Soundtrack Review: Batman (1989)

Composed by: Danny Elfman

Orchestrated by: Shirley Walker & Steve Bartek

Although he had returned to his grimmer, darker roots nearly twenty years earlier in the comics, Batman was still often perceived by the non-comic reading community as the campy crusader of the sixties TV show, battling alongside Robin against colorful villains while such words as “POW!” and “BANG!” lit up the screen. Just as the Superman movie franchise was dying a horrible death, Batman was brought to the silver screen by director Tim Burton, with Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson giving memorable performances as Batman/Bruce Wayne and the Joker. My favorite bat-film other than The Dark Knight, Batman had its music done by Burton’s regular composer-collaborator, Danny Elfman. It was this score that made Elfman one of the biggest composers of Hollywood, and also established him as on of the top choices for comic book movie music. Elfman was an excellent choice, his dark, impressionistic style of film-scoring a natural fit for Batman. Continue reading

Soundtrack Review: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

IndianaJonesAndTheKingdomOfTheChrystalSkullSoundtrack2008.JPG

Composed and Conducted by: John Williams

Nearly two decades after Indiana Jones literally rode into the sunset with Last Crusade, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas decided to revisit the franchise, a move with its fair share of controversy since Harrison Ford was noticeably much, much older. Kingdom of the Crystal Skull has gotten mixed reviews, and is often cited as the worst movie in series. I have to agree that it’s the worst, but despite some serious flaws, especially its underwhelming last act, I think it’s an okay movie with some genuinely great scenes.

One of the most exciting aspects of Indiana Jones coming back was the return of John Williams, who at this point had just started to take it easier with his movie scoring schedule. As with his return to Star Wars, much time had elapsed since he scored Indiana Jones. Would his changed style of scoring affect how fun the score would be? Continue reading

Soundtrack Review: Casino Royale

Composed by: David Arnold

Conducted by: Nicholas Dodd

After numerous complaints from James Bond fans regarding Die Another Day, the producers spent a couple extra years on the next film, ultimately deciding to go with a reboot that toned down the camp elements. Martin Campbell, director of the well-loved Goldeneye, came on to create this more realistic take on 007. Pierce Brosnan’s suave character was replaced with a more hard-edged and less quippy performance by Daniel Craig. Casino Royale is probably my favorite James Bond movie. I didn’t think I could ever be so engrossed by watching people play cards.

Coming over from the Brosnan years was David Arnold. His score for Casino Royale proves to be noticeably different from his previous scores, especially Die Another Day. For the third time he was allowed to help create the title song, and the result is one of the best Bond songs yet, and my favorite. Sung by Chris Cornell, “You Know My Name” is relentlessly energetic with awesome bad-ass lyrics. Unlike most of the previous songs, it doesn’t talk about romance or sleaze, but focuses on the dangerous life of a secret agent. Unfortunately, some legal issues prevented this wonderful piece of music from getting on album, and its absence is very frustrating since the CD now lacks its appropriate opener.

In large contrast to Arnold’s previous efforts is the understated usage of the James Bond theme. Aside from the ending, it makes its best and boldest appearance in “Blunt Instrument” before the main theme comes on again. Its other appearances are mostly easy to miss if not listened to carefully, with a few bars playing under the main theme or in the midst of long suspenseful passages. The James Bond theme is much more noticeable in “Dinner Jackets” (played a bit humorously and in conjunction with the main theme) and “A House Falls in Venice” (where Arnold puts in the obligatory statement for the final action scene’s conclusion). Only in the last track does the James Bond theme play in full swing. It’s similar o the Dr. No version, and a very satisfying conclusion.

With the James Bond theme’s role reduced, Arnold relies on the melodies from “You Know My Name”, which are liberally applied. The first appearance within the score itself is at the end of “Miami International”, prefaced by a rocking iteration of part of the Bond theme. “I’m the Money” is a simple thirty-second statement, while “Aston Montenegro” features my favorite incorporation of “You Know My Name”, a one-minute cue that builds into a grand statement.

The last major theme is a tender piano piece for Bond girl Vesper. This is one of my favorite Bond love themes and should be easy to spot for listeners. It sounds a little sad, but this makes it great in the final tragic cues (the titles are spoilers, but oh well). There is an extension that appears in the more romantic moments, first in “Vesper” and more sweepingly in “City of Lovers”. The ill-fated secondary Bond girl Solange also gets her own theme (“Solange”), which is simpler, but has an air of mystery about it.

