Zeus was the king of the gods in ancient Greek religion. He was the god of the sky, lightning and thunder; and the most prominent symbols associated with him are the thunderbolt, eagle, bull and oak. According to Greek mythology, Zeus was the son of Cronus and Rhea. His father Cronus intended to eat him alive but his mother Rhea managed to fool Cronus and save Zeus. Zeus then went on to overthrow Cronus and become King of the Gods. Zeus took many wives and fathered numerous children. He also had multiple sexual escapades. Zeus was revered as a major deity in ancient Greece and he was honored in various ways. To honor him, among other things, the famous Olympic games were held and the magnificent Statue of Zeus was built. Here are 10 interesting facts about the Greek God Zeus.
#1 Zeus is similar to sky gods in other ancient religions
Ancient Indo-European pantheons had gods associated with the sky which ruled over all the other gods. Hinduism had Dyaus; the Greeks had Zeus; and the Romans had Jupiter. Scholars have used these deities to reconstruct the original sky god of proto-Indo-European religion, called Dyeus. The mythologies and powers of these sky gods are similar, though not identical. While Zeus has his own lore and mythology, Jupiter and Dyaus have very few surviving myths associated with them. It might be that these myths have been lost or it might be that in these religions the sky god didn’t play a major role in the lives of the worshipers. Also, while the Hindu god Dyaus is forced to incarnate and live as a human as punishment, Zeus never incarnated as a human.
#2 His father Cronus intended to eat him alive at birth
According to Greek mythology, Cronus overthrew his father Uranus and ruled over the world along with his wife Rhea. Gaia, wife of Uranus and the Greek goddess personifying earth, told Cronus that one of his children would go on to overthrow him like he had overthrown his father. Cronus had several children with Rhea but swallowed them all at birth. However, when her sixth child Zeus was about to be born, Rhea sought Gaia to devise a plan to save him. Rhea secretly gave birth to Zeus in Crete, hid him in a cave and instead gave Cronus a stone wrapped in his clothes, which he swallowed. At the cave, Zeus was nursed and taken care of by the nymph known as Amalthaea, who was also a female goat. The infant Zeus was also guarded by the Curetes, young warriors who would clash their weapons every time Zeus cried in order to mask his cries.
#3 He is considered the youngest as well as the eldest of his siblings
While being raised in the cave, Zeus met Metis, the goddess of wisdom. It was Metis who convinced Zeus to take revenge on his father and gave him a potion to do so. Zeus disguised himself as an Olympian cup-bearer; poisoned his father’s wine with the potion and tricked him to drink it. Although the poison did not kill Cronus, he vomited so much that he disgorged Zeus’s siblings: his sisters Hestia, Demeter and Hera; and his brothers Hades and Poseidon. Thus though Zeus was the youngest of his siblings to be born, he is also considered the eldest as his other siblings were later disgorged from Cronus’s stomach.
#4 He led the Olympians to victory against the Titans
After his siblings were disgorged by Cronus, Zeus went to Tartarus, the dungeon of torment which was used as a prison. Here he killed the guards and released the brothers of Cronus, the Hecatonchires and the Cyclopes. As gratitude for releasing them, the Cyclopes gave Zeus the thunderbolt, which served as his weapon and is his best known symbol. Along with his siblings, the Hecatonchires and the Cyclopes; Zeus fought against Cronus and the other Titans in the Battle of the Gods known as Titanomachy. In this battle, the Olympians, the younger generation led by Zeus defeated the Titans and overthrew Cronus. Zeus and his brothers then shared the world by drawing lots. Zeus took control of the sky and air; Poseidon got the waters; and Hades got the underworld, the world of the dead. The ancient Earth could not be claimed and was shared by the three.
#5 Zeus is the dominant figure in Greek mythology
Zeus presided over the Greek Olympian pantheon. The Greek poet Homer proposes heaven to be located at the summit of Olympus. This would be logical for a weather God to reside since Olympus was the highest mountain in Greece. Other members of the pantheon are also considered to reside with Zeus and were constantly subject to his will. From his position, Zeus was thought to be an omniscient presence, observing all affairs of men and governing everything by rewarding good behavior and pushing evil. Zeus plays a dominant role in Greek mythology with all others referring to him as “The Father” and all rising in his presence.
