Monday, 3 March 2014


King of the gods and lord of the heavens, Zeus is considered the most powerful of the Olympians and indeed often considered the most powerful of all the gods. Born to the titaness Rhea, she hid the infant Zeus from his father Kronos who had devoured their previous children in order to prevent loosing his throne to succession as well as to take their powers as his own.  A swaddling wrapped stone was given to the titan-king and Zeus was hidden deep within a Kretan cave on Mt. Ida, there he was raised by a goat/nymph named Amalthea (whose horn became the Kornukopia) and protected by the Kouretes (or Daktyloi) who covered the infants cries with their dancing and by banging their spears and shields.  Other versions have Zeus raised by Gaia, or a nymph named Adamanthea who hid him by suspending him from a rope so that he hung between earth and sky and sea and not in any part of Kronos’ kingdom. 

When grown, Zeus confronted his father and with the same sickle that  Kronos used to castrate Ouranos, Zeus forced the Titan-king to disgorge the children – Hestia, Haides, Demeter, Poseidon and Hera – that he had swallowed.  The six took up arms against the titans and fought for control over the very fabric of existence.  A few titans (including Prometheus, whose name means forethought) and most of the titanesses sided with Zeus and the gods and with their victory were rewarded.  The titans who had fought against them were banished to the pits of Tartarus or sentences to terrible punishments like Atlas who was condemned to hold up the heavens for all eternity.  The Protogenoi were the first beings to emerge at creation, in fact they are creation itself.  The titans represented an age of chaotic and dangerous growth; the rule of the gods brought structure and order and made the earth ready to support life, including humanity. 

Zeus is the god of sky, the storm-lord who wielded the terrible thunderbolt as his weapon.  He is also chief of the gods and King of Heaven, though this last role seems to have much to do with the fact that he is married to the Queen of Heaven – Hera.  Hera was born to this role while Zeus gained it through marriage and by right of conquest and he was always aware that it could be taken from him, in fact his desire to retain his throne is a constant theme in the myths surrounding him.  Zeus is also called the father of gods and man, and while he does parent many of these it is not in a literal scene that he is called so; he is the patriarch of creation, keeper of order and justice and many of these functions can be seen in his numerous epithets.  Olympios declared his  kingship over both the gods and connected him to the games at Olympia which were celebrated every four years in his honour.  Panhellenios declares Zeus the god of all the greeks regardless of their city-state affiliation, and indeed Zeus was honoured from Asia Minor to the Iberian colonies. 
Zeus Xenios is the patron of hospitality and the sacred obligations of the host.  Zeus Horkios is the keeper of oaths, Zeus Agoraios watched over the marketplace and, and punished dishonest traders.  Laoitês names him patron of priests, Gamelios of marriage contracts, Herkios is Zeus as the protector of the home and property and Zeus Polieus is the god of the civic virtues that keeps society civilized. 

Aside from his role of king of the gods, the best known aspect of Zeus’ mythology is his numerous love affairs and the children that he fathered.  Hera was not Zeus’ first wife, before her Metis was his consort; she was tricked by Zeus (who feared the prophesy her child would be greater than it’s father) into taking the form of a fly and swallowed by him.  Unbeknownst to Zeus, she already carried a child in her womb – Athene – who spring full grown and fully armored from Zeus’ mind.    Mnemosyne was his second consort and by her fathered the Musoi, nine goddesses of the arts and Eurynome was his third consort and mother of the Kharities.   In some myths the titaness Dione is also names one of his consorts and in the Iliad called the mother of Aphrodite by Zeus.  Hera is his final wife, if not his final lover and with her fathered Ares the god of war, Eileithyia the goddess of childbirth and Hebe the goddess of youth.  Some have him fathering Hephaistos as well, though most claim he was a son of Hera alone. The only other constant love of Zeus was Ganymede, a Trojan prince carried to Olympos by  giant eagle to become the cupbearer of the gods.  Other divine children fathered by Zeus include Apollon and Artemis by the titaness Leto, Hermes by the Pleiade Maia, Persephone by Demeter, and by Persephone, Melinoe, a goddess of the underworld whose body was half chalk white and half pitch black.  Zeus also fathered Dionysus by the mortal princess Semele and Ate, the goddess of delusion by Eris.  The Litae are two crone goddesses Zeus fathered with Nemesis who followed Ate over the earth undoing the evils she caused.  Of the mortals Zeus fathered the most famous is the son of Alkmene, Herakles, Zeus’ favorite son and the only to achieve godhead.  His son, the hero Perseus was born to the princess Danae, King Minos was born to the princess Europa who Zeus carried of while disguised as a white bull and he appeared to Leto as a Swan and she bore an egg from which hatched Helen and Kastor.

Many of Zeus’ lovers and children faced the wrath of Hera for attracting the attention of her husband.  Io was changed into a white heifer to hide her – unsuccessfully – from the goddess and she did not find ease until she entered into Egypt where she bore her Zeus’ son, the Pharaoh Memnon and was worshiped as the cow-horned goddess Isis.  Zeus gave Kalisto the form of a bear to hide her, but she was almost killed by her son, the hunter Arkas and the two were taken into the heavens as the constellations Ursa Major and Minor.  Zeus’ many affairs with mortal women were often the desire of royal houses to trace their lineage to the king of the gods, such as the House of Troy, decedent of Dardanus, son of Zeus by the Pleiade Elektra. Many of the gods numerous divine lovers are a result of the wandering and colonizing Hellenic peoples absorption of other pantheon into their own, Zeus would take the position of powerful gods and with their position their characteristics and consorts as well. 

Zeus did not fully absorb all the deities that he became associated with and from their merging, syncretic deities cane into existence,  Ammon is the combination of the Egyptian Amun and Zeus while Sabazius the chief of the Phrygian pantheon became the Roman Sabazios when amalgamated with Iupiter and Bacchus.  Iupiter is the Roman name for Zeus and the connection between their names can be seen in the vocative form of Zeus - Zeu Pater, father Zeus.  Their names are derived from the Proto-Indo-European *Dieus (the asterisk denotes that this is a reconstructed word), this deity is also the ancestor of the Sanskrit Dyaus Pita, the god of the day-time sky and of the Germanic and Norse god Tiwaz/Tyr.  Zeus is the only god in the Greek pantheon whose name has such an easily traced Indo-European etymology.  Zeus also shares many characteristics with Tin, the chief of the Etruscan Pantheon and there is also a Kretan Zeus in mythology.  The Kretan Zeus presided over the military and athletic training and was youth rather than a mature ruler and was possibly a life-death-rebirth deity and his tomb was considered to be within Mt. Ida. It doesn’t appear that Zeus held the position of importance in the Mykenean culture that he did in the Hellenistic, but he is present.  He appears in the Linear B inscriptions under the name  Di-wo as well as the feminine form Di-wi-ja (probably the goddess Dione). 

Today, I honour Zeus as the protector of the house and family and there is a snake, representing his chthonic aspects in a prominent part of my home.  I also call upon Zeus when I am threatened or in trouble or fighting against inequality.  It is fitting that at the time I write this, celebrants in Greece are honouring the marriage of Zeus and Hera at his Temple in Athens.  This is the first time these rites have been performed in over 1500 years, the worship of the old gods is returning and it is fitting that they should do so with the king of the gods.      

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