2008/9 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Ancient History, Classical History and Mythology; Divinities
Zeus (IPA: /zjuːs/; in Greek: nominative: Ζεύς Zeús, genitive: Διός Diós) in Greek mythology is the king of the gods, the ruler of Mount Olympus and the god of the sky and thunder. His symbols are the thunderbolt, eagle, bull and oak. In addition to his Indo-European inheritance, the classical "cloud-gatherer" also derives certain iconographic traits from the cultures of the ancient Near East, such as the scepter. Zeus is frequently depicted by Greek artists in one of two poses: standing, striding forward, with a thunderbolt leveled in his raised right hand or seated in majesty.
Zeus was the child of Cronus and Rhea, and the youngest of his siblings. In most traditions he was married to Hera, although, at the oracle of Dodona, his consort was Dione: according to the Iliad, he is the father of Aphrodite by Dione. He is known for his erotic escapades, including one pederastic relationship with Ganymede. These resulted in many famous offspring, including Athena, Apollo and Artemis, Hermes, Persephone (by Demeter), Dionysus, Perseus, Heracles, Helen, Minos, and the Muses (by Mnemosyne); by Hera, he is usually said to have fathered Ares, Hebe and Hephaestus.
Cult of Zeus
Panhellenic cults of Zeus
The major center where all Greeks converged to pay honour to their chief god was Olympia. Their quadrennial festival featured the famous Games. There was also an altar to Zeus made not of stone, but of ash, from the accumulated remains of many centuries' worth of animals sacrificed there.
Outside of the major inter- polis sanctuaries, there were no modes of worshipping Zeus precisely shared across the Greek world. Most of the titles listed below, for instance, could be found at any number of Greek temples from Asia Minor to Sicily. Certain modes of ritual were held in common as well: sacrificing a white animal over a raised altar, for instance.
Zeus, poetically referred to by the vocative Zeu pater ("O, father Zeus"), is a continuation of * Di̯ēus, the Proto-Indo-European god of the daytime sky, also called *Dyeus ph2tēr ("Sky Father"). The god is known under this name in Sanskrit (cf. Dyaus/Dyaus Pita), Latin (cf. Jupiter, from Iuppiter, deriving from the PIE vocative *dyeu-ph2tēr), deriving from the basic form *dyeu- ("to shine", and in its many derivatives, "sky, heaven, god"). And in Germanic and Norse mythology (cf. * Tīwaz > OHG Ziu, ON Týr), together with Latin deus, dīvus and Dis(a variation of dīves), from the related noun *deiwos. To the Greeks and Romans, the god of the sky was also the supreme god, whereas this function was filled out by Odin among the Germanic tribes. Accordingly, they did not identify Zeus/Jupiter with either Tyr or Odin, but with Thor (Þórr). Zeus is the only deity in the Olympic pantheon whose name has such a transparent Indo-European etymology.
Role and epithets
Zeus played a dominant role, presiding over the Greek Olympian pantheon. He fathered many of the heroes and was featured in many of their local cults. Though the Homeric "cloud collector" was the god of the sky and thunder like his Near-Eastern counterparts, he was also the supreme cultural artifact; in some senses, he was the embodiment of Greek religious beliefs and the archetypal Greek deity.
Aside from local epithets that simply designated the Zeus to doing something random at some particular place, the epithets or titles applied to Zeus emphasized different aspects of his wide-ranging authority:
- Zeus Olympios emphasized Zeus's kingship over both the gods in addition to his specific presence at the Panhellenic festival at Olympia.
- A related title was Zeus Panhellenios ('Zeus of all the Hellenes'), to whom Aeacus' famous temple on Aegina was dedicated.
- As Zeus Xenios, Zeus was the patron of hospitality and guests, ready to avenge any wrong done to a stranger.
- As Zeus Horkios, he was the keeper of oaths. Exposed liars were made to dedicate a statue to Zeus, often at the sanctuary of Olympia.
- As Zeus Agoraios, Zeus watched over business at the agora and punished dishonest traders.
- As Zeus Aegiduchos or Aegiochos he was the bearer of the Aegis with which he strikes terror into the impious and his enemies. Others derive this epithet from αίξ ("goat") and οχή and take it as an allusion to the legend of Zeus' suckling at the breast of Amalthea.
- As Zeus Meilichios, "Easy-to-be-entreated", he subsumed an archaic chthonic daimon propitiated in Athens, Meilichios.
Some local Zeus-cults
In addition to the Panhellenic titles and conceptions listed above, local cults maintained their own idiosyncratic ideas about the king of gods and men. With the epithet Zeus Aetnaeus he was worshiped on Mount Aetna, where there was a statue of him, and a local festival called the Aetnaea in his honour. Other examples are listed below.
- As Zeus Aeneius or Aenesius, he was worshiped in the island of Cephalenia, where he had a temple on Mount Aenos.
- As Zeus Agamemnon he was worshiped at Sparta.