Perhaps to make up for the absence of Cornell’s song, the album producers stuffed the CD with around seventy-five minutes of music. While the more energetic and bombastic scores from the Brosnan eras certainly keep me entertained for over an hour, Casino Royale sometimes slows down too much thanks to an abundance of suspenseful underscore. The card game cues, while sometimes having interestingly subtle methods of inserting the various themes (such as a few piano notes for Vesper in “The Tell”, can be a real chore to sit through. The action does deliver. “African Rundown” gives the album an abrupt start, but is a thrilling near-seven-minute chase cue which escalates at the end. Tn there is “Miami International”, which clocks in at an over whopping twelve minutes. It starts off with a dramatic statement of the main theme and stays suspenseful for the first couple minutes, with Solange’s theme appearing about the 3:30 mark. After escalating tension and grand fanfare at 6:52, it becomes a relentless piece with numerous references to “You Know My Name”. “Stairwell Fight” returns the four-note villainy/suspense motif from the Brosnan era. “The Switch” suffers a little from too little references to any of the themes, while “A House Fall in Venice” is a short, but great final action piece with one of the rhythms of the James Bond theme triumphing at the end, only to be cut off by a few harsh notes.

Casino Royale is a great score, though the album situation is troubling. You might want to get create your own listening experience, dropping some of the darker underscore and putting “You Know My Name” at the beginning. That song’s strong tune really makes up for the secondary use of the James Bond theme. Otherwise it’s probably David Arnold’s most well-though out and intelligent score, if not the most enjoyable.

Rating: 8/10

  1. African Rundown (6:52)
  2. Nothing Sinister (1:27)
  3. Unauthorized Access (1:08)
  4. Blunt Instrument (2:22)
  5. CCTV (1:30)
  6. Solange (0:59)
  7. Trip Aces (2:06)
  8. Miami International (12:43)
  9. I’m the Money (0:27)
  10. Aston Montenegro (1:03)
  11. Dinner Jackets (1:52)
  12. The Tell (3:23)
  13. Stairwell Fight (4:12)
  14. Vesper (1:44)
  15. Bon Loses it All (3:56)
  16. Dirty Martini (3:49)
  17. Bond Wins it All (4:32)
  18. The End of an Aston Martin (1:30)
  19. The Bad Die Young (1:18)
  20. City of Lovers (3:30)
  21. The Switch (5:07)
  22. Fall of a House in Venice (1:53)
  23. Death of Vesper (2:50)
  24. The Bitch is Dead (1:05)
  25. The Name’s Bond…James Bond (2:49)

Film Review: Risen

Release Date: February 19, 2016

Running Time: 107 Minutes

Risen follows the story of Roman Tribune Clavius (Joseph Fiennes), who is charged with finding out what happened to the body of Jesus (Cliff Curtis), referred to here by His Hebrew name of Yeshua. He is ordered to do so by Pontius Pilate (Peter Firth), and is accompanied by newly transferred Lucius (Tom Felton of Draco Malfoy fame). Of course, as a film based on one of Christianity’s central moments, Risen was met with some apprehension. Would it be blasphemous, or perhaps a piece of Christian propaganda?

The film actually opens with a little battle between Roman soldiers under Clavius and Jewish rebels led by none other than Barabbas, who, judging by the film’s chronology, seems to be making trouble pretty quickly after his pardon by Pontius Pilate. Clavius returns to Jerusalem to oversee the end of Jesus’ crucifixion. Once Jesus’ body disappears there is talk of conspiracy and a potential Jewish uprising. Clavius leads his men in an investigation and I have to say that while this lasts the film is highly engaging. It weaves in bits of the Bible and history expertly and it’s a treat seeing familiar figures from the Bible through the eyes of pagan Romans. Pontius Pilate’s annoyance with the local Jewish rulers provides some of the film’s few laughs.

Unfortunately, and here may be spoilers, this plot thread gets resolved about halfway through the film, which turns into a straightforward adaptation of the end of the Gospels, just with a Roman soldier now randomly sitting in the background to observe. Even then the way the story is presented is a little underwhelming and a little rushed. Clavius is supposed to have undergone a great inner change, but this doesn’t get well developed since he spends much of his screentime simply looking at the disciples and not really interacting.

Of course, Jesus himself is in the film, thankfully portrayed by a non-white this time, though still not a Jew. Cliff Curtis isn’t a bad actor, and the problems with his performance stem more from the script, which asks him to look around smiling at everyone. The filmmakers also play it very safe with his dialogue. Adding words to Jesus’ mouth will always be a daunting task, since there’s great potential to offend Christians or accidentally insert some heresy. Aside from a few words directed at Clavius, all he says is direct quotes from the Bible, and in between them he has nothing to do but smile at his disciples.

