Zeus

Olympian God of the Sky
King of the Gods

Zeus was the Olympian god of the sky and was worshipped as king of the Greek Gods. He was the dominant god of the Olympian pantheon, and in the Iliad is seen as the father of both Gods and men, ruling over all from Olympus or from the heavens (which was effectively the same thing).

Role

Zeus was associated with the sky, clouds and weather formations. He is mostly recognized as the God of the sky, thunder and lightning but he would also cause good weather, summer breezes, wind, rain, hail and snow.

As King of Gods and humans, Zeus oversaw human life and actions and controlled the fate of mortals. He was especially concerned with the relations among human beings which require good faith and justice: commerce, hospitality, property and the sanctity of oaths.

The ancient Greeks also used the myths about Zeus to establish the idea that all Greek tribes sprang from Zeus, thus connecting the god with their history and traditions.

Zeus had many epithets (titles-adjectives that characterize him ) related to his various functions, characteristics and responsibilities. Some of the most important ones were:

  • Zeus aegiduchos (bearing the Aegis ) – bearer of the Aegis, ready to strike down his enemies.
  • Zeus agoraeus (of the market ) – protector of commerce.
  • Zeus genarhis (creator, father of tribes/nations ) – being the one from whom tribes/nations sprang.
  • Zeus hikesios (of supplication )  -protector of suppliants.
  • Zeus horkios (of oaths ) – protector of the sanctity of oaths.
  • Zeus keravnios (of thunders ) – bearing and controlling thunders.
  • Zeus megistos (the greatest ) – acknowledged as the greatest among Gods and humans.
  • Zeus olympios (of Olympus ) – acknowledged as residing in (and ruling from) Olympus.
  • Zeus xenios (of hospitality ) – protector of hospitality relations, guests and strangers.

God Zeus head

ZEUS at a Glance
Roman nameJupiter
GenderMale
TypeDeity
Rules over - In charge ofSkies, Thunder, Lightning, Weather Formations, Justice, Order, Hospitality, Honor, Kingship
SymbolsThunderbolt, Royal Sceptre, Aegis, Set of Scales, Oak
Sacred AnimalsEagle, Wolf, Woodpecker
ParentsCronus and Rhea
SpouseMetis, Hera
Most Important ChildrenApollo, Ares, Artemis, Athena, Heracles, Hermes, Dionysus, Hephaestus, Persephone (see full list below)

Physical Features, Symbols and Character

Zeus is usually depicted as a mature, regal, bearded figure holding a sceptre or thunderbolt. His main symbol is the thunderbolt, but others include the Aegis, the royal sceptre, a set of scales and the oak.

Zeus was considered to be wise and just but easily angered, capable of mass destruction. He fell easily in love and had numerous affairs, but he was not considered a sexually insatiable god.

Mythology

Zeus was the son of the Titans Cronus and Rhea. Cronus wed his sister Rhea, and they gave birth to the Olympian gods Demeter, Hades, Hera, Hestia, Poseidon, and Zeus. Fearing that his children would overthrow him, Cronus would swallow each child shortly after its birth. However, when Zeus was born, Rhea wrapped a stone in swaddling clothes and gave it to Cronus in place of the baby.

Zeus grew up on the island of Crete under the protection of the Curetes. With his mother’s help he succeeded in having his father disgorge his other children. He then took part in the Titanomachy, the war between the Gods and the Titans, eventually beating the Titans, overthrowing his father and becoming King himself. After establishing his rule, he married Hera, making her Queen of the Gods.

Zeus had many affairs, both with Goddesses and with mortals and fathered many children. A thorough list can be seen below.

Zeus Family Tree - Wives and Children

Etymology

The name Zeus (gr. Ζεύς) derives from the root -div , which means “sky”. Furthermore, the phrase “father Zeus” (gr. Ζεύς πατήρ) directly corresponds to the Roman “Diespiter” (Jupiter), the Umbri “Jupater” and the old Indian “Dyaous Pitar”, meaning that the invocation to Zeus as a father is very old.

Sources

Classical sources (selective, since myths concerning Zeus can be found throughout ancient literature): Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey; the Homeric Hymns, the Orphic Hymns, Aeschylus’s Agamemnon, Libation Bearers, Eumenides, Suppliants, and Prometheus Bound; Apollodorus’s Library; Diodorus Siculus’s Library of History; Hesiod’s Theogony and Works and Days; Pausanias’s Description of Greece; Hyginus’s Fabulae; Ovid’s Fasti and Metamorphoses;Virgil’s Aeneid and Georgics.