7.1 Zeus


Zeus: king of the gods

Birth and rise to power

Zeus was the youngest child of Rhea and Cronos, two of the Titans. After Cronos was told that his children would overthrow him, he decided to eat them as soon as they were born. In order to save Zeus from the same fate, Rhea fled to the island of Crete, where she gave birth to Zeus in secret. She then tricked Cronos by wrapping a large stone in baby blankets, which he swallowed. Zeus returned from Crete when he reached maturity and, once his brothers and sisters were rescued from Cronos’ belly, he started a war between the gods and the Titans. Zeus and his siblings were victorious, and he shared the spoils of war with his brothers: Poseidon was made lord of the seas, Hades became ruler of the underworld, and Zeus himself took control of the skies and heaven.

Children and affairs

Zeus was married to his sister, Hera. Such a relationship was forbidden in ancient Greek society, but their gods were not bound by the same laws of biology and ethics as human beings.

Zeus and Hera had several children together, but only two were Olympians: Hephaistos and Ares. However, Zeus was an exceptionally promiscuous god and had many children by various other goddesses and mortal women. Several of these offspring were Olympians (Athena, Apollo, Artemis, Dionysos, Hermes) and some were mere mortals, the most famous of which was Heracles.

Responsibilities

  • King of the gods: ultimately, all other gods had to yield to Zeus’ authority. He wasn’t perfect, and often made errors of judgement, but his word was final.
  • Thunder: Zeus was given the thunderbolt by the Cyclopes, as a reward for defeating the Titans. He uses it as he wishes, including to punish, and even impregnate, mankind.
  • Xenia: this was the Greek term for the relationship between a guest and a host. Acts of hospitality were very important in the ancient Greek world and could be remembered over generations.
  • Justice: an inevitable responsibility for the god who decides the fate of man.
  • Fate: Zeus is closely linked to fate, especially that of cities. Sometimes fate is no more than what Zeus wants to happen, usually after consulting other gods.

Zeus iconography

Thunderbolt, throne, sceptre, eagle