Supreme God of Greek mythology, Zeus, (Gr. Ζευς. Lat. Zeus) is the son of Cronos and Rhea.
Jupiter (16th century) Benvenuto Cellini©
Museo del Bargello, Florence
When the world was divided between his brothers Poseidon and Hades, he inherited sovereignty over the air and the land. It should be noted that the land where mortals live is common to all deities.
Originally, personification of the clear sky and celestial and meteorological phenomena, Zeus became the sovereign god of gods and men, authorizing the world and guarantor of its laws.
According to Homer, Zeus inhabits the Ether, this calm and magnificent region that extends over the Earth’s atmosphere, far beyond clouds and storms. The mountains, whose peaks, bathed in light and fresh air, seem to rise to the Ether, are his homes and there are hardly any high places in Greece on which Zeus has not been worshipped. But his most famous residence, which he shares with his wife Hera, is located on Olympus, where his magnificent palace built by Hephaestus is located among the palaces of other Olympians.
Zeus was assimilated by the Romans under the name of Jupiter who inherited his legends and powers.
What is Zeus the Greek god of ?
Jupiter Verospi © Vatican Museum
Such a god would naturally have to be the strongest and first of the gods. He was the almighty god, whose will was limited only by the inevitable stops of Fate. There are five main functions at Zeus.
① He presided over all atmospheric phenomena. He was the god of rain (Hyetios) and winds, whose guard he entrusted to Aeolus; both bad winds, which bring snow and torrential rains, and winds, which bring soft and beneficial rain; he was also the god of good weather (Æthrios); consequently, he became the fertile god, protector of harvests and fruits, who makes the trees bend under the weight of tasty fruits (Epicarpios).
But it was above all as master of lightning (Astrapæos: who dares lightning) that he was feared and revered. He unleashed the storm by shaking the aegis (Erigdoupos: with a terrible noise) and triggered lightning (brontaeos).
② He is the god of the family in the broad sense:
- god of the home (Ephestios);
- god of fences and walls (Hercios) of both houses and cities;
- god of marriage (Gamelios);
- god of friendship (Philios);
- god of hospitality (Xenios).
③ He presided over the maintenance of laws, human societies, associations of all kinds: siblings (Phratios), tribe, phyle (Phylios), state, confederation (Zeus Helenios), or amphictyonie.
These protective attributions are found in the many epithets and nicknames that describe him:
- Alexicacos, the one who removes threatening evils;
- Mêlichios, the one who protects the weak, the destitute, the fugitives and, in general, the Zeus serôter, savior of all suppliants;
- He is a model for kings as legislators (Zeus anax, basileus, aristarchos).
Zeus on his throne throning the
But kings come from Zeus, for kings belong to Zeus. There is nothing more divine than princes; you took them for yourself. You have entrusted them with the custody of the cities, and you yourself are sitting at the top of the cities, your eyes on those who lead the peoples in the ways of justice or on the contrary lead them by oblique paths. You have given them abundance and bliss; to all, but not equally.
Callimaca, Hymn to Zeus.
④ Divinity of the social order, as god of the city (Polieus), or of the popular assemblies (Agoraios) and guarantor of oaths and treaties (Horcios).
⑤ God warrior with beautiful armies (stratios) whose courage to face the enemy (stator) or the cunning to deceive him (Dolios or Apatenor), allows him to enjoy victory (niceplioros), or to assume defeat (phyxios or phyxelios).
Statue of Jupiter of Smyrna 2nd
century AD © Louvre Museum
The ordinary attributes of the god indicate his power and power:
- the cypress wooden sceptre, symbol of his royalty held in his left hand;
- the aegis which is a formidable weapon both offensive and defensive; it is also used to trigger storms. Zeus used it for the first time in the fight against the Titans and Giants; its origin remains unclear. Hesiode tells us that Metis made it for his daughter Athena and it is true that she often wears it in ancient iconography, unlike Zeus who is rarely represented with this object.
Other authors give Hephaestus as the manufacturer and more recent authors such as Hygin (Astron. II, 13) make it the skin of the Amalthea goat.
- the oak, symbol of power and strength
- the eagle, king of birds, celestial symbol
- the lightning, which he wields with his right hand, was made for him by the Cyclops.
Lightning, a formidable weapon, has three levels of triggering:
- the first to warn,
- the second to punish,
- and – the third to kill.
Cupid begging Jupiter
P. RUBENS (1614)
© Princeton University, New Jersey
Zeus and his eagle
Galleria Borghese, Rome
Jupiter known as Versailles
Zeus, as the supreme god, gathered in him all the attributes of the divinity; he is almighty, he sees all, he knows all; Zeus was the true inspirer of the oracles, the only one capable of perceiving the future, and it was by his only will that other divinities could prophesy. He is the author of all divination, either by giving back his oracles directly, as in Olympia and Dodona, or by resorting, as in Delphi, to the intermediary of Apollo who himself could also delegate this power.
