In ancient Greece, the gods were the hottest celebrities in town. Mount Olympus, where they lived, was essentially a bangin’ nightclub where everybody who was anybody came to drink, party, and bicker about whose pet army of humans would slaughter more enemies. The Greeks loved to gossip about them — Aphrodite, the iconically gorgeous starlet; Apollo, the dreamboat rockstar; Hephaestus, the misunderstood black sheep. And nothing hit the tabloids faster than a divine sex scandal. The Greeks wrote myth after myth spilling all the raunchy details of their gods’ heavenly escapades, which could have made Paris Hilton look as pure as the driven snow. From least to most outrageous, here’s the dirt on the ten most sinful scandals ever to hit heaven.
1. Zeus and Danae: one way or another . . .
The king of the gods could pulverize mountains, but he couldn’t keep it in his pants. How he had time to chase so much tail while running the universe is among the great mysteries of ancient Greek theology. But he always got the girl. Princess Danae was deadbolted inside a bronze cell, under the freaking ground, but Zeus managed to knock her up anyway. He turned into a shower of gold, then poured in through the ceiling straight “into her womb.” It’s unclear how Danae felt about all this, but it’s a good bet Zeus was pretty pleased with himself.
(Apollodorus, Library 2.4.1)
2. Apollo and Daphne: the dreamboat gets burned
Apollo was the universe’s teen heartthrob, a forever-young golden boy with a singing voice like butter. But when he ticked off Eros (the artist formerly known as Cupid), the god of love threw off Apollo’s game big time. Eros stuck Apollo with a hardcore jones for a nymph named Daphne. But when Apollo came on to her, Eros made sure Daphne was so turned off she actually prayed to turn into a tree rather than have to touch Apollo. Daphne is now better known as the laurel tree, and Apollo, as they say in Greek, got denied.
(Parthenius, Love Stories 15; Ovid, Metamorphoses 1.452-555)
3. Peleus and Thetis: what is she doing with him?!
For mortals, dating a god was kind of like dating your boss: it could go south real quick. But Peleus genuinely scored on his marriage to the painfully gorgeous sea-nymph, Thetis. Sources differ about why Thetis got hitched to the lucky SOB, but everyone agrees she was way out of his league. One story says Zeus and Poseidon both wanted her so bad they had to dump her on a mortal just to stop fighting. So even though Thetis had to leave Peleus eventually and their wedding led to the Trojan War, she was still a major catch.
(Pindar, Isthmian Ode 8.27-46)
4. Aphrodite and Adonis: this millennium’s hottest couple
Adonis was the pretty boy to end all pretty boys — a baby-faced heartbreaker surrounded by screaming groupies. He even drove the ladies of Olympus into a divine cat fight: when Aphrodite, goddess of love, tried to (literally) keep him in a box all to herself, her frenemy Persephone still nearly stole him back. But Aphrodite (almost) always got her way, so she and Adonis eventually became the celebrity it couple. That is, until Ares, the war god, turned into a boar and gored Adonis to death in a jealous rage. Even his pretty face didn’t save him from that.
(Apollodorus, Library 3.14.4; Nonnus, Dionysiaca 41.155-212)
5. Psyche and Eros: forbidden love
Psyche was too sexy for her own good. She drove men so crazy they actually fell for her instead of Aphrodite. Now, Aphrodite was not about to stand for that noise. No uppity mortal hussy was going to upstage her. Aphrodite sent Eros, the love doctor, to make Psyche fall for the ugliest schmuck he could find. But even that backfired: Eros went nuts over Psyche too. So Eros and Psyche fooled around in secret until Psyche’s jealous sister found out and broke them up. But then Psyche got turned into a goddess and they got back together. #Drama.
(Apuleius, Metamorphoses [The Golden Ass] 4.28-6.24)
6. Aphrodite, Hephaestus, and Ares: the scandal hits the headlines
Aphrodite and Hephaestus were everyone’s favorite odd couple: the crippled outcast married to the homecoming queen. The blacksmith god with the mistress of desire. But it took a lot to satisfy the goddess of love, and Hephaestus wasn’t cutting it. So Aphrodite had a boy toy: Ares, the studly god of war. Hephaestus was no fool: he knew the score. So he hammered out a metal net and caught the lovers in it while they were doing the dirty, stringing them up naked so all the gods could point and laugh. The tabloids would have had a field day.
(Homer, Odyssey 8.267-327)
7. Zeus and Ganymede: the god-king and his man-crush
One of the juiciest scoops in ancient myth is that the head honcho of heaven swung both ways. In ancient Greece, that kind of thing actually wasn’t all that newsworthy. But sending an eagle plummeting from heaven to abduct your man-crush in the iron grip of its talons was somewhat out of the ordinary. Zeus was so boy-crazy for the mortal Ganymede that he had his pet eagle kidnap the guy and make him his eternal lover-slash-busboy. Zeus’ long-suffering wife (and sister), Hera, wasn’t thrilled. It didn’t help that Ganymede’s hips were skinnier than hers.
(Homer, Iliad 20.232-5; Apuleius, Metamorphoses [The Golden Ass] 6.15)
8. Hades and Persephone: the bad guy wins
Hades was a rat bag: he ruled over the barren pits of the underworld, and he was about as fun at parties as that job implies. He wanted Persephone, the sweetly radiant girl next door. So when the poor thing wandered off alone, Hades kidnapped her and raped her. Persephone’s mom, the harvest goddess, begged Hades to give Persephone back. Hades compromised: Persephone could come home for half of each year. But for the other half, she stayed trapped underground with the lord of death. That half became autumn and winter, when the harvest goddess sheds her leaves in grief.
(Homeric Hymn to Demeter)
9. Ares and Eos: girl gone wild
Ares, god of war, and Eos, goddess of dawn, kept their fly-by-night romance on the DL: not much is known. But we do know that as punishment for their one-night stand, Aphrodite “made [Eos] get perpetually turned on.” That wasn’t because Eos was a married woman (she was) — Aphrodite was no stickler for fidelity. But Aphrodite was also Ares’ lover, and she didn’t let anyone step on her turf. So Eos turned into an insatiable love machine, kind of like a character out of a 1970s porno — she just couldn’t get enough.
(Apollodorus, Library 1.4.4)
10. Ouranos and Gaia: big-time daddy issues
This one is messed up on so many levels. Ouranos, the sky, was always “lying on top” of Gaia, the earth — not the most sophisticated symbolism. Wholesomely enough, Gaia was also Ouranos’ mom. They (predictably) started having monstrously deformed children, whom Ouranos shoved inside Gaia’s body. That’s when they changed their Facebook relationship status to “it’s complicated.” Gaia was in so much agony from being stuffed with her own children that she begged her sons to castrate their father. Kronos, the youngest, obliged, sawing off his dad’s family jewels with a serrated knife carved by their own (mutual) mother. Delightful.
(Hesiod, Theogony 126-85)
Those are my favorites, but it’s not the end by a long shot — the Greeks had tons more mythological smut from where that came from. What do you think? Is there a different divine scandal that deserves its own cover story? How about one of Zeus’ other conquests? Or Ares’? Don’t marriage vows between imaginary immortal siblings mean anything anymore? Or do you think the whole thing is too dirty to talk about in polite company? Let us know in the comments, and be on the lookout for more heavenly celebrity gossip: this is just part one in a series of four.
image illustrations via wikimedia commons and here, here, and shutterstock / Villy Yovcheva