Zeus was a god in ancient Greek religion and the sureme ruler of Mount Olympus and of the gods (Olympians) who resided there. He was known as the “Father of Gods and men”. In Greek mythology, he is also cast as the god of sky and thunder. He is identified with the Roman god, Jupiter.
His parents were Cronus and Rhea and Zeus was the youngest of the children. Ancient Greek myths record that Cronus had several children but swallowed them as soon as they were born as he had learned (from Gaia and Uranus. He himself had overthrown his father, Uranus.) that a son would overthrow him. Zeus would later come to hear the same oracle. When Zeus was about to be born, Rhea gave her husband a rock wrapped in cloth which Cronos swallowed, thus saving Zeus. She then hid him in a cave on Mount Ida in Crete and Crete is commonly believed to be the birthplace of Zeus.
Several variations exist as to who raised Zeus, including those involving Gaia, Adamanthea or Cynosura (both nymphs), Melissa and a shepard.
|Zeus of Otricoli – A copy by the Romans (257CE) of the original and currently in the Vatican.|
Once Zeus was a man, he forced his father to disgorge the stone and then the rest of his siblings. In addition, he also forced his father to release his uncles, the Cyclopes and the Gigantes. It was the Cyclopes who gave Zeus thunder and the thunderbolt as a sign of gratitude. Together with his brothers, the Gigantes, Hecatonchires and Cyclopes, Zeus overthrew his father and imprisoned him in the underworld known as Tartarus (”The Titan War”).
After the battle, Zeus split the world with his elder brothers. Poseidon ruled the waters, Hades got the world of the dead and Zeus got the sky and air. Gaia, the earth, could not be claimed and was left to all three, each according to his own capabilities. Even though Zeus was god of the sky and air, his status was that of father-god.
He married Hera (according to the IIian, his consort at the oracle of Dodona was Dione, one of many affairs he is reputed to have had) who bore a daughter Aphrodite. Amongst his other children were Athena, Apoloog, Artemis, Dionysus, Heracles, Helen of Troy, Mions and Hermes. That he is said to have fathered so many children may be as a result of his title in ancient mythology – as ”father” to the gods, many gods in mythology would have addressed him as ”father”.
There were various ”Zeus cults” spread across Greece, each emphasising a particular aspect of Zeus”s character. For instance, in Athens and Sicily, Greeks honored Zeus Meilichios (“kindly” Zeus) while Zeus Lykaios (“wolf-Zeus”) was worshipped at the Lykaia festival. The cult of Zeus of Dodona in Epirus was famous for its divination, carried out by priests who studied the rustling leaves of a sacred oak.
Despite his father image, Zeus was brutal if oaths were broken or wrongs committed against him. Some of the myths record that he turned Pandareus to stone for stealing the golden dog which had guarded him as an infant, turned King Haemus and Queen Rhodope into mountains (the Balkan and Rhodope mountains respectively) for their vanity, punished Hera by having her hung upside down from the sky when she attempted to drown Heracles in a storm and blinded the seer Phineus and sent the Harpies to plague him as punishment for revealing the secrets of the gods. He has therefore amassed considerable respect as a god that punishes those that lie or break oaths. In a sense, this also signals that Zeus was not omniscient like other gods but he could be lied to and tricked by mortals. It was well understood that despite his power, Zeus did not control the destiny or fate of an individual.
Symbols attributed to Zeus are the eagle, bull, oak and thunderbolt. It is said he kept a golden eagle by his side at all times to represent power and authority. He is often depicted with a thunderbolt in his raised right hand. Sacrifices to Zeus were commonly that of a white animal over a raised alter. Interestingly, the bull on the Greek two Euro coin represents Zeus. The Goddess Nike (Victoria) was an attendant to Zeus as was his cup-bearer Hebe, who was also his daughter. When Hebe married Heraclas, she was replaced by Ganymede.
Zeus depicted with the thunderbolt and eagle.