Risen is a movie that starts off great, but flounders in its last act. I think there are three possible, better directions it could have taken. One would have been to extend the investigation and end with a scene between Clavius and Jesus, instead of having him observe the entire last couple chapters of the various Gospels. Another would have had him never find Jesus, dead or alive, but have him affected by what he hears. A third alternative, which would have perhaps required a bigger budget, would show how he has become a different man, displayed in further interactions with various Romans and Jews.

Risen is good if you want to pass a couple hours and should interest religious viewers. It could have been much better. I would much more recommend the 1953 film The Robe, in which one of the Roman officers in charge of the crucifixion is changed by his experiences and tries to balance his newfound Christianity with his devotion to Rome. Unlike other epics of that period it’s only a little over two hours long.

Rating: 6/10

Film Review: Deadpool

Release Date: February 12, 2016

Running Time: 108 Minutes

With Fox now attempting its own cinematic superhero universe like Marvel Studios, the X-Men franchise has its own batch of spin-offs in development. Aside from the Wolverine films, Deadpool is the first entry outside of the main X-Men series. In the comics, Deadpool is a violent, constantly wise-cracking mercenary who is aware that he is in a comic book and will often break the fourth wall, addressing the reader and commenting on his own writers. This further extends to his appearances in video games and TV shows, the former case exemplified by him grabbing a health bar and beating his opponent over the head with it.

Deadpool, aka Wade Wilson, portrayed by actor Ryan Reynolds, had already appeared in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, a mismanaged film overstuffed with characters. Ryan Reynolds’ few minutes near the beginning as the character were delightful, but his appearance at the end was as a freakish Frankenstein monster with his mouth sewn shut, a total betrayal of the character. Seven years later the character has another shot.

Deadpool is an origin/revenge film. Faced with cancer, Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) volunteers for a mutant powers project, which ends up further ruining his life, as he is left looking hideous and his fiance believes him dead. I’ve noticed that his famous moniker as the Merc with a Mouth doesn’t really apply here, as he never once takes a mission for money. His focus throughout the whole film is simply tracking down Francis, the scientist/super-soldier responsible for ruining his life, and forcing him to change him back to a normal human. His power is an incredible healing factor that makes him almost unkillable.

Of course, humor is an essential component of Deadpool and this film is chock-full of it. Almost every line of dialogue from Ryan Reynolds is a joke, even in the grimmest moments. It’s how his character interacts with the world. I would say it’s fairly hit and miss. The audience I viewed Deadpool with wasn’t exactly bursting with laughter non-stop. A good chunk of his material is dick jokes, while many of his references will undoubtedly be outdated in a few years, such as his quip about Jared and “footlongs”. He breaks the fourth wall fairly often too, and these moments work pretty well. The self-aware opening credits and post-credits teaser are a delight and his condemnation of the mishandling of his character in Origins is spot-on. While his humor misses several times, Deadpool is a fun character and generally delivers.

In the comics, Deadpool is at his best when he’s working off of other established characters in the Marvel universe, especially another superhero who’s a straight man. In this film it’s Colossus (Stefan Kapicic), who manages to have more screentime and dialogue within this movie than in all of the other X-Men films combined. In those same films he never really had a developed character, so Deadpool gets to build it. Here he’s an incredibly noble and selfless hero who is under the delusion that he can make a real superhero out of Deadpool. Under his wing is Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand), a rude girl who doesn’t share her mentor’s interest in getting Deadpool on the X-Men team.

Weasel (T.J. Miller) is Wade’s best friend, who helps out every now and then and shares some of his humor. Vanessa (Morena Baccarin) is the love interest, and is apparently a mutant named Copycat in the comics, though here she’s just a regular human who turns into a typical damsel in distress by the end. She is a pretty good character, not special but her romance with Wade really works. The villains aren’t really all that special. Francis (Ed Skrein) is just a typical “I have good reflexes and can fight really well” character while Angel Dust (Gina Carano) is good at being a super-strong henchwoman, but doesn’t have much personality beyond that.

Much has been made of the R rating, which many felt was necessary for Deadpool. Having read some of the comics myself, I can say that a PG-13 film could have been made with almost the same effect. From what I’ve read, profanity and nudity don’t factor that much in the source material. For example, there wasn’t a ton of f-bombs n Cable and Deadpool. I do see the benefits when it comes to the violence, and many of the best moments come from the dark humor of the action scenes. I didn’t find the violence particularly insane. There was a good amount of decapitations and some blood spurts, but otherwise it was PG-13. In fact, the final battle was a little underwhelming. It feels like I’ve seen it before: the hero and villain fighting with swords, the brawl between the super-strong, and the love interest giving her small contribution when the hero looks like he might be finished. The first fight scene on the bridge, which is broken up by flashbacks detailing Deadpool’s origin, is another story. Almost all the best action and humor can be found in this one sequence.

