Zeus (in ancient Greek: Ζεύς; transl. Zeús; in modern Greek: Δίας, transl. Días) is the father of the gods (πατὴρ ἀνδρῶν τε θεῶν τε, patēr andrōn te theōn te), who exercised authority over the Olympian gods in ancient Greek religion.
He is the god of the heavens, lightning, lightning that maintains order and justice in Greek mythology. His Roman equivalent is Jupiter, while his Etruscan equivalent is Tinia; some authors have established his Hindu equivalent to be Indra.
Son of the titan Cronos and Reia, Zeus is the youngest of his siblings; in most traditions he is married, first to Métis, begetting the goddess Athena, and then to Hera, although in the Dodona oracle his wife is Dione, with whom, according to the Iliad, he is said to have begotten Aphrodite.
He is known for his erotic adventures, which often resulted in divine and heroic offspring, such as Athena, Apollo and Artemis, Hermes, Persephone (with Demeter), Dionysus, Perseus, Heracles, Helen of Troy, Minos, and the Muses (from Mnemosyne); with Hera, he would have had Ares, Enius, Ilithia, Eris, Hebe, and Hephaestus.
As German scholar Walter Burkert pointed out in his book Greek Religion, "even the gods who are not natural children of Zeus address him as Father, and all the gods stand before his presence." For the Greeks, he was the King of the Gods, who oversaw the universe.
In the words of the ancient geographer Pausanias, "that Zeus is king in the heavens is a saying common to all men. "In Hesiod's Theogony, Zeus is responsible for delegating to each of the gods their proper functions. In the Homeric Hymns he is referred to as the "chief of the gods."
His symbols are the lightning bolt, the eagle, the bull, and the oak tree. In addition to his clear Indo-European heritage, his classical description as "gatherer of clouds" also derives certain iconographic features from Ancient Near Eastern cultures, such as the scepter.
Zeus was often depicted by ancient Greek artists in two different poses: in one, standing, leaning forward, wielding a thunderbolt at the height of his upraised right hand; in the other sitting, in a majestic pose. There were many statues erected in his honor, of which the most magnificent was his statue in Olympia, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Originally, the Olympic Games were held in his honor.
In Greek, the god's name is Ζεύς, Zeús, AFI: [zdeús] (nominative : Ζεύς, Zeús; vocative : Ζεῦ, Zeû; accusative: Δία, Día; genitive: Διός, Diós; dative: Διί, Dií). In the Minoan Civilization, Zeus was not worshipped by the general population, but only in small minority cults that saw him as a demigod who had eventually been killed.
The earliest records of his name are in Mycenaean Greek, in the forms di-we and di-wo, written in the Linear B syllabary.
Zeus, referred to poetically by the vocative Zeu pater ("O, father Zeus"), is a continuation of *Di̯ēus, the Proto-Indo-European god of the daytime sky, also called *Dyeus ph2tēr ("Father Sky").
This same god is known by this name in Sanskrit (Dyaus/Dyaus Pita), Latin (Jupiter, from Iuppiter, from the Proto-Indo-European vocative *dyeu-ph2tēr), which is derived from the basic form *dyeu- ("shine", and in its various derivatives - "sky", "god").
Already in Germanic mythology the parallel can be found in *Tīwaz > Old High Germanic Ziu, Old Norse Týr, while Latin also features the forms deus, dīvus and Dis (a variation of dīves), from the related noun *deiwos. For the Greeks and Romans, the sky god was also the supreme god. Zeus is the only deity of the Olympian pantheon whose name has such an evidently Indo-European etymology.
Epithets and titles
Zeus played a dominant role, presiding over the Olympian pantheon of Ancient Greece. He was the father of many heroes, and was part of several local cults. Although the Homeric "cloud-gatherer" was a god of heaven and thunder, like his Eastern counterparts, he was also the supreme cultural artifact; in a sense, he was the embodiment of Greek religious beliefs, and the archetype of Greek divinity.
In Neoplatonism, the figure of Zeus familiar to Greek mythology is associated with the Demiurge, or Divine Mind (nous). Specifically within Plotinus' work, Aeneads, and in Proclotus' Platonic Theology.