Cult of Zeus
Sacrifice to Jupiter N. COYPEL©
museum of the Palace of Versailles
Zeus was honored in all Greek countries, especially at the top of the mountains: sanctuaries of Dodona, Olympia, Nemea, Mount Lykaios in Arcadia, Ida of Troy and Ida of Crete, the oasis of Zeus Ammon in Libya, etc.
– The sanctuary of Dodona in Epirus was the most famous and oldest; it dated back to the Pelasges. People came from all over Greece to consult the oracle of a sacred oak tree, whose rustles and whispers were considered to be the very word of the god.
“two black doves, having flown from Thebes to Egypt, went one to Libya, the other to Dodona. The latter, landing on an oak tree, began to speak with a human voice and to say that an oracle of Zeus should be founded there; the people of Dodona thought that they were receiving there an order from the gods and on this advice founded the oracle“.
Herodotus, Histories, Book II, § 54 to 58
The interpretation of the oracles of Dodona was entrusted to a college of priests, the Selles, whose name was probably only that of the former inhabitants of the country. These priests practiced asceticism, lying on the ground and never washing their feet.
Later, three priestesses called Peleiades were added to the stool. They were more particularly attached to the service of the goddess Dione, who was venerated in Dodone next to Zeus and who played the role of Hera. A pelasgic god, Dione was, according to Hesiod, the daughter of Ocean and Tethys. She was said to be Aphrodite’s mother.
– The one in Olympia was of a secondary nature; the family of the Iamides, attached to the cult of Zeus, presided over the future, in particular by observing the entrails of the victims: they appeared more as independent diviners than as prophets inspired by the god. It is in the temple of Olympia that the famous statue of the god was found, due to the chisel of Phidias.
– Hellade is a sanctuary of Mycenaean origin, occupied by the Greeks, who annexed it to their benefit. The divination was rendered by one (or three depending on the time) prophetess, called “peliad” she placed herself under the oak of Zeus and listened to the voice of the god in the rustling of the foliage. Like the delphic pythia, it seems that it also drank the water from a sacred fountain. He was asked the questions in writing about lead sheets, and the answer had to be given orally.
– The oracle of Zeus Ammon, located in a Libyan oasis, was known to the Greeks when they set up their first trading posts in Egypt. The oracular deity, Ammon, was an Egyptian god Hellenized under the name of Zeus Ammon and represented by a Zeus with the horns of Ammon. The statue of the god, carried on a golden nacelle, moved his head during the processions and the priests interpreted these signs; moreover, there was a miraculous spring whose water was sold across the seas for use in conjurations and lustrations. He was often consulted by Athenians during the Peloponnesian War, and is best known for the visit of Alexander the Great. Plutarch tells us that after the foundation of Alexandria, Alexander headed towards the Siwa oasis where the sibyl is said to have confirmed him both as a divine character and a legitimate pharaoh of Egypt.
The most common victims who were killed in Zeus were the goat, the sheep, and the white bull whose horns were gilded.
Jupiter fed by the goat Amalthea
J. JORDAENS (c. 1630)
© Louvre Museum
Rhea was furious that Cronos devoured her children one after the other. That is why she took certain precautions when she gave birth to Zeus, her sixth son (her third, or the eldest according to Homer). Legend has it born in Crete (Hesiod) or Lydia (Eumelos), or Arcadia (Callimachus). In the Arcadian version, Zeus was reportedly born on Mount Lykaios in Arcadia and then taken to Lyctos, but the Cretans claimed that he was born in a cave on Mount Ida or Mount Psiloritis. The birth took place in the middle of the night, the moment when the creatures have no shade. As there was no water in the area, she asked Gaia for help.
Anguished, the august Rhea cried out: “Friendly land, give birth to you in turn; the pains of childbirth are light for you. “Thus spoke the goddess, then, raising her strong arm straight up, she struck the rock with her sceptre. There was a large slit from which an abundant stream flowed. Callimaca, Hymn to Zeus.
After bathing him in the Neda River created especially for this occasion. Rhea entrusted her baby to Gaia. She transported him to Lyctos in Crete, according to the best known version, where she hid him in the Psychro cave on Mount Dictatus (or Aegeon or Ida). She entrusted him to the care of the nymphs Adrasteia or Adrastia (the one who does not back down) and her sister Ida who was the daughters of Melissa, king of Crete according to Hygin. Around his cradle stood the Curts, son of Rhea. They hit their shields with their spears and shouted at the top of their lungs to cover the newborn’s screams, lest Cronos hear them from a distance. Zeus was fed honey specially made by the bees of Mount Ida and the milk of the goat nymph Amalthea. One day he broke a goat’s horn that a nymph picked up, filled it with fruit and brought it to Zeus’ lips, She was named horn of plenty (another version with Acheloos metamorphosed into a bull whose horn was broken by Heracles). When the goat died, Zeus would have placed it in the sky as a constellation and its skin was used to make the aegis according to Hygin.
