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Literary Terms Volume Two

English literature is as rich in variety as in volume. It borrowed many of its formal genres or forms from the ancient Greek and Roman literature, and in course of its development it acquired several other varieties. The chart gives a primary idea about them: Literary terms very important of literary student to knowing about literature
Literary terms volume two


A metrical composition that conveys a certain meaning or meanings. It is also called verse. It is collective; its singular is poem. In the Middle Ages poetry was used to mean literature.


A short poem expressing personal or subjective thoughts and feelings of a single speaker. It is identical to a song sung with a lyre. Its main features are:

  • It is shorter than epic or mock-epic or metrical romance.  
  • A single speaker speaks.
  • It expresses personal thoughts and feelings.
  • It possesses the rhythm of a song.Its diction is lucid and soft-sounding.

Elegy, sonnet, ode, dramatic monologue, hymn and epithalamion are different forms of the lyric. Shakespeare's sonnets, Donne's love poems, Marvell's "To His Coy Mistress," Wordsworth's "Tintern Abbey" and "Ode: Intimations of Immortality," Arnold's "Dover Beach" and Browning's dramatic monologues are a feee examples of the famous English lyrics.


A lyric poem mourning for the death of an individual or lamenting over a tragic event. The famous English elegies are Milton's "Lycidas," Shelley's "Adonais," Tennyson's "In Memoriam," Arnold's "Thyrsis" and Gray's "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard."

Pastoral Elegy 

An elegy which begins with an invocation to the Muses followed by a procession of shepherds who mourn for the misfortune of a fellow Shepherd in a pastoral atmosphere. It usually ends in consolation. "Thyrsis," "Adonais" and "Lycidas" are pastoral elegies.


An exalted lyric that begins with an address to some one expressing grief or agony but ends with consolation. It deals with a serious theme. Odes are of three types : The Pindaric ode or regular ode, the Horatian ode and the irregular ode.The Pindaric ode or regular ode is a type of ode written on the model of the ode of Pindar, a Greek poet. It is divided into sections each of which has three parts : a strophe (the turn), an antistrophe (the counter turn) and an epode (the stand). This type of odes is written on public occasions, for instance, celebration of a national victory, birthdays, state events, etc. For this reason, this kind of ode is also called the public ode. Thomas Gray's "The Progress of Poesy" and Tennyson's "Ode on the Death of the Duke of Wellington" are examples of the Pindaric ode.The Horatian ode is named after Horace, a Latin poet. It consists of a number of uniform stanzas. This type of odes is written on private or personal experiences. For this reason it is also called the private ode. Shelley's "Ode to the West Wind," Keats' "Ode to a Nightingale," Wordsworth's "Ode to Duty" are its examples.

All English odes cannot be classified as Pindaric or Horatian. The ode which do not follow the Pindaric strophe or the Horatian regular stanza pattern are called the irregular ode. Wordsworth's "Ode : Intimations of Immortality" is an example. The irregular ode may be both public and private.


A narrative poem that tells a grave story through dialogue and action. Its general features are :
(1) it begins dramatically,

(2) its language is simple,

(3) its theme is often tragic,

(4) it is told in dialogue and action,

(5) it uses a refrain in every stanza,

(6) it is narrative and its narrator is impersonal and

(7) it is usually narrated in ballad stanzas.

The ballad may be of two types: the folk or popular ballad and the literary ballad. The anonymous ballads which belong to the early period when written literature was not developed are called the folk or popular ballad, "The Twa Corbies," "The Demon Lover," "The Cruel Mother" are examples of popular ballad,

The literary ballad is a type of narrative poem written deliberately on the model of the popular ballad. The poets of this type of ballad imitated the from, language and style of the popular ballad.

S. T. Coleridge's "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" is a famous literary ballad. Keats'  "La Belle Dame Sans Merci" and Scott's "Lay of the Last Minstrel" are also examples of literary ballad.

It should be noted that the ballad stanza (see Ballad Stanza ) is usually used in a ballad but in some literary ballads, variations in the ballad stanza  (more than fout-line stanza) have been experimented as in "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner".


A long narrative poem that tells in grand style the history and aspirations of a national hero. The general elements of an epic are:

(1) Invocation to the Muses and proposition of the subject matter in the beginning.

(2) A central hero of Superman quality who fights for national or collective interest.

(3) Involvement of supernatural elements (also known as machinery)

(4) A long perilous journey often on water

(5) An underworld journey

(6) Lofty language and high style

(7) Homeric similes

(8) Mighty battles

(9) Long speeches

(10) Feasts and revels

(11) Glorification of justice and peace.

