Hephaestus is the Greek god of blacksmiths, metal, fire and volcanoes – the latter from his Roman name, Vulcan. He worked on his blacksmith shop inside the volcanic Mount Etna, crafting the weapons used by the other Olympian gods. If there is a cool bit of armour or weapon in a Greek myth then it’s likely Hephaestus made it.
In some versions of Hephaestus’ story, he is the son of both Zeus and Hera but in other stories he is the son of just Hera because she created him alone as revenge for Zeus giving birth to Athena (out of his head) without his wife. In many versions of the story, Hephaestus was then rejected by Hera because of being a cripple and she threw him out of Olympus. Dionysus returned him to Olympus.
Hephaestus was married to Aphrodite who famously cuckolded him with Ares, among others. Hephaestus captured the canoodling pair in a chain net he had fashioned and then dragged them to Olympus to become a spectacle in front of the other gods. Hephaestus, however, was not beyond his own running around, fathering children with various nymphs.
Hephaestus’ symbols are the items of his craft: the anvil, hammer and tongs. I built those into my drawing by having him clutch the hammer in his fist and I made the hammer and tongs tattoos on his muscular arm. I drew him wearing his oval cap and the protective leather tunic of a man who works with hot metals and burning coals. I chose to ignore his lameness (which might have been the classical world’s allusion to the arsenic poisoning common among metal workers) and instead focused on his strength, giving him a powerful, muscular arm and a broad neck. There’s not much mirth in Hephaestus’ mythology so I gave him a somewhat solemn, steely facial expression.
Iris was the Greek goddess of the rainbow and also acted as a messenger to the gods because she could travel from one end of the world to the other and travelled speedily with the wind. Indeed, she was married to the west wind, Zephyrus.
I feel quite lucky to have drawn Iris today since it led effectively to a simple line drawing with a quick brush of watercolour stripes over the top. We have a cinema trip and a restaurant dinner with six kids as a birthday celebration today so I would not have had time in my schedule for anything more elaborate. In classical art, Iris is depicted either as a rainbow or as a young winged girl. I decided to combine both in my drawing. I painted the spectrum stripes from the top to the bottom of my paper so that the rainbow cut right through and across the figure. I then gave her silvery wings since the word “iridescent” is derived from Iris’ name. I don’t have iridescent ink so silver was the best I could do.
Dionysus was the Greek god of wine, wine-making and the grape harvest. I, therefore, like Dionysus. Of course, he was also the god of madness…. The Romans called Dionysus Bacchus and the adjectives Dionysian and Bacchanalian both refer to impulsive, spontaneous, often alcohol-induced revelry. He’s all about non-conformity and chaos.
He was the only one of the Olympians to have a mortal mother and his birth was unconventional to say the least. He was yet another of the offspring of Zeus so, when Semele was pregnant, Hera’s vengeful side was provoked again. Hera tricked Semele into having Zeus appear before her which led to her instantaneous death because she gazed upon an immortal. Zeus quickly rescued the unborn baby and stitched him into his thigh. Yes. His thigh. He was born from Zeus’ thigh some time later.
Dionysus is the god who plays a key part in the myth of King Midas. The story goes that Midas provided shelter and hospitality to Dionysus’ foster father and so the god told Midas he would give him any reward he chose. Midas, of course, opted to have the ability to turn anything he touched into gold. The catch was that everything he touched turned to gold, including his food and his family. Finally Midas begged Dionysus to take away his gift.
I completely admit that I was very influenced by the Beethoven’s pastoral symphony segment from ‘Fantasia’ in which Dionysus is rotund and jolly with a boozer’s rosy nose and wears a headband adorned with bunches of grapes while he frolics with fauns, pegasuses and centaurs. My Dionysus, therefore, is not the comely youth of many classical statues but is instead the same type of plump and ruddy drunkard. In addition to the grape headband I drew my Dionysus wearing leopard skin since he was associated with leopards.
