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A Shortened Story of Zeus in Greek Mythology

Updated on August 21, 2016
Colin Quartermain profile image

Having travelled through Italy, Greece and the Aegean in his youth, Colin quickly became interested in the ancient mythology of the region.

The Greek God Zeus

In the broadest terms, Zeus is the most famous and most significant god of the Greek pantheon; although in truth he was the most significant god of the Hellenic period of Greek mythology.

Taken as a whole, Zeus was the third supreme ruler of the cosmos in Greek mythology, succeeding his father, Cronus, and his grandfather, Ouranus. In the surviving texts from Ancient Greece, Zeus plays a role, be it major or minor, in most stories.

The following is a brief reprise of the timeline of the Greek god Zeus and some of the stories connected with the deity.

The Infancy of Zeus

Giuseppe Crespi (1665–1747) PD-art-100
Giuseppe Crespi (1665–1747) PD-art-100 | Source

The Zeus Family Tree

Zeus was the son of the Titan Cronus and the Titanide Rhea, making Zeus brother to Hades, Poseidon, Hera, Demeter and Hestia. Cronus, and the other Titan deities, ruled the cosmos, but being the son of the supreme ruler did not give Zeus a privileged position.

Cronus was fearful of his position, as a prophecy stated that his own child would overthrow him. To prevent the prophecy from coming true, Cronus would swallow each of Zeus’ siblings after Rhea had given birth to them; imprisoning them within his stomach. Zeus would have followed his siblings, but Rhea, with Gaia’s assistance, spirited the newborn Zeus away to Crete, and had Cronus swallow a stone wrapped in cloth instead.

On Crete, Zeus would be hidden in a cave whilst he grew, with his needs tended to by the nymph Amalthea. The keep Zeus hidden, it was necessary to place the baby in a cradle suspended from the cave, ensuring that Zeus was neither in the sky nor on earth, the domains of his father. To prevent the sound of Zeus reaching Cronus, it was also necessary for the Korybantes to dance and bag their shields, masking the noise.

Hidden away, Zeus was allowed to grow to up.

The Titanomachy

Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640) PD-art-100
Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640) PD-art-100 | Source

The Overthrow of Cronus

When Zeus came of age, he was convinced that it was time to overthrow the Titans; just as the Titans had overthrown their father, Ouranus. One of those influencing Zeus was his own grandmother, Gaia; Gaia being upset about the imprisonment of her sons, the Cyclopes and the Hecatonchires, within Tartarus.

Zeus managed to surreptitiously give Cronus a poison, which forced the god to regurgitate Zeus siblings, releasing them from their imprisonment. Zeus now had his brothers, Hades and Poseidon, alongside him. Zeus also gained allies when he descended into Tartarus, killed the dragon, Kampe, and released his uncles, the Hecatonchires and Cyclopes.

The Cyclopes would subsequently craft the weapons of the gods, and for Zeus, the iconic lightning bolts would be made. These bolts of lightning would be transported to Zeus by an eagle whenever they were needed. The gigantic Hecatonchires would fight alongside Zeus and his siblings, with the giants hurling entire mountains at Zeus’ enemies.

The Titanomachy, the ten year war between the Titans and Zeus, would ultimately see Zeus and his allies victorious.

Zeus, Poseidon and Hades would then draw lots to divide up the cosmos. Hades was given dominion over the underworld and all those that died; Poseidon became ruler over the water; and Zeus would become lord of land and sky. The fact that Zeus was ruler on the visible areas of the cosmos meant that he was seen as the supreme ruler.

Zeus, along with many other gods, would reside upon Mount Olympus, looking down on the earth.

Hypnos spying on Zeus and Hera

Balthazar Beschey PD-art-100
Balthazar Beschey PD-art-100 | Source

Zeus' Love Life

Many stories about Zeus concern his love life, with the god of Mount Olympus sleeping with many mortals and immortals, and fathering hundreds of children.

Zeus is generally considered to have been married three times; firstly to the Oceanid Metis, then the Oceanid Euronyme, and then finally to his sister, Hera.

