Greek mythology is a treasure trove of outlandish and incredible stories. At the forefront of these tales, spearheading the ridiculousness, are the Greek gods. The Greek pantheon is infamous for its ruthlessness and cruelty, especially toward mortals and lesser gods.
In this list, we’ll take a look at 10 of the pettiest punishments ever doled out by the gods atop Mount Olympus.
The god of the underworld is often portrayed as the ultimate evil of Greek mythology in modern media. Ironically, Hades is likely one of the more reasonable gods, and compared to his brothers, Zeus and Poseidon, he might as well be a saint. That being said, Hades is no stranger to being petty in his dealings with humans and gods alike. Though I suppose I’d be irritable too if I lived all my life in the dark underworld.
A hero named Peirithous traveled to the underworld in hopes of charming and absconding with the queen of the underworld, Persephone. Hades knew of Peirithous’s intentions and set a trap for the man. When Peirithous arrived, Hades hospitably offered him a stone throne, but as he sat, Hades bound him with snakes to his seat.
Peirithous was forced to stay where he sat for all eternity. Eventually, his body grew into the seat. A cruel punishment indeed, but nowhere near the pettiest Greek mythology has to offer. Thus, Hades finds himself at #10 on this list.
Despite his reputation as the punisher of the wicked and overbearing, the music-loving, prized son of Zeus isn’t always on his best behavior. Spurred on by the insatiable lust he inherited from his father, Apollo is often found chasing women. Unfortunately, his reaction to rejection is usually less than savory, to say the least.
In an attempt to charm Cassandra, his latest fixation, Apollo gave her the gift of prophecy. Cassandra was grateful but not enough to sleep with the god. Bitter about the rejection, Apollo made it such that no one believed Cassandra’s prophecies, despite their truth. Thus Cassandra bore witness to the fall of Troy but was powerless to warn anyone. In the aftermath, she was captured, assaulted, and eventually murdered. I suppose that’s one harsh way to deal with unrequited love.
Apollo was also a terrible winner. He once bested a human named Marsyas in a musical competition. Irritated that a mere mortal had the audacity to challenge his skill, Apollo sought to punish Marsyas for his hubris. How, you might ask? The god decided it would be a just punishment to flay Marsyas alive. Ironically, Apollo is also referred to as a god of healing and protection.
Love is often messy and cruel; thus, it’s only fitting that the goddess of love is often found inflicting cruel consequences on those who cross her. Aphrodite, like many gods, does not take kindly to disrespect, especially if done by mortals. That being said, her wrath toward disrespect could often be quite cruel.
When the women of the island Lemnos refused to pay homage to Aphrodite, the goddess cursed them with a horrible odor. Their men on the island fell out of love with them and turned to their slaves to replace their wives. Enraged, the women murdered their husbands and fathers. All this death and violence because Aphrodite felt unappreciated.
To scorn love was to scorn Aphrodite herself. A woman named Anaxarete thoroughly rejected Iphis, the man who loved her, and this drove him to hang himself. When the woman felt nothing watching his funeral, Aphrodite took offense and turned the woman to stone to mimic her cold heart.
Even interfering with the love of animals angered Aphrodite. Glaukos, king of Korinthos, prevented his mares from mating at his father’s funeral. Aphrodite drove the mares into a mad frenzy, and they tore Glaukos to pieces.
The messenger of the gods, Hermes is the god of many disciplines, including herds, travelers, and hospitality, to name a few. However, less commonly known is his habit of thievery and causing mischief. Although not as vicious as other gods on this list, Hermes’s punishments often feel unearned, making them distinctly spiteful.
Hermes was a natural-born thief. Soon after his birth, he stole cattle belonging to Apollo’s brother and fellow god. Unfortunately, a shepherd by the name of Battus caught Hermes in the act. Hermes bribed the man never to reveal what he had seen, but he was skeptical of the man. Thus, Hermes returned to Battus in the form of a human and bribed him to reveal what he knew of the theft. Battus took the bribe and betrayed Hermes, who promptly turned the shepherd into a stone, ending his life.
As the messenger of the gods, Hermes was responsible for summoning all life to witness the wedding of Zeus and Hera. However, a lazy nymph of the mountain named Chelone ignored Hermes’s summons and mocked the wedding. Insulted that any would dare be absent at his father’s wedding, Hermes destroyed Chelone’s home and turned her into the first tortoise as punishment.
As with most gods, the chariot-riding god of the sea and earthquakes is often found wreaking havoc on humanity. Poseidon, however, was particularly ill-tempered and often took out his minor frustrations on entire cities of innocents, decimating thousands at the slightest of irritations.
One such example of Poseidon’s horrible temper was when he fought the goddess Athena for possession of the city of Attica. Zeus and the other Olympian gods were to decide whose claim was stronger. Poseidon gifted them a spring, while Athena grew them an olive tree. The gods voted to give Athena possession of the city, and she renamed it Athens. Enraged by this result, Poseidon flooded the city and buried it under the sea, killing all who inhabited it.
Poseidon once ordered Minos, the king of Crete, to sacrifice a special bull that he had brought up from the ocean. Minos admired the bull’s beauty and didn’t wish to sacrifice it, so he substituted it with an ordinary bull. Poseidon took great offense, and in retribution, he cursed Minos’s wife to fall in love with the special bull. Poseidon filled the bull with fury, and it ravished Minos’s wife. From this union, the monstrous Minotaur was born, and Minos was forced to lock it away.