This is an entertaining movie and it does do Deadpool’s character justice. However, it doesn’t really break all the rules of the superhero film as many believed it would. Many of the plot points can be found in numerous other action or superhero movies and it suffers from underdeveloped villains like the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I also found some of the humor to be too juvenile at points. Not in the kid-friendly sense, but juvenile in the way that a grade-schooler thinks he’s being edgy. This is a good, fun time regardless and please don’t bring your kids just because it has a couple colorful superheroes in it.

Rating: 6/10

Soundtrack Review: Raiders of the Lost Ark

With Star Wars hearkening back to old-fashioned sci-fi pulps and serials, the Indiana Jones franchise is likewise based off of adventure serials and film from the 1930s-50s and in fact take place in that era. Created by Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, Raiders of the Lost Ark, the first Indiana Jones film, was a smash hit that cemented Harrison Ford as a movie star, furthered the popular use of Nazis as villains, and, as with almost every Spielberg movie, produced an amazing John Williams score. The Indiana Jones theme itself is one of the most recognizable pieces of movie music, and is often referred to as the Raiders March, after the first film it appeared in.

The Indiana Jones theme is actually two heroic themes that, at the insistence of Spielberg, were mashed together. More recognizable and hummed much more is the first part of the theme, which plays at the outset of “Raiders March”. It’s instantly catchy and is used much more than the second part. I’ve even heard some makeshift lyrics for it (“Indiana, Dr. Jones, Indiana, Dr. Jones, Jones, Jones”). The second part itself always begins the final statement of the theme in the end credits suites. What’s interesting about Indy’s theme is that it doesn’t make its first appearance until the end of the opening sequence in “Escape from Peru”. Continue reading

Top Ten Greek Gods and Goddesses

No gods are more well known to the western world than those of the Greeks. Greek mythology is extensive, with hundreds if not thousands of myths having been passed down over the centuries. It’s like the fictional universes of Marvel or DC, with a large cast of characters who manage to connect to each other in a complicated web of tales. Many phrases have been derived from it: “caught in a net”, “Pandora’s box”, “caught between a rock and a hard place”, “Herculean effort”. Its gods, though no longer worshipped, show up in many places. Sea kings and mermen with tridents come from Poseidon, speedy people such as the Flash wearing winged shoes or helmets come from Hermes, and the idea of God striking people with lightning is a leftover from Zeus. These are my top ten Greek gods, and while there were many to choose from, it was easy to find my favorites since the most of the very colorful characters are confined to the twelve Olympians.

 

10th. Hermes

Hermes has the role of the messenger of the Gods. His functions for humanity make a long list. He is the god of travel, trade, speech, sports, borders, searching, and even thieves, and guides the dead to the underworld. Like many of the Olympians, he is the son of Zeus, his particular mother being mountain nymph Maia. Although important in an official capacity to both the gods and mankind, Hermes also has the reputation of a trickster. One well known example is when, while still in his infancy, he decided to steal Apollo’s prized herd of cattle. He reversed the hooves of their feet, so when he led them away it looked as if they went in the opposite direction. Apollo was angry and confused, but did eventually find his half-brother and bring him to Zeus for trial. Zeus found the whole affair hilarious and rather than punish Hermes, simply had him return the stolen cattle.

Hermes also had the honor of slaying the hundred-eyed giant Argus. One of Hera’s henchmen, Argus was keeping Io, one of Zeus’ numerous illicit love interests, prisoner. On Zeus’ behalf, Hermes put all the eyes of the giant to rest by playing a soothing song on his lyre. He then killed him and freed Io. As a god of athletics and sports, Hermes was honored with the Hermaea, in which sacrifices were presented as athletic competition.  As a speech deity, Hermes’ name is the root of the word “hermeneutics”, the interpretation of philosophical and religious texts.

Hermes was merged with Mercury in Roman religion.

 

9th. Hera

Hera is one of the three daughters of Cronus and Rhea. She is the goddess of all women, with emphasis on motherhood, pregnancy, and marriage. She is also the general deity of family and can be seen as the queen of the gods, as she is married to Zeus. Ironically, her personal life is a poor reflection of all these institutions and virtues. Most of her actual children with Zeus include disruptive war gods such as Ares and Discord. Her husband has hundreds, if not thousands of dalliances with other goddesses and mortal women. Unable to take vengeance on Zeus, Hera settles for attacking his lovers and their children, her most notable and long-lasting target being Hercules.

