Ancient Greek Symbols

Anthropology: Popular Ancient Greek Symbols and Their Meanings

The ancient Greeks believed in polytheism (the existence of more than one god), basing their beliefs on the perceived reality of many gods and goddesses and various supernatural beings. There was a god hierarchy, with Zeus leading all the other deities because he was the king of all gods and had control over the others, despite not being considered all-powerful. The gods were in charge of various aspects of life on Earth; for example, Zeus was the god of the skies and could send thunder and lightning, whereas Poseidon, the god of the Sea, could create earthquakes on Earth. Many ancient Greek symbols occur in legends and myths that combine to play on a variety of emotions.

Rod of Asclepius Symbol
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Let us look at the famous ancient Greek symbols and their meanings.

Rod of Asclepius Symbol

The Rod of Asclepius, also known as the Staff of Asclepius, is an ancient Greek symbol now recognised as a global symbol of medicine. It depicts a serpent encircling a staff. This staff is traditionally a tree branch. This Greek symbol links to Asclepius, a Greek demigod known for his healing abilities and medical knowledge.

According to legend, snakes would whisper medical knowledge into Asclepius’ ears. In addition, these snakes may shed their skin, revealing themselves to be larger, healthier, and shinier than before. The Aesculapian snake is a non-venomous snake that was left to exist freely in hospitals and dormitories where the sick and injured were admitted. It was used during healing. In the classical world, these snakes existed in each new Asclepius temple. From 300 BCE onwards, the cult of Asclepius grew in popularity as pilgrims from all over the world travelled to Asclepius’ healing temples in search of a cure for their ailments.

They would offer sacrifices to the god as a form of ritual purification before spending the night in the sanctuary’s holiest area. If the supplicant had any dreams or visions, he would inform the priest, who would then interpret them and prescribe some form of therapy. Some healing temples also adopted the practice of having sacred dogs lick the injured and sick wounds.

Alpha and Omega Symbol

The first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, alpha and omega, are also used as titles for Christ and God in the Book of Revelation. This pair is a Christian symbol used in conjunction with the Cross, Chi-rho (the first two letters for Christ in Greek), and other Christian symbols. Early Christianity incorporated the alpha and omega symbols. They exist in early Christian paintings and sculptures, particularly on the arms of the cross and in some jewelled crosses.

Despite their origins in Greek culture, these ancient Greek symbols appear more frequently in Western Christian paintings and sculptures than in Eastern Orthodox Christian ones. They appear on the left and right sides of Christ’s head, along with his halo, and replace the Christogram. The Christogram exists in Orthodox paintings and sculptures. The alpha and omega symbols on either side of Christ’s head indicate that the end and beginning in Christ link into a single entity.

Labyrinth

According to Greek mythology, the legendary artist Daedalus created the Labyrinth. It consisted of a complex and perplexing structure built especially for King Minos of Crete at Knossos. It was home to the monster Minotaur, who Theseus later killed. Daedalus had designed the Labyrinth in such a way that Theseus could not easily escape it.

The terms “labyrinth” and “maze” are used interchangeably in the English language. However, scholars and enthusiasts have proposed a clear distinction between the two terms due to an extensive history of the unicursal symbolism of the Greek Labyrinth. A maze is a complicated branching multicursal puzzle with numerous paths and directions. On the other hand, a unicursal labyrinth only has one path right in the centre. It means that the labyrinth follows a pattern from centre to end and is more challenging to navigate than a maze.

Zeus

According to Greek mythology, Zeus is the ultimate “Father of Gods and Men.” He ruled over the Olympians of Mount Olympus in the same way that a father rules over his family. Additionally, Zeus was also the God of the sky & thunder in Greek mythology.

Jupiter was Zeus’ Roman counterpart, while Tinia was his Etruscan counterpart. Zeus, the son of Cronus and Rhea, was the family’s youngest member. According to legend, he was married to Hera. However, Dione was Zeus’ consort, according to the oracle. Furthermore, the Iliad claims that he is Dione’s father and the father of Aphrodite.

Apollo- ancient Greek symbol
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Apollo

Ancient Greek symbols Apollo, one of the most essential and crucial Olympian deities in Greek and Roman mythology, is commonly known as the god of light and the sun. He links truth and prophecy, medicine and healing, music, poetry, and art, as well as the plague. Apollo is Zeus’s and Leto’s son, and his twin sister is the chaste huntress Artemis.

Minotaur

The Minotaur was a half-man, half-bull creature from Greek mythology. It existed in the heart of the Labyrinth, which was custom-built for King Minos. The Minotaur was a magnificent bull who was the offspring of the Cretan Queen Pasiphae. Because the Minotaur had a colossal, terrifying monstrous form, King Minos commissioned the construction of the Labyrinth to house the beast.

The massive maze was built to imprison the Minotaur by Daedalus and his son, Icarus. The Minotaur received annual offerings of young people and maidens over the years. However, he was assassinated later by Theseus, the Athenian hero.

