Classical gods

In classical antiquity the Greeks believed that twelve gods, six of them male – Apollo, Ares, Hephaestus, Hermes, Poseidon and the supreme god Zeus – lived on Mount Olympus. The Romans adopted the Greek gods (in part) under different names: Apollo, Mars, Vulcan, Mercury, Neptune and Jupiter. Alongside these Olympian gods, the Greeks and Romans also revered many other deities who have often been depicted in art since ancient times: for example, the god of wine Dionysus (Bacchus) and the god of love Eros (Amor or Cupid), as well as demigods or ‘heroes’ – the offspring of gods and humans – such as Heracles (Hercules) and Theseus. Artists relied primarily on the Metamorphoses by Ovid (43 BC-AD 17-18). This Roman poet wrote around 250 stories in which the Greek gods, goddesses and demigods perform miraculous deeds and exert influence on the lives of mortals. At the same time these deities are prey to all human emotions, experiencing love, anger and jealousy, and even commit adultery.

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