1. Education

Profile of the Greek God Zeus

By

Marble head of Asclepius or Zeus
DEA PICTURE LIBRARY/ De Agostini Picture Library/ Getty Images

Zeus Basics | Profile

Zeus is father of gods and men. A sky god, he controls lightning, which he uses as a weapon, and thunder. He is king on Mount Olympus, the home of the Greek gods. He is also credited as the father of Greek heroes and the ancestor of many other Greeks. Zeus mated with many mortals and goddesses but is married to his sister Hera (Juno).

See: Goddesses With Whom Zeus Mated and their Children

Myths involving Zeus (re-told by Thomas Bulfinch):

Occupation:

Family of Origin:

Zeus is the son of the Titans Cronus and Rhea. He is the brother of his wife Hera, his other sisters Demeter and Hestia, and his brothers Hades, Poseidon.

Roman Equivalent:

The Roman name for Zeus is Jupiter and sometimes Jove. Jupiter is thought to be made up of a Proto-Indoeuropean word for god, *deiw-os, combined with the word for father, pater, like Zeus + Pater.

Attributes:

Zeus is shown with a beard and long hair. His other attributes include scepter, eagle, cornucopia, aegis, ram, and lion.

The cornucopia or (goat) horn of plenty comes from the story of his Zeus' infancy when he was nursed by Amalthea.

Powers of Zeus:

Zeus is a sky god with control over weather, especially of rain and lightning. He is King of the gods and a god of oracles -- especially in the sacred oak at Dodona. In the story of the Trojan War, Zeus, as a judge, listens to the claims of other gods in support of their side. He then renders decisions on acceptable behavior. He remains neutral most of the time, allowing his son Sarpedon to die and glorifying his favorite, Hector.

Sources:

Ancient sources for Zeus include: Apollodorus, Diodorus Siculus, Hesiod, Homer, and Hyginus.

Etymology of Zeus and Jupiter:

The root of both "Zeus" and "Jupiter" is in a proto-Indo-European word for the often personified concepts of "day/light/sky".

Zeus and the Origin of Man:

Zeus Abducts Mortals:

There are many myths about Zeus. Some involve demanding acceptable conduct of others, whether human or divine. Zeus was enraged with the behavior of Prometheus. The titan had tricked Zeus into taking the non-meat portion of the original sacrifice, so that mankind could enjoy the food. In response, the king of the gods deprived mankind of the use of fire so they wouldn't be able to enjoy the boon they'd been granted, but Prometheus found a way around this, and stole some of the gods' fire by hiding it in a stalk of fennel and then giving it to mankind. Zeus punished Prometheus with having his liver pecked out every day.

But Zeus himself misbehaves -- at least according to human standards. It is tempting to say that his primary occupation is that of seducer. In order to seduce, he sometimes changed his shape into that of an animal or bird.

  • When he impregnated Leda, he appeared as a swan [see Leda and the Swan].
  • When he abducted Ganymede, he appeared as an eagle [see Zeus and Ganymede] in order to take Ganymede to the home of the gods where he would replace Hebe as cupbearer; and
  • when Zeus carried off Europa, he appeared as a tempting white bull
    [see Europa and Zeus] -- although why the Mediterranean women were so enamored of bulls is beyond the imaginative capacities of this urban-dweller -- setting in motion the quest of Cadmus and the settling of Thebes. The hunt for Europa provides one mythological version of the introduction of letters to Greece.

Olympics:

The Olympic Games were held to honor Zeus. Pausanias 5.7 says the Olympic origins lie with Zeus' victory over Cronus. The following passage also explains musical elements in the ancient Olympics.

[5.7.10] Now some say that Zeus wrestled here with Cronus himself for the throne, while others say that he held the games in honor of his victory over Cronus. The record of victors include Apollo, who outran Hermes and beat Ares at boxing. It is for this reason, they say, that the Pythian flute-song is played while the competitors in the pentathlum are jumping; for the flute-song is sacred to Apollo, and Apollo won Olympic victories.
Origins of the Olympics

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.