This article draws a close to my series of articles looking at different deities in paintings. Here I provide a succinct summary and links to individual articles in the series. Goddesses are listed by their name in alphabetical order, including their best-known synonyms in classical Greek and Roman pantheons. I hope you find this a useful identification guide. A matching guide to gods is here.
Aphrodite – see Venus
Artemis (the Huntress) – see Diana
Athena – see Minerva
Aurora (the dawn), Greek Eos. Rises each morning at the edge of the sea to the east, with her rosy fingers, throws open the gates of heaven so enabling the sun to rise. Elaborate myth of her relationship with Cephalus, whom she abducted.
Eos (Aurora), the dawn
Bellona (war), Greek Enyo. Roman goddess of war, concerned with sacking and destruction of cities like Troy. Attributes a warrior’s helmet and a torch for setting alight to buildings. May be confused with Minerva.
Bellona (Enyo), War
Ceres (the harvest), Greek Demeter. Associated with agriculture, food production, the summer, and fertility. Sometimes assumes the role of peace (Pax). Attributes sheaves of wheat, bread, suckling infants, sometimes also associated with the Spring and Flora, daughter Persephone, and a cornucopia. Elaborate myth with abduction of Persephone by Hades, also attempted murder of Triptolemus and development of wheat.
The Charites – see the Graces
Chloris (the Spring) – see Flora
Cybele (Mother of the Gods) – see Magna Mater
Demeter (the harvest) – see Ceres
Diana (the Huntress), Greek Artemis. Twin sister of Apollo and daughter of Latona. Goddess of hunting, wild places and animals, the Moon, and chastity. Requires her many women followers to be chaste too. Despite that, associated with childbirth and fecundity and may have multiple breasts. Attributes a hunting bow and arrows, crescent moon normally worn in a coronet or tiara, also deer and the cypress tree. Roman associations in a triple deity with Luna (Moon) and Hecate. Several popular myths, including Actaeon who accidentally saw her bathing in the nude, was transformed into a stag and killed by his own hunting dogs.
Dies (the day) – see Hemera
Echo, Oread nymph asked by Juno to keep an eye on her husband Jupiter. Despite her chattering, refused to tell Juno all, so was cursed to speak only as an acoustic echo of what is said to her. Fell in love with Narcissus, so associated with that flower after his death.
Echo and Narcissus
Enyo (war) – see Bellona
Eos (the dawn) – see Aurora
Erinyes (the Furies) – see Furies
Eris (strife and Discord). Omitted from the guest list of the wedding of Peleus and Thetis, so gave a golden apple from the Garden of the Hesperides as a prize for the Judgement of Paris. Usually seen flying, perhaps throwing the golden apple down. Normally ugly or disfigured.
The Fates, Greek Moirai, Roman Fatae or Parcae. Clotho, who spins the thread of life, Lachesis, who allots a length to each person with a measuring rod, and Atropos, who cuts each length using traditional shears. Three sisters invariably seen together, although Atropos may be oldest in appearance. They allocate each mortal the length of their life. Often seen with Father Time.
Flora (the Spring), Greek Chloris. Raped by Zephyrus (west wind) then married to him and transformed from nymph to goddess. Associated with spring flowers, plant growth and fertility.
Chloris (Flora), transformation
Chloris (Flora), Spring
The Furies, Greek Erinyes, Roman Dirae. Normally three, Alecto, Megaera and Tisiphone, who punish moral crimes, notably Orestes. In between missions they sleep. Associated with the Underworld, snakes, torment and screaming. Key figures in the elaborate series of myths about Orestes.
The Erinyes (Furies)
The Graces, Greek Charites, Roman Gratiae. Three sisters usually in Venus’ retinue, seen dancing with one another in an inward facing ring.
The Charites or Graces
Gorgons, three sisters including Medusa, who are guarded by another group of three sisters, the Graiai (the Grey Ones), Roman Graeae. Usually seen in the myth of Perseus and his killing of Medusa. The Graiai have a single shared eye. Medusa’s direct look (even when dead) turns mortals to stone.
Graiai and Gorgons
Graiai – see Gorgons
Hebe (youth), Roman Juventas. A young adult, cup-bearer to the gods, later married to Heracles. Attributes jug and cup, often seen with Jupiter’s eagle.
Hecate. Associated with the moon, crossroads, boundaries including doorways, magic and witchcraft. Mother of Scylla and Circe. Attributes a pair of torches, dogs, serpents, keys, wheel. Triple-bodied with three faces looking outwards.
Hemera (the Day), Roman Dies. The complement of her mother Nyx, usually seen as an infant with brother Erebus (darkness).
Hemera (Dies), the Day
Hera – see Juno
The Hesperides live in a garden ‘in the west’ where they tend Juno’s orchard with golden apples, one of which is supplied to Eris as the prize for the Judgement of Paris. Any number from 3-7. Also myths involving Heracles and Atlas. Some paintings add a large serpent.
Hestia (the hearth) – see Vesta
The Hours (the Seasons), Greek Horai, Roman Horae. Anything from three to twelve, various names or just four for the seasons of the year.