Jupiter high in Corybantes
©museum of the Versailles castles
Adrastia was also charged with distracting Zeus infant when he cried, she had an openwork ball formed of golden circles containing a carved stone: when she threw the ball into the air, she traced long golden furrows in the sky, similar to those left by a shooting star; Zeus, fascinated, quickly forgot her pain. This ball was later offered to Aphrodite, who gave it to Eros in exchange for an arrow shot into Medea’s heart to make her fall in love with Jason.
In fact, there are other versions of Zeus’ early childhood according to the authors.
– He was entrusted to his grandmother Gaia.
– The nymph Adamantheahung her cradle from the branches of a tree so that it would not be on land, in the sky or on the sea where her father could have found it.
– He was raised by the nymph Cynosura whom Zeus later placed in the stars to thank her.
– He was welcomed by a shepherd and his family who were promised that his sheep would be spared by the wolves.
Meanwhile, on Mount Thaumasion in Arcadia, Rhea wrapped a large stone in swaddling clothes and presented it to Cronos, who promptly swallowed it believing it was the young Zeus.
When Zeus reached adulthood, he decided to supplant his tyrannical father; he courted the wise Titanid Metis, and persuaded her to add an emetic to Cronos’ drink to regurgitate his brothers and sisters he had swallowed.
The childhood of Jupiter
Nicolas Poussin (1635-1637)
© Dulwich Picture Gallery (Londres)
The education of Jupiter
© Rockox House, Anvers
Lovis CORINTH (1905)
© Kunstmuseum, Brême
Zeus has intervened in a large number of legends that are relatively easy to classify. Apart from his birth and the seizure of power, his adventures are mainly made up of the multiple love conquests that we will see on the next page.
Omphalos of Delphi
As an adult, Zeus decided to dethrone Cronos and take power in his place. He asked Metis for advice, the personification of Wisdom, who gave him a vomiting potion and Cronos regurgitated the children he had devoured as well as the stone that had served as a subterfuge.
To assert its power, Zeus decided to place this stone in the center of the world. He threw two eagles at the ends of the earth and in the opposite direction; they met in Delphi, which thus became the centre of the world. He laid the stone there and had the omphalos (navel) guarded wrapped in cloths by a sacred snake: the Python of Delphi.
With his brothers and sisters, he fought against Cronos and the Titans for ten years with the help of the Cyclops and the Hecatonchires. He had to kill the guardian Campe who kept them locked up at the bottom of Tartarus. The
Cyclops offered tools they had forged:
– lightning for Zeus.
– trident that shakes the earth for Poseidon.
– helmet that makes it invisible to Hades.
Finally they succeeded in defeating the Titans who were locked in Tartarus.
He then shared the world with his brothers Hades and Poseidon.
Zeus armed with Egidian and his lightning attack the Giants
But their mother, the Earth, who excited the Giants against the Olympians, was very displeased with this exclusive takeover.
This was then the beginning of the Gigantomachy which did not look good because all the oracles gave the Titans as invincible unless a mortal came to lend a hand to the gods. This mortal was of course Heracles. So that his ploy would not be discovered by Gaia, he forbade the sun, the dawn and the moon to shine. While Zeus burned the Giants with his lightning, Heracles toppled the mountains that crushed them; the survivors were locked up in Tartarus.
The last trial that Zeus had to overcome was the battle against Typhon, during which he was taken prisoner and mutilated; he was delivered by Pan and Hermes. Finally he managed to bury Typhoon under Etna.
However, sporadic squadrons tried to shake up the established power.
Son of Aloeus and Iphimedia, the Aloades threatened to pile up Mount Pelion on Mount Ossa and climb the sky to attack the gods of Olympus, just as in ancient times the Giants had piled up Ossa on Pelion and then decided to remove Hera and Artemis.
Zeus armed with lightning
@Louvre Museum (C -470)
There came a time when Zeus’ exuberance and excesses became so unbearable that Hera, Poseidon, Apollo and all the other inhabitants of Olympus, except Hestia, surrounded him by surprise while he was asleep on his bed, tied him with leather straps and made a hundred knots so that he could no longer move. He threatened to kill them immediately but as they had put his lightning out of his reach, they gave free rein to their mockery.
As they celebrated their victory and bitterly debated who would succeed him, Thetis the Nereid, planning a forthcoming civil war in Olympus, hurried to fetch Briarea with a hundred arms who promptly undid the thongs, using all his hands at once to free his master as quickly as possible.