Even when married, Zeus was not exactly faithful, and the god would have many affairs. One of the most famous would see Zeus abducting Europa to have his way with her. From this brief relationship, three sons were born, Minos, Sarpedon, and Rhadamanthys. Another famous story would see Zeus transform himself into golden rain so that he could mate with Danae, a relationship that brought forth Perseus.

It was not just beautiful females who caught Zeus’ eye, and Zeus would abduct Ganymede, the Trojan prince, because of his beauty; Ganymede going on to become the cupbearer of the gods.

One of the most famous stories about Zeus’ love life, in the end sees the god not following through on his intentions. Zeus and Poseidon were both attracted to Thetis, the most beautiful of the Nereids, when a prophecy was made which said the son of Thetis would be more powerful than his father. Zeus was immediately worried about his own position, and so decided to marry Thetis off to a mortal hero, Peleus. The son of Thetis and Peleus was of course Achilles, who proved to be greater than Peleus, but no match for the gods.

From his numerous relationships, Zeus would father many mortals and immortals. Amongst the immortal offspring of Zeus, were the Muses, the Charities, the Moirai, and Nemesis; and some of the mortal, demi-god children of Zeus included Heracles, Dardanus, Helen of Troy, Lacedaemon and Tantalus.

As a result of the numerous affairs undertaken by Zeus, many of the stories concerning Hera, his wife, are about the goddess’ attempts to seek revenge on the children born from the affairs, with Heracles particularly persecuted by Hera.

Zeus and the Olympians

The Olympian gods; work by Monsiau (1754 - 1837)  PD-art-100
The Olympian gods; work by Monsiau (1754 - 1837) PD-art-100 | Source

Zeus' Position Threatened

Zeus’ seat of power was Mount Olympus, and joining him there were 11 other Olympian gods. The original 12 Olympians were the siblings of Zeus, Poseidon, Hera, Hestia, and Demeter; Zeus’ aunt, Aphrodite; and some of his children, Athena, Apollo, Artemis, Ares, Hephaestus, and Hermes.

The seat of power though was not always secure, and Zeus had to deal with many threats to his rule.

The Gigantes, the giants, were an early threat to Zeus, and whilst the gods of Mount Olympus dealt with some, it was only with the help of his demi-god son Heracles, that Zeus was not under a greater threat.

Of even greater concern to Zeus was the uprising of Typhon and Echidna; the monstrous pair going to war with Zeus, when their offspring were continually being killed. All of the gods, bar Zeus, would flee to Egypt when faced by Typhon, and it would require all of Zeus’ skill and strength to overcome the monstrous Typhon.

It was just those outside of Mount Olympus who were a threat though, and even amongst his own family there were dangers; with Apollo and Poseidon banished at one point from Mount Olympus, when the plotted to overthrow Zeus.

Even more worrying for Zeus was the activity of man. Zeus had order the creation of man, in order that there was someone to offer sacrifices to the gods. This job had been given to Prometheus, but Prometheus had trained mankind to offer up poor sacrifices, the Titan had then stolen fire to give to man.

Zeus had punished all of man by sending Pandora and her chest into the world. The release of evils into the world though, had ultimately meant that further punishment was required, and Zeus had sent a great flood to wipe out man, with the only survivors being Deucalion and Pyrrha. Life was then started afresh.

In a similar vein, Zeus planned the Trojan War, in order that the age of heroes could be brought to an end.

Zeus is regarded as the supreme Greek god, but Zeus was not all powerful, and could be threatened, but it is not the power of the god that is best remembered today, as most of the memorable stories tell of Zeus’ love life.

Zeus Deciding the Fate of Man

Nicolai Abraham Abildgaard (1743–1809) PD-art-100
Nicolai Abraham Abildgaard (1743–1809) PD-art-100 | Source

Comments

Submit a Comment

  • Colin Quartermain profile imageAUTHOR

    Colin Quartermain 

    3 years ago

    Thanks for reading - yep most of the stories about Zeus are about his sex life

  • peachpurple profile image

    peachy 

    3 years ago from Home Sweet Home

    interesting story about zeus, he is an unfaithful partner, like a sex maniac but he is a legend

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