#6 He had numerous wives, lovers and children
Zeus went on to marry his sister Hera, the goddess of women, marriage, family and childbirth. Thus Hera ruled over Mount Olympus as queen of the gods. Zeus and Hera produced several children such as Ares, Hebe and Hephaestus. Some accounts also include Eileithyia, Eris, Enyo and Angelos as their daughters. Zeus also married his sister Demeter, his aunt Mnemosyne, his cousin Leto, one of his cousins’ daughter Dione and another cousins’ daughter Maia. Apart from these, he also went on to marry others including Semele, Alcmene and Io. Apart from his marriages, Zeus also had plenty of sexual pursuits that even included an affair with his own daughter Aphrodite. When his wife Hera came to know about this, she cursed Zeus that resulted in the birth of Priapos, a deformed God in the shape of a penis. Apart from Gods, Zeus had sexual escapades with 20 mortals, which included Ganymede, the prince of Troy. It is estimated that Zeus had a total of at least 57 sexual partners.
#7 Zeus held numerous titles emphasizing various aspects of his authority
Zeus is linked with multiple titles, each of whom emphasizes varying aspects of his wide-ranging authority. These include the following:-
- Zeus Aegiduchos: the bearer of the Aegis which is a divine shield with the head of Medusa across it
- Zeus Agoraeus: financier of the marketplace who punished dishonest traders
- Zeus Areius: the atoning or propitiating one
- Zeus Horkios: the keeper of oaths who exposed liars
- Zeus Olympios: the king of the gods
- Zeus Panhellenios: Zeus of all Greeks
- Zeus Xenios, Philoxenon or Hospites: the god of hospitality and avenger of wrongdoers to strangers
#8 The ancient Olympic Games were held in his honor
The belief around Zeus was also subject to numerous cults. These may be divided into Panhellenic cults and Non-Panhellenic cults. The primary center where all Greeks converged to pay honor to their main god Zeus was Olympia. At Olympia, there was a quadrennial festival during which the famous ancient Olympic Games were held in honor of Zeus. There was an altar to Zeus at Olympia made not of stone, but of ash accumulated from hundreds of years of animal sacrifice. On the other hand, Non-Panhellenic cults maintained their own individual ideas about Zeus. He was worshiped on Mount Aetna with the epithet Zeus Aetnaeus where there was festival called Aetnaea and a statue dedicated to him. He was also worshiped at Mount Aenos as Zeus Aeneius where there was a temple dedicated to him.
#9 The Statue of Zeus at Olympia was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World
Around 435 BC, a giant statue of a seated Zeus was built at the sanctuary of Olympia by the sculptor Phidias. Erected in the Temple of Zeus, this sculpture was made of ivory plates and gold panels over a wooden framework. It represented Zeus sitting on an elaborate cedar wood throne and was ornamented with ebony, ivory, gold and precious stones. Along with the Great Pyramid of Giza, The Temple of Artemis, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the Colossus of Rhodes, the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus and the Lighthouse of Alexandria; the Statue of Zeus was regarded as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. In 391 AD, the Roman emperor Theodosius I banned participation in pagan cults and closed the temples; and in 5th century CE, the Statue of Zeus was supposedly destroyed. There is no visual proof of the statue and its details of form can only be gauged from ancient Greek descriptions and representations on coins.
#10 His omnipresence might have reduced his importance
In artistic forms, Zeus is often depicted as a staggering figure, a dignified, bearded and mature man of stalwart build. Prominent figures used in conjunction with his representation include the thunderbolt and the eagle. But Greek religionists and mythology lovers also believe that his very omniscience seemed to undermine his authority and reduce his importance in ancient Greece when compared to other local divinities such as Athena and Hera. This is based on the fact that Zeus lacked a temple at Athens until the late 6th Century BC. Moreover, his temple at Olympia was also built later when compared to that of Hera.