Zeus, the Master of the Greek Universe

Bronze statue of Zeus

According to Greek Mythology, Zeus was the sixth child of the titans Cronus and Rhea.

As the Creation Myth goes, after the dethronement of Uranus as the supreme god of the ancient greek Universe, Cronus, being the new leader, became very insecure about his position of power, feeling threatened by the prospect of one of his children seizing power from him. So, he came up with the hideous decision to swallow all of his divine children, as soon they were born.

Cronus's wife Rhea, grieving for her lost children, grew to be very disgusted by her husband's unbelievable show of cruelty. So when she became pregnant with Zeus, she sought her parents's assistance, Uranus and Gaia, into rescuing the child she was carrying in her womb.

Click on the following links to go directly to the relevant chapter:

Growing Up

Confrontation with Cronus

Clash of the Titans

The outcome of war

The battle of the Giants

King of Kings

The god's divine affairs

The god's affairs with mortals

The God's Cult



Growing Up

Rhea deceives her husband
Rhea offers Cronus teh wrapped stone

Gaia and Uranus, eager to help their distressed daughter, quietly sent her to Lyktos in Crete. There, in the dead of night, gave birth to Zeus and immediately turned him over to her mother Gaia. Gaia hid her grandchild in a cave on Mount Dicte and nourished him with food and love.

Meanwhile, Rhea returned to Cronus bearing a large stone, concealed in clothes. Cronus, without bothering to examine the bundle more thoroughly, swallowed it whole.

The god grew up in Crete, in the care of the ash nymphs Adrasteia and Io and the goat nymph Amaltheia, who nursed him with her own milk. By the time he attained manhood, the father of gods had become invincibly strong and swift.

As the myth goes, as a show of gratitude for her nurturing, Zeus later transformed the goat nymph Amaltheia onto the constellation Capricorn. He also fashioned one of her horns into the famed Cornucopia. This "horn of plenty" always contains the food or drink that his or her owner desires. What's more, no matter how much anyone takes from it, the Cornucopia never becomes empty.

[top]



Confrontation with Cronus

Before confronting his father, the young god sought the consultation of his cousin Metis, a wise Oceanid. Metis advised him to volunteer himself as Cronus's cupbearer and then put into action a plan, that he would carry out with the assistance of his mother Rhea.

Rhea was quick to embrace Metis's plan, when explained to her by her son. She prepared an emetic potion and gave that to Zeus, so that he would give it to Cronus, being his private waiter.

As soon as Cronus drank the potion, he began throwing up: First came the stone that Rhea had substituted for her youngest child, then the god's two brothers and three sisters followed: Poseidon,Hades, Hestia, Demeter and Hera.

All emerged unharmed. By unanimous decision, the siblings chose Zeus to lead them to a war against Cronus and the rest of the mighty Titans.

[top]



Clash of the Titans

Clash of the Titans (Delphi Museum)
Clash of the Titans

Not all of the Titans chose to fight against Zeus and his allies, fearing that they would be overwhelmed by their power. In fact, of the original twelve Titans, only five, all males, decided to side with their brother Cronus.

The second generation of titans-the children of the original Titans-, had their reservations to get involved, as well. Helius refused to take sides, remaining neutral, while Prometheus and Epimetheus, the children of Iapetus, did not support their father and sided with Zeus and the rest of their cousins, instead.

[top]



The outcome of war

Statue of Atlas (Naples Museum)
Atlas holding the earth

The war did not resolve itself swiftly. After all, it was a fierce battle between the mighty Titans and the all powerful children of Cronus and the outcome was very hard to predict.

The daily clashes and combats lasted for a whole ten years, with no obvious sign of retreat from any of the two sides.

Heeding an oracle decreed by his grandmother Gaia which said that the balance of the war would tip in his favor if he forged an alliance with the mighty hundred handed giants and the Cyclopes, Zeus headed straight to Tartarus to set them free.

As soon as all six of them were set free, the giants contrived new weapons, which would definitely tilt the balance of war:

  • For Zeus, the Cyclopes forged thunder and lightning
  • To Hades, the Cyclopes offered the helmet of darkness, a magical hood that makes its wearer invisible
  • For Poseidon, they forged a trident, which would become the emblem of the future god of the sea.

