From the Zeus entry in Wikipedia:

Zeus is the sky and thunder god in ancient Greek religion, who rules as king of the gods of Mount Olympus. His name is cognate with the first element of his Roman equivalent Jupiter. His mythology and powers are similar, though not identical, to those of Indo-European deities such as Jupiter, Perkūnas, Perun, Indra, and Dyaus.

Zeus is the child of Cronus and Rhea, the youngest of his siblings to be born, though sometimes reckoned the eldest as the others required disgorging from Cronus's stomach. In most traditions, he is married to Hera, by whom he is usually said to have fathered Ares, Eileithyia, Hebe, and Hephaestus. At the oracle of Dodona, his consort was said to be Dione, by whom the Iliad states that he fathered Aphrodite. According to the Theogony, Zeus' first wife was Metis, by whom he had Athena. Zeus was also infamous for his erotic escapades. These resulted in many divine and heroic offspring, including Apollo, Artemis, Hermes, Persephone, Dionysus, Perseus, Heracles, Helen of Troy, Minos, and the Muses.

He was respected as an all-father who was chief of the gods and assigned roles to the others: "Even the gods who are not his natural children address him as Father, and all the gods rise in his presence." He was equated with many foreign weather gods, permitting Pausanias to observe "That Zeus is king in heaven is a saying common to all men". Zeus' symbols are the thunderbolt, eagle, bull, and oak. In addition to his Indo-European inheritance, the classical "cloud-gatherer" also derives certain iconographic traits from the cultures of the ancient Near East, such as the scepter. Zeus is frequently depicted by Greek artists in one of three poses: standing, striding forward with a thunderbolt leveled in his raised right hand, or seated in majesty.

All pictures are © Dr. Günther Eichhorn, unless otherwise noted.

Zeus Mythology

King of the Gods, God of the sky, lightning, thunder, law, order, justice,
He is a member of the Twelve Olympians.


In Hesiod's Theogony (c. 730 - 700 BCE), Cronus, after castrating his father Uranus, becomes the supreme ruler of the cosmos, and weds his sister Rhea, by whom he begets three daughters and three sons: Hestia, Demeter, Hera, Hades, Poseidon, and lastly, "wise" Zeus, the youngest of the six. He swallows each child as soon as they are born, having received a prophecy from his parents, Gaia and Uranus, that one of his own children is destined to one day overthrow him as he overthrew his father. This causes Rhea "unceasing grief", and upon becoming pregnant with her sixth child, Zeus, she approaches her parents, Gaia and Uranus, seeking a plan to save her child and bring retribution to Cronus. Following her parents' instructions, she travels to Lyctus in Crete, where she gives birth to Zeus, handing the newborn child over to Gaia for her to raise, and Gaia takes him to a cave on Mount Aegaeon. Rhea then gives to Cronus, in the place of a child, a stone wrapped in swaddling clothes, which he promptly swallows, unaware that it isn't his son.

While Hesiod gives Lyctus as Zeus's birthplace, he is the only source to do so, and other authors give different locations. The poet Eumelos of Corinth (8th century BCE), according to John the Lydian, considered Zeus to have been born in Lydia, while the Alexandrian poet Callimachus (c. 310 - c. 240 BCE), in his Hymn to Zeus, says that he was born in Arcadia. Diodorus Siculus (fl. 1st century BCE) seems at one point to give Mount Ida as his birthplace, but later states he is born in Dicte, and the mythographer Apollodorus (first or second century CE) similarly says he was born in a cave in Dicte.


While the Theogony says nothing of Zeus's upbringing other than that he grew up swiftly, other sources provide more detailed accounts.

According to Apollodorus, Rhea, after giving birth to Zeus in a cave in Dicte, gives him to the nymphs Adrasteia and Ida, daughters of Melisseus, to nurse. They feed him on the milk of the she-goat Amalthea, while the Kouretes guard the cave and beat their spears on their shields so that Cronus cannot hear the infant's crying. Diodorus Siculus provides a similar account, saying that, after giving birth, Rhea travels to Mount Ida and gives the newborn Zeus to the Kouretes, who then takes him to some nymphs (not named), who raised him on a mixture of honey and milk from the goat Amalthea. He also refers to the Kouretes "rais[ing] a great alarum", and in doing so deceiving Cronus, and relates that when the Kouretes were carrying the newborn Zeus that the umbilical cord fell away at the river Triton.

