instead a manual for happiness. Camus tells us that as the boulder rolls back down the hill, Sisyphus must slowly descend to retrieve the rock to repeat his punishment. It is at this moment that he reflects on his punishment, much like the human being must become conscious of the absurd predicament of life. And yet it is in this moment of self reflection that we are happiest. By accepting the absurd we can likewise accept the fact that life is meaningless, and it is at this time that we are capable of living fully.
Our lives become a constant revolt against the meaninglessness of the universe and we can finally live freely. All at once the universe is quieted, the gods that might wish to control us cease to exist. Our lives become our lives alone, not dictated by any outside force. Our fate becomes a human matter that can only be settled among men.
Shakespeare quote
To be or not to be…
To accentuate this point, Camus retells the horrors of Oedipus. A man who tried to outrun fate, he inadvertently falls prey to it. It is only near his final hours, when he is blind and broken, does he cry out “…all is well”. Oedipus has accepted his condition, accepted his actions as his own. And he is free. Camus points to this as the recipe for victory for the absurd hero. He writes… “Ancient wisdom confirms modern heroism”.
The legend of Sisyphus would appear tragic. A man condemned to struggle eternally, he never accomplishes anything of value. The philosopher Albert Camus would tell us that, much like Sisyphus, our lives are devoid of any real meaning or purpose. Our struggle to find purpose that does not exist is the root of human despair. It is only when we accept the absurdity of life, only when we rebel against the meaninglessness of the universe, do we truly become free. Life is lived all the better if it has no purpose. We become captains of our own ships, authors of our own story. And it is only at our most fragile, most uncertain times that we may say ‘All is well’…

Titans of Greek Mythology

by April 18, 2022

Okay, today we are talking about the Titans of Greek mythology.
Now, of course there are a lot of sources when it comes to discussing ancient Greek mythology, but we are going to use Hesiod’s Theogony, which is sort of like the Bible of the ancient Greek world.
So first, what is a Titan? Titans are the children of Uranus (Heaven) and Gaia (Earth). According to Hesiod, there were 12 original Titans: the brothers Oceanus, Coeus, Crius, Hyperion, Iapetus, and Cronus and the sisters Thea, Rhea, Themis, Mnemosyne, Phoebe, and Tethys.
Chart Showing Greek Mythology Genealogy
The Genealogy of the Titans of Greek Mythology
As all Greek mythology goes, the Titans have a pretty dramatic tale, filled with violence, revenge and punishment… and it all started with mother earth (Gaia) who encouraged her children to rebel against their father after he had shut them up in the underworld (Tartarus).
The brothers and sisters chose Cronus as their leader and once he had disposed Uranus, he became ruler.
This, however, did not last long. Cronus’ son Zeus rebelled against him and a 10 year battled ensued called the Titanomachia. The Titans lost and those who sided with Cronus (his siblings) were thrown back into the underworld, Tartarus.
Painting of the Titanomachia
The Titanomachia as painted in The Fall of the Titans by Cornelis van Haarlem in 1588–1590
Perhaps surprisingly, the Titans are not pictured by Hesiod as evil monsters who the gods fortunately overthrew… but a happy golden race. This idea is continued by the Romans who saw Cronus as Saturn.
Here is a breakdown of the original 12 Titans. You’ll notice some are much more important than others…
1. Mnemosyne – She is the goddess of memory. “Mnemosyne” is derived from the same source as the word mnemonic, that being the Greek word mnēmē, which means “remembrance, memory”. Mnemosyne is the mother of the nine Muses.
Mnemosyne painting
Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s depiction of Mnemosyne.
2. Tethys – Sister and wife of Titan-god Oceanus, mother of the Potamoi and the Oceanids. Tethys had no active role in Greek mythology and no established cults.
3. Theia – Also called Euryphaessa “wide-shining”, her brother/consort is Hyperion, a Titan and god of the sun, and together they are the parents of Helios (the Sun), Selene (the Moon), and Eos (the Dawn).
4. Phoebe – She had two daughters, Leto, who bore Apollo and Artemis, and Asteria, a star-goddess who bore an only daughter, Hecate. Given the meaning of her name and her association with the Delphic oracle, Phoebe was perhaps seen as the Titan goddess of prophecy and oracular intellect.
5. Rhea – She is known as “the mother of gods” and therefore is strongly associated with Gaia and Cybele, who have similar functions. The classical Greeks saw her as the mother of the Olympian gods and goddesses, but not as an Olympian goddess in her own right.
Rhea
Statue of Rhea
6. Themis – She is described as “[the Lady] of good counsel”, and is the personification of divine order, fairness, law, natural law, and custom. Her symbols are the Scales of Justice, tools used to remain balanced and pragmatic.
7. Oceanus – Believed by the ancient Greeks and Romans to be the divine personification of the sea, he is an enormous river encircling the world.
8. Hyperion – With his sister, the Titaness Theia, Hyperion fathered Helios (Sun), Selene (Moon) and Eos (Dawn).
Painting of Greek Deities
The three children, depicting different times of day.
9. Coeus – He played no active part in Greek religion and appears only in lists of Titans. Coeus was primarily important for his descendants.
10. Cronus – He was the leader and youngest of the first generation of Titans. He overthrew his father and ruled during the mythological Golden Age, until he was overthrown by his own son Zeus and imprisoned in Tartarus.
Painting of Cronus and Uranus
Cronus castrating his father Uranus
11. Crius – As the least individualized among the Titans, he was overthrown in the Titanomachy.
12. Iapetus – He was the father (by an Oceanid named Clymene or Asia) of Atlas, Prometheus, Epimetheus and Menoetius. Iapetus is sometimes thought as the progenitor of mankind, similar to Japheth (יֶפֶת), the son of Noah, based on the similarity of their names and the tradition.

