As if being the ruler of the gods and king of the sky wasn’t a hard enough job, Zeus had a propensity to make enemies. A vast majority of Greek myth and lore is a direct result of Zeus’s extra-marital affairs, lust, and general hypocrisy over who rules apply to. It’s no wonder the list of his enemies is far longer than the list of his allies.
Stories of Cronus, Gaia, Prometheus and Atlas are commonly told and heavily featured in popular culture. Some of Zeus’s lesser-known enemies include Nyx, the mother of Gaia, Ixion who fell in love (or more likely lust) with Hera, and King Salmoneus who believed he was on par with Zeus.
But, who exactly were the enemies and rivals of Zeus. Some may surprise you. Lets dive in!
The 14 Enemies and Rivals of Zeus King of the Olympians: Everything You Could Possibly Want to Know
1. Cronus – The King of the Titans
Who are they and why are they important — Cronus was the son of Uranus and Gaia. He was known to be the leader of the Titans and later the ruler of the universe. Cronus came to power with the help of his mother Gaia. One day Gaia became angry at Uranus and told Cronus that Uranus was imprisoning his brothers, the Hecatonchcheires, and Cyclopes.
Cronus, along with 4 of his Titan brothers, went after his father and castrated him. From the blood of Uranus were born the furies, the giants, and the goddess Aphrodite. As Uranus was dying he warned Cronus that one day, he too would be overthrown by his sons. Cronus then took over as the new ruler and by way of thanks had his brothers imprisoned again.
So, how does Zeus come into the picture? Well, Cronus married his sister, Rhea. Together they fathered some of the first Olympic gods: Zeus, Poseidon, Hera, Hestia, Demeter, and Hades. But, he was so afraid of what his father Uranus had said about one of his children overthrowing him, that he swallowed each of his children as they were born.
Rhea managed to steal Zeus away by giving Cronus a stone wrapped in a blanket. She then took Zeus and hid him away amongst the nymphs to be cared for and brought up.
When Zeus was older, he returned and tricked Cronus into coughing up all his brothers and sisters y feeding him a combination of wine and mustard. Zeus then persuaded his siblings to join him in fighting Cronus. Zeus released the Hecatonchcheires and Cyclopes and together with his siblings fought Cronus in a war. The war lasted 10 years and was called the Titanomarchy by the Greeks and is often depicted in art and literature. Zeus and co ended up winning. It is believed Zeus ended up killing Cronus and thus completing the prophecy that Uranus had told Cronus.
2. Gaia – The Mother Earth
Gaia was created from Chaos. She was known to be the Earth Mother and was born at the very beginning of time. It was said she created Uranus, the sky god, who she ended up marrying.
Together they had the 12 Titans (which included Cronus), the Cyclopes, and the Hecatonchieres. When Uranus decided to imprison the Cyclopes and the Hecatonchieres, Gaia grew very angry. She gave Cronus a sickle and told him to attack his father, Uranus. Cronus ended up castrating Uranus and ruling the universe in his place.
Gaia had been very supportive of Zeus in the beginning. She had supported him during the war with Cronus, to which he and his brothers and sisters won. But her favour towards him only went so far, in many ways she didn’t like how Zeus was managing earth and in particular how many affairs he was having. After the Titanomachy had ended, Zeus imprisoned the Titans in the Underworld.
Gaia became so furious with him, she created the monster Typhon. Together, Gaia, Typhon, and the giants who had been born from Uranus’ blood started another war with Zeus. Zeus ended up winning once again, but he chose to let Gaia live. Gaia ended up going to Zeus’ wedding to Hera, where she gave the golden apples as a gift.
3. Prometheus – The Bringer of Fire
Prometheus was said to be the son of Uranus and Gaia. He was a Titan, as well as a friend of humans. He was known for his wisdom, courage, and compassion. He was also known to have made the first humans from clay, with Athena breathing life into each one. In the Titanomachy, Prometheus had switched to the side of Zeus and helped him to beat Cronus and the other Titans.