Hyginus, in his Fabulae, relates a version in which Cronus casts Poseidon into the sea and Hades to the Underworld instead of swallowing them. When Zeus is born, Hera (also not swallowed), asks Rhea to give her the young Zeus, and Rhea gives Cronus a stone to swallow. Hera gives him to Amalthea, who hangs his cradle from a tree, where he isn't in heaven, on earth or in the sea, meaning that when Cronus later goes looking for Zeus, he is unable to find him. Hyginus also says that Ida, Althaea, and Adrasteia, usually considered the children of Oceanus, are sometimes called the daughters of Melisseus and the nurses of Zeus.

According to a fragment of Epimenides, the nymphs Helike and Kynosura are the young Zeus's nurses. Cronus travels to Crete to look for Zeus, who, to conceal his presence, transforms himself into a snake and his two nurses into bears.

Ascension to Power

According to the Theogony, after Zeus reaches manhood, Cronus is made to disgorge the five children and the stone "by the stratagems of Gaia, but also by the skills and strength of Zeus", presumably in reverse order, vomiting out the stone first, then each of the five children in the opposite order to swallowing. Zeus then sets up the stone at Delphi, so that it may act as "a sign thenceforth and a marvel to mortal men". Zeus next frees the Cyclopes, who, in return, and out of gratitude, give him his thunderbolt, which had previously been hidden by Gaia. Then begins the Titanomachy, the war between the Olympians, led by Zeus, and the Titans, led by Cronus, for control of the universe, with Zeus and the Olympians fighting from Mount Olympus, and the Titans fighting from Mount Othrys. The battle lasts for ten years with no clear victor emerging, until, upon Gaia's advice, Zeus releases the Hundred-Handers, who (similarly to the Cyclopes) were imprisoned beneath the Earth's surface. He gives them nectar and ambrosia and revives their spirits, and they agree to aid him in the war. Zeus then launches his final attack on the Titans, hurling bolts of lightning upon them while the Hundred-Handers attack with barrages of rocks, and the Titans are finally defeated, with Zeus banishing them to Tartarus and assigning the Hundred-Handers the task of acting as their warders.

Apollodorus provides a similar account, saying that, when Zeus reaches adulthood, he enlists the help of the Oceanid Metis, who gives Cronus an emetic, forcing to him to disgorge the stone and Zeus's five siblings. Zeus then fights a similar ten-year war against the Titans, until, upon the prophesying of Gaia, he releases the Cyclopes and Hundred-Handers from Tartarus, first slaying their warder, Campe. The Cyclopes give him his thunderbolt, Poseidon his trident and Hades his helmet of invisibility, and the Titans are defeated and the Hundred-Handers made their guards.

According to the Iliad, after the battle with the Titans, Zeus shares the world with his brothers, Poseidon and Hades, by drawing lots: Zeus receives the sky, Poseidon the sea, and Hades the underworld, with the earth and Olympus remaining common ground.

Challenges to Power

Upon assuming his place as king of the cosmos, Zeus' rule is quickly challenged. The first of these challenges to his power comes from the Giants, who fight the Olympian gods in a battle known as the Gigantomachy. According to Hesiod, the Giants are the offspring of Gaia, born from the drops of blood that fell on the ground when Cronus castrated his father Uranus; there is, however, no mention of a battle between the gods and the Giants in the Theogony. It is Apollodorus who provides the most complete account of the Gigantomachy. He says that Gaia, out of anger at how Zeus had imprisoned her children, the Titans, bore the Giants to Uranus. There comes to the gods a prophecy that the Giants cannot be defeated by the gods on their own, but can be defeated only with the help of a mortal; Gaia, upon hearing of this, seeks a special pharmakon (herb) that will prevent the Giants from being killed. Zeus, however, orders Eos (Dawn), Selene (Moon) and Helios (Sun) to stop shining, and harvests all of the herb himself, before having Athena summon Heracles. In the conflict, Porphyrion, one of the most powerful of the Giants, launches an attack upon Heracles and Hera; Zeus, however, causes Porphyrion to become lustful for Hera, and when he is just about to violate her, Zeus strikes him with his thunderbolt, before Heracles deals the fatal blow with an arrow.

