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The Top Five Craziest Greek Gods

crazy greek gods
Wall painting of the OLympian gods by Giulio Romano at the Palazzo del Te in Mantua. Public Domain

As we count down the top five crazy Greek gods, many will wish to know who the absolute craziest is. But what should the criteria for crazy be exactly? This is difficult to say.

Calling people crazy is sometimes insulting. Mere mortals are burdened with love, family matters, paying the rent, and hunger. This often makes them snap. Of course, we live in a pretty maddening world.

But why do supernatural personalities have so many issues? One may think those who live beyond the laws of nature or scientific understanding have free reign to do as they wish. Why lash out at mere mortals or other gods? What is behind such overwhelming insecurity?

What does crazy mean for the Greek Gods?

Crazy implies demented, deranged, and insane in the membrane. On another level, crazy can suggest enthusiasm, passion, and bordering on fanatical. We must keep in mind that in the stories of Greek mythology, mere mortals act crazy, too. But we will be counting down the craziest gods, so kindly keep this in mind. Do gods or goddess act crazy independent of the provocation of other supernatural powers?

In fact, maybe what we see as “crazy” among the gods and goddesses of the Greek ancient world reflects some human challenges that appear to have been with us for time immemorial. Myths and legends have a way of implying this. They also tend to have an overlapping presence in comparative societies. What is crazy appears under many names and locations but conveys similar dilemmas of passion and violence.

So, as we count down the top five, let us begin with number twenty-three. Just seeing if you are alert!

Wild, virile, but also lazy?

Number 5 is Pan. What makes him worthy of the top five crazy? Pan is the god of the wild, shepherds and flocks, and companion to the nymphs. He had the hindquarters, legs, and horns of a goat but otherwise appeared human. Pan is the god of spontaneous music and other impromptu activities. His special powers included tremendous strength, speed, and stamina. He could not be injured. Pan could teleport across time and space.

The Greek god Pan.
The Greek God Pan. Credit: Natasa Dorcevic/Instagram

Still, Pan is lazy and gets annoyed if awakened from his naps. Often, he is represented with an erect phallus. The origin of the Pan flute is he fell in love with one of the water nymphs, Syrinx. She tried to trick him by representing herself as a reed to observe him more closely. Pan tried to blow the reed up, anticipating the sound of a flute.

He tries to mate with anything moving. Whether a goddess, nymph, man, woman, or animal. The word “panic” comes from the god Pan, who was said to stir fear in humans and make them run away at his very sight.

Cut off his father’s balls and ate and threw up his children

Number 4 is Cronus. What makes him among the elite crazy Greek gods? Cronus was a male deity worshipped by the pre-Hellenic population of Greece. Cronus cut off his father’s,  Uranus (translated as Sky), balls with a scythe. He threw them into the water. They erupted and gave birth to the goddess Aphrodite.

Greek god Chronus eating his child
Greek God Chronus Eating his Offspring. Credit: Peter Paul Rubens, 1636.
Museo del Prado, Madrid. Public Domain

Cronus swallowed his children in response to a foretelling vision. They would grow up to overthrow him. Cronus’ children were the gods Poseidon, Hestia, Hades, Hera, and Demeter. Cronus’s sister-wife, Rhea—a little incest never disturbed the gods—gave birth to Zeus. She hid Zeus from Cronus’ hungry appetite and gave him a rock to eat instead.  As an adult, Zeus forced Cronus to regurgitate his brothers and sisters (or were they his cousins?), clashed with Cronus, and finally took control.

In past foreign policy disputes, politicians abroad have been drawn in cartoons as Cronus swallowing the Greeks. A decade ago, Angela Merkel was depicted in this way, where Germany was perceived as economically disciplining Greece.

The god of anarchy, wine, and intoxication

Number 3 is Dionysus. This crazy Greek god many consider a force of anarchy and ecstasy. Dionysus is unique among the Olympic gods as one of his parents, his mother Semene, was a mortal. The god of wine, intoxication, chaos, and ritual frenzy. He transforms into a bull or lion and drives mortals insane.

greek god dionysus
Greek God Dionysus. Credit: world history CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

Dionysus was also the Greek god of the theater. His name in Latin is Bacchus. And all over the world “bacchanal” suggests a party or festival bordering on debauchery. This is especially so in Latin America and the Caribbean, where carnival, mass, and Mardi Gras take place. However, Nigeria’s Wole Soyinka in his own interpretation of the Bacchae of Euripides reminds the bacchanal has its origins in a Greek communal feast consistent with how the Yoruba commune with their gods. It has traveled the African diaspora. The scholar George D. Thomson explained that the original Dionysian theater was not a form of passive entertainment for Greek spectators. Rather, it was a communal rite. One way to imagine this mediation of the gods is the wearing of masks in ancient Greek theater. Archaeologists have found a mask of Dionysus in Western Turkey.