Having regained power, he sought out the guilty parties to punish them. The gods were forced to save themselves in various forms in Egypt where he pursued them as a ram. As Hera was at the origin of the conspiracy against him, Zeus hung her in the sky, a gold chain attached to her wrist and an anvil at each ankle. The other gods were furious but did not dare to help him
despite his heart-rending cries from the unfortunate Hera. In the end, Zeus decided to release her on one condition: that they would swear never to rebel against him again; they reluctantly obeyed. Zeus punished Apollo and Poseidon by sending them to the earth to serve Laomedon, the king of Troy for one year and, magnanimous, he forgave others.
To establish his definitive provision Zeus was obliged to subdue all attempts at rebellion-
He had Sisyphus severely punished.
– He triggered a flood to punish men (Deucalion).
– He punished Prometheus for stealing the fire.
– He punished Lycaon for trying to murder him in his sleep when he had come to ask him for hospitality, in the form of a simple mortal.
– He threw Hephaestus down Olympus for the second time, because he had dared to reproach him for leaving his mother, Hera, hanging in the sky.
– Zeus punished Salmoneus for counterfeiting lightning and thunder.
– He punished Tantalum1 and Ixion, men who had offended the god with their ungodliness.
– He transformed into a mountain, the queen of Thrace, Rhodope and her husband Haemos who had dared to compare themselves to Zeus and Hera.
4) Various legends
But to keep the peace, Zeus wisely intervened in many quarrels that were stirring Olympus:-
Between Apollo, Xenocles and Heracles who had seized the tripod of the pythia of Delphi;
– Between Athena and Poseidon who were fighting for the domination of Attica;
– Between Aphrodite and Persephone who both wanted the beautiful Adonis; –
Between Apollo and Idas about Marpessa;
– Tiresias had been blinded by Hera for saying that women had ten times more pleasure in love than men, so Zeus gave him the gift of prophecy that he kept even in the underworld. (different version with Athena).
Wives of Zeus
When his mother Rhea, anticipating the difficulties that her love desires would create, forbade him to marry, he was angry and threatened to do violence to her. Although she had immediately turned into a threatening snake, Zeus was not afraid, he turned into a male snake and, uniting with her in an indissoluble knot, he carried out his threat.
– After having exiled his father Cronos, Zeus married Metis, the Titanid, but an oracle warned him that the same thing would happen as with Ouranos: his children would in turn take power; he swallowed Metis who were pregnant, and he said, she kept giving him wise advice. In the iconography, Metis is often represented in miniature under the throne of Zeus.
– The titanid Themis was Zeus’ second wife. She gave birth to the Hours, Moires, Astraea and Nymphs of the Eridan (the Po). According to another legend, she was Prometheus’ mother.
– Sometimes Dione is given as a wife of Zeus with whom he would have had Amphitrite and Aphrodite according to Homer. We have very little information about this primitive goddess, Zeus’ paredron. Moreover, their cults are confused in Dodona. In some texts it appears as a denomination of Hera.
Jupiter and Junoa
work by Carracci
– Then Zeus looked for his twin sister Hera in Knossos in Crete, (or, on Mount Thornax in Argolida) where he courted her, initially without success. But she felt sorry for him when he adopted the disguise of a wet cuckoo clock and she warmed him tenderly in her womb. He immediately regained his true appearance. They married according to the rites of sacred marriage, which would become the prototype of human marriages.
All the gods brought many gifts for the wedding. The Moires themselves sang the hymn choir. The two newlyweds spent their wedding night in Samos, which according to Zeus’ wishes lasted three hundred years. The couple had three children, Hebe, Ilithyie and Ares.
Some authors such as Homer (Iliad I, 571) add Hephaestus, who is generally considered to be the parthenogenetic son of the sole Hera. (Apollodorus, Library I, 19).
Zeus and Thetis by Ingres 1811
© Museum of Granet
But the long series of her love affairs did not stop after her marriage. For he had, either in heaven with the goddesses, or on earth with nymphs or mortals, many gallant adventures, and was the father of many gods or goddesses, demigods, heroes and kings.
Sometimes a warning upset him in his plans, as for example when he wanted to conquer the Nereid Thetis, Themis predicted that the son who would be born would be taller and stronger than his father. Poseidon had the same views but also preferred to give way to the mortal Pelee who finally married the beautiful Thetis.
Pausanias reports a curious story in which Gaia was impregnated by Zeus and gave birth to Agdistis, a hermaphroditic deity. The other gods castrated the strange creature that became Cybele.
To deceive the vigilance of his future conquests and especially to divert the jealousy of his legitimate wife, Zeus used to take a different aspect. Thus he turned into a swan to conquer Leda, a bull to seduce Europe, a golden rain to approach Danae.
Zeus pursuing Semele
Sometimes he simply took the appearance of an acquaintance (Artemis to approach Callisto) or better still the husband (Amphitryon) to convince his conquests (Alcmen).
