5 Greek Goddesses that Inspired Women Before Wonder Woman

Wonder Woman poster. Photo: Warner Bros.

Wonder Woman catapulted onto the silver screen this summer, proving to audiences everywhere that women aren’t mere damsels in distress but fierce heroines. First appearing in All Star Comics in 1941, Wonder Woman was created by writer William Moulton Marston and artist Harry G. Peter and was inspired, in part, by Margaret Sanger, who opened the first birth control clinic in the United States.

However, Wonder Woman’s origin is the stuff of Greek mythology: in the mythical city of Themiscyra, home of the Amazons, Queen Hippolyta sculpted her from clay, and the Olympian goddesses blessed her with superpowers.

The 2017 film deserves significant credit: it broke records as the highest-grossing film directed by a woman and the largest opening for a female-led comic book movie, and audience members reported crying watching the strong female character. Of course, if you’re Greek, you grew up regaled with stories of the original female warriors of Ancient Greek mythology. Those powerful goddesses taught stoicism, self-reliance, and heroism. From Homer’s The Iliad to Hesiod’s Theogony, there are countless tales of beautiful, intelligent, brave heroines, and here are just five Greek goddesses that throughout the centuries have inspired strong, independent women.

First and foremost is Hera, queen of the gods, queen of the heavens. Even Zeus, king of the gods, feared her—and with good reason. Though they were married, Zeus cheated on her with goddesses and mortals alike, and Hera would fly into a jealous rage. Zeus was powerless in stopping his wife from tormenting his mistresses and their children. Famously, she is responsible for driving the greatest of Greek heroes, Heracles (Hercules), so mad that he had to go on to perform the twelve labors. From Hera we learn that women can stand up for themselves—even against the mightiest of men.

The statue of the goddess Athena holding the winged Nike (Victory) which stands above the Pallas Athene Fountain in front of the Austrian Parliament Building in Vienna. Photo by Blackbirds, via Wikimedia Commons

Perhaps the most inspiring of the goddesses, though, is Athena. Protector of the “polis” (city), Athena is known as the patron goddess of heroic endeavor. She was slow to anger and fought only when there was just cause, making her not just goddess of war but goddess of wisdom. The symbols associated with her include armor, helmets, spears, and wise owls. The Greeks built for the Parthenon for her, which today is regarded as one of the world’s greatest monuments. Through the protectress Athena we are emboldened to fight for justice for all.

Not to be outdone in battle, Athena’s half-sister Artemis was a major player in the Trojan War. She is the goddess of the hunt, often depicted carrying a bow and arrows. Men quickly learned not to mansplain to her: when Adonis said he was a better hunter than her, she had him killed by a wild boar. Artemis also had a softer side. Protecting young girls and working to bring healing to women with diseases, she is also the goddess of childbirth. If you’re looking for a goddess that represents sisterhood, look no further than Artemis.

Closely associated with Athena is Nike, who personifies victory. The winged goddess swooped through battlefields bestowing laurel wreaths to the victors. Nike also served as charioteer for Zeus, and when everyone else fled she came to his aid against the monster Typhoeus. She was heralded for her speed and strength. There’s a good reason why the sneaker brand chose the Nike moniker, and today athletes are encouraged to “run like a girl.” This Greek goddess reminds us that victory comes through bravery.

You’ve no doubt heard the phrase to “throw shade” at someone. Well, Persephone is queen of the shades. She was so feared, the ancients would not even speak her name. Persephone turned her abduction into the underworld into an asset when she became the ruler who doled out curses upon the dead. She returned from the underworld each spring so she is known also as the goddess of vegetation. Her symbolic power was that she shots forth and withdrew. She is the mysterious bearer of the torch whose symbols include flowers, deer, and pomegranates. Persephone teaches us that a heroine can be both flowery and fierce.

The heroines of Greek mythology remind us to cultivate our unique strengths, whether it be inner bravery or outward strength. Some of us may be nurturers, some of us might be athletes, some of us may have a passion for social justice, some of us may be star scholars, or some combination of qualities, but we each have a superpower we can develop and put into action. We can be the heroines of our own lives and simultaneously rise up and fight alongside each other in sisterhood.