Having drawn Artemis yesterday, I had a strong feeling Apollo – her twin brother – would be up next. While Artemis was associated with the moon, her brother is the god of the sun. Among other things in a wide ranging portfolio, Apollo is also, fact fans, the god of plague. That is something that piques my interest because the history of plagues is one of my nerdy interests. The odd thing about this particular part of Apollo’s job description is that, as much as he was a bearer of disease and death, he was also the god of healing. Gives with one hand and takes with the other.
Like his sister, Apollo’s weapon of choice was the bow and arrow. Indeed, when he was only a few days old, he killed a dragon named Python in order to protect his mother, Leto, as Hera had sent the dragon to kill Leto. A cheery story involves Apollo and Artemis working together with poisoned arrows. A queen of Thebes named Niobe claimed she was a better mother than Leto because she had seven sons and seven daughters. In disproportionate revenge for this rather bizarre slight, Artemis shot all of the daughters and Apollo shot all of the sons.
As tempting as it was to try and find a way to draw Apollo in relation to plague, no ideas formed in my mind. I, therefore, decided to stick with the sun god route. I drew Apollo as a bust and placed his head in front of a sun symbol, the triangular rays of which I coloured with my gold ink. The effect is reminiscent of a halo. That reminds me that I believe there is a connection between the early iconography of Jesus and depictions of Apollo, the former being influenced by the latter. It also reminds me that I would love to experiment with using gold leaf (or at least fake gold leaf) in my art at some point.
Day 30! This is the day when my drawing challenge was supposed to end since it was intended to be a month long commitment to produce a drawing per day. Of course, my children got carried away with enthusiasm for my project and their directing of it so I have ended up with 40 drawings to produce.
Today’s drawing is of Artemis. Artemis (or Diana as the Romans called her) was the goddess of the hunt, wild animals and the wilderness. She was also the goddess of virginity and childbirth which is a peculiar combination I am sure you would agree. Artemis was yet another child of Zeus. When Hera learned that her husband had gotten Leto up the duff, incandescent with rage she deployed her goddess skills to prevent Leto from giving birth on land. Poseidon, taking pity on Leto or maybe just not liking Hera much, guided Leto to a floating island and there she gave birth to Artemis and her twin brother Apollo.
A well-known story about Artemis concerns the death of Actaeon. Actaeon was either a hunting companion of the goddess or just a stranger who unfortunately happened to be wandering through the wrong part of the forest at the wrong time. Whatever his motive for being there, Actaeon made the mistake of stumbling upon Artemis as she bathed in a pool, thus catching a glimpse of her naked. Artemis, apparently more enraged than embarrassed, immediately transformed Actaeon into a stag whereupon his own dogs – no longer recognizing him – set about him and tore him to pieces.
Artemis is associated with the deer and with the moon but the symbol I chose to incorporate into my drawing was her bow and arrow. In retrospect, drawing a deer would have been a much easier task as I very much struggled to get the pose for drawing an arrow correct. My sketch was a completely tangled mess of lines as I tried to get something that looked somewhat right to emerge. I have to admit that I cast my mind to imagery from ‘The Hunger Games’ to help me. I gave Artemis brown hair and green eyes to connect her to the wild forests where she hunted with her pack of girls. For the same reason, I used green for her dress.
Hera was the goddess of women and marriage. Given that she was married to her brother, Zeus, I am not sure she was best placed to dispense advice on either subject.
Zeus and Hera were that couple who are always bickering and having domestics. The couple who no one can fathom why they are still together because they seem only bound by detesting each other. Zeus would go off on one of his testosterone-fuelled rampages of womanizing and Hera would take revenge by punishing the women – whether consenting mistresses or victims of rape – and she was really quite creative with her vengeance. She would also take revenge on the offspring who resulted from these extra-marital liaisons. She famously tried to prevent Heracles’ birth by tying his mother’s legs in knots and, having failed, sent snakes to go and kill him when he was a baby. Furthermore, if Zeus had a child without her, Hera would birth one without his input too. Take that, Zeus. One version of Hephaestus’ myth suggests that he originated from just such a tit-for-tat fatherless conception. There is also a myth that Hera was impregnated by a lettuce. Seriously. Sometimes Hera was just wicked to people out of jealousy or because she felt slighted or just for the sheer merry heck of it. So, yes, Zeus and Hera were definitely not a couple you would want to have over for dinner.
