Zeus, Greek God of the Sky:
As ruler of the sky, the Greek god Zeus was responsible for bringing
(or not, if he so chose) rain, drought, and thunderstorms. No one dared challenge the
authority of the mighty Zeus since he was prone to release his fearsome thunderbolts to
express his displeasure . . . an awesome way to keep the peace and maintain order, but it
worked for several centuries!
The birth of Zeus was to be a fateful event . . . and it certainly was an unusual one!
Sixth child of the ruling Titan god Cronos and the goddess Rhea, Zeus was the first to
escape the fate of being swallowed by his father. Cronus, made fearful by a prophecy that
one of his children would overthrow him, had eaten each of his children shortly after
their births to prevent this from happening.
Rhea, understandably, was not happy about this, and after the birth of Zeus, tricked
Zeus into swallowing a rock that she had wrapped in a blanket, leading him to believe it
was his newborn son. With the help of Gaia (the great Titan goddess we call Mother Earth,
Rhea placed the care of her infant Zeus in the hands of the ash nymphs who hid him in
their cave. Sometimes they hid him in the boughs of an ash tree where he could not be
found on earth, in the sea or in the sky. The nymphs were helped by the divine goat
Amalthei who allowed Zeus to nurse on her milk. Later when she died Zeus turned the goat's
skin into his royal shield, Aegis, to honor her.
Zeus grew nicely under the nymphs' care, and, as a young boy, came to be an attendant
to his father. Cronus had no reason to suspect that his new cup-bearer was actually his
His mother and the goddess Metis (a Titan goddess of wisdom) prepared a special potion
for Zeus to slip into his father's cup. When Cronus drank from the cup he grew nauseous
and vomited u[ Zeus' five siblings that he had swallowed -- Hestia, Demeter, Hera, Hades,
Understandably outraged at having been imprisoned all these years, the siblings decided
to wrest the throne away from Cronus. The wise Zeus realized that they would need both
weaponry and powerful allies to accomplish this feat so, with his brothers; he freed the
Cyclopes (one-eyed giants) from their imprisonment in Tartarus (the unpleasant part of the
Underworld that we would describe as Hell).
Grateful for their release and willing to help battle Cronus, the Cyclopes presented
the brothers with gifts to show their appreciation. To Zeus they gave his thunderbolts, to
Poseidon his trident, and to Hades a helmet that, when worn, made the wearer invisible.
Now well armored, the siblings began the battle against their father and his troops.
The war was long and bloody, but eventually won when the invisible Hades crept up behind
Cronus, Poseidon immobilized him with his trident, and Zeus knocked him unconscious with
his thunderbolts. The reign of the Olympians had just begun!
Since he was a god and couldn't die, Cronus was imprisoned in Tartarus. Later he
managed to escape, changed his name to Saturn, and made his way to Italy where he lived
quietly among the mortals.
Meanwhile the three brothers drew lots to divide up their new kingdom. Zeus drew the
heavens (which made him the supreme ruler), Poseidon got the sea, and Hades won the
Underworld. They agreed to share the rulership of the earth, with all having power over
the mortals and the earth's other creatures.
Unfortunately Zeus let his newly acquired power go to his head. Consequently his first
few years of rule were marred by his tendency to abuse his powers.
He built an enormous palace that sat far above the clouds on the top of Mount Olympus
and, ensconced there, used his thunderbolts rather liberally, hurling them at anyone who
had the misfortune to displease him.
Zeus decided he needed a queen and picked Metis, the goddess who had helped him trick
Cronos into disgorging his brothers and sisters. Only one problem . . . Metis declined and
changed forms to hide herself from the persistent Zeus. But Zeus wasn't about to take no
for an answer and pursued her relentlessly until she finally fell from exhaustion and
When Metis became pregnant, the great goddess Gaia, irritated with his high-handed ways
issued a prophecy that any son of Zeus and Metis would grow to eventually usurp the throne
of his father. So, in a variation of his father's routine, Zeus swallowed the pregnant
Metis to prevent her from giving birth to a son.
He need not have bothered for Metis was carrying a daughter, not a son. As the unborn
daughter grew for years inside his head, Zeus developed the headache to end all headaches!
Hephaestus, the god of the forge, could see how miserable Zeus felt, and fashioning a
golden axe especially for the occasion, split Zeus' head open to relieve the pain. When he
did, out stepped Athena, full-grown daughter of Zeus who was fully-clothed and ready to
assume her divine responsibilities as the goddess of war. She was to become her father's
most trusted ally and advisor.
Now with Metis out of the way, Zeus went on to have several other consorts (and
children by them) before actually marrying. Eventually Zeus decided that it was time for
him to marry, and he picked the goddess Hera.
|But Hera was not at all interested in this arrogant young god and wouldn't let him
near her. Realizing what it was that was "putting her off", Zeus transformed
himself into a cuckoo and created a thunderstorm that drenched him thoroughly. Finding the
little bird wet, bedraggled, and shivering, the kindly Hera picked him up and cradled him
next to her heart. Changing back into his usual form, Zeus convinced her that she should
take pity on him too, that, like the bird, he was also vulnerable and madly in love with
Hera realized she loved him too and agreed to marry him and become the
Queen of Heaven (she wasn't about to settle for just being another of his consorts!)
