The most famous of Greek gods has arguably got to be Zeus. Few of the figures in Greek mythology were as influential. Be it his role in the overthrow of his father Cronus, the crazy punishments he would dole out to mortals and gods, or the lasting impact his children would have on the Greek world.
So lets dive into some of those myths and stories, and take a look at this interesting character.
Zeus Myths and Stories
1. The Birth of Zeus
Zeus was known to be the youngest child of the Titans Rhea and Cronus. Cronus had heard a prophecy that one day one of his children would dethrone him. Fearing that this prophecy would come to pass, Cronus ate all of his children. But, Rhea was able to steal away Zeus in time. She hid him with the nymphs who raised him until he was old enough to go back home and confront Cronus. When this day came to pass, he returned home and made Cronus throw up his brothers and sisters.
The birth of Zeus had a significant impact on the gods. Without him freeing his brothers and sisters, there would not have been gods like Poseidon or Hades, or goddesses like Demeter or Hera. The eventual war that would follow, where Zeus and his siblings end up maiming and killing Cronus, would also not have taken place and Zeus would not have become King of the gods.
2. Zeus and the Rebellion Against Cronus
After Zeus had made his father Cronus throw up his brothers and sisters, a rebellion raged against Cronus and the Titans against Zeus and the Olympians. The war lasted for 10 years until one day Zeus asked his grandmother, Gaia (earth) for help. She told him he should release both the Cyclopes and the Hundred-Handed-Ones from the Underworld so they could fight by his side. Zeus listened to her advice and he and the Olympians ended up winning the war against Cronus and the Titans with their newfound allies.
The importance of this myth is that it led to Hades, Zeus, and Poseidon each drawing a lot to see what part of the universe they would rule over. Hades was the ruler of the Underworld, Zeus was the ruler of the sky, and Poseidon was the ruler of the sea.
3. The Birth of Perseus
King Acrisius of Argo was told by an oracle that one day one of his grandchildren would kill him. He was so scared of this event coming to pass, that he locked his daughter, Danae, away in a cell. His plan was to leave her in there until she was too old to have children. However, this plan failed to work, as Zeus visited her in the form of a shower of gold dust. He impregnated her while in this form, and nine months later she gave birth to a son she named Perseus. The King was furious so he ended up throwing Danae and Perseus into the sea. They survived and landed on the island of Seriphos. Once Perseus was grown, Danae told him that his father was actually the famous Greek god, Zeus.
This is an important myth because it is the birth of Perseus, the man who would end up beating the Gorgon, Medusa. By his beating Medusa, the winged horse Pegasus was born. This is also a myth that is responsible for many series of events that have implications on many of the lives of humans and gods alike.
4. Zeus and Old Phineus
The god of prophecy, Apollo, met Old Phineus and gave him the gift of prophecy. Zeus was infuriated by this decision because he didn’t want humans to know what he and the other gods were doing. So, he punished Old Phineus by ensuring that every time the man would try and eat a meal, the Harpies, known as Zeus’ Hounds, would come and steal or ruin his Old Phineas’ food by covering it in the stench. This is a myth that involves the Argonauts, and their leader, Jason. When Jason and his men came across Old Phineus, they decided they had to help him.
They did so using two of the Argonauts who could fly, Zetes and Calais. Gathering a bunch of food together, Jason and his Argonauts created a feast for Old Phineus and protected it against the Harpies. By the request of Iris, the goddess of the rainbow and sister to the Harpies, the Argonauts spared the Harpies’ lives. Iris then kept the Harpies away from Old Phineus and he was able to enjoy eating again.
By saving Phineus from starvation, Jason was awarded advice about the potential dangers he and his crew may face. With this advice, Jason and his Argonauts were able to retrieve the Golden Fleece.
5. Zeus and the Trojan War
The summary of the myth: The events leading up to the 10 year Trojan war began when Eris, the goddess of discord, threw a golden apple that was marked with the saying, “for the fairest goddess of all.” Hera, Aphrodite, and Athena each thought the apple was for them. They went to Zeus to ask who the apple should go to. Zeus decided he didn’t want to pick who the apple was meant for, so he came up with an idea.
The Prince of Troy, Paris was said to be a great judge of beauty. Zeus told Hera, Aphrodite, and Athena that they should go to him. They did. When they found Paris, they each tried to bribe him. The goddess who won was Aphrodite who promised Paris the love of the most beautiful woman in the entire world. This most beautiful woman was Helen, the wife of King Menelaus of Sparta.
It was said Paris and Helen ran off together. Their leaving ended up beginning the Trojan war for the return of Helen to her husband in Sparta.
6. Zeus and Helios’ Cattle
The Greek wanderer, Odysseus, and his crew had been travelling for some time. They had made it through many obstacles, some of which were the Sirens, Scylla, and Charybdis. Thinking they may just be out of harm’s way, they let their guards down. Stopping on the island of Thrinacia, Odysseus fell asleep. His men were hungry and happy to have made it through so much strife alive, that they took it upon themselves to kill the cattle of the sun god, Helios. Helios was outraged. He went to Zeus and told him what had happened. Zeus, who was very angry with this event, threw a thunderbolt at Odysseus’ ship. It destroyed the ship and everyone on it minus Odysseus.
