), the greatest of the Olympian gods, and the father of gods and men, was a son of Cronos and Rhea, a brother of Poseidon, Hades (Pluto), Hestia, Demeter, Hera, and at the same time married to his sister Hera. When Zeus and his brothers distributed among themselves the government of the world by lot, Poseidon obtained the sea, Hades the lower world, and Zeus the heavens and the upper regions, but the earth became common to all (Hom. Il. 15.187
, &c., 1.528, 2.111; Verg. A. 4.372
). Later mythologers enumerate three Zeus in their genealogies two Arcadian ones and one Cretan; and tne first is said to be a son of Aether, the second of Coelus, and the third of Saturnus (Cic. de Nat. Deor.
This accounts for the fact that some writers use the name of the king of heaven who sends dew, rain, snow, thunder, and lightning for heaven itself in its physical sense. (Hor. Carm. 1.1.25
; Verg. G. 2.419
According to the Homeric account Zeus, like the other Olympian gods, dwelt on Mount Olympus in Thessaly, which was believed to penetrate with its lofty summit into heaven itself (Il. 1.221
, &c., 354, 609, 21.438).
He is called the father of gods and men (1.514, 5.33; comp. Aeschyl. Sept.
512), the most high and powerful among the immortals, whom all others obey (Il. 19.258
He is the highest ruler, who with his counsel manages every thing (1.175, 8.22), the founder of kingly power, of law and of order, whence Dice, Themis and Nemesis are his assistants (1.238, 2.205, 9.99, 16.387; comp. Hes. Op. et D. 36 ;
Callim. Hymn. in Jov. 79
). For the same reason he protects the assembly of the people (ἀγοραῖος
, the meetings of the council (βουλαῖος
), and as he presides over the whole state, so also over every house and family (ἑρκεῖος
, Od. 22.335
; comp. Ov. Ib. 285
He also watched over the sanctity of the oath (ὅρκιος
), the law of hospitality (ξένιος
), and protected suppliants (ἱκέσιος
, Od. 9.270
; comp. Paus. 5.24.2
He avenged those who were wronged, and punished those who had committed a crime, for he watched the doings and sufferings of all men (ἐπόψιος
, Od. 13.213
; comp. Apollon. 1.1123
He was further the original source of all prophetic power, front whom all prophetic signs and sounds proceeded (πανομφαῖος
, Il. 8.250
; comp. Aeschyl. Eum. 19 ;
Callim. Hymn. in Jov. 69
). Every thing good as well as bad comes from Zeus, and according to his own choice he assigns their good or evil lot to mortals (Od. 4.237
, Il. 10.71
, &c.), and fate itself was subordinate to him.
He is armed with thunder and lightning, and the shaking of his aegis produces storm and tempest (Il. 17.593
) : a number of epithets of Zeus in the Homeric poems describe him as the thunderer, the gatherer of clouds, and the like.
He was married to Hera, by whom he had two sons, Ares and Hephaestus, and one daughter, Hebe (Il. 1.585
, Od. 11.604
). Hera sometimes acts as an independent divinity, she is ambitious and rebels against her lord, but she is nevertheless inferior to him, and is punished for her opposition (Il. 15.17
, &c., 19.95, &c.) ; his amours with other goddesses or mortal women are not concealed from her, though they generally rouse her jealousy and revenge (Il. 14.317
). During the Trojan war, Zeus, at the request of Thetis, favoured the Trojans, until Agamemnon made good the wrong he had done to Achilles. Zeus, no doubt, was originally a god of a portion of nature, whence the oak with its eatable fruit and the fertile doves were sacred to him at Dodona and in Arcadia (hence also rain, storms, and the seasons were regarded as his work, and hence the Cretan stories of milk, honey, and cornucopia) ; but in the Homeric poems, this primitive character of a personification of certain powers of nature is already effaced to some extent, and the god appears as a political and national divinity, as the king and father of men, as the founder and protector of all institutions hallowed by law, custom. or religion.
Hesiod (Theog. 116,
&c.) also calls Zeus the son of Cronos and Rhea 1
, and the brother of Hestia, Demeter, Hera, Hades, and Poseidon. Crones swallowed his children immediately after their birth, but when Rhea was near giving birth to Zeus, she applied to Uranus and Ge for advice as to how the child might be saved.
Before the hour of birth came, Uranus and Ge sent Rhea to Lyetos in Crete, requesting her to bring up her child there. Rhea accordingly concealed her infant in a cave of Mount Aegaeon, and gave to Cronos a stone wrapped up in cloth, which he swallowed in the belief that it was his son. Other traditions state that Zeus was born and brought up on Mount Dicte or Ida (also the Trojan Ida), Ithome in Messenia, Thebes in Boeotia, Aegion in Achaia, or Olenos in Aetolia.
According to the common account, however, Zeus grew up in Crete.
In the meantime Cronos by a cunning device of Ge or Metis was made to bring up the children he had swallowed, and first of all the stone, which was afterwards set up by Zeus at Delphi.
The young god now delivered the Cyclopes from the bonds with which they had been fettered by Cronos, and they in their gratitude provided him with thunder and lightning. On the advice of Ge. Zeus also liberated the hundred-armed Gigantes, Briareos, Cottus, and Gyes, that they might assist him in his fight against the Titans. (Apollod. 1.2
. § 1; Hes. Theog. 617,
&c.) The Titans were conquered and shut up in Tartarus (Theog. 717
), where they were henceforth guarded by the Hecatoncheires. Thereupon Tartarus and Ge begot Typhoeus, who began a fearful struggle with Zeus, but was conquered. (Theog. 820,
&c.) Zeus now obtained the dominion of the world, and chose Metis for his wife. (Theog. 881,
&c.) When she was pregnant with Athena, he took the child out of her body and concealed it in his own, on the advice of Uranus and Ge, who told him that thereby he would retain the supremacy of the world. For Metis had given birth to a son, this son (so fate had ordained it) would have acquired the sovereignty.
After this Zeus, by his second wife Themis. became the father of the Horae and Moerae; of the Charites by Eurynome, of Persephone by Demeter, of the Muses by Mnemosyne, of Apollo and Artemis by Leto, and of Hebe, Ares, and Eileithyia by Hera. Athena was born out of the head of Zeus; while Hera, on the other hand, gave birth to Hephaestus without the co-operation of Zeus. (Theog. 8866,
The family of the Cronidae accordingly embraces the twelve great gods of Olympus, Zeus (the head of them all), Poseidon, Apollo, Ares, Hermes, Hephaestus, Hestia, Demeter, Hera, Athena, Aphrodite, and Artemis.
These twelve Olympian gods, who in some places were worshipped as a body, as at Athens (Thueyd. 6.54), were recognised not only by the Greeks, but were adopted also by the Romans, who, in particular, identified their Jupiter with the Greek Zeus.
In surveying the different local traditions about Zeus, it would seem that originally there were several, at least three, divinities which in their respective countries were supreme, but which in the course of time became united in the minds of the people into one great national divinity. We may accordingly speak of an Arcadian, Dodonaean, Cretan, and a national Hellenic Zeus.