I decided to draw Hera in profile, having drawn lots of front on faces lately, and the sketch that emerged was reminiscent of the famous bust of Nefertiti. I am using that influence to justify the slightly peculiar proportions. Hera is associated with the lion, cow and peacock. I was tempted to include at least one of her totem beasts in my drawing but it has been a busy day so I opted to keep my drawing simple today. I am, however, very fond of peacock colours so that seed having been planted is why I chose purple for the dominant colour in the drawing. Hera is often depicted wearing a high arched crown, called a polos, so I adorned her head with a diadem. I don’t believe it looks anything like a polos but I liked the way that shape interacted with other shapes in the drawing. I used my silver ink to suggest Hera’s regality and because it complemented the purple.
Aphrodite is, of course, the Greek goddess of love, her Roman counterpart being Venus. In a few versions of her myth, she is one of the many children of Zeus. In most versions, however, she was created when Cronos castrated Uranus and threw his genitals into the sea. Aphrodite then arose from the foam and floated ashore in a scallop shell. It is that version of her creation that has inspired so much art, most famously Botticelli’s Birth of Venus. I am not sure how Aphrodite would record her ancestry on a family tree.
Famously beautiful and desirable, Aphrodite had many lovers. Zeus, worried that rivalry for her affections would spark conflict, married her off to the ugly god Hephaestus but that didn’t stop her running around and “love goddessing” with others – most famously Ares. As well as being unfaithful, Aphrodite could also be pretty twisted and vengeful. Being the goddess of love apparently does not require you to be lovely. Her vanity even provoked the Trojan War. It was she who persuaded Paris to award her the golden apple by rewarding him with the most beautiful mortal woman in the world. Since Helen was already married, her abduction by Paris led directly to the conflict between the Greeks and the Trojans.
In my drawing of Aphrodite, I wanted to try and capture those dual qualities of the goddess: her seductive charm and her wickedness. The instant that thought passed across my mind, I thought of the femme fatale trope and that led me to think of film noir. I decided, therefore, that my Aphrodite would be alluring but dangerous and that I would depict her as looking like an actress from the golden age of cinema, walking the red carpet. I gave her the long locks of Veronica Lake and the beauty spot of Marilyn Monroe. I angled her geometric hips to suggest a sexy sashay combined with a sharpness and I painted her dress red to connote passion, lust and danger.
Ares is the god of War (Mars being his Roman equivalent) and is one of the offspring of Zeus and Hera and one of the Twelve Olympians (the chief gods) so he’s a pretty big deal figure in Greek Mythology. As the god of war, Ares had a dual role to play in that he inspired courage on the field of battle but, on the other hand, he was also the one whipping up the conflict in the first place. Indeed, his sons Phobos and Deimos represent terror and fear, just to underline the fact that those are the responses Ares elicited with his war-mongering ways. Ares’ throne was upholstered with human skin and Spartan kids sacrificed puppies to him. Nice.
Despite being a god of War, Ares was not averse to getting embroiled in matters of love – or at least lust. Through dalliances with a long list of women, he produced scores of offspring. His most famous affair, of course, was with Aphrodite. Helios, the sun god, spied Ares and Aphrodite canoodling and reported this to Hephaestus, the goddess of love’s husband. He then constructed a net so fine it was almost invisible and ensnared the lovers in it, humiliating them by inviting all his Olympian friends to come and gawk at them. Mortified Ares then scuttled off to Thrace to lick his wounds.
