In Greek mythology, Zeus was the supreme ruler of Mount Olympus and of the pantheon of gods who resided there. He upheld law, justice, and morals.
The Titans, an ancient race of giants, were ruled by Cronos. It was foretold that one of Cronos’s sons would dethrone him. In an attempt to prevent this, Cronos swallowed his children at birth.
Before Cronos could swallow his last child, his wife, Rhea, fled to a cave on the Isle of Crete. She secretly gave birth to Zeus and left him to be raised by nymphs. When Rhea returned to Cronos, she gave him a disguised stone to swallow in place of the last child.
Zeus Gains Control
When Zeus was grown, he asked the goddess Metis for help against his father. She gave Cronos a drug that made him disgorge all the children he had swallowed.
Zeus was able to overthrow Cronos and the rest of the Titans with the help of his brothers and sisters—Demeter, Hades, Hera, Hestia, and Poseidon. Zeus became the ruler of heaven and banished the Titans to Tartarus, the lowest level of existence, below the underworld.
Once Zeus had control, he and his siblings divided the universe among them: Zeus took the heavens, Poseidon took the sea, and Hades claimed the underworld. Demeter took fertility, Hera took marriage, and Hestia claimed the home and hearth.
Not long after he took the throne of the heavens, Zeus had to defend it. Three separate attacks were mounted from among the offspring of Gaia, the living earth. First were the Gigantes, which were giants, as their name implies; then came the monstrous Typhon; and finally the giant twin brothers called the Aloadae attacked. As he had done with the Titans, Zeus banished them all to Tartarus.
The Unfaithful Zeus
Zeus’s first marriage, or in some versions, his first love affair, was with Metis. The prophecy that a son would eventually overthrow Zeus led him to swallow both Metis and her unborn child. The child, Athena, was released from Zeus’s head.
Zeus’s next wife was his sister Hera. Their children were Ares, Eileithyia, Hebe, and Hephaestus. But Zeus was rarely faithful to his wife. He had many affairs, with both gods and mortals.
|Zeus took the shape of a swan to seduce the Spartan queen Leda|
By Leto, Zeus fathered the divine twins Apollo and Artemis. Zeus took the shape of a swan to seduce the Spartan queen Leda. From the egg that Leda produced came two sets of twins, Castor and Polydeuces and Clytemnestra and Helen of Troy.
Disguised as a bull, Zeus carried off the Phoenician princess Europa to the island of Crete, where she bore three sons: Minos, Rhadamanthys, and Sarpedon. He visited Princess Danae as a shower of gold, and from this union came the hero Perseus.
Zeus also took as a lover the young Trojan prince Ganymede. The prince was carried up to Mount Olympus by an eagle, where he became Zeus’s cupbearer.
When Zeus wanted to seduce the mortal Semele, she insisted on seeing Zeus in all his glory. He agreed. Their union produced Dionysus, but the sight of Zeus in all of his splendor, too much for any mortal, destroyed Semele.
The two sides of Zeus—heroic leader of the gods and philanderer—make him a most unusual deity. In many ways, Zeus seems more human than divine.