Did you know that there are numerous coins from Crete with the Labyrinth structure depicted on the reverse side? It traces back to the Labyrinth and the Minotaur, which may have stemmed from the Cretans’ love of bulls and their palaces’ architectural beauty and complexity.

Gorgons

There are several descriptions of ancient Greek symbols Gorgons in ancient Greek literature, each one unique. However, the Gorgons symbol was associated with any of the three sisters whose hair was made of terrifying, venomous snakes and had a terrifying expression in early Greek literature.

The Gorgons were most commonly associated with the words “loud-roaring” and “terrible.” These ferocious female monsters had long, sharp fangs. They would turn to stone if anyone looked them in the eyes. According to legend, two of the Gorgon sisters, Stheno and Euryale, were immortal, while the third, Medusa, was not. Medusa was defeated and killed in a battle with the demigod and hero Perseus.

Because of their terrifying appearance, the Gorgons were used to deter thieves and lay on wine kraters in temples. In addition, a serpent and snake belt bound the Gorgons together so they could face each other.

Hercules Knot

The Hercules Knot is also known as the Knot of Hercules, the Love Knot, and the Marriage Knot. It is most commonly used as a marriage symbol, representing eternal love and unwavering commitment. The Hercules Knot is a symbol made up of two intertwined ropes that, according to Greek myth, represent the fertility of God Hercules.

Interestingly, the Hercules Knot was a healing charm in ancient Egypt. However, among the ancient Greeks and Romans, it became known as a token of love and a protective amulet. It also acts like a bride’s girdle, which the groom later untied during the marriage. Furthermore, the origin of the marriage phrase “tying the knot” links to the Hercules Knot.

Hecate’s Wheel

Hecate is a goddess in Greek religion depicted holding a pair of torches or a key. She later appeared in triple form in later depictions. Hecate is associated with crossroads, portals, light, magic, witchcraft, ghosts, sorcery, necromancy, herbs and toxic plants.

The Hecate’s wheel symbol represents three different aspects of the goddess in Wiccan traditions, including the mother, maiden, and crone. The wheel of Hecate, according to feminist traditions, represents the power of knowledge and life.

Infinity Snake – Ouroboros Symbol
Credit: Mythologian

Infinity Snake – Ouroboros Symbol

The Ouroboros or Uroborus is an ancient Greek symbol that depicts a serpent or dragon devouring its tail. The Ouroboros first appeared in ancient Egyptian iconography and later entered the Western tradition via Greek tradition, where it was a symbol in Gnosticism, Hermeticism, and alchemy.

Through the mediaeval alchemical tradition, the symbol became a part of Renaissance magic and modern symbolism and is usually used to represent contemplation, the everlasting return, or cyclicality, primarily to refer to something that is constantly recreating itself. The Ouroboros symbol also represents nature’s never-ending cycle of creation, destruction, life, and, ultimately, death.

Solar Cross

The ancient solar cross exists in Bronze-age burial urns. Despite being a part of many cultures, the solar cross eventually became associated with Christianity and the crucifix. The solar cross symbol is similar to the well-known four-armed cross. However, it represents the sun and depicts the cyclical nature of the four seasons and the four elements of nature.

Sun worship has been in practice since the dawn of time. So it is not surprising that the sun represented on the solar cross represents a god. Ancient communities worshipped it for agriculture and relied on the sun upon livelihood. Because it is associated with the sun, the solar cross link to the element of fire. It replaces heat or the energy of flames in rituals that make the sun the centre of worship.

Fire is a purifying element with the ability to destroy by the ancient Greeks. It creates and represents masculinity, as well as god’s fertility. The ancient Greek symbol solar cross exists primarily in rituals for purging the old and rebirthing the new and a calendar to celebrate the solstices.

Sun Wheel

The term “sun wheel” is derived from the “solar cross,” a calendar used in some pre-Christian ancient European cultures to celebrate the solstices and equinoxes. In addition to that, the sun also appears as a simple circle or a prominent point in the centre.

For centuries, the sun has been a powerful symbol of magic and divinity. Because of its power, honey was used as an offering instead of wine because the ancient Greeks believed that allowing this powerful deity to get drunk and tipsy was dangerous for the universe.

Furthermore, it was common for the Egyptians to place a solar disc on the heads of their gods to represent that the deity was a god of light. Thus, the sun was a decisive element in certain cultures! There’s no denying that the sun associates with fire and masculine energy.

Bowl of Hygeia

The bowl of Hygeia is a common ancient Greek symbol found outside pharmacies throughout Europe. A mortar and pestle symbol is expected in the United States. Since 1796, this symbol associated with pharmacies has appeared on a coin minted for the Parisian Society of Pharmacy. As the name suggests, Hygeia was the Greek goddess of health and hygiene. She was associated with Asclepius, whose rod is now a global symbol of health care.

Labrys Symbol

Labrys Symbol: Double Sided Axe

The Labrys’ symbol is a double-sided axe, which is common in rituals. “Labrys” is a Minoan word with the same root as lips or the Latin labus. The Labrys exists in ancient Minoan representations of the Mother Goddess. The Labrys link to the labyrinth, as the name suggests. In mediaeval times, the Labrys symbol existed in ancient charms to attract women. It is a form of identification and solidarity.