In addition to local epithets, which simply designated that the deity had done something in a particular place, the epithets or titles applied to Zeus emphasized different aspects of his broad authority:
Zeus Olympian, emphasized Zeus' kingship and his dominion over the gods, as well as his specific presence at the Pan-Hellenic Festival of Olympia. Pan-Hellenic Zeus ("Zeus of all the Hellenes"), to whom the famous temple of Aeacus in Aegina was dedicated.
Zeus Xenus, Philoxenus or Hóspites: Zeus who was the patron saint of hospitality and guests, ready to avenge any harm done to a stranger.
Zeus Orchus: Zeus protector of oaths. Liars who had been exposed were forced to dedicate a statue to Zeus, often in the shrine at Olympia.
Zeus Agoreus: Zeus who took care of business in the agora and punished dishonest merchants.
Zeus Egyptian: Zeus who carried the aegis, with which he infused terror into the wicked and their enemies. Other authors derived this epithet from αἴξ ("bitch") and οχή, interpreting it as an allusion to the legend according to which Zeus was said to have been suckled by Amalthea. Among other names and epithets given to Zeus are:
Zeus Meilichios (Meilichios, "easily accessible"): Zeus assimilated an archaic Attic daimon, propitiated in Athens, the Meilichios.
Zeus Taleus (Zeus Tallaios, "solar Zeus"): the Zeus who was worshipped in Crete.
Zeus Labrando (Labrandos): worshiped in Caria, his place of worship was at Labraunda, and he was depicted wielding a double-edged axe (labris). He was associated with the Hurrian god of the sky and storm, Texube.
Zeus Nao (Naos) and Zeus Bouleus (Bouleus): forms of Zeus worshiped at Dodona, the oldest oracle. Some authors believe that the names of their priests, the seals, would have given rise to the name Hellenes, given to the Greek people since antiquity.
Zeus Cassius: the Zeus of Mount Acra, a mountain valley between Syria and Turkey.
Zeus Ithomios or Ithomeus (Ithomatas): the Zeus of mount Itome, in Messenia. Zeus Astrapeus (Astrapios, "lightning") Zeus Brontius or Bronteus ("thunderous")
Birth of Zeus and his siblings
Kronos had several children with Reia: Hestia, Demeter, Hera, Hades, and Posidon, but swallowed them (minus Posidon, Hades, and Hera) as soon as they were born, after hearing from Gaia and Uranus that he was destined to be deposed by his son, just as he had deposed his own father-an oracle that Reia learned of and was able to prevent.
When Zeus was about to be born, Reia sought out Gaia and devised a plan to save him, so that Kronos would be punished for his actions against Uranus and his own children. Reia gave birth to Zeus on the island of Crete, and handed Kronos a stone wrapped in baby clothes, which he promptly swallowed.
Reia is said to have hidden Zeus in a cave in the Dícti hills of Crete. According to the various versions of the story, he would have been raised
by Gaia; by a goat named Amalteia, while a platoon of curettes - soldiers or lesser gods - danced, shouted and beat their spears against their shields so that Kronos would not hear the baby's cry (see cornucopia); by a goat named Aix (which belonged to the nymph Amalthea), and from her skin Zeus made the Aegis;
by a nymph named Adamanteia. As Kronos was lord of the earth, the heavens, and the sea, she hid him by hanging by a rope from a tree, so that he, being neither on earth, nor in heaven, nor in the sea, would have been invisible to his father;
by a nymph named Cinosura, and as thanks, Zeus would have placed her among the stars. by Melissa, who suckled him with goat's milk and honey.
King of the gods
After coming of age, Zeus forced Kronos to vomit first the stone that had been given him in his place - at Pito, under the valleys of Mount Parnassus, as a sign to mortals: the Onphalus, "navel" - and then his brothers, according to the order in which they had been swallowed.
In some versions, Métis gave Kronos an emetic to force him to vomit up the babies, while in another Zeus himself is said to have opened Kronos' belly with a cut. Zeus then freed Cronus' brothers, the giants, the hecatons, and the Cyclops, who were imprisoned in a dungeon in Tartarus, after killing Campe, the monster who watched over them.