Athena, the goddess of wisdom, is known for her wise counsel and aid of heroes such as Perseus and Heracles. Despite this rosy reputation, Athena might be one of the most wrathful and unfair Olympian gods. Her punishments could often be needlessly cruel and misdirected.
One such cruel punishment was that of Medusa. Many know Medusa as a pale monster with snakes as hair and a petrifying stare. Medusa wasn’t always a monster; she was once a beautiful maiden. Unfortunately, her beauty caught the eye of Poseidon. He chased her into the temple of Athena and violated her. Despite Medusa being the victim, Athena punished her by transforming her into the iconic snake-haired monster.
Another exhibit of Athena’s pettiness was when a young girl named Arachne arrogantly challenged the goddess to a weaving contest. When the two finished their tapestries, Athena inspected the girl’s, and it was flawless. Jealous of the girl’s prowess and angry that her tapestry depicted the misdeeds of the gods, Athena ripped it apart. The girl, in her despair, tried to hang herself, but Athena would not let her die and loosened her noose. Athena then transformed the girl into a spider, and she wove her web in this form for all eternity.
The virgin goddess of hunting and protector of young girls was not one to shy away from ruthless punishments. Her brother Apollo often punished those who rejected his advances. However, almost polar to Apollo, Artemis’s wrath was usually reserved for those who made advances on her and those who insulted her chastity. As a virgin goddess, such transgressions were met with fierce retribution.
While hunting, a young prince named Acteon came across the goddess bathing in a stream. Enamored by her figure, Acteon failed to avert his eyes. Enraged that the prince dared gaze upon her body, Artemis transformed the prince into a stag, and his hounds tore him to pieces.
The virgin goddess of the breeze, Aura, once approached Artemis as they bathed. Witnessing Artemis bathe, she felt that Artemis’s figure was too womanly for a virgin. Arrogantly, Aura boasted at length that her more masculine body made her the superior virgin goddess. Artemis would not stand for Aura’s slander and arranged for the god Dionysus to violate Aura, robbing her of her chastity. This drove Aura to madness such that when her twins were born, she devoured the first, then cast herself into the sea.
It is fitting that the mother of Apollo and Artemis be featured alongside her divine children on this list of petty misdeeds. Most myths featuring the titan goddess depict her as a victim of the queen of gods, Hera. However, just like her children, Leto dispensed quite a number of her own cruelties.
Niobe, the wife of the King of Thebes, was one such victim of Leto’s wrath. Niobe was the mother of seven sons and seven daughters. Due to the large number of children she had nurtured, Niobe boasted that she was superior to Leto, who had only nurtured two children. Insulted by Niobe’s arrogance, Leto encouraged her divine children to destroy Niobe’s children. Apollo killed all the sons, while Artemis dealt with the daughters. Niobe, stricken with grief, begged to be turned to stone and, for all eternity, wept for her deceased children.
During her persecution by Hera, none were permitted to assist Leto or her children for fear of Hera’s wrath. Leto, thirsty from her wandering, happened upon a spring. When she tried to drink from it, the local farmers forbade her from doing so, going as far as to muddy the water with their feet. Furious, Leto cursed the farmers to reside in the muddy spring for all eternity as frogs.
The god of thunder is, without doubt, the most despicable of the Olympian gods. Thus it is no surprise that he finds himself in the top half of a list citing acts of petty revenge.
Metis was instrumental in Zeus’s victory over his father and the rest of the Titans. Grateful, Zeus took her as his wife. However, Zeus learned that Metis would eventually birth a child who would surpass Zeus in power and take his place as king of the gods. Despite all she had done for him, Zeus was unwilling to allow the birth of such a child and devoured Metis whole.
To test the hospitality of man, Zeus visited 1,000 homes disguised as a vagrant seeking refuge. When only one household offered him any hospitality, Zeus declared the region wicked and flooded the area, murdering all but two of its inhabitants. In a similar vein, Zeus, at some point, became discontent with mankind’s degeneracy and sent a great flood that decimated all of Greece, leaving but one couple to repopulate the earth.
They say behind every successful man is a woman; it would seem the same applies to cruelty. The queen of the gods is infamous for her petty grudges against her husband’s many lovers. The severity of her punishments toward these women and their illegitimate children is unmatched by any other god.
When Hera learned of Leto’s pregnancy by Zeus, she exiled her from Olympus and forced her to wander the earth. Hera then forbade humanity from sheltering Leto and placed a curse upon her that prevented the goddess from giving birth on any firm land. Thus, Leto spent many days in labor before finding an island where she could give birth. During this time, Hera sent monsters to attack and violate her, distracting the goddess of childbirth in order to prolong Leto’s labor.
The hero Heracles was an illegitimate child of Zeus; thus, Hera resented him. In his infancy, she sent two snakes to strangle Heracles. Hera also cursed Heracles, who was now a husband and a father, with madness such that he murdered his wife and children. Heracles began his 12 labors as penance for his actions. Even during his labors, Hera interfered greatly, causing the hero substantial strife and injury.