Sunday, 22 May 2011

Olympians Incognito

A little too familiar? Via OrobosArt
So you want to use the Greco-Roman gods in your campaign. But halfway through, you stop, and check your mental roadmap. "Apollo" leads to moon rockets, Battlestar Galactica and Rocky. "Venus" leads to tennis, Bananarama and the planet, so you go "Aphrodite," but then you start thinking Woody Allen. How do your gods become otherworldly if Zeus was a pro wrestler, Bacchus a Mardi Gras krewe, and Athena a song from The Who's declining years? Not to mention their down-to earth appearances in the adventures of Xena.

You could make up your own names. Or you could take a tip from Gene Wolfe, classical scholar and fantasy author. In the Long Sun series he presents a far-future society that worships machine intelligences who present themselves as Olympian gods but under their lesser-known historical epithets; so, for example, Aphrodite/Venus goes by "Kypris." In the Latro trilogy he goes back to the times of ancient Greece, but the narrator is an amnesiac Latin mercenary who breaks the familiar associations by translating the literal meanings of place and god names; so instead of "Sparta" we have "rope" and "Demeter" becomes the "Earth Mother."

My campaign hides Olympians behind obscure epithets and aliases, also drawing on the long string of classical B-list gods and goddesses. For example, as adventurers descend into my main dungeon's cellar level, they see a stele with four faces, each depicting a different deity: Bellona, a B-List Roman goddess of war; Liber, a Roman god who became identified with Dionysus; Egeria, a nymph of fresh water important in Roman myth; and Pomona, a B-List Roman agricultural goddess (who has modern associations of her own, but we're far from California.)

Below is a list of the most evocative Olympian aliases and epithets. Good resources for this are Wikipedia and the terrific classical reference, For more variety, I've added some of the equivalences the Romans drew between their gods and the Etruscan and Celtic pantheons.

Aphrodite (Venus): the Cytherean, Cypris, Urania ("the heavenly"), Pandemos (as indiscriminate lover), "laughter-loving," "foam-born," "mother of desire". Etruscan: Turan.
Apollo: Phoebus (light), Loxias ("the obscure"; prophecy), the Musagete (arts), Acesius (healer), Apotropaeus (warder of evil), Pythios (dragon-slayer), Aphetor (archer). Etruscan: Aplu. Celtic: Belinus, Cunomaglus, Vindonnus.
Ares (Mars): Enyalius, Mamertus, Ultor, Theritas (the brute), "destroyer of men," "stormer of walls." Celtic: Albiorix, Alator, Camulos.
Artemis (Diana): Cynthia, Phoebe, Amarynthia, Aeginaea, Caryatis, "mistress of animals," Lochias (childbirth), Agrotera (countryside). Etruscan: Artumne. Celtic: Arduinna.
Athena: Pallas, Cydonia, Tritogeneia, "grey-eyed," "owl-eyed," Partheneia (virgin), Polias (cities), Phronesis (reasoning), Promachos (first to fight). Celtic: Brigantia, Sulis.
Demeter (Ceres): Thesmophoros ("order-bringer", natural law), Aganippe ("terrible mare"), "fruit-bringer", Chloe ("green"), Agaue (venerable), Chthonia (earth).
Dionysus (Bacchus): Iacchus, Liber, Sabazius, "The Liberator," Melanaigis ("black goatskin"), Lycurgus ("wolf-bane"), Polygethes ("many joys"), Omestes ("eater of raw flesh"), "destroyer of men." Etruscan: Fufluns.
Hades (Pluto): "the unseen," "the wealthy one," Polydegmon ("host to many"), Aidoneus (underworld). Etruscan: Aita.
Hera (Juno): "white-armed," "queen," "cow-eyed," Zygia (marriage), Gamelios (weddings). Etruscan: Uni.
Hermes (Mercury): Argeiphontes, Logios (orator), Psychopompos (guide of the dead), "ready helper," "luckbringer," Mercator (merchant). Etruscan: Turms (as seen in Grognardia). Celtic: Lugus.
Poseidon (Neptune): Soter (savior of mariners), Taureos (bull of the sea), "earthshaker". Etruscan: Nethuns.
Zeus (Jupiter): Ombrios (rain god), Agetor (leader), Panergetos ("all-doing"), Dikephoros ("justice-bringer"), Fulgens (lightning), Tonans (thunder), Optimus Maximus (best and greatest). Etruscan: Tinia. Celtic: Taranis.


  1. is great, and even greater are the galleries... Yeah.
    Oh and great lists, I'll use them. Thanx.

  2. I agree with rorschachamster, that is a great list, and a great idea. A wonderful was of keeping everything both new and old at the same time.

  3. This is one place where there richness of the real world often blows away fantasy. So many times you get a god of death with one name and that's it.

    I love when cultures collide and start morphing and mixing too, like Santa Muerte and Maximón and such.

    Thanks I've copied these for later use.