Thanks to the new reinforcements, the army of Cronus's children finally managed to crush their opposition. In order to eliminate any possibility of any resurgence of the hostilities in the future, Zeus decided to keep all the Titans under lock and key in the darkest depths of Tartarus. In addition, the three hundred handed giants stood watch outside the walls of Tartarus.

The only titan that escaped eternal punishment was Atlas, the son of Iapetus and brother of Prometheus and Epimetheus. In the course of the war, Atlas was assigned as successor of Cronus in the leadership of the Titans.

For him. Zeus reserved a special kind of punishment: The god placed Atlas at the westernmost end of the earth and ordered him to lift up the sky and bear the weight of the heavens forevermore on his head and shoulders.

As for his supporters-the six Titanesses, Oceanus, Prometheus and Epimetheus-, Zeus rewarded them by letting them retain their places of honor and their functions.

By remembering his supporters, Zeus made sure that his reign-unlike those of his father and grandfather-would last forever.

[top]



The battle of the Giants

Athena crushing Engeladus
Athena crushing Engeladus

To Zeus's dismay, his toils with his enemies did not seem to end with the Titans. He had to face another group of formidable adversaries, the mighty Giants who according to the Creation Myth, had sprung from the blood of the castrated genitals of Uranus.

These, more than one hundred in total, were super human monsters, had long hair and long beards which covered their reptilian scales. However, unlike the Titans, these were not immortal.

According to the myth, these Giants were persuaded into revolting by Gaia, who became enraged when she saw the cruel punishment that her grandson had inflicted on her sons, the Titans.

Following an old prophecy which decreed that the Giants would be defeated if the gods allied themselves with a mortal, Zeus sought the assistance of Hercules to fend off his opponents.

The final clash with the Giants took place in Phlegra, an area of the northern Halkidiki peninsula. According to the myth, Aphrodite used her beauty to deceive the Giants into following her into a cave, where Hercules killed them all by crushing them beneath huge rocks, where they exploded and caused volcanic eruptions.

Athena's help played also a significant role in the overall victory. After a long standing wrestle, she pinned down the mighty Giant Engeladus beneath the island of Sicily in Italy. She also killed Pallas and used his skin to make her shield.

After all the Giants were finally defeated, the ruler of Olympus was left but with one enemy: The monster Typhoeus, Gaia's last child from her union with Tartarus.

This was a hundred headed giant that spewed flames and let out high pitched cries. He was taller than the highest mountains and his entire body was covered in feathers.

Typhoeus was married to Echidna, a monster who was half nymph and half snake. She gave birth to their monster children Chimaira, Lerna Hydra and the hounds Orthus and Cerberus.

After an adventurous and fearsome battle with all the Olympians which covered a wide span of area from Greece to the northern shores of Egypt, Typhoeus was finally subdued and ended up in the island of Sicily, where he was crushed under Mount Aetna.

[top]



King of Kings

As described above, Zeus, after all the conflicts and long standing battles, finally emerged as the unquestionable master of the Universe.

His reference of being the "king of kings" derives from his name, which in Greek is Dias. In all Indo-European languages, dias derives from the root div, meaning divine.

According to ancient Greeks, the mighty god lived above the earth in eternal light, among the clouds. In Greek, he is sometimes referred to as nepheleigeretis or kelaenephis, from the nephelai (clouds). He is master of storms and ruler of winds; he also rules thunder, lightning and rain, fertilizes the earth and watches over the universe.

In addition, he was a protector of strangers (Xenios Dias, from the greek xenos or foreigner), as well as a protector of vows; he was an avenger, but he was also benevolent.

In summary, Zeus embodied the divine dimension of the code of ethics, that ancient Greeks aspired to live by.

[top]



The god's divine affairs

In terms of number of amorous adventures (both with immortals and immortals) and offspring which resulted from these adventures, Zeus by far outnumbers all the greek gods altogether.

To interpret this fact, one must consider that, through mythology, the ancient Greeks, apart from their effort to provide an allegorical description of the elements of nature, they expressed their deepest desire to associate themselves, through genealogical links, with the king of the immortals.

According to Homeric tradition, the god's only legal bride was his sister Hera, with whom he had Hephaestus. Other myths recognize him as the father of several of Hera's children: Ares, Eileithya and Hebe.

Other ancient writers claim that Zeus was married to Metis, the daughter of Oceanus and Tethys. Metis personified wisdom and science, which the god absorbed by swallowing her while she was pregnant. The reason for doing this is that he wanted to escape the ruling of an omen, according to which Metis would give birth to a child who would be more powerful than his father.

