Home Page Button Syllabus / Policies Button Composition Button Grammar Button Rhetoric Button Rhetoric Button Literature button poetry button classical button medieval button Renaissance Button Vocabulary Button



under construction!

In plays, poems, and drama of the classical period, Greco-Roman deities often had epithets attached to their names. These epithets could serve either a ritualistic function or a literary one.

In terms of ritual, anthropologists note how hymns and chants to deities might specify which deity is being called upon. For instance, a Greek or Roman worshiper might want to specify the Cytherian Venus (the one born on the isle of Cyprus) or the Egyptian equivalent (Bast, the foreign equivalent), and they didn't want any confusion about which version or manifestation of the deity should respond. Since the Greco-Roman pantheon had no sacred text to "standardize" belief about the appearance, location, and personality of the gods, the worshiper could avoid such confusion by this specificity. Likewise, an epithet could be used to specify a particular skill or role associated with that deity. If a traveler wants Zeus to protect him, it would be wise to pray to Zeus Xenios (Zeus, the protector of guests and overseer of hospitality) rather than Zeus Ombrios (Zeus, the bringer of storm-clouds). After all, the worshiper wants to be looked after; he doesn't want to be rained on!

In terms of poetry, these epithets also served a poetic function. Poets like the Homer or Sappho could use standard stock-descriptions during spontaneous performance to flesh out a line if they forgot some bit as they recited a verse, or use them as mnemonic bridges to the next section of the poem. Additionally, when trying to create verse like dactylic hexameter, poets would use epithets because they served as appealing "filler" to complete the last few necessary syllables in a line. Often, the Greek or Roman epithets were perfectly suitable for inserting in either a three-syllable or six syllable section of poetry, so a single hexameter or two hexameters were always available in the poetic toolbox. Here are some common epithets I've taken from Walter Burkert's Greek Religion (Cambridge, 2003):

Epithets for Aphrodite:
Aphrodite Urania--Aphrodite the heavenly
Aphrodite the Golden
Aphrodite Kypris--The Aphrodite of Cyprus, the Cytherian Venus
Aphrodite Paphos--The Aphrodite of Paphos
Aphrodite, Mother of the Mountain (Burkert 154)
Aphrodite, Daughter of Zeus (This epithet only appears in certain epics; contrast with Hesiod in which Aphrodite is born from sea-foam)
Aphrodite Philommeides--Laughter-loving Aphrodite
Aphrodite Pandemos--Aphrodite, lover of the whole people [partly in the specific sense of Aphrodite being a goddess of prostitution, but also in the sense of an all-embracing love of people as a whole]
Aphrodite Polos--Aphrodite, the high-crowned
Venus Genetrix--Venus the progenitor [a Roman cult made popular by the Aeneas tradition and Julius Caesar]
Aphrodite Areia--Warlike Aphrodite ]

Epithets for Apollo:
Apollo Epikourios--Apollo the Helper (i.e., the Healer) (147)
Apollo Loxias--Apollo the Oblique (i.e., the one who gives confusing oracles) (148)
Apollo Hekatebolos--Apollo, who strikes from afar (with his bow) (146)
Apollo Hekebolos--Apollo the afar, the distant one (146)
Apollo Hekatos--Apollo, who kills many (with plague) (146)
Apollo Delios--Delian Apollo, born on the island of Delos
Apollo Delphios--Delphian Apollo, protector of the shrine at Delphi
Apollo Despota--Apollo, the cruel master
Apollo Pythios--Pythian Apollo, slayer of the Python
Apollo Hyperboreos--Apollo, worshipped by the northmen
Apollo Mousagetes--Apollo, leader of the Nine Muses (147)
Apollo Daphnephorios--Apollo, carrier of the bay branches (147)
Apollo Apotropaios--Apollo, averter of evil (184)

Apollo's mottos as carved at the shrine of Delphi: "meden agan" [nothing in excess] and "gnothi sauton" [know yourself]