To show their gratitude, the Cyclops presented him with thunder and lightning, which had previously been hidden by Gaia. Zeus then, along with his brothers and sisters, the giants, hecatons, and cyclops, deposed Kronos and the other titans during the battle known as Titanomachy. The titans, after being defeated, were dispatched to Tartarus, while one of them, Atlas, was condemned to permanently hold the sky.
After the battle against the titans, Zeus divided the world with his older brothers, Posidon and Hades: Zeus took the sky and the air, Posidon the waters, and Hades the world of the dead (the lower world).
The ancient Earth, Gaia, could not be divided, and therefore was left to all three, according to their abilities - which explains why Posidon was the "earth shaker" (the god of earthquakes), and Hades was left with the humans who died (see Pentos).
Gaia, however, did not approve of the way Zeus treated the titans, her children; soon after taking the throne as king of the gods, Zeus had to fight Gaia's other children: the monster Typhon and Echidna. Zeus defeated Typhon, imprisoning him under Mount Etna, but spared the lives of Echidna and her children.
Zeus and Hera
Zeus was Hera's brother and consort. He had three children with her: Ares, Hebe, and Hephaestus, although some accounts claim that Hera had them alone. Some versions also describe Ilithia and Eris as daughters of the couple. Zeus' amorous conquests, however, between nymphs and the mythological mortal progenitors of the Hellenic dynasties are famous.
Olympian mythography credits him with unions with Leto, Demeter, Dione, and Maia. Among the mortals he is said to have had relations with were Sêmele, Io, Europa and Leda and the young boy Ganymede, but Zeus gifted him with eternal youth and immortality.
Several myths mention Hera's suffering from the jealousy generated by these amorous conquests, and describe her as a consistent enemy of Zeus' mistresses and his children.
For a time a nymph named Echo was charged with distracting Hera by talking incessantly, thus drawing her attention away from her husband's love affairs; when Hera discovered the ruse, she condemned Echo to permanently repeat other people's words.
The main center of Zeus' cult, where all Greeks went when they wanted to pay homage to their main god, was Olympia. Every four years a festival was held, the high point of which was the famous Olympic Games. There was an altar to Zeus in the city, made not of stone but of ashes, obtained from the remains of animal sacrifices made there over centuries.
Outside of the shrines that were found in the major polis, there was no specific way of worshipping Zeus shared throughout the Greek world. Most of the titles listed below, for example, could be found in numerous Greek temples from Asia Minor to Sicily. Certain rituals were also common: the sacrifice of a white-colored animal on a raised altar, for example.
With only one exception, the Greeks were unanimous in recognizing the birthplace of Zeus as the island of Crete. The Minoan Civilization contributed several essential aspects of ancient Greek religion: "through a hundred channels the old civilization emptied itself into the new," observed American historian Will Durant, and the Cretan Zeus retained his original youthful features.
Velcan (Velchanos), a Hellenized version of the Minoan name for the local son of a mother goddess, "a small and inferior deity who assumed the roles of son and consort," was adopted as an epithet for Zeus, whose cult spread to several other locations.
In Crete, Zeus was worshipped in several caves (at Knossos, Ida, and Palecastro). During the Hellenistic period a small shrine dedicated to Zeus Velcano was founded near the modern city of Aghia Triada, on the ruins of an ancient Minoan palace.
Coins from the period originating in Festus show the form in which the god was worshipped: a young man sitting among the branches of a tree, with a rooster on his knees.
On other Cretan coins Velcano was depicted in the form of an eagle, and was associated with a goddess celebrating a mystical wedding. Inscriptions at Gortina and Lito recorded a festival referred to as Velcania (Velchania), which shows how widespread his worship still was in Hellenistic Crete.
The stories of Minos and Epimenides suggest that these caves had previously been used for incubatory divination by kings and priests. The dramatic setting of Plato's play Laws is set along a pilgrimage route to one of these sites, emphasizing archaic Cretan knowledge.