As a result, Athena sprung from Zeus's head.

He was also said to have wed the Titan Themis, the personification of law and order, both natural as well as moral. The children out of this union were:" the three Horae (Seasons): Eunomia (Law and Order), Dike (Justice) and Eirene (Peace)." The three Moirai (Fates): the sisters Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos who, according to Hesiod's Theogony, they were not daughters of Zeus but of Nyx and Erebus.

With the birth of these six daughters, Zeus completed the job of creation: bringing order to Chaos.

His third alleged bride was Themis's sister Mnemosyne (Memory), with whom he lay for nine nights, to give birth to the nine Muses (sources of inspiration and lesser gods of the sky).

With his sister Demeter, he had Persephone who, against her mother's wishes, she would later become the Queen of the Underworld.

He also lay with Leto, daughter of the Titans and Phoebe, with whom he fathered the Olympians Apollo and Artemis.

With Oceanus's daughter Eurynome, Zeus fathered the Charites (Graces). These were Aglaia (meaning "beauty" or "splendor"), Euphrosyne (meaning "the quality of having a good heart") and Thalia (meaning "thriving abundance").

[top]



The god's affairs with mortals

Apart from deities, Zeus could not resist the charms of mortal women as well, by whom he fathered an impressive array of heroes, rulers and kings:

  • In Laconia, by turning himself into a swan, the god lay with Leda, who gave births to the twins Castor and Polydeuces and Helen of Troy.
  • With the nymph Taygette, he fathered Lacedaemon, a king and hero of the Spartans
  • In Boetia, he lay ,in the form of satyr, with Antiope, daughter of the river god Asopus and fathered the Theban dioscuri, Amphion and Zethus
  • With Alcmene, whom she tricked by appearing disguised as her husband Electryon, he fathered Hercules
  • Disguised as an eagle, he lay with Aegina, daughter of the river god Asopus, and fathered Aecus, founder of the Aeaceians
  • In Arcadia, he lay with the nymph Callisto and fathered Arcas, king and founder of the Arcadians
  • In Cyllene, he lay with Maia, one of the Pleiades (daughters of the Titan Atlas and Pleione) who gave birth to the Olympian god Hermes
  • With Niobe, daughter of the Peloponnesean king Phoroneus, the god had Argus, hero of the city state of Argus
  • Disguised as a bull, he abducted Europa and took her to Crete, where he lay with her and fathered Minos, who would later become ruler of Crete
  • With Io, daughter of the river god Inachus, he fathered the Egyptian god Epaphus
  • Dione, daughter of Aether and Gaia, bore him the goddess Aphrodite (however, according to the version written in Hesiod's Theogony, Aphrodite was born out of the white foam that was created, when Cronus threw his father Uranus's castrated genitals into the sea)
  • Transformed into a shower of gold, Zeus united with Danae and fathered Perseus
  • With Electra, he fathered Dardanus
  • With Semele, he fathered the Olympian god Dionysus

Abduction of Europa
Zeus abducts Europa disguised as a bull

Apart from women, the god was also said to be overwhelmed by the male beauty of the Trojan youth Ganymedes, son of Tros and Callirhoe, whom he kidnapped and assigned him to be his official cupbearer (that is, like a private waiter).

As a result of her husband's countless flirtations, Hera, did not accept his adventures passively. So, the mighty god as well as the objects of his desire, were frequently the target of her rage and jealousy. Yet, in spite of the couple's terrible quarrels, Zeus was considered by the ancient Greeks to be the protector of marriage and known as Gamilios Zeus.

[top]



The God's Cult

Sanctuaries where the Greeks made offerings to the almighty father of gods, can be found on almost all the mountaintops of Greece.

The most well known of these were the Oracle at Dodona, the Temple of Zeus at Olympia and the Temple of Ammon in an oasis on the east bank of the Nile, in ancient Egypt.




Return from Zeus to Greek Pantheon

Return from Zeus to igreekmythology.com home


[?] Subscribe To
This Site

XML RSS
Add to Google
Add to My Yahoo!
Add to My MSN
Add to Newsgator
Subscribe with Bloglines

Your complete source to Greek Mythology
Copyright © 2008 - 2009 - igreekmythology.com - All Rights Reserved


SBI logo

site stats