Everyone was jubilant for Hera was greatly loved, and they thought that she would manage
to settle Zeus down a bit. Their marriage got off to a good start, with the honeymoon
lasting over 300 years!
But Zeus, married or not, wasn't quite ready to become the mature and benevolent ruler
that he would later be. He was soon to resume his philandering ways, pursuing and
capturing goddesses, nymphs, and mortals when they caught his wandering eye. Many of the
myths of Zeus involve these seductions, with Zeus changing into various forms to seduce
his unwilling prey, turning himself into a swan to rape Ledo, a golden rain to impregnate
And it is no wonder that they were all unwilling, for the jealous Hera, unable to vent
her rage on her powerful husband, turned her ire on the women he had seduced and their
To his credit, Zeus was always a wonderful father, empowering all his children . . .
acknowledging them all as his, protecting them from Hera if need be, giving them positions
of power and responsibility.
Zeus could be quite vengeful himself, especially in response to any affront to his
power. Take his punishment of Prometheus, for example -- he had the poor Prometheus
chained to a rock for eternity and sent his eagle daily to pick out and feast on pieces of
his liver, punishment for stealing some fire from Mount Olympus to give to the mortals.
Many years later the hero Heracles (Hercules) would kill the eagle and free the suffering
At any rate, the other Olympians were growing tired of Zeus' antics and his arrogance;
they decided to revolt. A conspiracy was organized by Poseidon (resentful of having gotten
less power than Zeus) and went so far that the conspirators had disarmed and trapped Zeus.
But while the brothers and sisters argued among themselves about how their new power would
be divided, Zeus escaped and the plot was foiled.
But apparently Zeus had gotten the message that it was time to grow up, and so he
resolved to do better. And he did. (Well, maybe not totally, for the amorous escapades
Superbly rational, Zeus became an outstanding administrator and a respected leader. He
set high standards and was a very strict disciplinarian, even-handedly meting out
punishments to those who broke the rules and settling all their disputes with great wisdom
Seldom acting out of anger, the Greek god Zeus rarely held a grudge and was usually
willing to let "bygones be bygones" once you'd served your time.
He even let the conspirators off lightly, banishing the ringleaders, the bright Apollo
and his brother Poseidon, to earth to work as manual laborers, but only for one year. And
he forgave Athena for her role, saying that she'd been "duped" by the others.
Hermes later became Zeus' messenger and trusted aide and extricated Zeus from many
tricky situations. Athena, in addition to her responsibilities as the goddess of war, was
made the goddess of wisdom and given the responsibility of serving as a judge.
Zeus had two other special attendants . . . Nike (Winged Victory) and a cup-bearer
named Hebe. When Hebe left to marry Heracles (Hercules), a beautiful boy named Ganymedes
caught the eye of Zeus. Captivated by the youth, Zeus turned himself into an eagle and
swept down from the sky to capture the boy. Returning with him to Mount Olympus, he
installed him as his personal cup-bearer, a position of great trust.
Zeus had reserved the greatest punishment for his wife Hera and had her strung from the
stars with silver thread, heavy anvils tied to her ankles as punishment for her part in
the conspiracy to unseat him.
Painful as it was, Hera moaned and groaned night and day. Zeus couldn't get any rest,
so after a few sleepless nights he agreed to let her down if she would promise to honor
and respect him forever more. She gladly did.
It should be noted that, in spite of all his infidelities and her repeatedly taking her
revenge out on his lovers, the two really loved each other. Eventually, by using her
strong sense of humor, Hera convinced him that he didn't really need to keep "fooling
around" and he quit. They lived happily ever after, of course.
The great Titan goddess Gaia, furious that the Olympians had imprisoned her children
the Titans, once decided to take Zeus to task for it. She sent an army of giants (who
could not be killed by a god, only by a mortal) to lay siege to Mount Olympus.
Gigantic as they were, they were about to scale the walls of the fortress when Heracles
(Zeus' mortal son, also known as Hercules) came to Zeus' assistance and killed the giants.
Gaia was furious! She created a gigantic monster by the name of Typhoon who had a human
shape but, instead of legs had thousands of snakes measuring a hundred miles long when
uncoiled. When stretched out to his full length, Typhon's head touched the stars.
When the monster reared his ugly head over the walls of Mount Olympus, the gods and
goddesses shivered in fear. Then changing themselves into various animals to escape
unnoticed and ran away to escape. All but one did, that is . . .
Athena remained behind. Disgusted with their departure, she began to taunt Zeus, asking
him what kind of a king he was, "A coward king, I'd say!" Zeus was embarrassed
and summoned his courage, turned around and fought Typhon. The earth shook for days from
their mighty blows.
Finally the beast turned to pick up a tall mountain to hurl at Zeus, and just when he
was distracted Zeus unleashed a hundred perfectly aimed thunderbolts at the monster,
blasting the mountain to bits and burying the Typhon beneath it. The Typhon didn't die,
but still lays buried beneath Mount Aetna where it periodically shakes and hisses with
As powerful as he was, there were two powers that Zeus could not have --
the power over the Fates and destiny, for they alone could determine the paths that gods
and mortals would have to take.