There are two types of epic: (1) primary or oral epic and (2) secondary or literary epic. Homer's Iliad and Odyssey are primary epics. Virgil's Aeneid and Milton's Paradise Lost are secondary epics.
A primary epic is a type of epic through which the epic tradition was evolved. The secondary or literary epic is the epic which followed the tradition of the primary epic. In a primary epic the episodes taken from the oral tradition are linked with one another to make a longer story. For this reason a looseness in the construction is noticeable. In a secondary epic such looseness is not found. A primary epic displays savage and crude heroism but a secondary epic shows a more refined taste. In a primary epic supernatural elements are very significant but in a literary epic they are not so significant.

Mock - epic

A narrative poem which aims at mockery and laughter by using almost all the characteristic features of an epic but for a trivial subject. Pope's The Rape of the Lock is a famous mock-epic. In it there are invocation to Muses, proposition of subject, battles, supernatural machinery, journey on water, underworld journey, long speeches, feasts (coffee houses), Homeric similes and grand style but all for a simple family dispute instead of a national struggle. The grand treatment of a low subject produces hilarious laughter and makes the story more ridiculous.


A kind of low poem on a trivial subject having rough and monotonous rhyme.

Nonsense Verse

A kind of metrical composition that does not follow thematic rules and rules of rhyme. Here is a real nonsense verse:
          Ah, ra, chickera,Roly, poly, picken Kinny, minny, fest.Shanti-poo,Ickerman, chickerman, chinee-choo.

Dramatic Monologue  

A kind of lyric poem in which a single speaker expresses his thought and feelings to a silent listener. Its common features are:

a) A single speaker speaks throughout the poem on some specific issue.

b) The speaker speaks to someone who remains silent throughout the poem. The listener's presence is revealed through the speaker's comment.

c) It is not a dramatic technique, and therefore, it is not used in the drama. It is a from of lyric poem.

d) It concentrates on the character of the speaker and reveals his temperament.

e) It begins dramatically.

Robert Browning is well-known for his dramatic monologues. His "My Last Duchess," "Andrea del Sarto" and "Fra Lippo Lippi," Tennyson's "Ulysses" and "Tithonus," T. S. Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" are some of the best known dramatic monologues.


A poem or song written to celebrate a wedding. It is a kind of lyric. Spenser's "Epithalamion" which he wrote to celebrate his own marriage, is an example of it.


A lyric poem or song in praise of a god or hero. Usually, it is sung by chorus to express religious emotion. Martin Luther's "A Mighty Fortress is Our God," Spenser 's "Fowre Hymns," Shelley's "Hymn Of Apollo" and Keats' "Hymn to Apollo" are some of the well-known hymns in English.

Metaphysical Poetry  

In an etymological sense, poetry on subjects which exist beyond the physical world. In other words, it is a type of poetry which deals with abstract or philosophical subjects. But in reality, poetry which has the following features is called metaphysical poetry:

(1)    Physical love leading to spiritual union or religious devotion as theme.

(2) Argumentative presentation of emotion.

(3) Terseness of expression which often creates obscurity.

(4)  Use of conceit and wit in profusion.

(5)  Skilful use of colloquial speech instead of Elizabethan lucid diction.

(6)  Abrupt beginning.

In the 17th century Donne, Marvell, Herbert, Vaughan, Cowley, Carew and Crashaw wrote metaphysical verse. These poets are known as metaphysical poets.


A literary from intended to be performed on stage using physical movements and dialogues. It consists of three parts : beginning or exposition, middle or climax and end or denouement (see Exposition, Climax and Denouement). It is also called "play". Basically it is of two types : Comedy and Tragedy.


A kind of drama which begins with misfortune or discord but ends in happiness. Its aim is to correct the follies and frivolities of the individuals of a particular society through laughter and ridicule. Aristophanes, Shakespeare, Ben Jonson and Bernard Shaw are among the best known comedy writers. Comedies are of various types : romantic comedy, comedy of humours, comedy of manners, Restoration comedy, tragi-comedy, burlesque, farce, black-comedy, high comedy, low comedy, comedy of ideas, etc. A few of them are discussed here:

Romantic Comedy  

A from of comedy which deals with love, often love at first sight, as its main theme. It starts with some problems that make the union of the lovers difficult but ends with their happy union. Shakespeare's As You Like It a romantic comedy.