Zeus asked for Prometheus’ advice on how humans should make sacrifices to the gods. Being the creator of humans, Prometheus’ was very fond of them. He didn’t want them sacrificing meat to the gods that they themselves could be eating. So, Prometheus decided to trick Zeus by having the humans give the gods the bones and fat from the sacrificed animals. When Zeus figured this out, he became enraged. He told Prometheus that the humans were not to be able to make fire. Prometheus didn’t like this, so he went against Zeus’ wishes.
He stole fire from the heavens and gave it to the humans.. Zeus punished Prometheus by chaining him to a mountain and letting vultures eat his liver over and over again. Prometheus stayed this way until Zeus’ son, Heracles, wandered by and rescued him. Zeus could be a very vengeful god. Despite Prometheus helping Zeus in the Titanomachy, its wasn’t enough to stop him carrying out such a terrible punishment.
4. Atlas – Holding up the Sky for Eternity
Atlas was said to be the son of Iapetus and Clymene. He was known as the titan who help up the sky, much like a pillar of heaven. In the battle between Cronus and Zeus, Atlas was one of the main leader of the Titans. The war lasted for 10 years, in which time Atlas led the Titans relentlessly. Beginning to feel overwhelmed, Zeus asked his grandmother, Gaia, for help. She told him to release both the Cyclopes and the Giants from the Underworld. In return, Zeus was given the thunderbolt. Together with his brothers, Hades and Poseidon, Zeus ended up beating Cronus and the Titans. Because Atlas had played such a big part in the war, Zeus decided to punish him. He made Atlas carry the sky forever.
There is also a story of Titan meeting Zeus’ son, Heracles. Heracles who had been sent out on a task to complete twelve labors came across Atlas during his eleventh task. Heracles had been sent to retrieve the golden apples. Atlas, who had been punished by Zeus and was now responsible for holding up the entire sky on his shoulders, decided to trick Heracles. Atlas told Heracles he would retrieve the apples for him if only Heracles would hold up the sky for a moment. The trick didn’t end up working and Atlas ended up with the sky back on his shoulders.
5. The Giants – Gaia Grows Weary
The Giants aka Gigantes were fearsome creatures born from the union of Gaia and Tartarus. They were said to be huge and violent creatures capable of great destruction. In Greek mythology there are many different races of giants like the cyclopes, the Hecatonchires and so on.
In this myth, the Gigantes giants were the opponents of Zeus. After the Titanomachy, Gaia had grown weary of the rule of Zeus so she sent her gigantes children to fight him and overthrow his rule. They fought a terrible battle called the Gigantomachy. The Olympians realised that no matter what they tried they couldn’t kill the giants. They just kept coming back.
It was then prophesied by Hera that only a mortal could kill a giant. There was only one mortal capable of such a feat. The son of Zeus, Heracles. He was summoned to fight on the side of the gods. The plan was that the gods would initially fight the giants, wearing them down and then Heracles would deal the fatal blow. One by one the giants succumbed and they were eventually defeated.
6. Typhon – The Greatest Monster of Greek Mythology
Typhon was a hundred-headed giant whose parents were said to be Gaia and Tartarus. Typhon had a consort Echidna and together they produced a fearsome brood of monster children who terrorised the Greeks. There was Cerberus, the Chimera, the Nemean Lion, the Sphinx, Orthos, and the Hydra. For more on the creatures of Greek mythology, see here.
After the battle between Zeus and the giants in the Gigantomachy and the eventually victory of Zeus, Zeus’ grandmother, Gaia, was still extremely upset with him. He had imprisoned the Titans and now the remaining giants.
Gaia now decided to create Typhon who was more powerful than any creature that had come before. Gaia hoped Zeus would be dethroned and the Titans and giants could be released.
Typhon, being the biggest giant of them all, and was a powerful opponent. All the other gods besides Zeus had fled in the face of his strength. But, Zeus stood his ground. A battle ensued and Typhon managed to cut off the tendons from Zeus’ arms and legs.
He hid them away in a cave. They were later retrieved and returned to Zeus by his son, Hermes. Once Zeus was healed and ready for battle, he set out again after Typhon. He was eventually victorious and Zeus ended up capturing Typhon and imprisoned him in Tartarus.