Horai (Horae), the Seasons or Hours
Horai, Horae (the Seasons) – see the Hours
Iris (the rainbow). Messenger and cup-bearer of the gods. Attributes the rainbow or an arc of billowing clothing, often winged with caduceus like Mercury’s. Myths of carrying water from River Styx to the gods, and allowed to enter the Underworld for that and transferring dead heroes. Also involved in Trojan War legend with the wounded Venus.
Iris, the rainbow
Juno, Greek Hera. Sister and wife of Jupiter. Attributes peacocks, cows, pomegranate fruit. Chariot towed by peacocks. One of three contestants in the Judgement of Paris. Jealous of Jupiter’s many rapes and affairs, and watchful of him. Elaborate myth of Io and Argus, whom she has killed, then plucks out his many eyes to put on her peacocks. Vindictive towards Jupiter’s lovers, particularly Callisto. Suckled the newborn Heracles, giving origin to the Milky Way.
Latona, Greek Leto. Mother of twins Apollo and Diana. Distinctive myths of the birth of her twins, which may include peasants being turned into frogs, and her vindictive slaughter (by her children) of the children of Niobe.
Leto (Latona), mother of Apollo and Artemis
Leto – see Latona
Luna (the Moon), Greek Selene. Drives the Moon chariot across the sky at night. Attributes the crescent moon (shared with Diana), a torch and billowing garments. Sometimes seen with Diana and Hecate.
Selene (Luna), the Moon
Magna Mater (Mother of the Gods), Greek Cybele. Associated with legendary origins of Romans from the Trojans. Attributes the fruit of the earth. Chariot drawn by a pair of lions (lion and lioness). Seen with Flora.
Cybele (Magna Mater), Mother of the Gods
Medusa (a Gorgon) – see the Gorgons
Minerva, Greek Athena, Pallas Athena. Associated with wisdom, crafts including weaving and fibrecraft, warfare. Patroness of Athens. Shown as a warrior, with a spear and distinctive plumed helmet, usually with red feathers. Bears a shield with the image of Medusa’s face on it (her aegis). Attributes include One of three contestants in the Judgement of Paris. Myths include her weaving contest against Arachne
Mnemosyne (memory), Roman Moneta. Mother and head of the Muses, often seen with them. Usually appears distinguished. May be seen with Jupiter disguised as a shepherd. Post-classical associations with pansy flowers, and a sprig of yew.
Moirai – see The Fates
Moneta (memory) – see Mnemosyne
Mousai – see the Muses
The Muses (the arts), Greek Mousai. Normally nine in number, the daughters of Mnemosyne, who may appear with them. Calliope (epic poetry) with a stylus and tablet or a lyre; Clio (history) with scrolls or books; Erato (love poetry) holds or plays a cithara, a type of lyre; Euterpe (music and lyric poetry) plays a flute-like aulos; Melpomene (tragedy) has the mask characteristic of the genre; Polyhymnia (hymns) with grapes and agriculture; Terpsichore (dance) with a lyre; Thalia (comedy) has a comic mask or a shepherd’s crook; Urania (astronomy) with a globe or compass. Seen with Apollo on Parnassus, or with Minerva and Pegasus on Helicon.
Nemesis (retribution), and divine justice in its relentless pursuit. Usually has angelic wings, whip or sword for summary justice, horse’s bridle or bit. May also have symbol of justice such as weighing scales.
Nyx (the night). Typically dark, with a dark or black cloak which may contain stars, and often with Morpheus (sleep), sometimes with Erebus (darkness). Chariot with four wheels. Associated with bats, owls and other creatures of the night.
Persephone – see Proserpine
Proserpine, Greek Persephone or Kore. Associated with the plant world and vegetation. Attributes the pomegranate, ears of wheat and grain. Abducted to the Underworld by Hades when a very young girl. Recovered by command of Jupiter, but condemned to spend winter months with Hades, and summer with mother Ceres, where she’s associated with plant growth and the summer season.
Psyche. Known from Apuleius’ Golden Ass, centred on her love affair with Cupid. Although pregnant, she’s unaware that he is her husband. Associated with the soul, but often painted in torrid scenes with Cupid.
The Seasons – see the Hours
Selene (the Moon) – see Luna
Thetis, senior Nereid. Major myth of rape by Peleus, followed by their wedding, attended by all the gods, at which Eris drops the golden apple leading to the Judgement of Paris. Also role as the mother of Achilles, who dips him as an infant, resulting in his Achilles heel vulnerability which ultimately leads to his death. Brings Achilles Vulcan’s impregnable armour following the death of Patroclus.
Thetis, Achilles’ mother
Venus (Love, usually carnal and lustful), Greek Aphrodite. Very popular, almost invariably shown nude, often with her son Cupid. Elaborate myth of her birth (‘Venus Anadyomene’) from sea foam resulting from Uranus’s semen. Associated with clamshells (birth). Husband Vulcan, but she’s notoriously unfaithful. Also seen caught in bed in her adulterous relationship with Mars, or with her young lover Adonis. Winner of the three contestants in the Judgement of Paris.
The Birth of Aphrodite (Venus Anadyomene, often referring to Botticelli’s original)
Vesta (the hearth), Greek Hestia. Overlapped with the household gods Lares and Penates. Associated with the ‘eternal flame’, and Vestal Virgins, who were put to death if they lost their virginity.
Hestia (Vesta) and her virgins