I struggled quite a bit with drawing Ares. I aspired to convey his callousness, to capture his cruelty, but I am not sure I did so convincingly. Not knowing much about Ancient Greek armour, I borrowed the shape of his helmet from the famous statue of Ares that stood in Hadrian’s Villa. I fussed and fidgeted with the sketch and erased a lot until I arrived at something I was satisfied enough with, if not entirely happy.
My fidgeted Ares sketch
I decided to make Ares look militaristic by giving him the look of some kind of brutish drill sergeant. I also wanted to make his face quite angular, with sharp lines to imply harshness. I gave him a pugilistic jutting chin and a downturned mouth, all taciturn and coiled violence. I opted for red for his helmet’s plume and his collar since red has connotations of anger and aggression.
I am not entirely happy with this drawing but time was very much of the essence today so this effort will have to do.
Athena (or Minerva, as the Romans called her) is, of course, the goddess of wisdom. She is, however, also the goddess of several other things including justice, courage, mathematics and arts and crafts. That’s quite a diverse portfolio. As much as she represented morality and wisdom, justice and creativity, however, she could also be a butt-kicking warrior woman, getting involved in battles – such as the Trojan War – and even fomenting conflict by promoting one side over the other through her patronage and magical gifts. She did prefer, however, that arguments be settled through reasonable discourse rather than through violence. That’s the wisdom. Her father, Zeus, could have learned a thing or two from her.
Athena is one of those mythological characters who has a completely bonkers birth story. Zeus, as he was wont to do, had his wicked way with Metis. Then he recalled a prophecy that Metis would give birth to children more powerful than their father and regretted his impulsive rutting. His solution was possibly learned from his own father, Cronos, in that the response was to swallow Metis whole. She, however, had already conceived. Zeus began to suffer a terrible headache and one of his children (sources are apparently inconsistent on which) decided that the best medicine was an axe through the skull. From this wound leapt Athena, already an armour-wearing adult. It’s a more dramatic story than being delivered by a stork, I suppose.
For all her judgement and wisdom, Athena could be petulant and cruel. When Medusa was raped by Poseidon in the temple dedicated to Athena, the goddess punished Medusa for the desecration by turning her from a beauty to a hideous monster whose gaze turned people to stone. In another myth, the Judgement of Paris, there is a contest revolving around a golden apple in which Paris has to decide which of the goddesses, Hera, Aphrodite and Athena, is the most beautiful. When he chose Aphrodite (because of a bribe), Hera and Athena were so insulted and enraged that they precipitated the Trojan War just to antagonise Paris.
In my drawing of Athena, I have adopted a couple of traditional elements that are signifiers of her identity. One is the helmet, appropriate since she was born in full armour. Thankfully my silver ink behaved better than my gold ink so that I could give her helmet and also her fibula a metallic finish. Athena is also associated with the owl, her sacred bird and mascot. As is traditional in statues of the goddess, I chose to draw the owl perched on her shoulder. I would be curious to learn which was associated with wisdom first, Athena or the owl, and whether the association led the wisdom of one to be connected to the other. Anyone know?
Having already drawn Zeus and Hades, it was inevitable that Poseidon would make an appearance on the list my boys generated, the last in the trio of sons of Cronus and Rhea.
As the god of the oceans, I immediately arrived at the blue colour scheme for my drawing. Initially I was going to draw him in his chariot, being pulled along by a hippocampus. But, as you might recall, I am not very adept at drawing horses. Then I thought I might swap the hippocampus for a dolphin but I could not get the proportions to work within the smaller scale I am working at. So I decided to draw Poseidon on his own. Much simpler.
I drew Poseidon with a long flowing beard, like one of his waves, and his trident clasped in his hands. I then decorated his clothing – which I drew as a column, perhaps reminiscent of a herma – with simplified versions of sea creatures, all drawn with my dip pen in ultramarine ink. In common with his brothers, Poseidon could be a right nasty piece of work so I gave him the stern eyes and the nipped mouth to make him look a bit steely cold and imply a degree of cruelty.