Greek goddesses were powerful deities ruling everything from the light heralding the beginning of a new day to the strife that leads mankind into countless moments of mortal danger. In my last article, I introduced you to five goddesses you’d probably never heard of. Today, I bring you five more lesser-known Greek Goddesses that, despite being lesser known today, were enigmatic and important figures in ancient Greece.
According to the ancient Greek writer, Philostratus the Elder, Hebe was the youngest of the Olympian deities. The daughter of Zeus and Hera, Hebe was the goddess of youth and the patron of young brides. Until her marriage to the hero Heracles (Hercules), Hebe served as the cupbearer to the gods on Mount Olympus. Hebe alone had the ability to sustain the immortality of the gods and restore youth to mortal men and women.
Hebe was a devoted daughter and sister. She is often found in association with her mother, Hera, queen of the gods. In the Iliad, Homer describes Hebe assisting Hera with the horses for her chariot. Homer also recounts Hebe bathing and dressing her brother, Ares, god of war.
While worship of Hebe was often in conjunction with her mother or husband, she also enjoyed her own cult and temple. In Philos in Argolis, a sacred grove was dedicated to Hebe that offered sanctuary to all who sought it. It was believed that within this grove, forgiveness could be received by anyone that called upon the goddess. It was such a powerful place that prisoners, upon their release, would hang their chains from the trees in the grove as an offering of thanks to Hebe.
Melinoe is the goddess of ghosts and justice for the dead. In ancient Greece, proper burial and offerings ensured that the spirit of the deceased was able to find peace in the Underworld. When those rites were not completed, Melinoe would seek retribution for the wronged spirit. At night, she would emerge from the Underworld with a host of spirits following her. Together, they would terrify mortals unlucky enough to cross their path. Often those mortals would suffer terrible nightmares, or in more severe cases, be driven to madness.
The daughter of Persephone and Zeus (disguised as Hades, god of the Underworld), Melinoe was often described as having white limbs on one side and black limbs on the other. She could change her form at will and used that ability to frighten mortals who were unlucky enough to catch a glimpse of her as she passed. Worship of Melinoe is unknown, but she may have played a role in the beliefs and rituals of the Orphic cult as she is mentioned in the Orphic Hymns.
Although her name is familiar to us thanks to a famous shoe company, few realize that Nike was originally a Greek goddess. The personification of victory, Nike ruled over competitions and granted victory to the worthy. Prizes given out in competitions were often seen as gifts bestowed by Nike herself.
Many accounts of Nike’s birth exist and are often contradictory. However, she is most often portrayed as the daughter of the Titans Styx and Pallas and sister of Zelus (Zeal), Kratos (Strength), and Bia (Power). During the war between the Titans and Olympians, Nike was one of the first to pledge her allegiance to Zeus. She served as charioteer for Zeus and later, with her siblings, as a sentinel at the god’s throne.
Though there a few remaining sanctuaries dedicated to Nike alone, she was most often worshipped in conjunction with Zeus or Athena. In Athens, Nike was believed to be an attendant of Athena, following her into battle and bestowing victory when it was earned. She was often portrayed as a winged goddess held in the outstretched hand of Athena, most famously in the statue of Athena Parthenos that once stood within the Parthenon.
Psyche did not begin life as a goddess. She was born of mortal parents, the youngest daughter of a Greek king and queen. Renowned for her beauty, Psyche accidentally attracted the wrath of Aphrodite, the goddess of beauty. When Aphrodite’s temples were abandoned in favor of worshipping Psyche, the enraged goddess sent her son, Eros, to cause Psyche to fall in love with the most disgusting man in the kingdom. Instead, Psyche’s beauty enthralled Eros, and he fell deeply in love with her.
When no mortal man came forward to request Psyche’s hand in marriage, her worried father sought out advice from the Oracle. There he was told to take Psyche to the tallest rock spire in the kingdom and abandon her. She was to be left to a terrible beast. Heartbroken, but afraid to go against the demands of the Oracle, her father did as commanded. A great wind descended and whisked Psyche away to a sprawling palace where Eros, hidden by darkness, claimed her as his bride. He warned her, however, never to look upon his face. Psyche’s sisters, jealous at her good fortune, began to plant seeds of discontent into Psyche’s heart. They convinced her that it was no young prince joining her in the marriage bed but was actually a vile and hideous beast. Eventually curiosity won, and Psyche snuck in to spy on her husband as he slept. It was then that she discovered he was the god, Eros, and in her shock woke him from his slumber. Betrayed and heartbroken, Eros fled from the palace vowing never to return. Heartbroken, Psyche wandered the land looking for her lost love. Unfortunately for her though, Aphrodite was infuriated to learn that Eros had claimed the girl for his own. Psyche’s betrayal only enraged her more. Aphrodite forced Psyche to undergo grueling trials that eventually led to her death. But Eros, moved by Psyche’s dedication and unwavering love, took her to Olympus where she was made the immortal goddess of the soul.
Tyche was the Greek goddess of fortune and chance. Fate was hers to command, for better or worse. She not only represented the fate of the individual but of communities as well. When an event occurred without an obvious cause – whether it be a drought, a political upheaval, or a personal downfall – it was Tyche that determined the outcome. She is often found in the company of Nemesis as a balancing force to the fortunes Tyche could bestow.
Tyche’s parentage is uncertain. She is sometimes considered the daughter of Aphrodite and Hermes or possibly Zeus. Other accounts record that she is the daughter of the Titans Oceanus and Tethys. Regardless of her heritage, Tyche was a beloved goddess among the Greek people. Cults to Tethys stretched across the Mediterranean, and her temple at Alexandria was considered one of the most beautiful in all of Greece.