7. Hera – The Jealous Wife
Hera was said to be the wife and sister of Zeus. She was considered the queen of the Olympic gods and the protector of women and children. Zeus fell in love with Hera when he saw her wandering in the woods. In his excitement from seeing her, he ended up causing a thunderstorm.
Turning into a bird, he hid inside Hera’s dress. Zeus then changed back to his god form and told Hera he would marry her. Although Zeus did in fact very much love Hera, he had a tendency to seduce other women. Hera was always extremely jealous, and much trouble was caused by her jealous nature.
Hera wronged Zeus many times throughout their relationship. They had a very tumultuous bond, and it showed in the way Hera would torment Zeus’ flings and offspring. One famous myth is of Hera’s hatred of Zeus’ son, Heracles. Hera was very jealous of Heracles’ mother, Alcmene. She would torment Heracles through much of his life and this would greatly anger Zeus. She also went against many of Zeus’ wishes, for example his desire for no gods to take sides in the Trojan war.
8. Hades – Getting the Short Straw
Hades was known to be the son of Cronus and Rhea. He was brother to Zeus and ruler of the Underworld. He had a great love for gems and gold and was known to be very good at waiting out his enemies. He was rarely known to leave the Underworld. If he did, he often used a special helmet that made him invisible. When Zeus and his siblings had beaten the Titans. It was decided that Hades would rule the underworld, but he was unhappy with this role. He never forgave Zeus.
Hades fell in love with the goddess Demeter’s daughter, Persephone. He wanted her to come and rule the Underworld with him. Hades captured Persephone and took her to the Underworld with him.
Demeter was very upset and decided to cause the world horrible grief in retaliation. She caused draughts and famine on earth and refused to stop either unless Persephone was returned to her. This bothered Zeus a great deal. He stepped in to make a deal with Hermes so Demeter would stop causing problems. It was decided Persephone would spend half the year on earth with Demeter, and the other half in the Underworld with Hades.
9. Nyx – Zeus’ Deepest Fear
Nyx is the Greek goddess of darkness, a daughter of Chaos, and the mother of Thanatos (Death), Hypnos (Sleep), Charon (the ferryman of Hades), and more. She comes from the very beginning and eventually made her home in Tartarus – beneath the depths of Hades. While her appearances within Greek myths are rare, they are notable. Few deities, if any, are feared as much as Nyx is.
Even Zeus, who had little fear and even less concern that someone could be more powerful than him, avoided the wrath of Nyx. According to Homer’s The Illiad, Hera had hired Nyx’s son Hypnos to put Zeus into a deep sleep. Her aim was to buy time to plot against him but Hypnos was not powerful enough to completely sedate Zeus. Naturally, this led to a rather enraged Zeus who intended to strike Hypnos into the sea. He was thwarted when Hypnos fled and took sanctuary with his mother.
As Homer tells it, Zeus was not willing to face the wrath of Nyx so bottled his anger. Hypnos did not quite seem to learn his lesson and got under Zeus’s skin a few times after. Each time, he avoided Zeus’s fury by feeling to his mother.
10. Haemus & Rhodopi – Impersonating Zeus and Hera
The story of Haemus and Rhodopi isn’t very long. They were the king and queen of Thrace which is a region now belonging to Greece, Bulgaria, and Turkey. The couple was not particularly grand in the greater scheme of the Greek pantheon but they believed themselves to be. King Haemus in particular was rather vain and arrogant.
The royal couple compared themselves to Zeus and Hera in some accounts. In other accounts, they claimed to be Zeus and Hera. Subjects of Thrace were instructed to treat them as such including worshipping them as the gods.
As one may expect, this didn’t please Zeus and Hera much. In punishment, the true Zeus and Hera turned them into mountains. The Rhodopi Range runs through southern Bulgaria and northern Greece. The Haemus range is now known as the Balkan range and runs along the border of Serbia and Bulgaria.