Comedy of Humours

A comedy in which characters behave according to their respective humours----the four fluids of human body. Ben Jonson's Every Man in His Humour and Every Man Out of His Humour are two famous comedies of this type. (see Humours)

Comedy of Manners 

A comedy which portrays the ridiculous behaviour pattern of the individuals of an aristocratic society. It is concerned with the coarseness, immorality, faithlessness, jealousy, intrigue, etc. of an artificial society. Congreve's The Way of the World and Sheridan's The School for Scandal are examples of it.

Restoration Comedy 

A kind of comedy written in the Restoration Period (1660-1700). It is identical to the comedy of manners as it also ridicules the manners and conventions, the faithlessness and intrigues of the members of the upper class society of the Restoration Period of England. Wycherley, Etheredge, Congreve, Vanbrugh and Farquhar are the five famous writers of the Restoration comedy. Farquhar's The Recruiting Officer, Congreve's Love for Love and The Double Dealer and Vanbrugh's The Provoked Wife are bright examples of the Restoration comedy.

Tragi- Comedy

A kind of play in which tragic and comic scenes are mingled. It violates the classical rules of writing pure tragedy or pure comedy on the logic that human life is neither absolutely sad nor absolutely happy. According to the classical theory of drama grand themes and upper class characters are appropriate to tragedy; low subjects and low people are fit for comedy. A typical tragedy needs a grave development of the plot which usually results in death. Quite opposite to it, a typical comedy needs a light development of the plot which ends in happiness. But there are plays in which low and high characters act together, light and grave events happen in the same plot, or death and marriage take place almost simultaneously. Such a play is called tragi-comedy. Typical examples of the tragi-comedy are Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale, Cymbeline and The Tempest, Dryden's Secret Love, and the like.

Black - Comedy or Dark- Comedy

A kind of drama which portrays the meaninglessness of human existence. It reflects the world view that life is a "tragic farce" because it is controlled by fate or fortune. So this kind of comedy laughs at human predicament which hide a bitter frustration. Black-comedy is identical to dark-comedy. Pinter's The Homecoming, Joseph Heller's Catch-22, Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, Measure for Measure, The Winter's Tale and Joe Orton's Loot are examples of black-comedy or dark-comedy.

Comedy of Ideas

A from of comedy which presents certain ideas or theories through debate. Shaw's Man and Superman and The Apple Cart are examples of it.

High Comedy

A kind of comedy of manners which demands a certain urbane taste and intellectual effort on the part of the audience. Shakespeare's As You Like It, Much Ado About Nothing, Shaw's Pygmalion and Congreve's The Way of the World are a few examples of the high comedy.

Low Comedy

A from of crude comedy which uses quarrelling, fighting, coarse joking, clownishness and the like, to provoke cheap laughter. Low comedy is not recognized as a separate type of comedy but is found with various types of comedy or tragedy. The porter scene in Macbeth and the brothel scene in Pericles are examples of low comedy.


A from of drama which stages the fall of a superior human being from the zenith of his success to the nadir of his misery for some inherent defect in his character. The essence of tragedy is the purgation of pity and fear of the audience. There are several kinds of tragedy: heroic tragedy, Senecan tragedy, revenge tragedy, etc.

Heroic Tragedy  

A kind of drama written in grand and lofty style to show a disastrous end of a conflict between love and honour or love and duty. Dryden's All For Love is an example.

Senecan Tragedy

A from of tragedy modelled on the drama of Seneca, a Roman playwright. The essential elements of this kind of tragedy are:

a) The use of chorus for comment,

b) A sensational theme involving a quest for revenge, adultery, incest, infanticide, off-stage murder, etc.

c) Typical characters as a ghost, a cruel tyrant, a faithful male servant, a reliable female, etc.

d) A highly rhetorical style which is marked by the use of Aepigram, stichomythia (sharp dialogues) hyperboles, etc.

e) Much use of philosphic soliloquies. Kyd's Spanish Tragedy and Shakespeare's Hamlet follow Senecan tradition except the murders on the stage.

Revenge Tragedy  

A kind of tragedy modelled on the Senecan tragedy. The popular elements of this type of drama are ---a quest for vengeance, ghosts graveyards, insanity, incest, adultery, rape, suicide, arson, play within a play, sensational incidents and horrible murders on the stage. For the gruesome blood shed on the stage this type of tragedy is also known as "tragedy of blood" . Kyd's The Spanish Tragedy Shakespeare's Hamlet and Tourneur's Atheist's Tragedy are revenge tragedies. Revenge tragedy and Senecan tragedy are almost similar only with the difference that revenge tragedy allows murders on stage while Senecan tragedy reports off-stage murders.