Although most of her myths involve retribution against Zeus’ lovers, Hera had a less malicious side. In fact, she was the patroness of Jason and his Argonauts, giving him advice and assistance at several points of his heroic search for the Golden Fleece. Depictions of her in popular culture tend to swing between a vain, villainous, and jealous queen and a loving mother figure.

Hera is associated with two animals. One is the cow. Since Hera is described as having large, beautiful eyes, she is linked to cows, which themselves have large eyes. More well-known is her association with the peacock, a colorful bird which symbolizes her beauty, extravagance, and immortality. According to myth, the bird’s decorative spots are the goddess’ tribute to her servant Argos, whose eyes she used to adorn and thus create the first peacock.

In Roman mythology she is known as Juno.

 

8th. Prometheus

The only titan on this list, Prometheus actually sided with Zeus and the Olympians in the war against Cronus. Although modern popular culture often makes him out to be a fire deity, he is actually the god of forethought and counsel. Prometheus’ greatest act was creating humans, fashioning them out of mud and clay before life was breathed into them by Athena. Not content to merely make mankind, he also gave them qualities such as arts and crafting and civilization. However, his preference for humans over the gods caused him to rebel against Zeus. The gods were getting into a dispute with mankind over their sacrifices. Many humans were poor and were losing all of their potential meat through their sacrifices. Prometheus suggested to Zeus that he split a bull into two portions. Whichever portion Zeus chose would include all the parts given to the gods. The other portion would be left for mankind to use and consume. Prometheus took all of the good meat and over them placed the stomach, considered the worst part of the animal. He encased the other bad parts with bones and fat, an appetizing sight. Zeus chose the latter, meaning that humanity would get to eat the best parts of the sacrificial animals.

Angered, Zeus decided to take fire away from mankind so they could not roast their meat. Prometheus saw the plight of his humans and managed to steal the fire of the gods. Zeus’ wrath was fully aroused. Prometheus was chained to a rock, where for eternity he was to regularly having his insides eaten out by an eagle. Mankind likewise was punished when Zeus tricked Pandora into opening a box full of ills and evils. Despite Zeus’ declaration of an unending torment, Prometheus’ story had a happy ending. The sympathetic Heracles slew the eagle and freed him from his chains.

 

7th. Artemis

The twin sister of Apollo, Artemis is the goddess of hunt, forests, archery, young girls, and the moon. Far later in the second century AD she was combined with moon goddess Selene. In order to establish herself as a free woman, Artemis vowed to remain a virgin, as being married would subordinate her. So fierce was her protection of her chastity that when the hunter Actaeon stumbled upon her bathing and made sexual advances, she turned him into a stag, causing his fifty hunting dogs to turn on him and tear him apart. As a goddess of hunting and the wild, Artemis was associated with several animals, primarily hunting dogs, deer, and bears.

While being a goddess of archery and bears is cool, what really puts Artemis on this list is the story of the Aloadai. The Aloadai were twin giants, Ephialtes and Otus, who wanted to both destroy the reign of Zeus and abduct Hera and Artemis as their wives. They actually got dangerously close to succeeding, overpowering and imprisoning Ares and resisting Zeus’ thunderbolts. On the cusp of defeat, Artemis bravely turned herself over to them. However, with only one of the desired goddesses, the Aloadai started to quarrel. Acting on their dispute, Artemis turned into a deer and ran between them. Wanting to stop her, or perhaps in competition, they both hurled a spear at her, but she jumped so that they impaled and killed each other, saving the rule of the Olympians.

What prevents Artemis from going higher on the list are two rather cruel actions she committed. First, queen Niobe bragged that she had seven sons and seven daughters, while Leto, Artemis’ mother, only had her and Apollo. The twin deities went on a rampage and killed all of her children, as well as turning her into stone. They also cursed anyone who tried to give the children a burial by turning them into stone. In another horrible tale, Artemis’ virginity was questioned by Aura, a minor goddess of breezes and hunting and also a devotee of virginity. Artemis had her raped by Dionysus as punishment.

Artemis was known as Diana in Roman mythology.

 

6th. Apollo

The son of Zeus and the titan Leto, Apollo is depicted as a beardless young man, and was incredibly popular in the ancient world. Apollo is the god of healing light, prophecy, flocks, colonists, plagues, poetry, and music (he is the head of the choir of Muses!). With dominion over medicine and the arts, it was no wonder that his favor was highly sought by ancient Greeks. He bears a couple similarities with his sister Artemis. First they are both archer deities. Secondly, as Artemis was later combined with moon goddess Selene, he was combined with sun god Helios. Apollo is also an archer deity, blessing Paris so that he can hit Achilles’ weak spot and when he’s in a mad or vengeful mood hitting people with arrows that transmit disease.

