- Pronunciation: ZOO-s
- Origin: Greek
- Role: God
- Symbol: Thunderbolt
- Father: Cronus
- Children: Dozens
- Other Names: Jupiter, Dias
Who Is Zeus?
Zeus was the ruler of the Olympian gods and the god of the sky. He didn’t earn the throne in a traditional matter though. Instead, he overthrew the current ruler, his father, with the help of his siblings. Once Cronus had been dethroned, Zeus and his brothers divided the power. Zeus became the rules of the gods and was responsible for the sky and rain. His weapon of choice is well-recognizable. He would hurl his thunderbolt at anyone who defied him.
He had a shield called the Aegis, which would allow him to cause storms and darkness in the skies. He could either create chaos in the skies with thunder and lightning or reward the earth with water by opening the clouds.
Historians believe that Zeus was the Greek equivalent of the Babylonian god of heaven and earth, Enlil. Jupiter is considered to be the Roman equivalent of Zeus.
Legends and Stories
There is no shortage when it comes to myths regarding Zeus. Here are some of the most familiar.
Zeus was the youngest son born to Cronus and Rhea. Cronus knew that one of his children would overthrow him. Therefore, he swallowed all of his children as they were born. Rhea wanted to save her son though so when Zeus was born, she wrapped a rock in swaddling clothes to mislead Cronus. Cronus immediately swallowed the rock and Zeus was saved. What happened to him afterwards is unclear though. There are various myths that tell how Zeus grew up without his father ever knowing.
Some say he was raised by a goat named Amalthea with help from soldiers who would dance and clash their spears and shields whenever Zeus cried. Other myths say he was raised by Melissa. She nursed him with honey and goat milk. Another common myth says that Adamantha the nymph hid him by putting Zeus on a rope and hanging him from a tree so that he was between the sea, earth and sky.
There are even more suggestions, including that the nymph Cynosura raised him and when he was grown, Zeus thanked her by placing her among the stars in the sky. There is also the myth that says Zeus was raised by a shepherd family, as long as the god kept their sheep save from wolves.
Taking Control of the Throne
Once Zeus was grown, he decided it was time to take over the throne. The battle was called the Titanmonarchy. Zeus went and saw Cronus and made him vomit the stone Omphalos. The stone was placed under the glens of Parnassus at Pytho. He was then forced to vomit the children he had swallowed. After he rescued his brothers and sisters, Zeus went to Tartarus. Once he arrived, he killed Campe and freed the Cyclops, the Hecatonchires and the Giants. The Cyclops wished to show his gratitude and gave him thunder and his thunderbolt.
Zeus won the Titanmonarchy and sent the Titans to live in Tartarus forever. He spared Atlas but forced him to hold up the sky for all eternity. Zeus divided the power between him and two of his brothers. Zeus ruled the sky and air while Poseidon ruled the sea and earth. Hades ruled the underworld.
Zeus was married to Hera and depending on the source, they had either one or three children. However, Zeus often strayed and had many affairs, leaving Hera feeling hurt and jealous. Some accounts say that Zeus had as many as 92 children from dozens of lovers. Here are a few of his most famous children.
Ares was the god of war and the child of Zeus and Hera. He might have had two siblings. Some myths suggest that Eilethyia, the goddess of childbirth, was Ares’ sister, along with Heba, the cupbearer of the Olympics. There are even myths that say Hephaestus, the blacksmith of the gods, was also a sibling of Ares.
Athena has a unique birth story. She was the daughter of Zeus and an Oceanid, Metis. Zeus was worried that one of his children, a son, would eventually attempt to overtake the throne. To prevent this from ever happening, Zeus swallowed Metis once she told him she was pregnant. Several months later, Zeus developed a strong and painful headache. He asked Hephaestus for help, who cut into the area on Zeus’ forehead where the pain was coming from. Athena sprung from the area, completely grown and dressed for battle. It is said that Athena was Zeus’ favorite child.
Heracles was the son of Zeus and Alcmene, a mortal. Heracles possessed superhuman strength and became known for his bravery and courage. But he served as a reminder of his father’s infidelity and Hera was determined to make Heracles’ life anything but enjoyable. She drove him to madness and even killed his children.
Apollo and Artemis
Zeus had an affair with Leto, a Titan goddess, and she became pregnant with twins. Hera was so upset that she made it impossible for Leto to find a safe place to give birth. Zeus turned Leto into a bird so she could find a safe haven, which she did on the island of Delos. She gave birth to Apollo, the goddess of the hunt, and Apollo, the god of music, medicine and poetry.
In the majority of artistic representations, Zeus is shown with dark hair and a long dark beard. He is usually older in age. Most show him with an intimidating look on his face and either holding his thunderbolt, his shield, or both.
There are four main items associated with Zeus. They are the thunderbolt, which was used by Zeus as a weapon. The eagle is also a symbol and represents Zeus’ reign over the sky. The bull is another symbol because of Zeus’ transformation into the animal in several myths. The oak tree is also considered to be a symbol but is not as recognized as the first three.