Zeus, king of Olympus and god of thunder and the skies, was known by almost all of the gods as their Father. In many cases, this was literal, and not just for gods, either! The total count of his children usually comes out at about one hundred, most of whom were not with his wife, Hera.
The following list is just a selection of the offspring of Zeus, whether divine or semi-divine. In many cases, sources vary on parentage – but when there’s doubt, it’s usually safe to assume that Zeus and his voracious sexual appetite were involved! Each of Zeus’s children had their own powerful legacy, and each served their own important purpose.
The Children of Zeus
1. Children of Hera and Zeus
With his wife and queen, Zeus was the father of around ten children, though the number varies depending on the myth. Their daughters were Angelia (an Underworld deity), Arge (a nymph), Eilethieya (a childbirth goddess), Eleftheria (goddess of liberty), Enyo (a minor war goddess), Eris (goddess of discord), Hebe (a goddess of youth, and sometimes the Curetes, dancers and worshippers of the Titan Rhea. Their only son was usually the Olympian god of war, Ares. Zeus is also sometimes the father of the Olympian Hephaestus, god of the forge.
Athena was Zeus’s favorite child, and no wonder – she was born directly from Zeus’s forehead! Athena, goddess of wisdom and strategic warfare, was conceived by Zeus and his Titan wife Metis. When a prophecy declared that Zeus would fall to his son, he swallowed Metis whole. However, Athena continued to gestate, and she was born of Zeus, fully-grown and armored for battle.
3. Apollo and Artemis
These twins were born of the Titans’ daughter Leto, who was targeted by Hera in retribution for the affair. Apollo was the god of music, the sun, poetry, and healing, while Artemis was the goddess of the hunt, wild animals, the wilderness, and the moon. Despite Hera’s animosity toward their mother, both would become Olympians.
This wily and much favored messenger of the gods was the product of Zeus and a Pleiad nymph, Maia. He was one of the few of Zeus’s children to gain acceptance from Hera, as just after he was born, he tricked her into letting him suckle at her breast. As well as a messenger, Hermes was an Olympian, and was god of travelers, thieves, tricksters, and more.
The god of wine, chaos, and revelry had the distinction of being the only half-human amongst the Olympians. He was the thirteenth to take a seat on Olympus, accepting Hestia’s place after she conceded it to him. Dionysus’s mother, Semele, was killed when a jealous Hera tricked Zeus into showing her his true form. Zeus saved the fetus by sewing it into his thigh, and Dionysus was born shortly afterward. Later, Dionysus would retrieve his mother from the Underworld.
This great hero was the son of Zeus and the mortal princess of Argos, Danaë. He was conceived after his grandfather locked his mother away in a bronze chamber to keep her virginal, but Zeus, who desired her, came upon her in a shower of golden rain. As an adult, Perseus enlisted help from much of his divine family, especially his half-sister Athena, on his adventures. Most famously, he slayed the Gorgon, Medusa.
Heracles, or Hercules, was Zeus’s son by the mortal Alcmene. He was born Alcaeus, and was despised by Hera and often targeted in his infancy and youth by the jealous goddess’s attempts to kill him. His name was changed to honor her and keep her content, but it didn’t work! As an adult, Heracles took on many trials, including his infamous Twelve Labors. He became the greatest of Greek heroes.
Originally a goddess of spring and flowers and later the Queen of the Underworld and wife of Zeus’s brother, Hades, Persephone was usually the daughter of Zeus and his sister Demeter. Demeter, an Olympian, was the goddess of the seasons and the harvest. Persephone’s abduction from Olympus to the Underworld was sanctioned by Zeus, and there she ruled equally at Hades’s side.
9. Children of Leda and Zeus
Leda was a human woman whom Zeus seduced while he was in the form of a swan. That same night she lay with her husband, and afterward produced two eggs. From these hatched four children, two of whom carried Zeus’s blood. His son was Polydeuces or Pollux, who made up one half of the Dioscuri and the Gemini constellation with his brother, Castor. The other was the beautiful Helen of Troy, whose loveliness caused the Trojan War.