Apollo’s gift of prophecy was believed to have been transmitted to the Oracles of Delphi. These priestesses were thus considered the cream of prophets, giving some women an unusually high social position in the ancient world. Snakes and ravens are associated with Apollo and were believed to possess prophetic qualities. Delphi itself is the site where the child Apollo killed a great python and instituted a series of athletic events. Apollo likewise transferred his gift of healing to his son Asclepius, who was such an accomplished doctor that he resurrected famed hunter Hippolytus from the dead. But seeing the natural order of death thwarted thus, Zeus killed Asclepius (but resurrected him as a full-fledged healing god out of respect for his son Apollo).

Like most other Greek deities, Apollo was heavily flawed. He rivaled his father in the number of love affairs, fathering many sons and daughters. However, unlike Zeus he never married, ensuring that there would be no spurned wife taking revenge on all of his children. The most famous romantic endeavor of Apollo was his pursuit of hunting nymph Daphne, brought on by the maddening love arrows of Eros. Daphne did not return his feelings and in what could uncomfortably be seen as an attempt at rape, Apollo chased her down and grabbed her. Crying out to Gaia, Daphne vanished from the god’s grasp and was reborn as the laurel tree. In honor of her, Apollo started wearing laurel leaves. Apollo was also quick to punish any mortals who claimed superiority to him. When a the satyr named Marsyas claimed to be a greater flute player, the god of music beat him in a flute contest and afterwards tied him to a tree and whipped him.

Apollo was not equated with any Roman deities, being directly brought over from Greece. If Zeus were to die, it is believed Apollo would have succeeded him as ruler of the Olympians. The only male children of Zeus and Hera included violent war gods and deformed Hephaestus.

 

5th. Poseidon

Poseidon is up higher on the list mainly because firstly I find sea gods cool and secondly he always stirs up conflict and drama, most notably in the Odyssey. His image is well-known a strong, muscular man with a great beard, long hair, and wielding a trident. He is also mentioned as having blue hair to match his dominion over the ocean. In addition to being the god of all things related to the seas, he presides over horses and earthquakes. He is moody (more known for his bad-tempered side), just like the behavior of the sea. His chariot is pulled by hippocampi, horses that can travel on the sea.

Poseidon, like his brother Zeus, is infamous for his sexual appetite and has nearly a hundred listed wives, consorts, and flings. Foremost among them is Amphitrite, a sea nymph who spurned his initial advances. Amphitrite did not find Poseidon’s wrathful nature attractive and fled, hiding herself away. Desperate to marry her, Poseidon sent out several agents to find her. One, the chief dolphin Delphinus, found her and talked her into marrying him. Thus she became the queen of the seas. Though an Olympian, Poseidon prefers joining his favored wife in a grand undersea palace.

In the epic poems surrounding the Trojan War, Poseidon is close to being the main villain. In the Iliad he starts off as simply supporting the Greeks. But in the Odyssey his cyclops son Polyphemus is blinded by Odysseus, returning from victory in the Trojan War. He thus torments Odysseus and his crew with storms and sea monsters, until only Odysseus remains alive. To make things worse, the hero is trapped on an island for almost ten years. Under the name of Roman sea god Neptune, Poseidon also antagonized Aeneas and the Trojan remnant in the Aeneid. Poseidon also has a rivalry with Athena, which plays out mainly in the founding of Athens and the Odyssey.

 

4th. Heracles

Heracles is the only mythological character to be both a human hero and a god. He is one of the earliest known superheroes. Heracles, more well known by his Roman name Hercules, is the son of Zeus and Alcmene. Alcmene abandoned her child when she learned that her lover was Zeus, and thus she was subject to Hera’s wrath. In an ironic twist, Hera took pity on the abandoned child, whose identity she did not know, and nursed him. By giving him her milk, he acquired his unnatural strength. Athena managed to return him to Alcmene and her husband Amphitryon and the child was named Heracles in honor of Hera in an attempt to placate her. This did him little good, as Hera would drive him to madness. In his unnatural fury, Heracles murdered his family and as punishment he had to perform his twelve famed labors. These seemingly impossible tasks were given by King Eurystheus of Mycenae.