Flora, Goddess of Spring, and Her Festival Floralia

by March 1, 2022

Written by Ed Whelan, Contributing Writer, Classical Wisdom
Many ancient civilizations had fertility goddesses that played a crucial role in their religion. Rome was no exception. Perhaps the best-known fertility goddess in ancient Italy was Flora. She was an exceedingly popular goddess and every year a major festival, the Floralia, was held in her honor.
The Goddess Flora
Flora from a fresco in Pompeii
The name Flora ultimately derives from the Indo-European word for flower. It appears that the name Flora was a combination of ancient Latin and Oscan, a tongue native to southern Italy. There is also clear Greek influence in the development of this fertility deity. Some scholars believe that Flora’s true origin is a very ancient Italian fertility goddess.
There is some evidence that the Romans incorporated the worship of the goddess prior the foundation of the Republic. This was quite common, as the Romans tended to adopt gods and deities whom they believed would be useful.
There was a magnificent temple dedicated to Flora in the Circus Maximus, testifying to her importance and influence in the Roman world. She was regarded as one of the fourteen most important gods and goddesses and one of the few with her own flamen (priests or priestesses). 
Flora was associated with vegetation and flowering plants. The Romans honored her in order to ensure her continued blessing on their lands. This was crucial for an ancient people dependent on agriculture. The goddess was worshipped throughout the Roman Republic and into the Roman Empire, until the coming of Christianity. 
The Greek equivalent of Flora was Chloris. Her importance to the Romans can be seen in the many coins that bear her image. The goddess’ name has been used as the botanical term flora and is also a popular girl’s name.
Myths About Flora
Flora and Zephyr, by Jan Brueghel the Elder and Peter Paul Rubens, 1617
There are a number of myths about Flora. Most are recorded in the work of the first-century poet Ovid, who wrote that originally the goddess was a nymph who transformed into Flora after being kissed by Zephyrus, the God of the West Wind. She was depicted as having the power to make both nature and humans more fertile.
In one account, she helped Juno to become pregnant with a child in revenge for Jupiter giving birth to Minerva from his head. Flora did this with a magical plant. In some myths, the goddess Flora was associated with Aphrodite, the goddess of desire and love.
The Floralia
Floralia, by Hobbe Smith, 1898
The festival of Floralia was established around 250 BC and soon became one of the most popular in the Roman calendar. The festival was a five-day affair that fell, in our calendar, in late April and lasted until May.
According to legend, the festival was first instituted on the advice of the Sibylline Books, which were considered prophetic. For the Romans, the festival symbolized the cycle of life, birth, and death. It honored Flora and was a time of dancing, gathering of flowers and the wearing of colorful clothes.
The festival was also an occasion to hold Public Games, which were paid for from fines levied throughout the year. These Games lasted six days. The Games and the festival were both administered by the Roman magistrate, the aedile.
Generally, the Floralia opened with theatrical performances, often mimes that could even include a naked actress. Then came the first day of the Games and at night, a ceremonial sacrifice to Flora. There were great efforts made to make the theatrical events around the festivities enjoyable and in 69 AD a tightrope-walking elephant was part of the celebrations!
The festival gained popularity, prompting Julius Caesar to proclaim the Floralia an official holiday. It is considered an important social event in ancient Roman society, as it fostered a sense of community and allowed people to enjoy themselves after the hardships of winter. 
Some scholars believe that the Floralia was the inspiration for the May Day Festival, which is still popular in many Northern European countries. The goddess Flora was also reverenced by humanists in Renaissance Europe, who featured her in paintings, sculptures, and poetry.
The figure of Flora has been painted by some of the greatest painters in the Western tradition, such as Botticelli and Poussin.
Detail of Flora from Primavera by Botticelli, c. 1482
Conclusion
Flora was an important Roman goddess. The worship and cult of Flora are testament to the importance of the natural life cycle for the ancient Romans. The festival of Floralia help unite ancient Roman society as they came together to celebrate the magnificent of nature and the joy of Spring through art and sport.
References:
Berrens, D., 2019. The meaning of flora. Humanistica Lovaniensia. Journal of Neo-Latin Studies, 68(1), pp.237-249.

