King of the Gods
Zeus (Ancient Greek: Ζεύς, Zeús; Modern Greek: Δίας, Días) was the sky and thunder god in ancient Greek religion, who ruled as king of the gods of Mount Olympus. His name is cognate with the first element of his Roman equivalent Jupiter.
Zeus is the child of Cronus and Rhea, the youngest of his siblings to be born, though sometimes reckoned the eldest as the others required disgorging from Cronos's stomach.
In most traditions, he is married to Hera, by whom he is usually said to have fathered Ares, Hebe, and Hephaestus. At the oracle of Dodona, his consort was said to be Dione, by whom the Iliad states that he fathered Aphrodite.
Zeus was also infamous for his erotic escapades. These resulted in many godly and heroic offspring, including Athena, Apollo, Artemis, Hermes, Persephone, Dionysus, Perseus, Heracles, Helen of Troy, Minos, and the Muses.
He was respected as an allfather who was chief of the gods and assigned the others to their roles: "Even the gods who are not his natural children address him as Father, and all the gods rise in his presence". He was equated with many foreign weather gods, permitting Pausanias to observe "That Zeus is king in heaven is a saying common to all men".
His symbols are the thunderbolt, eagle, bull, and oak. In addition, the classical "cloud-gatherer" (Greek: Νεφεληγερέτα, Nephelēgereta) also derives certain iconographic traits from the cultures of the Ancient Near East, such as the scepter.
Zeus is frequently depicted by Greek artists in one of two poses: standing, striding forward with a thunderbolt leveled in his raised right hand, or seated in majesty.
Zeus in Myth
Cronus sired several children by Rhea: Hestia, Demeter, Hera, Hades, and Poseidon, but swallowed them all as soon as they were born, since he had learned from Gaia and Uranus that he was destined to be overthrown by his son as he had previously overthrown Uranus, his own father, an oracle that Rhea heard and wished to avert.
When Zeus was about to be born, Rhea sought Gaia to devise a plan to save him, so that Cronus would get his retribution for his acts against Uranus and his own children. Rhea gave birth to Zeus in Crete, handing Cronus a rock wrapped in swaddling clothes, which he promptly swallowed.
Rhea hid Zeus in a cave on Mount Ida in Crete. According to varying versions of the story:
He was then raised by Gaia.
He was raised by a goat named Amalthea, while a company of Kouretes— soldiers, or smaller gods— danced, shouted and clashed their spears against their shields so that Cronus would not hear the baby's cry. According to some versions of this story he was reared by Amalthea in a cave called Dictaeon Andron (Psychro Cave) in Lasithi plateau.
He was raised by a nymph named Adamanthea. Since Cronus ruled over the Earth, the heavens and the sea, she hid him by dangling him on a rope from a tree so he was suspended between earth, sea and sky and thus, invisible to his father.
He was raised by a nymph named Cynosura. In gratitude, Zeus placed her among the stars.
He was raised by Melissa, who nursed him with goat's-milk and honey.
He was raised by a shepherd family under the promise that their sheep would be saved from wolves.
King of the Gods
After reaching manhood, Zeus forced Cronus to disgorge first the stone (which was set down at Pytho under the glens of Parnassus to be a sign to mortal men, the Omphalos) then his siblings in reverse order of swallowing. In some versions, Metis gave Cronus an emetic to force him to disgorge the babies, or Zeus cut Cronus' stomach open.
Then Zeus released the brothers of Cronus, the Gigantes, the Hecatonchires and the Cyclopes, from their dungeon in Tartarus, killing their guard, Campe.
As a token of their appreciation, the Cyclopes gave him thunder and the thunderbolt, or lightning, which had previously been hidden by Gaia. Together, Zeus and his brothers and sisters, along with the Gigantes, Hecatonchires and Cyclopes overthrew Cronus and the other Titans, in the combat called the Titanomachy.
The defeated Titans were then cast into a shadowy underworld region known as Tartarus. Atlas, one of the titans that fought against Zeus, was punished by having to hold up the sky.
After the battle with the Titans, Zeus shared the world with his elder brothers, Poseidon and Hades, by drawing lots: Zeus got the sky and air, Poseidon the waters, and Hades the world of the dead (the underworld).
The ancient Earth, Gaia, could not be claimed; she was left to all three, each according to their capabilities, which explains why Poseidon was the "earth-shaker" (the god of earthquakes) and Hades claimed the humans that died .