For more information, please refer to the sheets of these ladies from the table below, which is far from exhaustive. On the other hand, the authors did not always give the name of the conquest of Zeus and sometimes use the name of the father, such as the “daughter of the river god Borysthenes” who gave birth to Targitaos or a simple periphrase the “nymph of Samothrace” who gave her a son, Megaros.
However, his love affairs sometimes ended in a bitter failure, as with Aphrodite or Sinope.
Zeus’ mortal mistresses
Zeus wanted to give birth to an exceptional hero because according to an oracle, only a mortal could defeat the Giants during a future war between the Gods and the Giants.
Burning with desire for Alcmene, wife of Amphitryon, he chose her to carry his child. He therefore took the appearance of her husband who had gone to war and conceived Heracles on a triple night.
Alcmen finally gave birth to two children: Heracles, son of Zeus and Iphicles, son of Amphitryon.
From his childhood, Heracles was hostile to Hera. One night, she sent two huge snakes to the cradle of the two eight-month-old twins. As Iphicles screamed with terror, Heracles quietly smothered the snakes with his bare hands.
All understood then that the child was destined for great things.
Daughter of Cadmos, king of Thebes and Harmony, Semele is loved by Zeus who makes her a mother. Madly in love with her, Zeus swore by the Styx that he would give her anything she asked for. Hera, jealous once again, suggested to the young woman to ask to see her lover in her splendour as Sovereign of Heaven and Master of Lightning. Having sworn on the Styx, Zeus did so and Semele was struck by lightning.
Before they disappeared into the blaze, Zeus tore off the child, Dyonisos, ready to be born. He placed it in his thigh and kept it there until the end of its gestation, thus making it immortal. Then it was entrusted to the nymphs of Nysa.
Later, he fetches his mother from the underworld, leads her to the gods and makes her an immortal woman who takes the name of Thyone.
Daughter of Acrisios, king of Argos and Eurydice, Danae was locked by her father in a bronze tower because an oracle had predicted that her grandson would kill her.
Zeus turned into a golden rain, infiltrated the prison of the beautiful Danae and gave her a son named Perseus.
At the birth of Perseus, Acrisios was still afraid that the oracle would come true but not daring to kill his own daughter, so he locked her and Perseus in a wooden chest and threw it into the sea thinking they would die there. However, with Zeus’ help, they arrived safely on the island of Seriphos.
Leda, wife of Tyndare, king of Sparta, Leda attracts Zeus’ attention with her beauty. To approach it and unite with it, it takes the form of a swan. That same evening, Tyndare made love to his wife.
Some time later, Leda gave birth to Tyndare’s two children: Clytemnestra and Castor and laid an egg containing Zeus’ offspring: Helen (Trojan heroine) and Pollux, immortal.
When Europe was picking flowers by the sea with her friends, she saw a beautiful white bull so soft that she approached it and caressed it. As the bull lay at his feet, the girl climbed on his back. The bull, taken by Zeus to approach the girl, jumped up and kidnapped Europe. They crossed the sea to reach Crete where Zeus gave him three sons who were later adopted by the King of Crete: Minos, Rhadamante and Sarpeton.
Maia was one of the seven daughters of Atlas: the Pleiades. To allow them to escape Orion, Zeus transformed them into stars and placed them in the firmament.
While she was still living on earth, one of them, Maia, found Zeus at night in the secret of a cave, so that no one would know about this union.
From this union was born a son: Hermes.
Io was a young priestess of Hera. Zeus prepared her for their union by sending her dreams. When they found themselves together, Zeus, fearing his wife’s jealousy, camouflaged their union with a thick fog. Hera, a suspicious woman, came down to earth, cleared the fog and discovered her husband near a lovely heifer – Io, transformed by Zeus.
Hera asked Zeus to offer her this charming “cow” and Zeus could only do it. Hera entrusted Io to Argus’ guard, who had a hundred eyes.
Pitying Io, Zeus sent Hermes to deliver her. Through music and stories, Hermes managed to close all Argus’ eyes and killed him immediately.
But poor Io was not free for that. Furious, Hera sent her a horsefly that drove her mad with its stings and Io, still in the form of a heifer, set off on a runaway across the East: the sea she sailed along would one day be called Ionian in her honour, and the Bosporus “the Cow’s ford” recalls her passage.
Her suffering ended in Egypt, where Zeus gave her human form and, touching her forehead, gave birth to their son, Epaphos “the Touched”.
Aegina is the daughter of the river god Asopos. Zeus became passionate about her and turned into a huge eagle to take her away and transport her to an island that was called Aegina in honour of the young girl.
Their son, Eaque, was Achilles’ grandfather.