With the destruction of the ship and the loss of his men, Odysseus drifted for nine days until he washed up on the shore of Ogygia. He met the nymph Calypso, who fell in love with Odysseus at first sight. She then made Odysseus stay with her for seven years.
7. Zeus and Hades
The god of the Underworld, Hades, rarely ventured outside of his domain. But, one day he decided to take a stroll around the earth. He came across the beautiful goddess of spring, Persephone. He wanted to take her back to the Underworld and have her rule by his side. So, he kidnapped her and took her to the Underworld. Persephone’s mother, Demeter, the goddess of agriculture, was absolutely enraged by this event. She was so angry that she caused famine and droughts to happen all over the world. Zeus couldn’t have this. He came to fix the situation by talking to Hades. They ended up making a deal where Persephone would spend half the year in the Underworld with Hades, and the other half on earth with her mother, Demeter.
Without help from Zeus, Hades would likely have never given Persephone back for the part of the year and the world would be wrought with famine and draughts for eternity.
8. Zeus and Aedon
Aedon, the wife of Zeus’ son, Zethus, only had two children. This made her very sad and jealous of Zethus’ brother Niobe who had a lot of children. One day, Aedon decided to kill the eldest son of Niobe. In the middle of the night, she snuck into his room. She stabbed the body lying in the bed. This body ended up not being Niobe’s son, but Aedon’s own son, Itylus. She was so beyond herself with grief, that Zeus took pity upon her and changed her into a beautiful nightingale where she would no longer feel the pain of humans.
This myth has a small significance, but it is still of importance. Zeus was king of the gods, but he was also order and law. He may have had a quick temper and made harsh judgements on those who wrong him or others he cared about, but he was also just in his decisions. By taking away Aedon’s pain, he gave her a gift and didn’t punish her for committing murder.
9. Zeus, Baucis, and Philemon
Zeus and his messenger, the god Hermes, took it upon themselves to investigate the kindness of the local people. They each dressed up as beggars and interacted with those around them. They were treated so poorly. No one would give them food or shelter. This lasted until they across a little hut. The owners of the hut, Baucis, and Philemon invited the strangers in and prepared a supper for them. Zeus and Hermes ended up revealing their true identities and took Baucis and Philemon to a mountaintop.
From there the couple witnessed a flood go through their town and drown all their wretched neighbors. Zeus then turned their little hut into a great temple where Baucis and Philemon lived as priests. Zeus didn’t forget about the couple, and as they approached the end of their lives, he turned them into an oak tree and a linden tree that were joined together by the same trunk. He never wanted them to have to live without the other.
The importance of this myth is it is another example of how kind Zeus could be. He didn’t like seeing kind people wronged, and would punish those who did them harm.
10. Zeus and Io
Io was known to be the daughter of the river god, Inachus. She was also known to be the priestess for Hera. Zeus took a liking to Io and decided to pursue her. They would meet while Hera was asleep. When Hera found out about their relationship, she was enraged and wanted to punish Io. Zeus decided to protect Io by turning her into a heifer. But, Hera soon figured out this heifer was actually Io.
Hera decided she would torment the heifer. She sent flies to sting the heifer and keep it moving. Hera also had the giant with a hundred eyes, Argus, come and watch over the heifer. Zeus couldn’t let this go on so he decided to send his messenger, Hermes to deal with the situation. Hermes played beautiful music for Argus who ended up falling asleep. Hermes then beheaded the giant. Hera’s flies still continued to sting the heifer and this upset Zeus. He ended up turning the Heifer back into Io and they had their son Epaphus together.
11. Zeus and Tiresias
The summary of the myth: Tiresias was a blind prophet who lived in Thebes. Zeus and his wife, Hera got into a terrible fight about who enjoyed sex more, the man or the woman. Hera believed the man enjoyed it more and Zeus believed it was the woman. Hera and Zeus went to Tiresias to settle the argument, as Tiresias had spent time as both a man and as a woman. He ended up agreeing with Zeus that it was the woman who enjoyed it more. This angered Hera so much that she blinded Tiresias on the spot. Zeus was unable to give the main his eyesight back, but he did give him the gift of prophecy.
Having the gift of prophecy allowed Tiresias to tell Oedipus that one day in the future, he would marry his mother and kill his father.
12. The Birth of Dionysus
One day Zeus decided to take the form of a human and seduce the daughter of Cadmus, Semele. Zeus’ wife Hera found out about this seduction and was furious because Semele was pregnant with another one of Zeus’ offspring. Hera tricked Zeus into showing his true god form to Semele. His real form was too much for human eyes, so it caused Semele to shrivel up into a corpse. Zeus, knowing she was pregnant, grabbed the fetus that was in her womb and put it in his thigh. The god of wine, Dionysus was eventually born from Zeus’ thigh.
Without Zeus saving Dionysus, there would be no god of festival and wine. Dionysus was a very well-known god who played a big part in the festivities of humans. He had many festivals and events done in his honor.
So there we have it. A detailed deconstruction of the Greek god Zeus. There is a reason the stories about Zeus have stood the test of time. He is a compelling, interesting and highly flawed character.
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- Zeus Myths and Stories
- Final Thoughts