11. Ixion – Zeus the Hypocrite
After a series of contentions events between Ixion and his father-in-law, Ixion killed him. This led him to live the life of an outlaw until Zeus picked him up and invited him to dinner at the table of the gods. It was here Ixion began to lust after Hera.
Hera, being the goddess of marriage and family, took her duties very seriously. Despite having a husband with countless extra-marital affairs and children and not being his number one fan, she remained faithful. Zeus was also a particularly jealous husband.
Upon seeing Ixion pursue Hera, Zeus took a cloud and shaped it into the form of Hera. Ixion wasted no time in having relations with her. In his fury, Zeus cast him out of Olympus and had him bound to a fiery wheel that would spin through the cosmos forever.
Ixion teaches that it is not difficult to become the enemy of Zeus and that Zeus holds himself to one standard and everyone else to another.
12. King Salmoneus – I am Zeus
Salmoneus, king of Elis and found of Salmone, made the same mistake as Haemus and Rhodopi. He was an overbearing, arrogant, and malicious king who demanded his subjects worship him as Zeus. Although, unlike Haemus and Rhodopi, his claims were a form of mockery. In his arrogance, he mocked the gods, mimicked them, and order the proper rituals to be done to him rather than the deities of Olympus. He even went as far as to build a brass bridge that would sound like thunder when he rode his chariot across it at full speed.
It really should be no surprise that Zeus did not let this go on for long before striking King Salmoneus down with a thunderbolt. It is believed that the king was sent to spend eternity being tortured in Tartarus.
13. Ares – Terrible Parents
Ares, the god of war, son of Zeus and Hera, is also known as the unloved god. He was rather disliked or even despised by both other deities and humans. Unlike Mars, his Roman counterpart, Ares did not have many cults or communities in honor of him.
Strangely enough, there is not a lot of information regarding why he was so despised by the other deities. To humans, he represents the complete brutality and savagery of war. But the gods all participated in that. Particularly in the case of Zeus, there is no clear reason for their hostile relationship.
In The Illiad, Homer wrote, ‘Then looking at him darkly Zeus who gathers the clouds spoke to him: “Do not sit beside me and whine, you double-faced liar. To me you are the most hateful of all gods who hold Olympus. Forever quarrelling is dear to your heart, wars and battles.’ This conversation occurred when Ares returned, wounded, from the Battle of Troy.
14. Briareus – An Ally of the Titans
Whether Briareus is an enemy of Zeus is dependent on which of the great poets one abides by. He is also known by the name Aegaeon. According to Homer and Hesiod, Briareus or Aegaeon was an ally to Zeus and secured him the victory in the battle with the titans.
But according to Ovid, Virgil, and Callimachus, Briareus was a titan ally and an enemy of Zeus. In Aenid, Virgil writes of Briareus, “Like old Aegaeon of the hundred arms, the hundred-handed, from whose mouths and breasts blazed fifty fiery blasts, as he made war with fifty sounding shields and fifty swords against Jove’s thunder.” In this text, Jove is another name for Zeus.
So, there you have some of the enemies and rivals of the great Olympian god Zeus. Some of the choices may surprise you, if you disagree or would like to add some foes to the list. Then feel free to comment below. Thanks!
Bonus – The Myth of Heracles
- The 14 Enemies and Rivals of Zeus King of the Olympians: Everything You Could Possibly Want to Know
- 1. Cronus – The King of the Titans
- 2. Gaia – The Mother Earth
- 3. Prometheus – The Bringer of Fire
- 4. Atlas – Holding up the Sky for Eternity
- 5. The Giants – Gaia Grows Weary
- 6. Typhon – The Greatest Monster of Greek Mythology
- 7. Hera – The Jealous Wife
- 8. Hades – Getting the Short Straw
- 9. Nyx – Zeus’ Deepest Fear
- 10. Haemus & Rhodopi – Impersonating Zeus and Hera
- 11. Ixion – Zeus the Hypocrite
- 12. King Salmoneus – I am Zeus
- 13. Ares – Terrible Parents
- 14. Briareus – An Ally of the Titans
- Final Thoughts