Zeus, sixth and youngest child of the Titans Cronus and Rhea, “father of gods and men” according to Homer, is the supreme god of the Greek Pantheon. Being initially the god of all natural phenomena, Zeus soon became the absolute ruler of Earth and Sky, god of balance and order that followed the great changes of the cosmogonic evolution – the Battles of the Titans and the Giants (Titanomachy and Gigantomachy).
Zeus build the Palace of the Gods on Mount Olympus and he placed his golden throne on the highest top from where he could see all of the world, surrounded by his symbols, the eagle, the thunder and Nike (Victory) on his side.
Birth of Zeus
After the dethronement of Uranus his son, Titan Cronus, became king of the world. Cronus married his sister, Titanid Rhea, and together they had the first six gods – three daughters Hestia, Demeter, Hera and three sons Poseidon, Hades and Zeus. But Cronus, due to a Gaia’s prophecy, was afraid that he would be overthroned by one of his offspring and so he decided to devour his children at their birth and thus being kept within his body they would not be able to rise against him. Desperate for her children’s fate and being pregnant on her last child, Zeus, Rhea asked for her mother’s help to save her youngest son. Following Gaia’s instructions Rhea flew to Mount Dicte in Crete where she secretly gave birth to Zeus. Infant Zeus was raised by the nymphs Adraste and Ide, with honey and milk by the goat Amaltheia and with the help of the local people, the Couretes, who were clashing their shields with their spears and swords, dancing a war dance, so Cronus would not hear the baby’s crying. After living her child to their care, Rhea flew back and presented to Cronus a wrapped rock instead of the infant Zeus, which Cronus swallowed thinking it was his child.
When Zeus came of age, he confronted his father and after a battle between them that kept for days until finally Zeus managed to defeat Cronus by tying him to a tree. He gave him a herb that made him disgorge the children he had swallowed – he first threw up the stone that was placed at Pytho (Delphi) for eternal remembrance (the known “Omphalos of Earth” – the umbilicus/center of the Earth). Then he condemned Cronus to eternal imprisonment in Tartarus, the deepest place of the Earth, thus becoming the sole ruler of the world.
Battles against the Titans and the Giants
After Cronus was defeated, afraid that they would lose their power over the earth, some of the Titans decided to move against the Gods (see under Titanomachy). At the end of this struggle, the gods prevailed and imprisoned the Titans that moved against them in Tartarus, assigning the three Hecatonchires, Vrontes, Steropes and Arges to guard them for all eternity.
Then Gaia urged her other children, the Giants, also to rebel against the Gods (see under Gigantomachy). They attacked Mount Olympus, but at the end they were also defeated and killed.
Zeus, after the epic battles between the primordial gods and the rearrangements and changes of a world still under construction, established his power by instituting rules on gods and men and restoring the balance of the world, thus being the personification of justice and order, peace and serenity.
Consorts and Offspring of Zeus
Zeus’ official and lawful wife was his sister Hera, goddess of marriage and the couples’ fertility and queen of the gods, with whom he had Ares, god of war, Hebe, goddess of youth, Eileithyia, goddess of birth and Hephaestus, god of fire and metalwork – according to other myths Hera gave birth to Hephaestus alone, as a retaliation for the birth of the goddess Athena by Zeus.
But although he was married to Hera, numerous are the myths concerning Zeus’ love affairs and offspring, both divine and mortal, by which many gods, great heroes, founders and kings were born (especially due to the need of many kings to connect their blood lines with the king of the gods). Some of them are the following:
- There are many myths concerning Zeus’ first consort. According to a myth it is said to have been Chthonie, while other myths state that it was the Oceanid Dione with whom he had goddess Aphrodite (according to the myths of the oracle of Dodone Aphrodite was not born by the blood of castrated Uranus but she was the daughter of Zeus and Dione).
- Other myths indicate Oceanid Metis as Zeus’ first consort. Metis, daughter of the Titans Oceanus and Tethys, was a beautiful Oceanid that was said to have all the wisdom of the world. But according to a prophecy Zeus’ offspring by Metis would by a warrior son that would dethrone his father and take his place. Being afraid of this prophecy Zeus took Uranus and Gaia’s advice and swallowed Metis while she was pregnant. This way Zeus took inside him all of Metis’ wisdom and from his head he gave birth to Athena, goddess of wisdom and Zeus’ favorite child.
- Titanid Leto gave birth to Apollo, god of light, sun and music and Artemis, goddess of hunting and the moon.
- Atlas’ daughter Maia by whom Zeus had Hermes, god of commerce and messenger of the gods.
- Demeter, goddess of the earth and agriculture who was united with Zeus and gave birth to Persephone, goddess of nature and wife of Hades, king of the Underworld.
- Titanid Themis, daughter of Gaia and Uranus and ancient deity of law and justice, with whom Zeus had three daughters, the three Hores (Hours), Eunomia (righteous law), Dike (trial) and Eirine (peace). According to some myths the three Moires (Fates) were also daughters of Zeus and Themis, Clotho, Lahesis and Atropos.
- Titanid Mnemosyne with whom Zeus was united for nine consecutive nights and she had the nine Muses, protectresses of the arts, Calliope, Cleio, Euterpe, Thaleia, Melpomene, Polyhymnia, Terpsichore, Erato and Urania (see under Muses).
- Titanid Eurynome who also gave him three daughters, the three Charitae Euphrosyne, Thalia and Aglaea. They were named Charitae (=graced ones) because there were said to be the most beautiful and graceful maidens of the world.
- Semele, daughter of Cadmus (founder and king of Thebes) and Harmonia (daughter of Ares and Aphrodite) was united with Zeus and gave birth to Dionysus, god of wine.
- The mortal Alcmene paired with Zeus and gave birth to the semi-god Hercules.
- By Europa, whom he abducted having transformed as a bull, Zeus had Minoas, the legendary king of Crete, and Radamanthys.
- Danae, whom he approached as golden rain, gave birth to the hero Perseus.
- Leda, whom he approached as a swan, Zeus had the Dioscuri (Castor and Polydefkis) and Helen of Troy.
- Aegina gave birth to Aeacus, father of Peleus and grand-father of Achilles.
- With Callisto, whom Zeus approached in the form of a bear, he had Arkas, founder of Arcadia.
- With Antiope he had Zethus and Amphion.
Numerous are Zeus’ love affairs and from his consorts many gods, great heroes and kings of Greeks were born – due to the fact that the most royal families needed to connect their generation with the king of the gods.
Zeus was worshiped as dominator of the world by all cities in Greece and in almost all places there were altars in his honor, where ancient Greeks offered sacrifices to the king of the gods. Two of the four pan-Hellenic festival were dedicated to him – the Olympic Games and the Nemea – and the most important worship places were Zeus’ temple in Olympia, the ancient Oracle of Dodona in Epirus and the Oracle of Ammon-Zeus near the city of Thebes of Egypt.
Zeus is participating in most of the ancient myths as we shall see in following chapters. For the ancient Greeks Zeus represented the ideal form of divine power, justice and order. After his prevalence over older deities, he became guarantor of balance in nature, keeper of justice and order in the world and thus protector of all men against the forces that they could not yet comprehend.
Posted by Mina Jones