Contents of this category
- Household Gods
- The “Twelve“ Gods
- Cosmocrators (Planets)
- Stars & Constellations
- Heavenly Gods
- Water Gods
- Terrestrial Gods
- Chthonic Gods
- Affects & Attributes
- Other Greater Beings
- Principal Gods
- Gods of Fate and Fortune
- Titanic Gods
- Other Gods
Contents of this page
2 How I have classified the gods
It is a necessity, when organizing information about the gods on a website, to impose some sort of order onto that information. It could be done well enough, perhaps, in accordance with some one philosophical school (the Stoics, say, or the Neoplatonists) or a particular poet (like Homer or Hesiod), but when the goal is to remain general and non-sectarian, the task turns into a series of choices between equally bad options. So, let me explain the choices I have made here, so that none of them can be mistaken as simply given.
I have begun with the Household Gods, for one poetic and one practical reason. The poetic is that this allows me to place Hestia and Janus (the gods who are supposed to be invoked before any others) first, since they are both overseers of the home. The practical rationale is that in our time, worship largely takes place at home, and so it is reasonable to look to its guardians first.
I have placed the category of The “Twelve“ Gods next, because they include many of the most widely venerated deities, but also because they are an especially misunderstood grouping, and it is important to set these misunderstandings right before proceeding. For one thing, as I explain in the general post about them, they are not really one specific set of twelve, although some gods – such as Zeus/Jupiter or Athena/Minerva – feature in every variant list. (For my part, I have chosen to take fifteen deities from these lists.) Relatedly, they are not all Olympian gods, and not all Olympian gods belong to the Twelve; the moniker “Twelve Olympians” is modern.
After this, I put the planets, which I call Cosmocrators or ‘rulers of the world’, using a term favored by the Neoplatonists when they wished to refer to these celestial bodies specifically as a group of gods. Of the seven planetary gods, five are also numbered among the Twelve Gods, and I hope that this juxtaposition of two overlapping categories shows how the same gods can be classified in various ways, and integrated into very different paradigms. (Although notably Sallustius manages to integrate the sevenfold and twelvefold orders into one.)
After these overlapping starting-points, I proceed to a more or less spatial arrangement, beginning with:
- the astral gods (Stars & Constellations), followed by
- the Heavenly Gods, also called the Olympians or the Supernals (lat. dii superi),
- the Water Gods, who dwell in and rule over the seas and freshwaters,
- the Terrestrial Gods, that is, the gods ‘upon the earth’ (gr. epigeioi), who hold sway where we humans live, and finally,
- the Chthonic Gods, also called the Infernals (lat. dii inferi), who are of the Earth and below it, in the underworld.
This is one way to draw the lines between different groups of gods, but they can also be drawn very differently. For instance, the stars can also be counted as heavenly, and they could be joined with some of the Olympians under the umbrella of fiery (‘ethereal’) gods; some others of the Olympians (as well as gods here grouped as watery or terrestrial) would then be assigned to the sphere of the element air.
Likewise, the Chthonic gods could be split up into chthonic (‘earthly’) ones like Demeter/Ceres on the one hand – which could be merged with the terrestrials –, and the katachthonic (‘underworldly’) ones like Hades/Dis on the other. Whatever division one chooses, some gods must be assigned to multiple classes, while others do not particularly fit any of them.
The subsequent categories are for those ‘misfits’. I first turn to Affects & Attributes – so-called “deified abstractions” or “personifications”, though I find neither modern term very appropriate. These are virtues, emotions, states and the like, or rather the divine powers that are their causes. Most of these can be understood as terrestrial, since they relate to the sphere of our lives, but the virtues in particular can also be understood as loftier than this.
In Other Greater Beings, I include both categories and individual deities that might be classed as inferior to gods, including angels, daemons and heroes, although there is overlap between all such classes and the categories already listed above. Heracles, for instance, was worshipped as both hero and god, and I have decided to list him under the terrestrial gods.
My (consciously anachronistic) category Principal Gods relates to the other end of the hierarchy, not the powers under the gods, but the gods above all other gods, such as the Elements all others consist of, the Demiurge (creator god) who fashioned the cosmos, or the World Soul which animates all things. Most of these were little worshipped (except when identified with the likes of Zeus), but I also include commonly venerated deities like Iahō, to whom such an elevated position was widely ascribed.
Gods of Fate and Fortune might be classified in any number of ways, as “principal”, as affects, as terrestrial, and so on. I make them a separate category simply because of their surprisingly large number and especially close connection with each other.
The Titanic Gods come last before the miscellanea, because they matter to few ancient writers except Hesiod (and a few other epic poets) and the Neoplatonists; the latter also called them the last or lowest gods. Although the Titans cannot be ignored, I want to make it abundantly clear that they are a marginal group of deities – not one of two “pantheons”, the Olympian and the Titanic. As the rest of this taxonomy should make clear, there are countless different ways of grouping the gods, and the most salient fact about each deity is that they are god, not what kind.
Finally, Other Gods simply lists all gods that do not (yet) have a dedicated category.
But may all such things be held not as I say, but as it pleases the gods. (Cf. Damascius, On the Parmenides, p. 236: τοῦτο μὲν οὖν ὅπη ἂν τῷ θεῷ δοκῇ, ταύτῃ ἐχέτω τε καὶ λεγέσθω.)