As much fun as it is to learn about the Greek pantheon of gods, it can be difficult to spot the differences between the gods. Who has facial hair and who doesn’t? Why does one goddess portrayed with a long skirt and another isn't? While there is likely an exception to every clue listed below, here are a few helpful tips to tell the gods apart when looking at a statue of a Greek god.
As goddess of the hunt, it makes sense that Artemis is most often depicted in sculpture wearing a short dress or skirt, as it would be difficult to run and hunt in a full length dress. Artemis is the goddess of nature, wild creatures, hunting, and childbirth and is often shown surrounded by animals or a hunting dog. She usually is shown as having youthful features and has a bow and/or quiver near her.
Fun facts about Artemis:
- She hunts with a silver bow
- Took a vow of chastity
- The deer is one of her more famous icons
The god Apollo came to the age of maturity as a young man, so Apollo will always have youthful features compared to his other godly counterparts (no wrinkles and will always be shown without a beard). In Greek statues, Apollo is usually shows as having curly hair with a bow-like updo in his hair.
Fun facts about Apollo:
- He is the twin brother of Artemis
- Apollo is the god of prophecy, music, poetry, disease, and healing
- Is typically holding a lyre
Bronze statuette of Apollo, ca. 500 B.C.,
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
Perhaps one of the most famous of the Greek gods, Zeus is fairly easy to distinguish compared to his fellow immortals. He usually has long, white flowing hair and mature features to show his age and wisdom. The physical attributes of Zeus can be compared to Renaissance depictions of Christ or Father Time (though Zeus will have far more muscles).
Fun facts about Zeus:
- Leader of the Olympians
- Brother to Hades and Posoiden
- God of fate, destiny, prophecy, and hospitality
The myth surrounding Athena describes her as powerful and, perhaps, even more powerful than her father Zeus. As the goddess of wisdom, strategy and warfare, it seems natural that Athena is wearing a warrior’s helmet. She is also typically shown having a full body of armor (it was said she was born as a fully grown woman wearing armor) and her cape has the image of Medusa imprinted on it.
Fun facts about Athena:
- She is the patron goddess of Athens
- Is cited as Zeus’s favorite child
- She cannot fall in love and remained chaste and unmarried
Terracotta squat lekythos (oil flask) with bust of Athena, 5th century B.C.,
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
Often going by his Roman name, Hercules, Heracles is one of the only gods who started out as a mortal (human) and gained status as a god by completing acts that displayed his power. In art and sculpture, he is typically shown as being very muscular and holding a lion skin or wrestling a large serpent or lion. He can also be depicted as young or more mature (with a beard), very muscular, and is often shown holding a large club.
Fun facts about Heracles:
- Was one of Jason’s “Argonauts” on the hunt for the Golden Fleece
- Was hated by Zeus’s wife, Hera, who often tried to kill Heracles as a child
- Became immortal after accomplishing 12 Labors
As the messenger god, it would make sense that Hermes would need to deliver messages in a timely manner. Thus, Hermes is easy to distinguish due to his shoes and cap, which typically have small wings attached to them to help aide in the quick delivery of messages. Like Apollo, Hermes is depicted as youthful and sometimes with a staff with two snakes wrapped around it.
Fun facts about Hermes:
- He is the god of boundaries, diplomacy, athletics, travel, and trade
- Is the only god who can travel to and from the underworld
- He is credited with creating the lyre and trading it for 50 cows to the god Apollo
Terracotta lekythos (oil flask) depicting Hermes in traveling clothes,
ca. 480–470 B.C., The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
To learn more about Greek history and these incredibly interesting figures from Greek mythology, be sure to check out Issue 17 of Honest History magazine for kids ages 6-12.