A kind of drama that provides sensational entertainment. It impersonates excessive virtue or exceptional evil and presents horror and bloodshed, thrills and violence, witches and vampires on stage. Examples of this type are Douglas Jerrold's Black-Ey'd Susan and Maria Marten, Boucicault's Ten Nights in a Bar Room, etc. Plays and novels may contain melodramatic elements even when they are not pure melodrama.

Closet Drama( also called dramatic poem) 

A kind of play which is intended, by the author, to be read rather than performed. Milton's Samson Agonistes is a closet drama.


A short entertaining play of the Middle Ages used to be presented on the stage between the acts of a longer play or between the courses of a feast.

Morality Play 

A medieval dramatic from which allegorically presents an ideal Christian life on the stage.

Mysterious Play 

A medieval from of play which is based on the Biblical stories.


Fictitious (or imaginative) narratives in prose. Sometimes it is based on facts but narrated with the colour of imagination. It is different from factual reports. All novels and short stories fall under this genre. (see Novel and Short Story) Fables, parables, fairy tales and folklore are not called fiction though there are fictional elements in each of them.


A ficticious prose narrative of a certain length (50,000 and above words). Its common features are:

1) A fictitious story, often a fictitious love story. The progress of the story follows a time sequence.

2) Characters of the story

3) A location of the story

4) A plot (arrangement of the incidents according to the logic of cause and effect.)

5)A realistic picture of a particular society.

6) A world vision.

A novel may be tragic or comic. It may be general or regional. It may be psychological or social. A novel may also be a picaresque novel or a gothic novel or an epistolary novel or a non-fiction novel or a novelette and the like.

Picaresque Novel 

A novel that tells the story of a rascal or knave who moves from place to place for adventures and fights evil antagonists. It is realistic in manner and satiric in aim. Cervantes' Don Quixote (1605) and Henry Fielding's Tom Jones are famous examples.

Gothic Novel

A from of prose narrative which comprises of a medieval setting, wild and horrific incidents and mysterious occurrences. Clara Reeve's The Old English Baron is an example. Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights and Dickens' Great Expectations have gothic  elements.

Epistolary Novel 

A novel in the form of letters. The narrative of this type of novel carried forward by letters written by one or more of the characters of that novel. Richardson's Pamela is an example.

Non- fiction Novel

A kind of recent novel which is based on real characters and events. It is journalistic in tone and lacks the touches of imagination generally found in a novel. Truman Capote's In Cold Blood is an example.


A short novel usually of thirty to forty thousand words. It is shorter than a novel but longer than a short story. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad is a novelette.

Short Story  

A short prose fiction (of about six to ten thousand words) that can be read in one sitting, usually about a single character and a single theme aiming at a single effect. Maugham's "The Luncheon" and O' Henry's "The Gift of the Magi" are famous short stories.


A form of medieval narrative in which a brave and chivalric Knight moves from place to place in search of extravagant adventures and finally wins the favour of a courtly lady. It may be in verse or in prose. Sir Thomas Mallory's Morte  d' Arthur is a famous romance in prose. Sir Gawains and the Greek Knight is a romance in verse.


A short composition in prose which analyses a subject often to make a view point for general people. It differs from a short story : a short story is fictitious while an essay is a graphic presentation of something real. Example: Orwell's "Lear, Tolstoy and the Fool"; Bertrand Russell's " The Future of Mankind ".


An argumentative writing in prose on a political or religious controversy of a particular time. It is written to favour a side of the controversy and suggest a solution. Milton's Areopagitica is an example.


A very short, allegorical story of animal characters which teaches a moral for human beings. Aesop's fables are best examples. Here is one:
The Greedy Dog

A greedy dog went into a butcher's shop and stole a big juicy bone. He ran away so fast that the butcher could not catch him. He ran out into the fields with his bone. He was going to eat it all by himself. He came to a stream. There was a narrow bridge across it. The dog walked on to the bridge, and looked into the water. He could see his own shadow in the water. He thought it was another dog with a big bone in his mouth.
The greedy dog thought the bone in the water was much bigger than the one he had stolen from the butcher.The greedy dog dropped the bone from his mouth. It fell into the water and was lost. He jumped into the water to snatch the bigger bone from the other dog.

The greedy dog jumped into the water with a big splash. He looked everywhere but he could not see the other dog. His shadow had gone.

