There are few rivalries as important as that between Zeus and Cronus. Granted, Zeus did make many enemies over the years, but his first real challenge and probably the most significant was his conflict with his father Cronus. This myth is central to Greek mythology, so lets dive into why Zeus kills his father Cronus.
Zeus kills Cronus as revenge for Cronus eating his siblings Poseidon, Hades, Hera, Demeter and Hestia. Zeus also wants revenge for Cronus imprisoning the Cyclopes and the Hecatoncheires. Cronus had a number of enemies including his mother Gaia, his wife Rhea and his son Zeus. They all conspired to overthrow and kill Cronus.
As this is one of the most important foundational myths, there is a great deal of background information to the different characters. It is well worth diving into this further.
Uranus, Cronus and Eventually Zeus
The myth of Zeus and Cronus involves some of the more interesting key characters from Greek mythology. These characters features in countless other myths, but their role here is probably one of the more foundational. Lets look at those key characters now.
- Uranus – Uranus was one of the earlier primordial gods. He was the sky god and the original ruler of the universe before Cronus.
- Gaia – Gaia was both the creator and consort of Uranus. She was the earth goddess and lived through all the ages of Greek mythology. She cared greatly for her children and would take revenge on anyone who wrong them.
- Cronus – Cronus was the son of Uranus and Gaia and the king of the Titans. He overthrow his father Uranus with the help of his brothers. He began a terrible and ruthless ruler and was much despised by many of his fellow titans.
- Rhea – Rhea was the daughter of Uranus and Gaia, as well as being the wife and sister of Cronus. She gave birth to many of the Olympian gods.
- Zeus – Zeus was the gods of the sky in the later age of the Olympians. He was the son of Cronus and Rhea, and would fulfill the prophecy to overthrow his father Cronus.
- The Cyclopes and Hecatoncheires – The Cyclopes and the Hecatoncheires were giants born from the union of Gaia and Uranus. The Cyclopes had only one eye and the Hecatoncheires had 100 arms. Their father Uranus found them so misshaped and deformed that he locked them away. Cronus, was equally disgusted by them and also locked them in Tartarus.
- Poseidon, Hades, Hera, Demeter and Hera – These were the Olympian gods and the sons and daughters of Cronus and Rhea. They were initially eaten by their father Cronus when they were born.
- The Elder Titans – They were the sons and daughters of Uranus and Gaia. There were 12 Titans in totals, 6 female and 6 male. Many of whom gave birth to some of the more interesting characters in the myths.
- Atlas and Prometheus – These were two lesser titans who nevertheless were important in the great Titanomachy battle between the Titans and the Olympian gods.
Before we actually get to the face off between Zeus and Cronus we have to dive into how Cronus came to be in power and be ruler of the universe.
Uranus vs Cronus
Uranus was the first ruler of the universe. He was the god of the sky, in fact he was more the embodiment of the sky. This was common with the primordial gods of Greek mythology. Instead of inhabiting and controlling a realm, they actually were the realm. He ruled along side his wife Gaia who was the embodiment of the earth.
Together they gave birth to a number of different groups of children. The most important were the titans of which there were 6 male titans including Cronus and 6 female titans including Rhea.
They also had some other children called the Cyclopes and the Hecatoncheires. Uranus was disgusted by these deformed children and had them locked away in Tartarus, a high security prison deep beneath the earth.
This greatly angered Gaia and Cronus. They therefore conspired to have Uranus overthrown. Cronus, with the help of 4 other titan brothers, ambushed Uranus. The four brothers held him down from the 4 corners of the sky and Cronus brought out a scythe and castrated his father. His lifeless body fell into the ocean and Cronus assumed power.
Now we come to the battle between Cronus and Zeus.
Zeus vs Cronus
Cronus ruled much like his father. He was at times quite wicked and formed enemies quickly. Much like Uranus he decided to keep the Cyclopes and Hecatoncheires imprisoned away. This of course angered Gaia.
But, more importantly than that. He had received a prophecy from Uranus before he had died in which he stated that Cronus would also be overthrown by one of his children. This made Cronus into a paranoid and angry ruler.
He married his sister Rhea, but every time she gave birth to a child Cronus would eat the child, ensuring that the prophecy could not come to pass. One by one Poseidon, Hades, Hera, Demeter and Hera were born and swiftly eaten. Rhea was coming increasingly distraught at this loss of her children as any mother would. By the time she was pregnant for the 6th time she decided to take action.
She left Cronus in secret and travelled to the island of Crete. There she gave birth to Zeus and put him into the care of some local nymphs. There he would be raised. Rhea returned to Cronus and deceived him into eating a stone covered in a blanket instead of the child as he planned.
Many years passed and Zeus grew into a strong and fearsome god. He eventually returned in disguise and took a role as Cronus’s cupbearer. One day he put some poison into the wine of Cronus forcing him to vomit up the other siblings of Zeus. The siblings then took the side of Zeus and thus began a great 10 year battle.
Zeus, Poseidon and Hades went to Tartarus and released the Cyclopes and the Hecatoncheires. The cyclopes gifted the three brothers 3 powerful weapons for their coming fight. To Zeus the thunderbolt, to Poseidon the trident and to Hades the helm of invisibility.
The gods were based in Mt. Olympus and Cronus and the titans were based on Mt. Othrys. The Hecatoncheires began by grabbing huge boulders and throwing them at the Titans. Hades was able to sneak into the Titan camp and steal their weapons.
Other titans joined the fight, the strongest and most powerful being Altas who lead many fearsome charges against the gods. Prometheus was another titan, he initially fought with the titans but then changed sides.
Poseidon and Cronus initially fought, but Poseidon could not better his father. He was able to distract him. At a key moment, with Cronus distracted Zeus was able to throw a thunderbolt and defeat Cronus.
What Happened to Cronus Next?
There are many stories about what happened to Cronus next. In one of the stories, he is chased down and killed by Zeus and his siblings. His ghost is said to inhabit the oceans in constant conflict with his father Uranus.
In another he is killed, instead he is imprisoned by the gods in the prison of Tartarus. Here he remains for many generations of man until many years later when Zeus decides to release him. Zeus then puts him in charge of one of the regions of the underworld called the Elysium fields or the Isle of the Blessed.
Cronus and the Titans don’t feature as much as the Olympians in the Greek myths. This stories of the overthrow of Uranus and then the subsequent overthrow of Cronus are the major stories involving the Titan Cronus. That being said, to understand the Greek universe you have to start with these myths.
We have written a good article talking about the titans in more detail which is worth reading. Also, if you want to discover more about the different sky gods, both Zeus and Uranus are part of this group. Then we also have a great article about that.
Either way, thanks for taking the time to read this overview of the Zeus Cronus rivalry!