chapter  2
14 Pages

The Pagan Gods

Because Latin and not Greek literature was for so long the basis of Western education, the pagan gods were known in the Renaissance and subsequently under their Latin names. After the conquest of Greece in the second century BC, Rome gradually began to assimilate Greek culture, and local Roman deities became identified where possible with their Greek counterparts. The table lists the principal gods, the Latin preceding the Greek name, with their associations and activities indicated. (The many lesser gods and demigods are not included.)

The myths of the pagan gods were not enshrined in any sacred canonical books, but were told and retold with many variations in works of literature. In Greek the word myth simply means a story. The earliest Greek sources are Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, and Hesiod’s Theogony. Almost all Greek tragedies take the myths of the gods and their dealings with men for their plots, and in these works we find the most serious theological questions being asked: Why do the gods behave as they do? Is their portrayal by human beings accurate? Are they just? Are humans morally better than gods?