In the Theogony, after Zeus defeats the Titans and banishes them to Tartarus, his rule is challenged by the monster Typhon, a giant serpentine creature who battles Zeus for control of the cosmos. According to Hesiod, Typhon is the offspring of Gaia and Tartarus, described as having a hundred snaky fire-breathing heads. Hesiod says he "would have come to reign over mortals and immortals" had it not been for Zeus noticing the monster and dispatching with him quickly: the two of them meet in a cataclysmic battle, before Zeus defeats him easily with his thunderbolt, and the creature is hurled down to Tartarus. Epimenides presents a different version, in which Typhon makes his way into Zeus's palace while he is sleeping, only for Zeus to wake and kill the monster with a thunderbolt. Aeschylus and Pindar give somewhat similar accounts to Hesiod, in that Zeus overcomes Typhon with relative ease, defeating him with his thunderbolt. Apollodorus, in contrast, provides a more complex narrative. Typhon is, similarly to in Hesiod, the child of Gaia and Tartarus, produced out of anger at Zeus's defeat of the Giants. The monster attacks heaven, and all of the gods, out of fear, transform into animals and flee to Egypt, except for Zeus, who attacks the monster with his thunderbolt and sickle. Typhon is wounded and retreats to Mount Kasios in Syria, where Zeus grapples with him, giving the monster a chance to wrap him in his coils, and rip out the sinews from his hands and feet. Disabled, Zeus is taken by Typhon to the Corycian Cave in Cilicia, where he is guarded by the "she-dragon" Delphyne. Hermes and Aegipan, however, steal back Zeus's sinews, and refit them, reviving him and allowing him to return to the battle, pursuing Typhon, who flees to Mount Nysa; there, Typhon is given "ephemeral fruits" by the Moirai, which reduce his strength. The monster then flees to Thrace, where he hurls mountains at Zeus, which are sent back at him by the god's thunderbolts, before, while fleeing to Sicily, Zeus launches Mount Etna upon him, finally ending him. Nonnus, who gives the most longest and most detailed account from antiquity, presents a narrative similar to Apollodorus, with differences such as that it is instead Cadmus and Pan who recovers Zeus's sinews, by luring Typhon with music and then tricking him.

In the Iliad, Homer tells of another attempted overthrow, in which Hera, Poseidon, and Athena conspire to overpower Zeus and tie him in bonds. It is only because of the Nereid Thetis, who summons Briareus, one of the Hecatoncheires, to Olympus, that the other Olympians abandon their plans (out of fear for Briareus).

Seven wives of Zeus

According to Hesiod, Zeus had seven wives. His first wife was the Oceanid Metis, whom he swallowed on the advice of Gaia and Uranus, so that no son of his by Metis would overthrow him, as had been foretold. Later, their daughter Athena would be born from the forehead of Zeus.

Zeus's next marriage was to his aunt and advisor Themis, who bore the Horae (Seasons) and the Moirai (Fates). Zeus then married the Oceanid Eurynome, who bore the three Charites (Graces).

Zeus's fourth wife was his sister, Demeter, who bore Persephone. The fifth wife of Zeus was his aunt, the Titan Mnemosyne, whom he seduced in the form of a mortal shepherd. Zeus and Mnemosyne had the nine Muses. His sixth wife was the Titan Leto, who gave birth to Apollo and Artemis on the island of Delos.

Zeus's seventh and final wife was his older sister Hera.

Zeus was the brother and consort of Hera. According to Pausanias, Zeus had turned himself into a cuckoo to woo Hera. By Hera, Zeus sired Ares, Hebe, Eileithyia and Hephaestus, though some accounts say that Hera produced these offspring alone. Some also include Eris, Enyo and Angelos as their daughters. In the section of the Iliad known to scholars as the Deception of Zeus, the two of them are described as having begun their sexual relationship without their parents knowing about it.