The silly dog went home hungry. He lost his bone and got nothing because he had been too greedy.


A parable is an allegorical story of human characters which teaches a religious moral. There are several famous parables in the Bible. Here is one:

'The kingdom of Heaven is like this. There was once a landowner who went out early one morning to hire labourers for his vineyard;and after agreeing to pay them the usual day's wage he sent them off to work. Going out three hours later he saw some more men standing idle in the market-place. "Go and join the other in the vineyard," he said, "and I will pay you a fair wage"; so off they whet. At midday he went out again, and at three in the afternoon, and made the same arrangement as before. An hour before sunset he went out and found another group standing there; so he said to them, " Why are you standing about like this all day with nothing to do?" "Because no one has hired us" , they replied; so he told them, "Go and join the others in the vineyard." When evening fell, the owner of the vineyard said to his steward, "Call the labourers and give them their pay, beginning with those who come last and ending with the first," Those who had started work an hour before sunset came forward, and were paid the full day's wage. When it was the turn of the men who had but come first, they expected something extra, were paid the same amount as the others. As they took it, they grumbled at their employer: "These late-comers have done only one hour's work, yet you have put them on a level with us, who have sweated the whole day long in the blazing sun !" The owner turned to one of them and said, "My friend, I am not being unfair to you. You agreed on the usual wage for the day, did you not? Take your pay and go home. I choose to pay the last man the same as you. Surely I am free to do what I like with my own money. Why be jealous because I am kind?" Thus will the last be first, and the first last.' (Matthew: 20 This parable teaches God's supremacy and His ways to man.


A literary attack on the follies and vices of an individual or a society with a view to correcting them through laughter and ridicule. It may be in prose or in verse. It is of two kinds: formal (direct) and informal (indirect). A formal or direct satire is one which is not mixed with other genres. It may again be of two types: Horatian and Juvenalian. The mild and sophisticated literary attacks are Horatian satires and the severe, indignant attack are Juvenalian satire.

An indirect or informal satire is a satire which is presented in the form of another genre. It may be presented in the form of an allegory as Dryden's Absalom and Achitophel which is known as satiric allegory. It may be satiric epic (or mock-epic) as Pope's The Rape of the Lock. Thus it may be satiric comedy as Ben Jonson's Volpone and The Alchemist; satiric travelogue as Swift's Gulliver's Travels; satiric novel as Aldous Huxley's Brave New World and George Orwell's Animal Farm ; satiric verse as Eliot's The Waste Land and satiric essay as Addison's essays.

A literary form in which one story is told in the guise of another story. In other words, an allegory is a story of double meanings. Its author comments upon some persons or events of his age under disguised names. It may be both in prose and in verse. Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress is a well known allegory in prose which deals with Christian notion of a soul's salvation. Dryden's Absalom and Achitophel is a political allegory in verse that uses names of Biblical personages and events to mean the political situation of his time.


An ancient story about gods and goddesses and their mysterious forces. In myths there may be human characters but the main characters must be supernatural beings.


Myths are collectively called mythology. The Greek mythology, the Roman mythology and the Indian mythology are well-known.


A story about a semi-heroic human figure. In it the writer focusses on the greatness of a human being though some supernatural beings may be involved in it. Beowulf, king Arthur, Robin Hood and Faust are the great legendary figures.


A lyric poem of fourteen iambic pentameter lines. It is of three types-----Petrarchan (also known as Italian), Shakespearean (also known as English) and Spenserian. The first eight lines of a Petrarchan sonnet are called octave and the last six lines of it are called sestet. The rhyme scheme of the octave of a Petrarchan sonnet is abba abba and that of sestet is cd cd cd or cde cde. Milton, Wordsworth, Wyatt, Rossetti and a few other English poets have used Petrarchan from in their sonnets. Here is an example:

The world is too much with us; late and soon,Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;Little we see in Nature that is ours;We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon,The winds that will be howling at all hours,And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers,For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
a,b,b,a,a,b,b,a-   Octave

It moves us not----Great God! I'd rather beA Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;uHave sight of Proteus rising from the sea;Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.
 c,d,c,d,c,d-  Sestet

            (Wordsworth : "The World Is Too Much With Us")

One more example for the variation in the sestet (from Milton):

When I consider how my light is spentEre half my days, in this dark world and wide,And that one talent which is death to hideLodged with me useless, though my soul more bentTo serve therewith my Maker, and presentMy true account, lest he returning chide;" Doth God exact day-labour, light denied? "I fondly ask; but Patience to prevent
 a,b,b,a,a,b,b,a-  Octave