Origins of Aphrodite

by February 9, 2022

by Sean Kelly, Managing Editor, Classical Wisdom
What do we mean when we talk about the “origins” of Aphrodite? There is, of course, the origin of the deity in mythology. A different type of ‘origin’, however, also exists – how various different cultures and similar, antecedent figures from other mythologies coalesced over time to create a distinctive and enduring member of the Greek pantheon. What is surprising, however, is how the mythic and ‘real world’ origins are interlinked.
Aphrodite in Mythology                                 
In the oft repeated tale from Greek mythology, Athena is said to have sprang fully formed from the head of Zeus. Such an immediate and complete actualisation was not to be the case for her fellow Olympian, Aphrodite. In mythology, Aphrodite was said to have been born when the Titan Kronos castrated his father Uranus and cast his genitals into the sea. Aphrodite then emerged from the foam at the place in the sea where it happened. Although common, this myth has come to be understood as a way of explaining Aphrodite’s unusual name – “Aphro” being Greek for “foam”. The similarity to the word foam is probably accidental, as “foam” has no relevance to Aphrodite’s worship.
What this suggests is that the similarity to the Greek word “Aphro” may have been accidental, and the story an attempt to explain it away. What this points to, then, is that unlike Athena (with a clear connection, both philological and cultic, to the city of Athens) Aphrodite is not a goddess of Greek origin.  In fact, it appears that there is little Greek about Aphrodite.
Aphrodite is most commonly identified in myth as originating from the east, and having her home at Paphos in Cyprus. Although there is a suggestion of her being foreign, it is clear within the context of Homer that Aphrodite is nevertheless understood to be a fully-fledged Greek god and member of Mount Olympus’ pantheon. This certainty can also be assured by references to the goddess in Hesiod, particularly the Theogony.
So, as one of the Olympian gods, it is clear that she had “arrived” in Greece by the time of the composition of Homer’s poems; she is referenced across the Epic cycle, not just in Homer but in tales such as that of the Judgement of Paris. Things start to become more complex, however, in Herodotus’ Histories.
The Judgement of Paris
The Judgement of Paris
Herodotus claims that the Paphian sanctuary of Aphrodite was not the original site of the goddess’ worship. He says that this sanctuary was preceded by a cult of Aphrodite in Ashkadon in the Southern Levant, and furthermore, that the Phoenicians brought the cult to Cyrprus. Pausanias takes us back a step further. He claims the cult originated among the Assyrians, who brought it to the Phoenicians, who, in turn, brought it to Cyprus. The further we move forward with historical sources, the further back Aphrodite’s origin seems to stretch.
These various disparate cultures that make up Aphrodite – both indigenous and foreign – reflect the “melting pot” nature of Cyprus, as a barrier between East and West. There are various theories on how these cultures came together so that the goddess as we know her came to be.
Aphrodite’s Influences
The three most prominent theories are that Aphrodite was of eastern origin, and as such was an essentially Hellenized version of Ishtar. The second is that the real model and antecedent for Aphrodite was the famous Great Mother Goddess of Cyprus. The third, and most unconventional argument, is that Aphrodite was indeed initially an indigenous Greek god, that was subsequently “buried” under layers of foreign influence.
Ishtar
Ishtar
The first of these arguments is the most compelling. The eastern aspects of Aphrodite have always been emphasised. That the cult of Aphrodite would have it’s routes in the east would serve as a fascinating parallel to the Homeric assertion that the literal goddess herself originated in the east. Beyond the eastern origins, however, Aprhodite has undoubtedly a great connection with Cyprus. Indeed, she is so synonymous with Cyrpus that she is at times simply referred to as “the Cypriot.” 
When examining the origin of a female deity connected to Cyprus, one cannot leave the Mother Goddess unacknowledged. This however, brings us to a particular set of problems and debates regarding Aphrodite. Much of the Mother Goddess’ iconography centers upon fertility. The understanding of fertility in relation to the Mother Goddess in particular is not based particularly on human fertility, but rather extends to include crops and animals. It represents productivity and a good harvest. Aphrodite, on the other hand, is marked by emphasis on sexuality. The two elements, of course, have a connection, but the question of emphasis remains an important one.
The final argument remains controversial. It does however bring to bear one of the many complexities when looking into these origins. There is undoubtedly an element of mixture that occurs, and within that it may be difficult to identify the constituent elements.
Regardless of the specifics, centuries after this process could have been seen to have ended – and approximately two millennia after Homer and Hesiod showed us her “complete” form – the image of Aphrodite may still be influenced and altered in different ways. The goddess is reinvented time and again across various novels, TV shows, and films, and our cultural understanding of her shifts with them.
Much like how she is shown in perhaps her most famous interpretation, Botticelli’s painting, the Birth of Venus, the goddess perpetually exists in the moment of being born, and is forever new.