Omphalos

According to ancient Greek legend, God Zeus instructed two eagles to fly across the world and meet at the centre of the universe, also known as the “navel” of the world. It is where the name Omphalos, a sacred stone, comes from. Omphalos is a Greek word that means “navel.” The Omphalos was considered a powerful object and a symbol of Hellenic religion in Greek culture, representing world centrality.

Mano Fico

The Mano Fico ancient Greek symbol, also known as the fig sign, is used as a semi-obscene gesture in Turkish and Slavic cultures and some other cultures around the world. The Mano Fico symbol has a variety of meanings, some of which have slang connotations. The symbol forms from two fingers and a thumb. It is a familiar gesture used to decline any request.

In Brazil, however, the Mano Fico gesture is used to ward off evil eyes and jealousy. It is also a common symbol used as a good luck charm on ornaments and jewellery. The Mano Fico was known as the manus obscene, or “obscene hand,” by early Christians.

Ancient Greeks used the term “fig” to refer to the female genitalia. As a result, the Mano Fico gesture has come to represent sexual intercourse. It is not uncommon for Roman amulets and ornaments to combine a phallus and a Mano Fico gesture.

Solomon's Knot ancient Greek symbol
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Solomon’s Knot

Because it appears in various cultures and historical eras, Solomon’s knot has a variety of symbolic interpretations. For example, the knot has no beginning or end, representing immortality and eternity, similar to the Buddhist Endless Knot.

Solomon’s knot exists on tombstones and mausoleums worldwide, particularly in Jewish cemeteries and catacombs. It is due to the belief that Solomon’s knot represents eternity and the cycle of life. In Latvia, Solomon’s knot is also used on textiles and metalwork to represent time, motion, and the majesty of pagan gods.

Mano Cornuto

The Mano Cornuto symbol exists in contemporary pop culture. It is associated with rock music and the satanic image of the horned devil.

Interestingly, the Mano Cornuto ancient Greek symbol has multiple meanings and representations, each unique to the era and region it appeared in. For example, ancient Greece used the gesture to express the meaning “horned.”

The Mano Cornuto symbol is known as the “Apana yogic mudra” by Hindus. It depicts the lion, commonly seen in classical Indian dance forms. Buddhists believe that the Mano Cornuto gesture keeps evil spirits at bay. It is used to exorcise demons and problems, including negative thoughts. The Horned God is also associated with the Mano Cornuto in pagan and Wiccan cultures.

Fasces

Through unity, the word “fasces” represents power, justice, and strength. The traditional Roman fasces were white-coloured birch rods bound together with a red leather ribbon and shaped into a cylinder. A bronze axe also accompanied the fasces. The axe was positioned on the side of the bundle, almost protruding from it. The fasces was a Roman Republic symbol hoisted in civilians’ arms, almost like a flat. It was a joint possession at the time.

Caduceus

The Caduceus, an ancient Greek symbol of commerce and trade, is associated with negotiation and eloquence. It links to Hermes, the wise and cunning Greek god who serves as the agent of all gods.

Hermes is the afterlife’s supervisor of souls and the one and only protector of travellers, merchants, and herdsmen. The Caduceus is a symbol of wisdom and awakening in the Hermetic Tradition. The Caduceus is a winged staff with two serpents wrapped around it. It should not be confused with the Asclepius rod, which is a medical symbol.

Chloris – Flora

The goddess of flowers in Greek mythology is Chloris. Likewise, the flora is her name in Roman mythology. She is typically associated with the spring season when all flowers bloom and turn to face the sun. Chloris is a flower that represents nature and flowers, particularly the Mayflower. She is one of the fertility goddesses in the Roman religion.

Cornucopia ancient Greek symbol
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Cornucopia

The Cornucopia, also known as the Horn of Plenty, is an ancient Greek symbol representing harvest abundance, prosperity, and nourishment. It is depicted as a horn-shaped basket in the shape of a spiral, loaded with grains and fruits magically produced by the bountiful Earth.

Cornucopia’s origins trace back to ancient Greek mythology when Zeus was a baby and was cared for and fed milk by a goat named Amalthea. When Zeus became god a few years later, he rewarded Amalthea by allowing her to enter heaven as a constellation (Capricorn). Zeus also gave Amalthea’s horn to his nurses and promised them an endless supply of whatever they desired from the horn.

Hebe – Juventas

The goddess of youth in Roman mythology is Hebe and is popularly known as Juventas. She is the daughter of Zeus and Hera. She is the cupbearer for several deities of Mount Olympus. Hebe used to provide the divine deities with nectar and ambrosia. Then, as she grew older, she married Hercules. Hebe, also known as the goddess of forgiveness or mercy, can transform older mortals into younger ones.

Conclusion

Throughout history, numerous ancient Greek symbols have been in use. Some of them are still popular today, while others are merely relics of the past. All these symbols and mythologies served as warnings, sad tales, and legends of the past!

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