With Pluto, Zeus had a mortal son, Tantalus who was honored by the gods until the day when Tantalus wanted to serve his own only son, Pelops, to eat for the gods. To punish him, the gods condemned him to stay forever in Hades in the middle of a river from which he could never drink, and under a tree lined with the most beautiful fruits that he could never grasp. He thus remains hungry and thirsty forever.
Daughter of the Lycaon, a king of Arcadia, Callisto was a huntress, companion of Artemis, having taken a vow of chastity. Zeus saw him and fell in love with him. He unites with her against her will.
Hera, jealous, turned the girl into a bear after she gave birth to a son, Arcas.
At Callisto’s death, Zeus placed the bear among the stars and made it a constellation: the Great Bear. Later, his son Arcas came to join him and became the “Little Dipper”.
Princess of Thebes, Antiope was coveted by Zeus who took the form of a satyr to abuse her while she slept.
Pregnant and fearing her father’s anger, Antiope fled and gave birth to twins: Amphion and Zethos, whom she abandoned on a mountain and who were taken in by a shepherd.
Lycos, Antiope’s uncle, caught her and with his wife Dirce, they treated the young woman like a slave.
She manages to escape and arrives at her sons’ cottage. They recognize each other and her sons decided to avenge her by killing Lycos and tying Dirce by the hair to a bull’s tail. They then threw his body into a fountain that now took his name.
Filiation of Zeus
Zeus is, according to Hesiod, the last of the six children of the Titan Cronos and his sister Rhea. This descent will be considered as the Olympic branch as opposed to that of the Titans. Cronos, fearing the prediction of his parents, Ouranos and Gaia, that he would engender a rival who would rule in his place, swallowed his children from birth. To prevent one of his sons from escaping this fate, Rhea, on Gaia’s advice, will substitute a swaddled stone for the last born. Taken to Crete, he was raised by the nymphs of Mount Ida, breastfed by the Amalthea goat in a secret cave in Lyctos. His cries that could have betrayed his presence were covered by the crash of the weapons that the Priests clattered in their war dances.
The cult of a Zeus “Krêtagenês” in a cave in this mountain dates back to the so-called Minoan period (-2000 – -2500).
Zeus has a very large offspring, giving Hera the opportunity to be jealous many times. He is the father of Heracles, a half-god, hero of countless adventures. He has many other sons and daughters, who are also gods, including for example:
- Athena daughter of Zeus, goddess of strategic warfare and wisdom
- Apollo, son of Leto and Zeus, god of poetry and light;
- Ares son of Hera and Zeus, god of war;
- Artemis, daughter of Zeus and Leto, goddess of the wilderness;
- Dionysus, son of Semele and Zeus, god of wine and drunkenness;
- Hephaestus, son of Hera and Zeus, god of fire, forges and volcanoes;
- Heracles son of Alcmen and Zeus, deified heroes.
- Hermes son of Maia and Zeus, god of travel and messenger of the gods, protector of merchants, thieves and doctors.
- Persephone daughter of Demeter and Zeus, Queen of the Underworld.
- Echeque (in ancient Greek Αἰακός / Aiakós) is the son of Zeus and the nymph Aegina
- Helen daughter of Leda and Zeus
- Beaver son of Leda and Zeus
- Pollux son of Leda and Zeus
- Clytemnestre daughter of Leda and Zeus
- Minos sons of Zeus and Europe
Zeus was able to seduce his deadly women by taking the form of animals to avoid reprisals from his wife. Here are some of them:
- White bull for Europe
- Golden rain for Danaeus
- White swan for Leda, Queen of Sparta
- Snake, etc.
Zeus’ successive polygamy is at odds with the monogamy of Greek morals. Zeus’ alliances were first necessary to expand the Hall and ensure the diversity of divine functions and powers. The multiplicity of her marriages can also be interpreted as proof of power.
Cronos’ three daughters and three sons (Demeter, Hestia, Hera, Zeus, Poseidon and Hades) form the direct lineage of the “great Olympians”. In the second generation, only four “legitimate” children of Zeus were admitted: the sons of Hera, Hephaestus and Ares, and the twins of Leto: Apollo and Artemis. The last three, Aphrodite, Dionysus and Athena, have births in common that are difficult to establish, given the differences among the authors. They have been incorporated into Greek theogony but their distant origin is undoubtedly derived from traditions foreign to the Greek world. Only the inescapable significance of their symbolism made them connect with the great Olympians. Athena Poliad is first and foremost the ancient protective deity of the eponymous city. Dionysus, a Thracian or Phrygian god, had left a very popular orgiastic cult, although not very appreciated by the Greek aristocracies. Aphrodite is an ancient erotic deity from the Near East whose celebration was transmitted by the people of Cyprus and Kythera.