According to a scholion on Theocritus' Idylls, when Hera was heading toward Mount Thornax alone, Zeus created a terrible storm and transformed himself into a cuckoo bird who flew down and sat on her lap. When Hera saw the cuckoo, she felt pity for him and covered him with her cloak. Zeus then transformed back and took hold of her; because she was refusing to sleep with him due to their mother, he promised to marry her. In one account Hera refused to marry Zeus and hid in a cave to avoid him; an earth born man named Achilles convinced her to give him a chance, and thus the two had their first sexual intercourse. Zeus then promised Achilles that every person who bore his name shall become famous.

A variation goes that Hera had been reared by a nymph named Macris on the island of Euboea, but Zeus stole her away, where Mt. Cithaeron, in the words of Plutarch, "afforded them a shady recess". When Macris came to look for her ward, the mountain-god Cithaeron drove her away, saying that Zeus was taking his pleasure there with Leto.

According to Callimachus, their wedding feast lasted three thousand years. The Apples of the Hesperides that Heracles was tasked by Eurystheus to take were a wedding gift by Gaia to the couple.

Zeus mated with several nymphs and was seen as the father of many mythical mortal progenitors of Hellenic dynasties. Aside from his seven wives, relationships with immortals included Dione and Maia. Among mortals were Semele, Io, Europa and Leda (for more details, see below) and with the young Ganymede (although he was mortal Zeus granted him eternal youth and immortality).

Many myths render Hera as jealous of his affairs and a consistent enemy of Zeus' mistresses and their children by him. For a time, a nymph named Echo had the job of distracting Hera from his affairs by talking incessantly, and when Hera discovered the deception, she cursed Echo to repeat the words of others.

According to Diodorus Siculus, Alcmene, the mother of Heracles, was the very last mortal woman Zeus ever slept with; following the birth of Heracles, he ceased to beget humans altogether, and fathered no more children.

Prometheus and conflicts with humans

When the gods met at Mecone to discuss which portions they will receive after a sacrifice, the titan Prometheus decided to trick Zeus so that humans receive the better portions. He sacrificed a large ox, and divided it into two piles. In one pile he put all the meat and most of the fat, covering it with the ox's grotesque stomach, while in the other pile, he dressed up the bones with fat. Prometheus then invited Zeus to choose; Zeus chose the pile of bones. This set a precedent for sacrifices, where humans will keep the fat for themselves and burn the bones for the gods.

Zeus, enraged at Prometheus's deception, prohibited the use of fire by humans. Prometheus, however, stole fire from Olympus in a fennel stalk and gave it to humans. This further enraged Zeus, who punished Prometheus by binding him to a cliff, where an eagle constantly ate Prometheus's liver, which regenerated every night. Prometheus was eventually freed from his misery by Heracles.

Now Zeus, angry at humans, decides to give humanity a punishing gift to compensate for the boon they had been given. He commands Hephaestus to mold from earth the first woman, a "beautiful evil" whose descendants would torment the human race. After Hephaestus does so, several other gods contribute to her creation. Hermes names the woman 'Pandora'.

Pandora was given in marriage to Prometheus's brother Epimetheus. Zeus gave her a jar which contained many evils. Pandora opened the jar and released all the evils, which made mankind miserable. Only hope remained inside the jar.

When Zeus was atop Mount Olympus he was appalled by human sacrifice and other signs of human decadence. He decided to wipe out mankind and flooded the world with the help of his brother Poseidon. After the flood, only Deucalion and Pyrrha remained. This flood narrative is a common motif in mythology.

Other myths

Zeus slept with his great-granddaughter, Alcmene, disguised as her husband Amphitryon. This resulted in the birth of Heracles, who would be tormented by Zeus's wife Hera for the rest of his life. After his death, Heracles's mortal parts were incinerated and he joined the gods on Olympus. He married Zeus and Hera's daughter, Hebe, and had two sons with her, Alexiares and Anicetus.

When Hades requested to marry Zeus's daughter, Persephone, Zeus approved and advised Hades to abduct Persephone, as her mother Demeter wouldn't allow her to marry Hades.