That murmur, soon replies, "God doth not needEither man's work or his own gifts; who bestBear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His stateIs kingly. Thousands at his bidding speedAnd post o'er land and ocean without rest:They also serve who only stand and wait."

c,,d,e,c,d,e- Sestet

A Shakespearean sonnet is divided into three quatrains followed by a couplet. Its rhyme scheme is abab cdcd efef gg. The concluding couplet is often used as a comment on the preceding lines. For example:

Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?Thou art more lovely and more temperate:Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,And summer's lease hath all too short a date:

Sometimes too hot the eye of heaven shines,And often is his gold complexion dimmed;And every fair from fair sometimes declines,By chance or nature's changing course untrimmed;

But thy eternal summer shall not fade,Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow' st;Nor shall death brag thou wander'st in his shade,When in eternal lines to time thou grow'st:

So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.
(Shakespeare : Sonnet No. 18)

The Spenserian sonnet is named after Edmund Spenser who developed a different rhyme scheme for his sonnets.Like a Shakespearean sonnet, a Spenserian sonnet consists of three quatrains followed by a couplet. But its rhyme scheme is : abab bcbc cdcd ee  . For example :

Lyke as a huntsman after weary chace,Seeing the game from him escapt away,Sits downe to rest him in some shady place,With panting hounds beguiled of their pray:

So after long pursuit and vaine assay,When I all weary had the chace forsooke,The gentle deare returned the selfe-same way,Thinking to quench her thirst at the next brooke,
There she beholding me with mylder looke.Sought not to fly, but fearelesse still did bide:Till I in hand her yet halfe trembling tookeAnd with her owne goodwill hir  fyrmely tyde,

Strange thing me seemd to see a beast so wyld,So goodly wonne with her owne   will beguyld.


A large part of English literature is based on the pagan concept of this universe. This paganism originated in Greece and then passed on to Italy and from there to France and Germany, and at last to England. English writers so frequently use this mythology that, without a fair knowledge of it, any study of English literature is almost impossible.

The ancient people of every civilization did not have any clear conception of God and His mysterious power. They understood the world and its secrets in their own ways. The Greeks also imagined their own gods and goddesses. About one thousand years before the birth of Jesus Christ, the writers of Greece imagined that there were supernatural powers who controlled the universe. They called them gods and goddesses. They interpreted the mysteries of the unseen world with their experience of the visible world. These people were rational and practical, and so, made their deities in their own image. They imagined them males and females and made Olympus their abode. They imagined them as beautiful, friendly and amusing but fearful and dangerous when angry. These gods were immoral and more powerful than human beings but not always terrifying. They shared human feelings, and sometimes, turned childish and indecent losing sanity like lesser men. However, in spirit of their occasional nonsensical activities, these gods were more sensible than the deities of the other myths of the world. It is because the Greek and Roman writers created their gods according to man's practical needs, never forgetting a moral view. Their gods occasionally turned amorous, cowardly and ridiculous but they upheld justice in most cases. Thus, the Olympus was made a "humanized world".

The Greek poets were rational but highly imaginative. They endowed each of the Olympians with distinct personality. But the Roman poets who had deep religious feeling, had little imagination. They borrowed the concept of the Olympians from the Greek poets and gave Roman names to them. The following list shows the Greek and Roman names of the major gods and goddesses.

  • Greek        -      Roman

  • Aphrodite       -  Venus
  • Apollo        -        Apollo
  • Ares                     Mars
  • Artemis     -         Diana
  •  Athene/Athena   - Minerva
  • Crous        -         Saturn
  • Demeter    -         Ceres
  • Enyo        -          Bellona
  • Eos              -       Aurora
  • Eros              -     Cupid
  • Furies           -     Dirae
  • Hades        -      Pluto/Dis
  • Hebe         -      Juventas
  •  Hephaestus     -    Vulcan
  • Hera           -       Juno
  •   Hermes         -     Mercury
  • Hestia              -    Vesta
  • Pan                  -     Faunas
  • Persephone      -  Proserpina
  • Poseidon         -   Neptune
  • Rhea               -    Ops
  • Thanatos        -     Orcus
  •  Zeus            -      Jupiter/Jove