The Triad of Artemis-Selene-Hecate

by January 21, 2022

by Ed Whelan, Contributing Writer, Classical Wisdom
Ancient religion was very dynamic and evolved over the centuries. One of the most interesting examples of this is the Triad of Artemis, or the Triple Goddess, wherein three goddesses were conflated or grouped together. These three goddesses were Artemis, Selene and Hecate.
The group is frequently known in modern times as the Artemis Triad.  But in Graeco-Roman civilization, the Triad was known by a variety of different names.  Artemis is one of the Olympian gods and was the patron deity of hunting, wildlife, virginity, and the Moon. She was revered as the protector of women and children and for her healing powers. She was a daughter of Zeus and was also known as the virgin goddess.
Selene (or Cynthia) was another lunar deity and was believed to embody the Moon.  She was the daughter of Titans, and her siblings included Helios, god of the sun and Eos, the dawn. Selene was thought to drive her silver chariot across the skies at night, which represented the moon. Her partner was Endymion with whom she had up to 50 daughters. She was often represented with horns, which are thought to represent the Moon in its waning crescent phase.
Selene from a Roman-era burial vault
Selene from a Roman-era burial vault
Hecate was an ancient Greek goddess, and she is associated with borders, barriers and crossroads, as well as night, magic and witchcraft. She was deeply associated with the world of spirits, ghosts, and the Underworld. Many sources depict witches worshipping her. Originally, she may have been a Chthonic goddess of non-Greek origin.
The Origins of the Triad
In Classical and Hellenistic religion, this trio of goddesses were very popular and appear to have been part of the public religion of Rome in particular. They were often worshipped by women; they were seen as being very well-disposed to mothers and their children. Artemis was one of the most popular goddesses in the Hellenic world, and there were many temples and festivals held in her honour. Similarly, there were shrines to Hecate at many entrances. 
The Romans adopted many Greek deities including this trio of goddesses. They worshipped Selene under the name of Luna, Artemis was known as Diana, and Hecate was referred to as Trivia. At some point, the Romans began to conflate the three goddesses, possibly in the Republican era based on images on coins. This was because the three shared many characteristics. Most prominently, all three were female and associated with the moon. They were thought to protect or favor those who invoked them. The Triad is part of a tradition of Triple-deities that are common in mythologies around the globe. Some believe that the grouping of the Goddesses in a Triad reflects the influence of Celtic Mythology, but this is controversial.
Artemis (Diana) as the huntress
Artemis (Diana) as the huntress
The Worship of Hekate-Artemis-Selene
Much of what we know about the Triad of goddesses comes from Roman-era period from the (1st-5th century AD). References to the goddesses are made by Seneca the Younger, as well as the epic poets Statius and Nonnus.  From these we can see that the Triad of Artemis-Selene-Hecate was often worshipped in groves, which were believed to be sacred to Artemis. It appears that the Triad was also worshipped at shrines sacred to Hecate and Selene. The Triad was believed to have the combined attributes and powers of all three of the goddesses. In the Roman era, they were regarded as the protector of travellers, and associated with the world of the spirits. In the tragedy Phaedra by Seneca, the heroine prays to the Triad to make her beloved return her love. 
It should be noted that the worship of the Triad did not mean that the individual goddesses lost their identity or role in Graeco-Roman religion. They were often known as Hecate the triple goddess, or three-faced Selene and worshipped as a group because of their close-associations and were not viewed as a single divinity.
The triad and magic
It appears that the Triad was very popular with magicians and those who practised magic, which was ubiquitous in the ancient world. This is evident from surviving papyri that have been unearthed in the deserts of Egypt, which record magical incantations and spells. There are many references to Hecate in her triple aspect in surviving Graeco-Roman magical papyri, and specific references to her as being part of the Triad. Hecate was associated with magic and witches, while Selene and Artemis were associated with the moon and night. The trio my have been conflated and grouped together to make a spell more efficacious and this became a convention.
Conclusion
Triads of gods were very common in the ancient world. Hecate-Selene-Artemis were not aspects of the same god but were worshipped as a group because of their similarities. The conflation of the deities was most common during the Roman era especially during the Empire. The triad was very popular, and it appears that based on ancient magical papyri, that the group of goddesses were important in witchcraft and magic.
References
Burkert, Walter (2000). Greek Religion. Blackwell Publishers: London.