Zeus fell in love with Semele, the daughter of Cadmus and Harmonia, and started an affair with her. Hera discovered his affair when Semele later became pregnant, and persuaded Semele to sleep with Zeus in his true form. When Zeus showed his true form to Semele, his lightning and thunderbolts burned her to death. Zeus saved the fetus by stitching it into his thigh, and the fetus would be born as Dionysus.

In the Orphic "Rhapsodic Theogony" (first century BCE/CE), Zeus wanted to marry his mother Rhea. After Rhea refused to marry him, Zeus turned into a snake and raped her. Rhea became pregnant and gave birth to Persephone. Zeus in the form of a snake would mate with his daughter Persephone, which resulted in the birth of Dionysus.

Zeus granted Callirrhoe's prayer that her sons by Alcmaeon, Acarnan and Amphoterus, grow quickly so that they might be able to avenge the death of their father by the hands of Phegeus and his two sons.

Both Zeus and Poseidon wooed Thetis, daughter of Nereus. But when Themis (or Prometheus) prophesied that the son born of Thetis would be mightier than his father, Thetis was married off to the mortal Peleus.

Zeus was afraid that his grandson Asclepius would teach resurrection to humans, so he killed Asclepius with his thunderbolt. This angered Asclepius's father, Apollo, who in turn killed the Cyclopes who had fashioned the thunderbolts of Zeus. Angered at this, Zeus would have imprisoned Apollo in Tartarus. However, at the request of Apollo's mother, Leto, Zeus instead ordered Apollo to serve as a slave to King Admetus of Pherae for a year. According to Diodorus Siculus, Zeus killed Asclepius because of complains from Hades, who was worried that the number of people in the underworld was diminishing because of Asclepius's resurrections.

The winged horse Pegasus carried the thunderbolts of Zeus.

Zeus took pity on Ixion, a man who was guilty of murdering his father-in-law, by purifying him and bringing him to Olympus. However, Ixion started to lust after Hera. Hera complained about this to her husband, and Zeus decided to test Ixion. Zeus fashioned a cloud that resembles Hera (Nephele) and laid the cloud-Hera in Ixion's bed. Ixion coupled with Nephele, resulting in the birth of Centaurus. Zeus punished Ixion for lusting after Hera by tying him to a wheel that spins forever.

Once, Helios the sun god gave his chariot to his inexperienced son Phaethon to drive. Phaethon could not control his father's steeds so he ended up taking the chariot too high, freezing the earth, or too low, burning everything to the ground. The earth itself prayed to Zeus, and in order to prevent further disaster, Zeus hurled a thunderbolt at Phaethon, killing him and saving the world from further harm. In a satirical work, Dialogues of the Gods by Lucian, Zeus berates Helios for allowing such thing to happen; he returns the damaged chariot to him and warns him that if he dares do that again, he will strike him with one of this thunderbolts.

Zeus Pictures

Temple Zeus Valle Dei
Temple of Zeus in the Valle dei Templi, Sicily, Italy (from 480 BCE). (1212k)
Temple Zeus Aizanoi Çavdarhisar
Temple of Zeus in Aizanoi (Çavdarhisar), Turkey (from 92 CE). (706k)
Temple Zeus Euromos Turkey
Temple of Zeus in Euromos, Turkey (from 2nd century BCE). (1033k)
Temple Zeus Labranda Turkey
Temple of Zeus in Labranda, Turkey (from 6th century BCE). (947k)
Temple Zeus Dodona Greece
Temple of Zeus in Dodona, Greece (from 290 BCE). (1.7M)
Temple Zeus Olympia Greece
Temple of Zeus in Olympia, Greece (from 457 BCE). (1000k)
Zeus Center East Pediment
Zeus in the center of he east pediment of the Zeus Temple, from Olympia, Greece. (615k)
Bronze Statue Zeus Holding
Bronze statue of Zeus holding a thunderbolt, from Olympia, Greece (from 470-460 BCE). (441k)
Terracotta Statue Zeus Ganymede
Terracotta statue of Zeus and Ganymede, from Olympia, Greece (beginning of 5th century BCE). (645k)

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