Zeus, Ancient Greek God and less than noble Lord of the Sky
Zeus was the supreme God of the Ancient Greeks, and the ruler of Olympus.
He was the absolute prime sovereign god with titles like Lord of the Sky, Cloud-Gatherer, Rain-God and Zeus the Thunderer. The Ancient Romans called him Jupiter Optimus Maximus ((the best and greatest).
He was mighty, glorious, awesome and mythology's most well-known philanderer.
The Early Life of Zeus
Zeus was the son of Kronos and Rheia.
It happened that just before Kronos killed his father, Ouranos, he was warned that his own son would someday depose him. (This was a common fear shared by powerful men in the old days).
In fear and greed, Kronos swallowed his first children as they were born, but Rheia (who was the mother of his children) tricked Kronos and when the sixth child, Zeus, was born, she substituted a stone for the infant and Kronos swallowed it down.
Zeus was hidden and raised in secret until he was old enough to fulfill his destiny.
One day he attacked Kronos while he was out hunting, kicking him in the stomach until the old god vomited up the other five (undigested) children.
Demeter, Hades, Hestia, Hera and Poseidon were so pleased to be released they accepted Zeus as their leader.
They are all known as The Olympians after their dwelling place Mount Olympus.
The Less than Noble Lord
Through less than noble behavior of the noblest one of all, Zeus became father to numerous children.
His encounters with any passable female, god or mortal, who caught his lustful eye have been described as love affairs but they were, without exception, unwanted by the lady concerned.
There are numerous tales which recount the insatiable lust of the ruler of Olympus, but his one true love was Ganymede, the most beautiful boy in the world.
Zeus and his Wives
The long suffering Hera and Metis
Zeus had his first amorous adventure with Dione but his wife was Metis, whom he later swallowed. Metis was pregnant at the time and this gastronomic feat resulted in Athena being born through the head of Zeus.
Hera was his permanent companion although in a marriage not to her liking.
After Zeus had courted Hera unsuccessfully for some time, he turned himself into an injured bird.
Hera kindly held the little creature to her breast for warmth and Zeus, true to form, showed his gratitude as rape. Poor Hera then married him to cover her shame.
Hera Ludovisi, Roman artwork, 1st century CE in Museo Nazionale Romano
Zeus and some Strange Births
And two troubled children
As if Athena erupting out of his head wasn't enough, Zeus gave birth on another occasion as well.
When Zeus impregnated the maiden Semele, his long suffering wife, Hera, was beside herself with anger. In a moment of rage she convinced Semele to make Zeus appear in his full glory. But no mortal can look at a God!
Zeus showed himself to Semele in his divine brilliance and the poor girl burned to death.
When he saw her begin to burn, Zeus quickly snatched Dionysus from her womb and placed him in his own thigh. There Dionysus stayed till he was ready to be born.
It's no wonder that both Athena, with her violent outbursts and anti-feminism, and Dionysus the God of Intoxication were more than a little deranged.
Bacchus Museo Nazionale Romano
Zeus and Danae
And another son
Danae, daughter of Acrisius
When it was prophesied that Danae's son would kill Acrisius, her father imprisoned her in a bronze tower. Acrisius was another of these men who feared being usurped by an infant.
A Tower was nothing to Zeus, he visited her in the form of a shower of gold and the inevitable happened. Danae ended up having a son whom she called Perseus.
Acrisius put Danae and Perseus into a chest and threw them into the sea,another common habit of those times. But mother and son floated safely to land.
Perseus ended up killing Acrisius, and thus the prophecy was eventually, and understandably, fulfilled.
Acrisius casts Danae with infant Perseus into the sea William Russell Flint
Zeus and Leda
Leda of Sparta
Leda married King Tyndareus of Sparta and they lived happily together for some years. At least until Leda caught the eye of Zeus and he raped her in the form of a swan.
Leda bore four children, in very strange circumstances. She had two sets of twins, each pair being a boy and a girl. But they were hatched from eggs!
One set of twins was Helen and Polydeuces, children of Zeus and the other twins were Castor and Clytemnestra, children of her husband Tyndareus.
The girls became famous later in life. Helen is known to us Helen of Troy; and Clytemnestra as the wife of Agamemnon (She killed her husband in the bath with an axe, but that's another story).
Zeus and Alcimena
Alcimena conceived Heracles when Zeus came to her disguised as her husband Amphitryon, but the story gets murkier. Her genuine husband came home that same night and Alcimena conceived again. So her twins Herakles and Iphicles had different fathers.
Zeus and Io
Io of Argos
When the long-suffering Hera discovered the passionate affair with Io of Argos, Zeus changed the princess into a white heifer. Hera wasn't deceived and, claiming the heifer, she sent Argus to guard it.
Zeus and Europa
Europa, the daughter of King Agenor of Sidon, was a highly born woman of Carthage and a descendant of Io, an earlier conquest of Zeus.
One day Europa was gathering flowers by the sea when Zeus, in the form of a white bull, appeared with a saffron crocus in his mouth
To cut a long (and familiar) story short, Zeus carried Europa away from Africa. She held onto his broad back as he swam over the sea.
He crossed to Crete where, in due course, Europa gave birth to many sons.
One of these sons was Minos, the keeper of the Minotaur
Sailing the Wine Dark Sea
Why the Greeks Matter
I love this book!
The Greeks invented everything from Western warfare to mystical prayer, from logic to statecraft. poetry, drama, philosophy, art, and architecture.
No culture has had more impact on modern Western civilisation than the Greeks and, in examining the strengths and weaknesses of the Ancient Greeks, we can see our own.
Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea: Why the Greeks Matter is the fourth volume in his Hinges of History series and, in all of the books in his series, Cahill makes the distant past matter!
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How do you feel about Zeus?
Leave a line for the King of the Greek Gods, all comments are appreciated. You don't have to be an ancient Greek to leave yours
© 2008 Susanna Duffy
Leave a message (or a scolding) for Zeus - By Jove! He was a 'good old boy'
Labyrinth on March 17, 2012:
Yuk - the worst of the male gods
Tony Payne from Southampton, UK on April 02, 2011:
Excellent lens Susanna. Having read a number of books by Zecharia Sitchin about the Anunnaki, the Gods of the Sumerians, who were almost certainly the Gods of Egypt, the Maya and in later times the Greeks and then Romans, they also had the same characteristics of an insatiable sexual appetite. With more and more ancient tales having been found to be based on some factual occurrence, I wonder if many of these legendary stories have some truth in them. Blessed by an angel.
Carol Fisher from Warminster, Wiltshire, UK on August 11, 2008:
I guess most of us have known men like Zeus - totally self-absorbed with their own desires paramount although they probably haven't all been rapists. I think Zeus represents that part of some men that is frightened of women's power - the power to make a new life, for example and the power to conceal the true father perhaps.
5 star lens