- Metis, an Oceanid: her motherhood was overshadowed by Gaia’s prediction that a daughter born would have as much wisdom as her father and that a son who followed her would dethrone her. Zeus swallowed his pregnant wife, but according to a plausible version, in the form of a fly where Metis hid, quick to disguise. His daughter Athena, once formed in his belly, came out an adult and armed with her head, opened by Hephaestus’ axe.
- Themis, a Titanid: she gave birth to Zeus the three Hours, and the Moires (or Fates, among the Latins). According to another version, Themis would be the regular wife of the Titan Japet with whom she had Prometheus. She would therefore be a bigamist in this case, but a common version indicates that the true wife and mother is the Clymene Oceanid. Themis had a gift for clairvoyance which later served Zeus to avoid generating the son who would have supplanted him; and Atlas who knew that a son of Zeus, Heracles, would come and steal the golden apples of the Hesperides. She once presided over the Oracle of Delphi.
The birth of the three Moires remains a question: Hesiod gives them as the daughters of the royal couple they helped Zeus in his fight against the Titans – but are also referred to as the daughters of Nyx, a divine creature born of Chaos who begot them without male principle. This specific birth resolves the ambiguity of Zeus, god of destiny but obeying the will of destiny, whose term he must not, any more than any other god, change. The two illustrious singers, Homer and Virgil, still paint him as the simple executor of fate, a golden scale in his hands, thus accrediting an independent force to which the gods of Olympus submit themselves.
- Eurynome, an Oceanide: from whom Zeus begat, the three Charites (or Graces), for the most famous. These girls had no major role. Their kinship, number and names sometimes differ.
- Demeter, an Olympian, Zeus’ sister: goddess of great importance but whose relations with this episodic husband are limited. We know her best by her troubles to help their daughter Persephone, victim of all kinds of unfortunate adventures, daughter who is also born of Styx, an infernal goddess. Demeter, deity of the “fertile land”, easily found his equivalent in foreign traditions: Ceres among the Romans and Cybele among the Phrygians, for the most famous.
- Mnemosyne, a Titanid: she engendered the nine Muses.
- Leto, a Titanid: she gives twins to Zeus: a boy, Apollo and an Artemis girl. Their birth gave rise to very different versions. But it is undoubtedly the most beautiful offspring of the master of the gods. But terrible children who had, among other things, the particularity of announcing death to humans, each one to persons of his own sex: “the sweet arrows of Death” sang Homer.
- Dione, a “primitive” goddess: lover of Zeus, her role seems to be linked to the oracles. Homer makes it an Oceanid, mother of Amphitrite and Aphrodite. Zeus’ paternity concerning Aphrodite is acknowledged by the elder but denied by Hesiod who gave birth to her from the seed of Ouranos spread on the sea (she is then known as the “anadyomena” goddess, born from the foam).
But more surely, since Dione’s name is a feminine form of Zeus, some authors lean towards a “mother goddess” of obviously Mediterranean tradition, a counterpart of the patriarchal god; or towards an avatar of Zeus’ wife, to whom Hera would have gradually been assimilated.
- Maia, a Pleiad: it is mentioned since it is of divine essence but it would rather have been a temporary love of Zeus already married to Hera. The latter, always quick to harshly sanction her husband’s incarnations, had no shade of it, however, and was even benevolent towards her. From the union was born Hermes, faithful factotum of his father and great lover like him.
- Thetis, a Nereid, sister of Eurynome: the temptation turned short as Zeus fell under one of Gaia’s predictions, which will remain a real family curse: the son born from this affair would supplant his father. She was married to the mortal Pelee as a precautionary measure.
- Hera, herself Zeus’ sister: she is given as the god’s definitive and “official” wife. But it often appears from the accounts that the two spouses had been dating for a long time. They had Ares, Hebe and Ilithye and tradition does not forget their son Hephaestus, whom Hesiod wants to give birth to from Hera without male principle (capacity normally reserved for primitive gods, such as Gaia or Tartarus).
Hera, uncompromising on the bonds of marriage, is the model of the faithful and protective wife of the woman. Her irascibility, jealousy and resentment will be perpetual subjects of boredom for the master of the gods who ignites at the sight of any somewhat desirable nymph or any other beautiful celestial or terrestrial creature whose goddess invariably becomes the persecutor. The two Olympic luminaries will form the image of the exemplary couple if not in fidelity, then at least in stability. Their love affair was largely exalted by the Greek authors from their engagement to their honeymoon.
Hera who had a distinct cult from Zeus is shown in mythology of a very contrasting character. Sometimes victim of her husband’s vengeful anger (Zeus hangs her naked by the feet with an anvil attached to each wrist to punish her for her vexations towards her son Heracles), she can also resist him strongly and even treacherously, since, according to one account, she would not have hesitated, without Thetis’ intervention, to neutralize his power. The Iliad attributed to him the childbirth of Typhon, generally considered a creature of Tartarus. If some countries honoured her cult (the Elite, Argos or Samos), under a bellicose temperament, she personifies, more usually, of her dignified and severe beauty attested by statuary, the moral principles of the family: legitimate union, conjugal fidelity (at least as far as she is concerned), motherhood, childbirth and education of children.
