Eating your pregnant wife seems counterintuitive. So, why did Zeus swallow his first wife, Metis?
Zeus didn’t exactly eat Metis; he simply swallowed her whole. Zeus swallowed Metis to avert a prophecy that claimed that Metis would birth a child stronger than Zeus. As ruler of the other gods, Zeus consumed Metis to avoid being usurped by his future child.
Greek mythology has many variations, and things can get messy! I’ll now answer some common questions about Zeus and Metis and their tumultuous relationship.
Who Was Metis?
Metis was a Titan-goddess, born to Oceanus and Tethys. This made her one of the Oceanids – one of the thousands of lesser water goddesses birthed by Tethys. Metis was a goddess known for her planning and foresight. Her name translates into English as “Counsel.”
Before marrying Zeus, she advised him during the Titan War and created the scheme which helped Zeus defeat his father, Kronos.
When Kronos refused to release Zeus’ siblings, Metis poisoned the god of time. The poisoned Kronos vomited up his adult children, and the siblings were led by Zeus in a ten-year war against the Titans, helped by the wisdom of Metis.
How Did Zeus Swallow Metis?
Zeus had to trick Metis so he could swallow her, as she was clever; Metis apparently had the power to shapeshift into any form she wanted. Knowing this, Zeus persuaded her to transform into a fly. He then swallowed his bitesize wife, mimicking what his father Kronos had done to Zeus’ siblings.
Did Zeus Kill Metis?
It’s most likely that Zeus didn’t kill Metis; he simply swallowed her whole and forced her to live in his stomach, eternally dispensing wisdom. Although, accounts of what happened to Metis after being consumed by Zeus are inconsistent.
How Was Athena Born?
Athena was born within Zeus’ stomach, as Metis managed to give birth there, alongside creating armor and weaponry for her daughter. Athena was birthed again, fully-formed, from Zeus’ head. It doesn’t seem like Metis escaped her husband’s belly, though.
Did Metis Fuse With Zeus?
Some myths claim that Metis did fuse with Zeus and provided him with counsel from inside his belly, while others make no mention of her. Either way, she probably didn’t technically die; she was just absorbed into Zeus’ being.
In Homeric poems about the pantheon, Zeus’ title “Mêtieta” is translated as “the Wise Counsellor,” almost identical to his wife.
Hesiod’s Theogony states that Zeus devoured Metis “so that this goddess should think for him, for good and evil.” Combined with Athena’s common description as a “motherless goddess,” the evidence points to Metis essentially fusing with Zeus.
Zeus swallowed his first wife, Metis, to avoid a prophecy that stated that Metis would give birth to a child more powerful than Zeus. As ruler of the Greek pantheon, Zeus feared losing his royal privileges to his unborn child, so he ate Metis to prevent her from birthing his children.
According to some myths, Metis herself told Zeus of this prophecy, but others state that the gods Uranus and Gaia warned Zeus of his future child’s strength.