Gaia resented the way Zeus had treated the Titans, because they were her children. Soon after taking the throne as king of the gods, Zeus had to fight some of Gaia's other children, the monsters Typhon and Echidna. He vanquished Typhon and trapped him under Mount Etna, but left Echidna and her children alive.
Zeus and Hera
Zeus was brother and consort of Hera. By Hera, Zeus sired Ares, Hebe and Hephaestus, though some accounts say that Hera produced these offspring alone. Some also include Eileithyia and Eris as their daughters.
The conquests of Zeus among nymphs and the mythic mortal progenitors of Hellenic dynasties are famous. Olympian mythography even credits him with unions with Leto, Demeter, Dione and Maia. Among mortals were Semele, Io, Europa and Leda and with the young Ganymede (although he was mortal Zeus granted him eternal youth and immortality).
Many myths render Hera as jealous of his amorous conquests and a consistent enemy of Zeus' mistresses and their children by him. For a time, a nymph named Echo had the job of distracting Hera from his affairs by talking incessantly, and when Hera discovered the deception, she cursed Echo to repeat the words of others.
Zeus The Punisher
The god was also the great punisher. Those who did wrong or committed acts of impiety were severely punished, often for all time. The Titans were imprisoned in Tartarus and after acts of impiety against Zeus, Apollo and Poseidon were made to build the magnificent walls of Troy which proved so useful in the Trojan War.
An explanation for the war in mythology was that Zeus sought to curb the rising population of humanity. Zeus also selected Paris as the judge in the famous beauty contest between Aphrodite, Hera and Athena, and when the young prince won Helen as his reward for choosing Aphrodite it was cited as another, more human cause for the Trojan War. Other victims of Zeus' vengeance included The Titan Prometheus who was condemned to have his liver eaten by an eagle every day after he stole fire from the gods and gave it to humankind. Atlas had to support the heavens for eternity because of his role in the Titanomachy. Sisyphus, punished for his trickery, was condemned to forever roll a huge stone up a hill in the Underworld.
Asclepius was killed by one of Zeus’ thunderbolts because the former’s medicine and his ability to raise the dead threatened the balance of power between men and gods. Pandora, the first woman was sent into the world by Zeus as punishment for receiving the gift of fire and she was to be the source of all mankind's misfortunes, carried with her in a box.
Phineus, who was tricked by Hera into blinding his two sons, was himself blinded by Zeus who also sent the Harpies to continuously harass him. Ixion rashly declared his love for Hera and so Zeus banished him to Hades to be forever bound to a rotating wheel. Lycaon gave human flesh to Zeus to test his divinity and the god punished his impudence by turning him into a wolf.
Salmoneus thought he was a god and pretended to be Zeus by throwing flaming torches for lightning bolts and riding his chariot to make a noise like thunder but Zeus swiftly put a stop to his antics by killing him instantly with a real lightning bolt. The list goes on but the message is clear, wrong-doing and lack of respect would be severely punished.
Zeus The Peacemaker
Despite the terrible punishments Zeus could inflict he was also a peacemaker, famously reconciling Apollo and Hermes when they fought over the first lyre. Similarly, Zeus resolved the conflict between Apollo and Hercules over the tripod from Delphi. He also persuaded Hades to part with Persephone for part of each year and so end the terrible drought her mother Demeter had caused for the human race in protest at being held captive in the Underworld.
For mere mortals, Zeus was at least fair-minded. At his feet Zeus had the jars of Fate - one full of bad things, another full of good things and he dispensed both with justice. Similarly, the time of a mortal's death was carefully weighed in Zeus' golden scales.
Sites Sacred to Zeus
Zeus had an oracle, the oldest in fact, at Dodona in northern Greece where ascetic priests served an oracle which interpreted the sounds from the wind in the branches of the sacred oak trees and the babbling of water from the holy spring. Another great sanctuary dedicated to Zeus was at Olympia where every four years from 776 BCE the Olympic Games drew crowds from all parts of the Greek world to honour the father of the gods and where 100 oxen were sacrificed to Zeus at the end of each Games.
Also at Olympia, the massive 5th century BCE temple of Zeus housed the gigantic gold and ivory statue of the god by Pheidias which was one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world. Other important sacred sites for the god were on Mt. Lycaios, in Athens, Nemea, Pergamon, Stratos, and in Libya.