Most of these labors involved killing or capturing fantastic beasts such as the Hydra, the Nemean lion, and even Hades’ dog Cerberus. He also had the rather disgusting task of cleaning the Augean stables in one day, stables which housed thousands of cattle and had not been cleaned in thirty years. Rather than attempt power-sweeping, he used his brains and diverted two rivers, washing out the stables. One of his last tasks was obtaining mystical apples from the Garden of the Hesperides. This required a journey that saw him fight and defeat the half-giant Antaeus and the dragon Ladon, almost get used as a human sacrifice in Egypt, and outwit the Titan Atlas into grabbing the apples for him. His twelve labors completed, Heracles was free to pursue further adventures, joining the Argonauts, having a brief tenure as a member of Dionysus’ revelry-ridden entourage, and in his kindest act freeing Prometheus from his eternally decreed torments.

Heracles finally met his end during his marriage to Deianeira. Nessus, one of many rapacious centaurs, attempted to abduct his wife, but was killed by a poisoned arrow. As he died, he told Deianeira that his tunic had the power to sexually excite her lover. This seeming act of deathbed amends turned out to be an act of vengeance. Tainted by the poisoned arrow, the tunic killed its wearer. After his death, Heracles was revived and ascended to Olympus, becoming a new god and thus getting him on this list.

 

3rd. Hephaestus

Hephaestus is the god of forging, fire, sculpture, stone masonry, and various other kinds of ancient engineering skills. He is one of the few truly sympathetic gods. First of all, he was born ugly, a great abnormality for the gods. Disappointed, Hera cruelly cast him off of Mount Olympus. According to which myth you read, his lame leg was a birth defect or a result of the landing. Raised by sympathetic sea nymph Thetis (who later was the mother of Achilles), Hephaestus grew vengeful when he learned of the circumstances of his birth. He created a golden throne and mailed it to his birth mother. Hera was pleased with its appearance and sat on it, but the enchanted chair glued her to her seat. Unable to free her, the gods tried to get Hephaestus back. This was done when Dionysus got the smithing god drunk and hauled him up Olympus. After freeing Hera, Hephaestus was welcomed back into the family and became one of the Olympians.

When the gods quarreled over who should marry the beautiful Aphrodite, goddess of love, Zeus tried to prevent a war by giving her to Hephaestus. Overjoyed at having such a beautiful wife, he used his skills to fashion her incredible jewelry. However, put off by both his appearance and his usually restrained demeanor, Aphrodite frequently cheated on him with other mortals, sometimes other gods (though Hephaestus seems to have fathered children outside of his marriage). The most well known case was the handsome and more wild Ares. Learning of their affair, Hephaestus fashioned a special trap involving an unbreakable net. As the naked lovers started on their bed, the net was dropped on them and Hephaestus brought in the other gods to further humiliate them.

Hephaestus forged the weapons of the gods, but these paled in comparison to his other feats. He built himself a wheelchair, quite the novelty back in the ancient world. He also built various robots, including two guard dogs, the giant Talos, mechanical assistants for helping him create things, and even tables that responded to voice commands and brought the Olympians whatever food and drink they wanted.

Romans equated Hephaestus with Vulcan, god of fire and volcanoes.

 

2nd. Athena

Athena is the goddess of wisdom, warfare, and weaving. Her first two dominions made her one of the most popular and sought out gods. By being the goddess of wisdom and reason, she was popular with the various Greek philosophers. And though Ares was the god of war, she was more sought after in times of conflict, as she emphasized strategy and defense of the state while Ares was more about bloodlust and carnage. Animals associated with her include the owl and the snake, which is why owls are often characterized as wise or highly intelligent when anthropomorphized. Athena is often depicted with a helmet resting on her head. Her birth is a little odd. Fearing a prophecy that his first wife Metis would bear a son who overthrows him, he swallowed her up. Nine months later he got a series of headaches, which culminated with Athena springing out of his head fully grown. She ended up becoming Zeus’ favorite child.

Athena was the patroness of heroes. Her favorite was Odysseus, who like her relied heavily on his brains. She helped him get home from the Trojan War, though usually by implanting thoughts rather than direct action. She does take a more direct role when he gets back to Ithaca, disguising him as an old beggar and then helping him slaughter the unruly suitors going after his wife Penelope. She also helped Hercules with a couple of his labors. Compared to the other gods, Athena does not do much in the way of cruelty towards mortals. Her only particularly horrible act was turning Medusa into a monster for being raped inside her temple by Poseidon, which I still don’t understand the reasoning for. In another tale, the weaver Arachne boasted that was better than Athena at weaving. To her credit, Athena warned her to stop being arrogant before challenging her to a weaving contest and then turning her into a spider (even then, some versions of the tale have her turn Arachne turn into a spider out of pity after she hung herself. After all, spiders are great weavers).