Dionysus created women-only raves that took place at night in the rural areas. Participants danced until dawn, intoxicated with wine, song, and passion. Their husbands were not pleased.

The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche saw Dionysus, in contrast to Apollo who represented structure and order, as a fount of intellectual creativity even to the point of ecstasy.

The rage of Hera against other women

Number 2 is Hera. What places this crazy Greek goddess among the males? Hera, daughter of Cronus and Rhea (mother of Zeus), is often associated with all aspects of women’s lives including marriage and childbirth. Hera was also one of Zeus’ seven wives. It seems her power as a goddess was the unenvious role of jealous wife. Zeus was always having affairs.

Greek Goddess Hera
The “Hera Campana,” a second century AD Roman copy of an ancient Greek original. Hera was one of the most important goddesses in ancient Greek mythology. Credit: Public Domain

Zeus took another lover, the mortal Semele, after seeing her sacrifice a bull in reverence to him. Well, Zeus “visits” Semele often. When she becomes pregnant, Hera discovers Zeus’ infidelity. Hera entraps Semele by encouraging her desire to see Zeus naked. Zeus apparently gets jiggy in the dark. Well, Hera knows the rules; mortals are not allowed to look directly at the Gods. Zeus, having promised Semele whatever wish she desired, grants the wish only for Semele to burst into flames.

Hera also compels another of Zeus’ paramours, Leto (the goddess of fertility) to walk the earth pregnant, forbidding anyone from offering her assistance. Hera also sent monsters to Leto to attack and violate her and prolong the pain of her pregnancy.

The most famous subject of Hera’s wrath was her step-son Hercules. Hercules is the child of Zeus and a mortal woman named Alcmene, who Zeus tricked by disguising himself as Amphitryon, who was off to war. Surprisingly, Amphitryon came home in the middle of the night and Alcmene gave birth to twins, one by both of them. Hera manipulates Zeus and Alcmene and finds a way to make her child, Eurytheus, be born prematurely.

Hera has an ironic role as someone who watches over mothers and children. Strangely, she was perhaps the first goddess to have a rooftop sanctuary dedicated to her.

5-4-3-2…And the #1 craziest Greek god ever…would have to be Zeus

Zeus lives atop of Mount Olympus and rules over all the assembled gods and goddesses. The god of lightening, sun, and thunder in ancient Greek religion, he was said to have grown up on the island of Naxos. Homer’s Iliad explains that Zeus was the all-father who assigned roles. Some of the most iconic temples in antiquity are dedicated to Zeus. He presided over the Greek Olympic Pantheon. If you find truffles (often confused with mushrooms which are another type of fungi) tasty, legend has it Zeus invented them.

Famous actors in recent years like Hugh Grant, Jeff Goldblum, and Russell Crowe in movies and television series have played the role of Zeus.

Zeus’ preferred method of seduction was to transform into a beautiful swan. He would have sex with anything that had hands, legs, and eyes.

We have already given some indication of Zeus’ relations with women. He also took the form of a serpent to seduce the maiden goddess Persephone. Zeus impregnated Medusa in the Temple of Athena. Poseidon also raped Medusa in Athena’s temple. Athena, apparently with Zeus’ blessing, turned Medusa into a hideous old hag with hair of live snakes. Medusa’s gaze upon anyone could turn them to stone. After Perseus beheaded Medusa, both Athena and Zeus used her head as a type of shield to ward off evil.

Zeus condemned Sisyphus to roll a boulder up the hill for all eternity. I mean, this is small potatoes. It has nice existential and proletarian symbolism, but it is more sadistic.

Greek God Zeus
Zeus of Otricoli Ancient Roman copy of Hellenistic Original. credit: wikimedia commons. Public Domain

Zeus: on the side of the rich or poor?

Tantalus, a mortal son of Zeus, served the gods his own son for dinner. This certainly turns things up a notch! But Zeus’s response was condemnation of him to eternal hunger within reach of a fruit tree and thirst while standing in a pool of water. This seems to be a creative pursuit of justice. Paradoxically, it also seems to foreshadow the empire of capital.

Perhaps contrarily, Zeus once submitted a community to a flood after posing as a homeless man in need of refuge. He found only one in a thousand would welcome him. He killed all but two in this village. Vindictive, one can’t deny this has certain merits.

Zeus chained Prometheus to a rock and left him to perennially live through the menace of birds picking at his liver as a consequence for trying to steal his thunder and, some say, lead a revolution. He manipulated Pandora to unleash evil on the world as an offshoot of her desiring equality and knowledge.

Still, when we keep in mind all the troubles Zeus gave women, even manipulating them to degrade each other, this undoubtedly makes him the craziest. Furthermore, his interaction with Prometheus, Pandora, and Cronus sort of proves that he was only fond of social transformation when he led such an endeavor. Otherwise, he was a repressive figure against those who wished to take the same initiative. When you have all the power and live above society, in this case on a mountain, one must connive to remain at the top.

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