Arcas was the son of Calisto, a companion of Artemis. Zeus desired her, and so tricked her into copulation by appearing to her as Artemis. When she became pregnant, Hera responded angrily by turning her into a bear. As a bear, she gave birth to Arcas, who became the King of Arcadia. Arcas taught his people how to weave and bake bread.
12. The Boeotian Muses
The three original muses were Aoede, the muse of vocalizing and song, Melete, muse of thought and practice, and Mneme, the muse of memory. Their mother was Mnemosyne, the goddess of memory, who also mothered the later Nine Muses.
13. The Nine Muses
These nine goddesses were creatures of inspiration, each dedicated to a single task. Their mother as Mnemosyne and their father Zeus. Their names were Calliope (epic poetry and eloquence), Clio (history and the lyre), Euterpe (lyric poetry), Erato (erotic poetry and mimicry), Melpomene (chorus and tragedy), Polyhymnia (sacred song, poetry, and dance, and pantomime), Terpsichore (dance), Thalia (comedy and whimsical poetry), and Urania (astronomy).
Son of Zeus and the nymph Pluoto, Tantalus has the dubious honor of being most remembered for his punishment after death. In life, Tantalus was welcomed to the table of the gods, and from there he stole nectar, ambrosia, and secrets. If this wasn’t enough, he also made a brutal sacrifice from his own son, Pelops. Pelops was brought back to life, and Tantalus was sentenced to Tartarus, the darkest pit of the Underworld. There, he was forced to stand in a clear pool of water and filled with an unquenching thirst. Every time he bent to take a drink, however, the water would move away.
15. Amphion and Zethus
These twin sons of Antiope became the founders of Thebes. After she was raped by Zeus, she fled in shame, but was captured and forced to leave them to die, then made a slave. When Antiope finally escaped, she relocated her now-adult sons and they killed her captors in retribution, claiming Thebes as their own. Both later committed suicide due to the deaths of their own children.
16. Children of Io and Zeus
Io was another of Zeus’s lovers treated badly by Hera. Zeus transformed Io into a cow to protect her from Hera’s multiple assassination attempts. From Zeus and Io’s union came Epaphus, who was conceived by a touch of Zeus’s hand and was the father of Libya, and his older sister Ceroessa, who later became a consort of her uncle, Poseidon, and a heroine in the foundation of Byzantium.
The son of the nymph Taygete, a companion of Artemis, and Zeus, Lacedaemon gave his name to the city-state now known as Sparta, which was actually a settlement within the city. Lacedaemon married Sparta, and they had several children of their own, including Orpheus’s wife Eurydice.
Though Orion in Homer and Hesiod was the son of Poseidon, other myths have him as a combined son of Zeus, Poseidon, and Hermes with no mother. In these versions of the story, King Hyreius cooked a bull for the three gods, who then offered to repay him. He claimed he wanted a son, and so the three gods urinated into the hide of the bull and buried it in the earth. Ten months later, Hyreius dug up the hide and found Orion. Orion became a giant hunter, who eventually was placed in the sky as a constellation.
19. Children of Pandora II and Zeus
The second Pandora was named after her grandmother, the original Pandora who released sin into the world. Pandora II became a lover of Zeus, and the two had several children. Graecus, Pandorus, and Latinus were their sons who founded tribes and were associated with heroes. Their daughter was named Melera.
20. Son of Pyrrha
Pyrrha and her husband Deucalion were the heroes of the Greek version of the flood myth. They sailed on an ark and afterwards repopulated the earth by throwing stones. Pyrrha was also a lover of Zeus. She had three daughters – Pandora II, Protogenia, and Thyia – and three sons, Hellen, Amphictyon, and Orestheus. Hellen was the son of Zeus and the progenitor of all of the Greek (or Hellenistic) people. He was sometimes alternately named as or entirely replaced by Helmetheus, who was also Zeus and Pyrrha’s son and shared a similar role.