Epithets for Ares/Mars

Mars Ultor--the Roman mars brought to Athens under Caesar Augustus

Epithets for Artemis
Artemis Potnia Theron--Artemis, Mistress of the Animals (150)
Artemis Lydia--Artemis of the Lydians
Artemis the Arrow-Showering
Artemis Keladeine--Artemis the Resounding (150)
Artemis Agrotera--Artemis of open countryside (184)
Artemis, Mistress of Sacrifices
Artemis Alpheiaia
Artemis Hagne--Holy Artemis [in the sense of "an inviolate and inviolable virgin"] (Burkert 150)
Artemis Lochia--Artemis, watcher in childbirth (Burkert 184)
Artemis Ortheia (Burkert 184)

Epithets for Athena:
Athena Polias--Athena the protector of cities
Athena Poliouchos--Athena builder of fortresses
Athena Parthenos--Athena the virgin (or Athena, the one born from Zeus's head without sexuality)
Athena Ergane--Athena, overseer of handicrafts (especially wool-working)
Athena Promachos--Athena, joiner of battles
Athena Strategos--Athena, former of plans
Athena Nike--Athena, granter of victories
Athena Hippia--Athena, tamer of horses
Athena Koure--Athena, overseer of young girls and virgins
Pallas Athene--Athena, morale-booster (perhaps connected to Athena, slayer of Pallas)
Athena Aegiphora--Athena, carrier of the Aegis
Athena Nauta--Athena, shipbuilder
Athena Proxima--Athena, goddess of nearness (as Walter F. Otto translates it, the one who is always
near her followers, in contrast with the distance of Apollo)
Athena Phronesis--Athena, creator of morally responsible reasoning
Gray-Eyed Athena
Owl-Eyed Athena
Athena, Daughter of Zeus
Athena Alea--a composite epithet for a local version of a hybrid Athena combined with Alea (Burkert 184)
Athena Areia--warlike Athena (169)

"In league with Athena, set your own hand to work."
--Greek Proverb

Epithets for Demeter:
Demeter Chthonia-- Demeter the earthly one (Burkert 184)
Demeter Karpophoros--Demeter the fruit-bringer (184)
Demeter Kourotrophos--Demeter who nurses boys--an epithet she shares with Hera (184)
Demeter who fills the barn (159)
Demeter Thesauros--Demeter of the treasury (i.e., of the granary) (159)
Blond Demeter (159)
Demeter Agaue--Venerable Demeter (159)
Demeter Epaine--Awesome Demeter (159)

In Cyprian Greek, the word for harvesting corn is damatrizein, which connects with the name Demeter or Damater. The Athenians called the dead Demetreioi and sowed corn on their graves.

Epithets for Dionysus:
Dionysus, son of Zeus
Dionysus Oinos--Dionysus the wine-god
Dionysus Polygethes--Dionysus, giver of many joys
Dionysus Orgios--Dionysus, the overseer of orgies
Dionyus Anthroporraistes--Dionysus, the destroyer of men, an epithet often written on tenedos (Burkert 164)
Dionysus Omestes--Dionysus, eater of raw flesh
Dionysus Lycurgus--Dionysus the wolf-repeller
Dionysus Bacchus--Dionysus the frenzied
Dionysus Meilichios--Dionysus the mild

TBA: See Burkert 159 et passim per ultras

Epithets for Hades:
Hades-Aidoneus--Hades the personified underworld (Burkert 159)

Epithets for Hephaestus
Hephaistos Lemnios--The Lemnian Hephaestus (Burkert 167)

(Geographical tidbit: The volcanic Lipari Islands in Greek are the Hephaestiades insulae, and his smithy later located under Mount Etna in Roman literature).

Epithets for Hera
Hera Zygia--Hera, protector of lawful marriage (Burkert 184)
Hera Gamelios--Hera, protector of marriage rituals (184)
Hera Kourotrophos--Hera who nurses boys, an epithet she shares with Demeter (184)
Hera Teleia--Hera as watcher over the ultimate goal of marriage (184)
Hera is often listed as the ruling deity of Argos and (in Virgil) Carthage.