In the island's art, Zeus was depicted as a long-haired youth, rather than as, in the rest of Greece, a mature adult; hymns were chanted to him that described him as ho megas kouros, "the great young man." Ivory statuettes of the "Divine Boy" were unearthed near the Labyrinth of Knossos by Arthur Evans. Together with the curetes (kouretes), a group of armed ecstatic dancers, he presided over the secret and rigorous athletic-military training rituals of the Cretan paideia.
The myth of the death of the Cretan Zeus, found in several mountain sites but mentioned only in one comparatively late source - Chalimachus- together with the statement by the grammarian Antoninus Liberal that a fire was lit annually in the cave where the young man had been born and which he had shared with a mythical swarm of bees, suggests that Velcano would have been an annual deity associated with vegetation.
The Hellenistic author Everamer apparently proposed a theory that Zeus would have been a great king of Crete, and that, posthumously, his glory would have gradually transformed him into a deity. Everamerus' works have not survived to the present day, but were mentioned by later Christian authors.
The epithet Zeus Lyceum (Zeus Lykaios, "Zeus-wolf") was attributed to Zeus only when associated with the archaic festival of the Lycées at the locality of Lyceia, on the slopes of Mount Lyceum, the highest peak in Arcadia.
Zeus had only a formal association with the rituals and myths of this rite of passage which involved the ancient threat of cannibalism and the possibility of a transformation into a lycanthrope for the ephebians who participated in it. In the vicinity of the ancient pile of ashes on which the sacrifices were performed, was a forbidden enclosure into which, supposedly, no shadow was ever cast.
According to Plato, a specific clan would gather on the mountain to make a sacrifice to Zeus Lyceus every nine years, and a small amount of human entrails were added to the entrails of the sacrificed animal; the one who consumed the piece of human flesh would supposedly turn into a wolf, and would return to human form only if he did not consume human flesh again by the end of the next nine-year cycle.
There were games associated with the Lycée festival, which were discontinued in the 4th century BC with the urbanization of Arcadia (Megalopolis); there, the main temple was dedicated to Zeus Lyceus.
Apollo also had an ancient lupine form, Apollo Lyceus (Apollo Lycaeus), worshipped in Athens at the Lyceum (Lykeion), famous for being one of the places frequented by Aristotle, where he used to teach.
Although etymology indicates that Zeus was originally a celestial god, several Greek cities paid homage to a local version of Zeus who lived under the earth. The Athenians and Sicilians worshiped Zeus Melichios (Zeus Meilichios, "kindly" or "mellifluous"), while other cities had Zeus Cthononius (Zeus Chthonios, "earthly"), Zeus Catactonius (Zeus Katachthonios, "under the earth"), and Zeus Pluteus (Zeus Plousios, "bringer of riches").
These deities could be represented in the fine arts in the form of serpents, or in human form, or even as both in the same image. They also received offerings of the flesh of black animals sacrificed in pits in the ground, in the same way as was done for kthonic deities such as Persephone and Demeter, or as tributes dedicated to heroes in their graves - while the Olympian gods usually received white victims, sacrificed on high altars.
In some cases, cities did not determine precisely whether the daimon to whom they were dedicating the sacrifice was a hero or a subterranean Zeus; thus, the shrine at Lebadeia in Beotia belonged to both the hero Trophonius and Zeus Trophonius (Zeus Trophonius, "he who nourishes"), according to the version presented by Pausanias or Strabo.
The hero Anfiarau was worshiped as Zeus Anfiarau (Zeus Amphiaraus) at Oropo, outside Thebes, and the Spartans even had a shrine dedicated to Zeus Agamemnon.
In addition to the pan-Hellenic titles and concepts mentioned above, various local cults maintained their own idiosyncratic ideas about the king of gods and men. With the epithet Zeus Ethneus (Zeus Aetnaeus), he was venerated on Mount Etna, where there was a statue of him, and a festival called Ethneia was held in his honor.
Other examples is Zeus Eneus or Aeneus (Zeus Aeneius or Aenesius), the form with which he was venerated on the island of Cephalonia, where there was a temple dedicated to him on Mount Eno.