The Greek's and Roman's notion of the creation of this universe helps understand the nature of each of the major gods and goddesses. Unlike the Christians or Muslims, the Greeks and Romans believed that the universe was not created by the single Supernatural Being. They believed that the universe created the gods and goddesses. According to their belief there was a time when there was nothing but chaos--shapeless, dark confusion. It gave birth to Night and Erebus in a mysterious way unknown to the Grssks.Night was chaos' daughter and Erebus was her son. From the union of Night, also called Nyx (darkness), and Erebus (death) were born Love, Light and Day. Then came Earth (who is also called Gaea or Ge or Gaia), the Mother and Heaven (Uranus), the Father, again mysteriously. From their union were born Cronus, Rhea, Coeus, Phoebe and Ocean. Cronus and Rhea were King and Queen and gave birth to Hestia, Pluto, Poseidon, Zeus, Hera and Demeter. From the union of Zeus and Hera were born Ares, Hebe and Hephaestus. From Zeus and Metis came Athena, from Zeus and Demeter came Persephone, from Zeus and Leto came Apollo and Artemis. From the union of Coeus and Phoebe came Leto and from the union of Ocean and Tethys came lapetus. From lapetus descended Prometheus, Atlas and Epimetheus. From Atlas came Maia whose union with Zeua gave birth to Hermes. From Epimetheus came Dione whose union with Zeus gave birth to Aphrodite. Thus Qlympus became an abode of a host of gods and goddesses.


A mortal, the son of Thetis, a sea-goddess, and Peleus, the king of Phthia. He was educated by Phoenix. His mother wanted to make him immortal. The Olympians believed that the watar of the Styx, the main river in the underworld, made life immortal. So the caught his heel and dipped him in the Styx. The water of the Styx did not touch the heel by which she held him. For this reason he was vulnerable only in the heel. In the battle of Troy Paris killed him by shooting an arrow at this weak point. Achilles' heel, a phrase derived from this myth, means weak point.Achilles' mother tried to prevent his participation in the Trojan war by disguising him as a maiden at the court of Lycomedes. Calchas, the Greek fontune-teller, revealed Achilles' hiding place where he was detected by Odysseus. Achilles was the handsomest and bravest of all the Greeks who fought in the Trojan war. He loved deeply and hated violently. His wrath is the subject of the lliad. He was killed by Paris. The main flaw of his character was his excessive anger and pride.


A mortal, the son of Aphrodite (R. Venus) and Anchises. Anchises was a descendant of Dardanus, Zeus' son by the Pleiad Electra. Aphrodite thought that she was superior to other gods and goddesses including Zeus because all of them were subject to her love-spell. Zeus was not happy with Aphrodite's sense of superiority. He planned to give her, as a punishment, an experience of mortal love. He created a strong desire in Aphrodite for Anchises, a handsome young Shepherd. Aphrodite went to him in the disguise of a maiden and love to him. Aeneas was the result of that love. He led the Trojan survivors from their ruined city to their destined home in Italy, and thus, was the founder of the Roman empire. He is the hero of Virgil's Aeneid.

Aphrodite (Venus) 

The goddess of love. Homer describes her as the daughter of Zeus and Dione, the daughter of Epimethiua. But Hesoid, another Greek poet, thinks that she was born of foam and married to Hephaestus, the lame craftsman of Olympus. She fell in love with Ares, the handsome butcher of Olympus. She was the mother of Aeneas by Anchises. She was associated with love, beauty and pleasure but she could be equally cruel to destroy those who denied her significance. She was the mother of Eros (R. Cupid). She was in love with Adonis. In the Trojan war she favoured the Trojans and played a significant role.


The god of light, prophecy, healing, music, archery and the protector of herds. He has several epithets (titles) : Phoebus (brilliant or shining); Delian (as born in the island of Delos); Pythian (as he killed a python); the Sminthian ( the mouse-god) and the Lycian(the god of Lycia). He was the son of Zeus and Leto. Zeus loved Leto, the daughter of Phoebe and Coeus. But when she was pregnant Zeus left her in fear of Hera, his wife. None gave a shelter to Leto because all were afraid of Hera. At last she reached a piece of land floating on the sea. No human being lived there. It was called Delos. She asked Delos for shelter and was granted. Artemes and Apollo were born there. Apollo was the god of truth and his oracles were told at Delphi under towering Parnassus. He favoured the Trojans in the war of Troy.


A herdsman who had one hundred eyes. Here sent him to guard the cow Io but Hermes killed him. After his death Here put his eyes in the tail of peacock.