As is well known, Athens is named after the goddess. This is the source of a popular myth in which the unnamed city was deciding who its patron deity should be. Athena was wise and a great war goddess, but they were near the sea, which Poseidon ruled over. King Cecrops decided that whoever gave the best gift would be their patron. Poseidon struck the ground with his trident and gave them a spring of water. However, it was salty sea water. Athena struck the earth as well, creating an olive tree that symbolized prosperity and the hope for peace. Obviously, her gift was better and she was chosen as the patron deity. Angered, Poseidon cursed the city with water shortages, which historically has actually been a real problem.

Athena was equated with Minerva, a war goddess, in Roman mythology.

 

1st. Hades

Hades is not just the god of the dead, but of the wealth of the earth as well, including all gold, jewels, and gems that can be found underground. This led him to be called Pluto, equating him with Plutus, the Roman god of wealth. Thanks to modern views and a fear of death, Hades is often misrepresented as a Satanic villain obsessed with bringing further death upon humanity and then tormenting them in hell. First of all, an immortal god could surely be patient enough to wait for people to die and would not be acting to kill them. Secondly, ancient peoples would want to have the comfort of knowing that the ruler of the afterlife is a just, fair god. After all, they’re going there! Hades may even be the most morally upright of the Olympians.

Hades is actually the oldest of the three sons of Cronus. When casting lots with his two brothers, he ended up with the Underworld. His most noted myth is his abduction of Persephone, perhaps his most heinous act. Feeling lonely in the Underworld, he grew a love for vegetation goddess Persephone and abducted her, bringing her to the realm of the dead. In grief and anger, Persephone’s mother, Demeter, goddess of the harvest, let the earth grow barren. Seeing that the world would die out, Hades agreed to return Persephone. However, he had made sure she ate food of the Underworld, which bound her there. In a compromise forged by the gods, it was agreed that Persephone would stay with Hades for a third of every year, which brought about annual winter as Demeter would grow sour during these periods. In later myths it seems that Persephone learned to love Hades, perhaps because she was now also the queen of the Underworld and the goddess of spring. Hades has his sole extramarital affair with a nymph named Minthe, who Persephone is quick to punish.

Hades only gets vengeful against humans when they try to cheat the boundaries of life and death. Otherwise he is a fair judge who places souls in their proper place. One of his duties was to ensure that the dead were given proper burial rites. One cunning man, Sisyphus, told his wife not to honor them. Thus when he ended up in the Underworld he convinced Hades to let him approach his wife and correct the mistake. Sisyphus was let back into the land of the living, but did not return. The gods threw him back into the Underworld and he was punished with the task of trying to push a boulder up a hill. Every time he is close to the top, the boulder rolls back down and he has to start all over again.

As the ruler of the Underworld, Hades possesses many fascinating things. Guarding the entrance is the three-headed dog Cerberus, described in one source as having a mane of serpents around each head. Hades holds vast amounts of underground wealth, effectively making him the treasurer of the gods. He has the Helm of Hades, which grants its wearer invisibility and was once given to Perseus. Hades also has several demigods working under him, including the vengeful Furies, the ferryman Charon, and Hypnos, god of sleep. Hades is not the actual god of death, that distinction going to primordial being Thanatos.

Ten Other Notable Greek Gods

Aphrodite: The goddess of love, sex, and beauty, Aphrodite arose from the castrated genitals of sky god Oranos and was involved in many ill-fated romances.

Ares: The god of war, Ares is an obnoxious and bloodthirsty figure who is often humiliated.

Demeter: Demeter is the goddess of agriculture and the harvest.

Dionysus: A very popular figure for ancient Greeks, Dionysus is the master of wine, revelries, the vine, grapes, madness, ecstasy.

Eris: One of the few children of Zeus and Hera, Eris is the goddess of war and strife, and was the one who got three goddesses quarreling over an apple, leading to the Trojan War.

Gaia: She is the earth and mothered many children, including the giants.

Hecate: Hecate is the goddess of sorcery, magic, and ghosts and lives in the Underworld.

Hestia: The goddess of home and hearth, Hestia was heavily prayed to historically, but plays little role in the myths, mainly because she prefers to keep to herself and wants to stay out of all the quarrels and shenanigans her family members are up to.

Pan: A recognizable figure with his goat legs, Pan is the god of nature, shepherds, various herd animals, and sexuality.

Zeus: Zeus is the king of the gods and is in charge of storms, the sky, and, hypocritically given his sexual misbehavior, law, justice, & vows.

Sources

D’Aulaire, Ingrid D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing. 1962

http://www.greek-gods.info/

http://www.greekmythology.com/

http://www.greekmyths-greekmythology.com/myth-of-hades-and-persephone/

http://www.theoi.com/

Various Titans and Olympians: Greek and Roman Myth Time-Life Books. 1997