OraclesIn addition to the pan-Hellenic titles and concepts mentioned above, various local cults maintained their own idiosyncratic ideas about the king of gods and men. With the epithet Zeus Ethneus (Zeus Aetnaeus), he was venerated on Mount Etna, where there was a statue of him, and a festival called Ethneia was held in his honor.
Other examples is Zeus Eneus or Aeneus (Zeus Aeneius or Aenesius), the form with which he was venerated on the island of Cephalonia, where there was a temple dedicated to him on Mount Eno.
Although most oracles were dedicated to Apollo, to heroes, or to various goddesses, such as Themis, some oracles were dedicated to Zeus.
The cult of Zeus at Dodona in Epirus, where there is evidence of religious activities since the 2nd millennium BC, was centered on a sacred oak tree. When the Odyssey was composed (around 750 BCE), divination was performed there by barefoot priests, known as seals (selloi), who observed the movement and noises made by the tree's leaves and branches in the wind. By the time Herodotus wrote about Dodona centuries later, priestesses called pelleiades ("doves") had replaced the ancient priests.
Zeus' consort at Dodona was not Hera, but the goddess Dione - whose name is a feminine form of "Zeus". Her status as one of the titans indicates that she may have been a more powerful pre-Hellenic deity, and perhaps the original occupant of that oracle.
Oracle of Siuá
The oracle of Ammon at the oasis of Siuá, situated in the Libyan Desert region of Egypt, was not within the confines of the Greek world prior to the time of Alexander the Great, but was already looming over the Greek imagination during the Archaic period.
Herodotus mentions consultations with the oracle of Zeus Amon in his accounts of the Median Wars. Zeus Amon was especially worshipped in Sparta, where there was a temple dedicated to him at the time of the Peloponnesian War.
After Alexander the Great's journey into the desert to consult with the oracle at Siuá, he came to figure in the Hellenistic imagination, especially with the figure of the Libyan sibyl.
Zeus and foreign gods
Zeus was identified with the Roman god Jupiter, and associated in classical syncretic imagery (see interpretatio graeca) with several other deities, such as the Egyptian Amon and the Etruscan Tinia. Along with Dionysus, he absorbed the role of the leading Phrygian god Sabazio. The Syrian ruler Antiochus Epiphanius IV erected a statue of Olympian Zeus in the Jewish temple in Jerusalem; Hellenized Jews referred to this statue as Baal Shamen ("Lord of Heaven").
Some modern comparative mythologists have also aligned him with the Hindu deity Indra.
In modern culture
Representations of Zeus in the form of a bull, the form he assumed when he raped Europa, can be seen on the Greek two-euro coin and the British identity card. Mary Beard, professor of Classical Studies at Cambridge University, has criticized the costume, describing it as an "apparent celebration of rape."
In film and television, Zeus has been played by a variety of actors:
Niall MacGinnis - in the 1963 miniseries Jason and the Argonauts; Laurence Olivier - in the film Clash of the Titans from 981; Claudio Cassinelli - in the 1983 film Hercules and the 1985 sequel The Adventures of Hercules;
Anthony Quinn - in the movies and the 1990s television series Hercules: The Legendary Journeys;
Jack Grimes - in the 1997 animated feature The Amazing Feats of Young Hercules;
Rip Torn - in the 1997 Disney animated series Hercules; Corey Burton - in the 1998 Disney animated series Hercules: The Animated Series;
Angus MacFadyen in the 2000 remake Jason and the Argonauts; Liam Neeson in the 2010 remake of Clash of the Titans]and the 2012 sequel Wrath of the Titans;
Sean Bean in the 2010 film Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief;
Luke Evans - in the 2011 film Immortals; John Novak - in the 2013 television series Supernatural in episode 8x16; David Hoflin - in the television series Once Upon a Time, in the 2016 episode 5x21;
Jason O'Mara - in the 2020 animated series Blood of Zeus. Zeus still appears in the electronic games Altered Beast and the God of War franchise, and as a recurring character in comics from both Marvel and DC Comics.