Epithets for Hermes/ Mercury:
Hermes Argeiphontes--Hermes, slayer of Argos (Burkert 157)
Hermes Psychopompos--Hermes, guide of the Dead (158)
Hermes Chthonias--Hermes, guide into the Underworld (158)
Hermes Phallos--Hermes the copulator (158)--a common one used by shepherds, and in legend, Hermes mastered his skills at seduction while living in the pastoral wilds.
Hermes Logos--Hermes, god of interpreters, fast-talk, and good speech (158)
Hermes Agoraios--Hermes who brings profit in the market place (184)
Hermaas Areias--Warlike Hermes--an epithet mostly confined to Mycenaean inscriptions (169)

Mercury Terminorum--Mercury, god of boundaries (especially in the sense of violating boundaries)
Mercury Mercator--Mercury, god of merchants (primarily a Roman icon, where statues depicted Mercury as carrying bulging bags of money)
Mercury Fortunus--Mercury, god of luck

In Greek, a lucky find or an unexpected bout of good fortune is called a hermaion.--i.e., a windfall from Hermes. Anyone skilled at or renowned for trickery was called a Hermides, "a son of Hermes." Thieves would also unabashedly pray to or call upon the name of Hermes as they stole something or to ask for help in their escape from wrathful pursuers. Hermes was also the god of interpreters, who were called hermeneus in Greek.

Epithets for Poseidon:
Poseidon Soter--Poseidon, savior of sailors (Burkert 184)
Poseidon Taureos--Poseidon the bull of the sea (Burkert 184)
Poseidon Hippios--Poseidon, creator of horses (Burkert 184)
Poseidon Petraios--The rock Poseidon (Burkert 184)
Poseidon Asphaleios--Poseidon, averter of earthquakes (Burkert 184)

Poseidon Erechtheus--The Erechthean Poseidon, an amalgam of what originally were two separate deities (Burkert 184)

Epithets for Tyche:
Tycha Soteira--Saving Tyche (Burkert 186)
Tyche who raises up and casts down (186)
Tyche the city-goddess (186)
Tyche of Antioch (Burkert 186)

Originally, Tyche, "the lucky hit" appears to have been a personified abstraction turned into a deity after-the-fact in late Greece.

Epithets for Zeus (Burkert 184):
Zeus Xenios--Zeus, the protector of guests
Zeus Ktêsios--Zeus, the guardian of possessions in a house, protector of property.
Zeus Agoraios--Zeus, the lord of public assembly/ lord of the agora
Zeus Teleios--Zeus, the overseer of completion in rituals (especially marriage)
Zeus Dikêphoros--Zeus, the harmonizer of Olympian gods and spirits of the dead
Zeus Sóter--Zeus, the savior or "Third Saving Zeus"
Zeus Panergetos--Zeus all-achieving
Zeus Olympios--Zeus, overseer of the Olympian games
Zeus Ombrios--Zeus, the bringer of rain
Zeus Hyetios--Zeus, the bringer of storms
Zeus Herkeios--Zeus, the center of court
Zeus Polius--Zeus, the guardian of the city
Zeus Panhellenios--Zeus of all the Greeks
Zeus Agetor--Zeus as leader or commander
Zeus Diktaois--Zeus, keeper of the tenth month
Zeus the Shepherd of the Clouds
Zeus the Storm-gatherer
Zeus the Lightning-Wielder
Zeus Kronios--Chronian Zeus (i.e., Zeus, son of Chronos)
Zeus Kronides--Zeus, son of Chronos
Last of all, my personal favorite is "Zeus the Averter of Flies," an epithet used by individuals attending the Olympic and Delphic games in Greece, who would buy small figurines of Zeus and then pray for him to smite dead the endless summer flies at these games.

Imagesof Gods:

Terminus was depicted simply as a large stone or boundary marker; he was not typically anthropomorphosized (Gibbon 1. Vol. , p 24)
Hermes at the port of Kyllene in Elis was worshipped in the shape of a phallos.
His kerykeion, or herald's








To Home Page
Copyright Dr. L. Kip Wheeler 1998-2018. Permission is granted for non-profit, educational, and student reproduction. Last updated April 24, 2018. Contact: kwheeler@cn.edu Please e-mail corrections, suggestions, or comments to help me improve this site. Click here for credits, thanks, and additional copyright information.