There were surprisingly few festivals in honour of Zeus, one was the Diasia of Athens. Generally, though, Zeus, as head of the Greek pantheon, was omnipresent and so made no particular attachments to specific cities. Zeus was, however, worshipped in most family homes where an altar was often dedicated to him in each courtyard, for as Zeus Herkeios, he protected the family hearth and property in general.
He was also Zeus Xenios, the god of hospitality, Zeus Polieus, protector of cities, Zeus Horkios guardian of oaths and Zeus Soter, the protector and general benefactor to all.
Although first married (briefly it seems) to the Titan Metis and then married to Hera, Zeus was infamous for his adulterous affairs, during which he often transformed himself into various incarnations to bed his prey. He, therefore, had many offspring:
Hephaistos, Ares, Hebe, Eileithyia - with Hera
Athena with Metis but as Zeus swallowed his wife in fear a son would usurp his position, Athena was born from Zeus’ head and she became the god's favourite child
Apollo and Artemis - with Leto
- with the Nymph Maia. Zeus, impressed by his trickery and silver tongue, gave him the role of messenger of the gods
Dionysos - with Semele who, being tricked by a jealous Hera, asked to see Zeus in all his godly splendour and immediately expired as a consequence. Dionysos was born from Zeus’ thigh as a result of his mother’s premature death
Hercules - with Alkmene and he was, therefore, forever the subject of a jealous Hera’s scheming but on his death Zeus brought him to Mt. Olympus and made him into a god
Perseus - with Danae, who was won over to the charms of Zeus when he appeared to her as golden rain in order to enter her chamber where she was imprisoned by her father Acrisius
Persephone and Iacchus - with Demeter
The Fates, the Hours, Horae (Seasons), Eunomia (Lawfulness), Dike (Justice), Eirene (Peace) - with Themis
Helen, the Dioskouroi and Polydeuces - with Leda, for whom he transformed himself into a swan
Aglaea (Splendour), Euphrosyne (Joy) and Thalia (Good Cheer) - (the three Graces) with Eurynome
Minos, Rhadamanthys and Sarpedon - with Europa after Zeus disguised himself as a magnificent white bull and whisked her off to Crete
Epaphos - with Io
Iasion - with Electra
Arcas - with the Nymph Callisto - both son and mother were transformed into bears by a jealous Artemis but Zeus made them into constellations - Ursa Minor and Major
The nine Muses - with Mnemosyne after the couple slept together for nine consecutive nights
Zeus was also regarded as the founder of certain races, notably the Magnesians and the Macedonians. He also turned ants into the magnificent fighting Myrmidons for his son Aiakos, later to be led by Achilles in the Trojan War.
Facts about Zeus
Zeus became the ruler of heaven and earth after a revolt against his father, Kronos. In his position as king of the gods, Zeus had to play mediator when other the immortals were mad at each other.
He is the father of Athena, who is said to have sprung from his head. She was his favorite child, with whom he shared the thunderbolt and aegis.
Hades and Poseidon were his brothers.
His wife Hera was also his sister.
Zeus was not a faithful husband; he was known for having many affairs with mortal women.
Zeus fathered Hercules, the famous Greek hero, by deception. He disguised himself as Amphitryon, Alcmene’s husband, in order to have sexual relations with her.
Zeus fathered Perseus by impregnating Danaë. When he did so, he appeared to her in the form of a golden shower.
The name Zeus means "bright" or "sky".
His weapon of choice was the thunderbolt, made for him by the mythical creatures, the Cyclops.
Zeus, more recently known for causing thunder and lightning, was once a rain-god. He was always associated with the weather in some form.
The Zeus described in Homer was not an extension of nature; instead, he had a standard of right and wrong that made him more relatable to mankind.
Before monarchies were rendered obsolete, Zeus protected the king and his family.
Hesiod calls Zeus the "the lord of justice". Perhaps because of this, he was reluctant to join a side in the Trojan War. He preferred the Trojans, but he wanted to stay neutral because Hera preferred the Greeks. She was insufferable when he opposed her openly.
Metis, the goddess of prudence, was Zeus’s first love.
Ares, Hephaestus, Hebe and Eileithyia are the children of Zeus and Hera.
His union with Leto brought forth the twins Apollo and Artemis.
When he seduced the Spartan queen Leda, Zeus transformed himself into a beautiful swan, and two sets of twins were born.
When Zeus had an affair with Mnemosyne, he coupled with her for nine nights. This scenario produced nine daughters, who became known as the Muses.
Zeus punished men by giving them women.
Zeus's servants were named Force and Violence.
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