Artemis (Diana)

The goddess of chastity, hunting, and wild animals. A daughter of Zeus and Leto, she was the twin sister of Apollo. She was also called Cynthia according to the name of her birth place, Mount Cynthia in Delos. She was one of the three maiden goddesses of Olympus. She was also called Phoebe, Selene (R. Luna) meaning the moon. Some poets identified her with Hecate, the goddess of the lower world. She favoured the Trojans in the battle of Troy.

Athena Or Athene (Minerva)

The goddess of war, wisdom and crafts. She was the daughter of Zeus and Metis. Zeus thought that Metis, pregnant with Athena, would bear a child powerful enough to destroy him. So he swallowed Metis. Later Athena sprang from his head. She was one of the three maiden goddesses for which she was given the title "Pallas" meaning maiden.

Ares (Mars)

The god of war. His father was Zeus and mother was Hera. Aphrodite was his beloved. Aphrodite's angry husband, Hephaestus trapped Ares and Aphrodite in net while they were making love.

Bacchus or Dionysus

The Greek god of wine, fertility, and intoxication. He was the son of Zeus and the Theban princess Semele. Semele wanted to see Zeus in his original shape. She was then pregnant by Zeus. When Zeus appeared before her in his real shape, Semele bearing the child burnt at the sight of the shinning Zeus. Before her death Zeus saved the baby who later became Dionysus. For this reason it was also held that Dionysus was born of fire. He is also called the god of vine. His female followers are known as Maenads.

Demeter (Ceres)

A goddess of earth. She was a daughter of Cronus and Rhea and a sister of Zeus. She was worshipped as a mother goddess.


The goddess of discord. For her quarrelsome nature Eris was not invited to the wedding ceremony of Thetis (the sea-goddess) and Peleus (a mortal). She felt insulted and as a revenge, inscribed the words "For the Fairest" on an apple, and threw it among Hera, Athena and Aphrodite. It was the original cause of the Trojan War. Each of these three goddesses claimed that she was the fairest. To settle their beauty contest they went to Zeus who avoided giving any opinion and sent them to Paris saying that Paris was the right person to judge female beauty. The three goddesses went to Paris who was then a shepherd on Mount Ida. Each of them tried to bribe Paris for his favour. Hera promised to make him the ruler of Asia, Athena promised him great fame in battles and Aphrodite offered him the most beautiful woman as his wife. Young Paris selected beautiful Aphrodite for the prize. At this Hera and Athena became enemy of Paris and his Trojan race. Aphrodite, on the other hand, helped Paris to abduct Helen from Sparta. Later on, when the Greeks fought against the Trojans in the battle of Troy to recover Helen, Hera and Athena helped the Greeks while Aphrodite helped the Trojans. (see Helen). Strife was Eris' son.

Eros (Cupid)

The god of love. He was the son of Venus (Aphrodite). He was a beautiful and a winged youth who always bore arrows. Whenever he shot an arrow to someone, the person aimed fell madly in love with the person intended by Cupid. At a time he himself fell in love with Psyche whom he married after a long struggle. He is also called Love.


The daughters of Zeus and Themis or of Night. They were often imagined as three old women--Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos. As signs of their power, they carried staffs. It was believed that they were spinning with the threads of life, and they broke the thread when a life was over. The Roman Fates were called Nona, Decuma and Morta. The Fates were beyond the control of Zeus (Jupiter).

Hades (Pluto or Dis)

The god of the underworld. He was the son of Cronus and Rhea and brother of Zeus. He abducted Persephone and married her. He and Persephone ruled the world of the dead. The world of the dead itself is also called Hades.

Hebe (Juventus)  

A handmaiden of the gods. She served nectar to the gods. She married Heracles when he achieved divinity.


The fairest woman in the world. Leda, a mortal, was her mother and Zeus, who came to Leda in the form of a swan, was her father. Tyndareus, the king of Sparta, was her mother's husband. Helen was the sister of Castor and Pollux. She was so beautiful that all the princes of Greece wanted to marry her. It became a dangerous problem for Tyndareus. He asked all the princes to come to an agreement that all of them would protect Helen and her would-be-husband, whoever it might be, if and when necessary. All of them agreed upon the condition. Meneleus was selected as Helen's husband. Later, when Paris abducted Helen to Troy all the princes of Greece fought against the Trojans to recover Helen.

Hephaestus ( Vulcan) 

The god of fire. His parents were Zeus and Hera. He was an artist and a craftsman. He was lame and unattractive but was married to the beautiful Aphrodite who was not faithful to him. He made the famous shield of Achilles.


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