Zeus’ figuration is the most used because it does not seem that he was never worshipped in the form of a stone or a column.
Zeus in arts
Reconstituted statue of Zeus in Olympia
In the course of the 6th century BC, he appeared on painted vases; his statues multiplied, especially in the Altis of Olympia, for the Messenians; Agelaidas had made a Zeus fighter.
In the middle of the 5th century, Phidias fixed the classical type in his famous Zeus of Olympia, sitting on a throne, holding a sceptre and Victory, which more or less covers the countless representations of Zeus that we have preserved statues, bas-reliefs, frescos or coins.
The Olympian Zeus of Phidias was the ideal type, which later inspired the artists. The god was usually depicted as a fully mature man, with a robust body, a serious figure, a wide forehead and a protrusion at the lower part, from which the eye sinks deeply. The thick, undulating hair largely frames the face, as well as the finely curled beard. Rarely naked, except in the primitive images, the god most often wears a long coat that leaves the right arm and chest uncovered.
In the famous temple of Olympia, there was the famous statue of the god, due to the chisel of Phidias. Standing on a richly decorated pedestal, nearly 10 metres high and 7 metres wide, it was itself 13 metres high. Sitting on a throne where bronze, gold, ivory and ebony were married, the god carried in his right hand a crowned Victory, and his left hand rested on a sceptre surmounted by an eagle. He was dressed in a gold coat enamelled with flowers. His forehead was crowned with an olive tree crown, and his face, framed by a long beard, gave an expression of serene majesty.
Zeus at the Palais Altemps
Its attributes are the sceptre in the left hand, the lightning bolt in the right hand and the eagle at its feet. His forehead is often adorned with an oak crown.
The Cretans depicted him without an ear to show his impartiality, while the Lacedemonians gave him four to show that he was listening to everything.
The figurative type of the Roman Jupiter is exactly in conformity with the type of the Greek Zeus.
Among the modern figures of Jupiter, we can mention:
- the birth of Jupiter, painting of Roman Julius;
- the childhood or education of Jupiter, or Jupiter in the corybantes: paintings of Jordaens (Louvre), Noël Coypel (Grand Trianon), Catani (Pitti Palace);
- Jupiter fed by the Amalthea goat: painting of C. Cignani (Munich);
- Jupiter and Alcmene: painting by J. Romain;
- Jupiter and Antiope: masterpiece from Correggio; fresco by Raphael in the bathroom of Cardinal Bibbiena in Rome; paintings by Titian (Louvre), Watteau (Louvre), Ingres-Jupiter and Callisto: paintings by J.-B. de Troy, Fr. Boucher;
- Jupiter and Danae: engraving by G. Duchange (after Correggio), P.-C. Levesque (after F. de Troy), N. Lemire (after A. Carrache), L.M. Bonnet (after Fr. Boucher); painting by J. Romain;
- Jupiter and Europe: engravings by G. Bonasone (after Raphael), T. Cook and R. Pollard (after Benjamin West), by Fr. Bartolozzi (after the Guide); painting by Cl. Lorrain, etc;
Zeus from the game Age of mythology
- Jupiter and Ganymede: composition of Raphael, engraved by the Master with the De;
- Jupiter thundering the Giants: paintings by J. Romain (Mantua), P. del Vaga (Doria Palace, Genoa);
- Jupiter and Io: paintings by J. Romain, Correggio, J.-B. Regnault, from Schiavone
- Jupiter and Juno: paintings by Titian, Annibal Carrache (Farnese gallery);
- Jupiter and Leda: various compositions from Correggio, Tintoretto, P. Veronese, Poussin, Andrea del Sarto, etc. –
Jupiter and the Lycaon: painting by Jean Cossiers (Madrid);
- Jupiter and Mercury in Philemon and Baucis: paintings of the Bronzino (Munich), J.-B. Restout (Toulouse), J. Jordaens (Belvedere), etc.;
- Jupiter and Thetis: painting by Ingres (1811, at the Aix Museum).
Among the modern sculptures, it is worth mentioning the Jupiter pluvius, by John of Bologna, in the garden of the Pratolino Palace.
- Apollodore, Library: I, 1, 6; I, 2, 1
- Callimaque, Hymn to Zeus
- Hesiod, Theogony: 468
- Hygin, Fables 19, 23, 31, and others
- Homer, Iliad: I, 396; VIII, 13; XXIV, 527
- Ovid, Fastes: V, 111
- Ovid, Metamorphoses: VI, 103
- Virgil, Georgics: IV, 153