Greek Mythology is the collection of stories and beliefs of the ancient Greek civilization thousands of years ago. The mythology we know today was more encompassing than a simple religion; it dictated all aspects of the lives of these ancient people. There were a great number of deities with varying amounts of power and complicated family trees.
There is such a huge amount of literature about this time, and some people make entire careers studying the ancient Greeks. While they might find every detail fascinating, most of us are really only interested in some of the more fascinating characters, and specifically, gods and goddesses.
The greatest of the Greek gods and goddesses lived and ruled from a beautiful palace high on Mount Olympus. The most important of the deities could be nicknamed, The Big Twelve, and this group was comprised of seven major gods and five major goddesses. Of course, women are infinitely more interesting than men, so naturally they have some of the most interesting stories.
Hera is the queen of the gods. She is married to Zeus, king of the gods who is also her brother. (Pickings were slim back then, I guess.)
They have anything but a happy marriage. In addition to being the queen, Hera is the goddess of marriage and childbirth. She protects the sanctity of marriage, which is ironic since her husband is the most promiscuous man in mythology.
Hera does what she can to protect her marriage, but since she can't punish her husband, she usually just punishes his paramours. In one instance, she tricked a girl into having Zeus reveal his true form. Of course, mortals can't look at a god's true form, so the girl was fried. In another instance, Hera was jealous of Leto who was pregnant with Zeus's child. Hera banned Leto from delivering on firm earth, and then tried to prevent Leto from going in to labor. Eventually other goddesses intervened and Leto had twins, Artemis and Apollo.
Hera had two notable children. Ares, the god of war, was born legitimately of Hera and Zeus. Hera also had a son, Hephaestus, by herself. She was jealous that Zeus had grown a baby, Dionysus, in his thigh (after Hera had tricked his mother to her crispy death), so she created Hephaestus by herself. Unfortunately, Hephaestus was ugly and crippled, so she threw him off Mount Olympus. He became the blacksmith of the gods, and at one point tricked Hera into sitting in a throne that imprisoned her. Hephaestus did release her when he was offered Aphrodite as a wife.
Aphrodite had no true parents. She was born of sea form, which actually makes her older than the other major gods and goddesses. She is well-known as the goddess of love, beauty and sexuality. The love in this case has much more to do with lust than romance. Despite her beauty, she is actually vain, easily angered and unpleasant company in many of her stories. Despite her marriage to Hephaestus, which she did not chose, Aphrodite prefers the company of many other men, usually Ares, the god of war.
Aphrodite is responsible for starting one of the most well-known wars of the age. Hera, Aphrodite, and Athena all claimed possession of a golden apple inscribed, "To the Fairest." Paris, a mere mortal, was selected to judge who really was the most beautiful, which boiled down to a contest of bribes. Aphrodite bribed Paris with the most beautiful woman in the world, Helen, who was already married to the King of Sparta. Of course, Paris chose Aphrodite, and his abduction of the promised Helen caused the Trojan War.
Demeter is the goddess of grain, agriculture, and the harvest. She is also considered to play the role of Mother Earth. Demeter is Zeus and Hera's sister and is also one of the major goddesses.
Demeter brought the skills and knowledge of farming to mankind, separating man from animal. She has one famous daughter, Persephone.
Persephone was extremely beautiful and the light of Demeter's life. Hades, the god of the underworld, became fixated with Persephone, too. He abducted Persephone from the earth and took her to his kingdom in the underworld. Demeter had no idea where her beloved daughter had gone, and was miserable. Persephone had been playing with some nymphs at the time, and Demeter later turned those nymphs into the Sirens to punish them for not interfering with the kidnapping.
All nature on earth came to a standstill while Demeter searched for her daughter. The earth was essentially dead, and many men and animals were starving from the lack of food. Finally Zeus interfered and sent Hermes, the messenger of the gods, to rescue Persephone. Hades released her, but tricked Persephone into eating four (or six depending on the story) pomegranate seeds before she left. Eating the food of the underworld condemns the eater, so Persephone must now return to the underworld as Hades' wife four (or six) months of the year. During those months, Demeter still mourns her daughter and the earth is again cold and dreary. We now call this dead time, winter.
There are many other goddesses of Greek mythology, including Athena and Artemis, both of The Big Twelve. All gods and goddesses have unique stories and personalities, which certainly make for interesting research and reading, even if I can't fit all their stories into a single article. Perhaps there will be more to come.