On Crete, Zeus was worshipped at a number of caves at Knossos, Ida and Palaikastro. The stories of Minos and Epimenides suggest that these caves were once used for incubatory divination by kings and priests. The dramatic setting of Plato's Laws is along the pilgrimage-route to one such site, emphasizing archaic Cretan knowledge. On Crete, Zeus was represented in art as a long-haired youth rather than a mature adult, and hymned as ho megas kouros "the great youth". With the Kouretes, a band of ecstatic armed dancers, he presided over the rigorous military-athletic training and secret rites of the Cretan paideia.
The Hellenistic writer Euhemerus apparently proposed a theory that Zeus had actually been a great king of Crete and that posthumously his glory had slowly turned him into a deity. The works of Euhemerus himself have not survived, but Christian patristic writers took up the suggestion with enthusiasm.
Zeus Lykaios in Arcadia
The epithet Lykaios ("wolf-Zeus") is assumed by Zeus only in connection with the archaic festival of the Lykaia on the slopes of Mount Lykaion ("Wolf Mountain"), the tallest peak in rustic Arcadia; Zeus had only a formal connection with the rituals and myths of this primitive rite of passage with an ancient threat of cannibalism and the possibility of a werewolf transformation for the ephebes who were the participants. Near the ancient ash-heap where the sacrifices took place was a forbidden precinct in which, allegedly, no shadows were ever cast. According to Plato (Republic 565d-e), a particular clan would gather on the mountain to make a sacrifice every nine years to Zeus Lykaios, and a single morsel of human entrails would be intermingled with the animal's. Whoever ate the human flesh was said to turn into a wolf, and could only regain human form if he did not eat again of human flesh until the next nine-year cycle had ended. There were games associated with the Lykaia, removed in the fourth century to the first urbanization of Arcadia, Megalopolis; there the major temple was dedicated to Zeus Lykaios.
Apollo, too had an archaic wolf-form, Apollo Lycaeus, worshipped in Athens at the Lykeion, or Lyceum, which was made memorable as the site where Aristotle walked and taught.
Although etymology indicates that Zeus was originally a sky god, many Greek cities honored a local Zeus who lived underground. Athenians and Sicilians honored Zeus Meilichios ("kindly" or "honeyed") while other cities had Zeus Chthonios ("earthy"), Katachthonios ("under-the-earth) and Plousios ("wealth-bringing"). These deities might be represented as snakes or in human form in visual art, or, for emphasis as both together in one image. They also received offerings of black animal victims sacrificed into sunken pits, as did chthonic deities like Persephone and Demeter, and also the heroes at their tombs. Olympian gods, by contrast, usually received white victims sacrificed upon raised altars.
In some cases, cities were not entirely sure whether the daimon to whom they sacrificed was a hero or an underground Zeus. Thus the shrine at Lebadaea in Boeotia might belong to the hero Trophonius or to Zeus Trephonius ("the nurturing"), depending on whether you believe Pausanias, or Strabo. The hero Amphiaraus was honored as Zeus Amphiaraus at Oropus outside of Thebes, and the Spartans even had a shrine to Zeus Agamemnon.
Oracles of Zeus
Although most oracle sites were usually dedicated to Apollo, the heroes, or various goddesses like Themis, a few oracular sites were dedicated to Zeus.
The Oracle at Dodona
The cult of Zeus at Dodona in Epirus, where there is evidence of religious activity from the second millennium BC onward, centered around a sacred oak. When the Odyssey was composed (circa 750 BC), divination was done there by barefoot priests called Selloi, who lay on the ground and observed the rustling of the leaves and branches (Odyssey 14.326-7). By the time Herodotus wrote about Dodona, female priestesses called peleiades ("doves") had replaced the male priests.
Zeus' consort at Dodona was not Hera, but the goddess Dione — whose name is a feminine form of "Zeus". Her status as a titaness suggests to some that she may have been a more powerful pre-Hellenic deity, and perhaps the original occupant of the oracle.
The Oracle at Siwa
The oracle of Ammon at the oasis of Siwa in the Western Desert of Egypt did not lie within the bounds of the Greek world before Alexander's day, but it already loomed large in the Greek mind during the archaic era: Herodotus mentions consultations with Zeus Ammon in his account of the Persian War. Zeus Ammon was especially favored at Sparta, where a temple to him existed by the time of the Peloponnesian War
After Alexander made a trek into the desert to consult the oracle at Siwa, the figure arose of a Libyan Sibyl.
Zeus and foreign gods
Zeus was equivalent to the Roman god Jupiter and associated in the syncretic classical imagination (see interpretatio graeca) with various other deities, such as the Egyptian Ammon and the Etruscan Tinia. He (along with Dionysus) absorbed the role of the chief Phrygian god Sabazios in the syncretic deity known in Rome as Sabazius.
Zeus in myth
Cronus sired several children by Rhea: Hestia, Demeter, Hera, Hades, and Poseidon, but swallowed them all as soon as they were born, since he had learned from Gaia and Uranus that he was destined to be overcome by his own son as he had overthrown his own father— an oracle that Zeus was to hear and avert. But when Zeus was about to be born, Rhea sought Gaia to devise a plan to save him, so that Cronus would get his retribution for his acts against Uranus and his own children. Rhea gave birth to Zeus in Crete, handing Cronus a rock wrapped in swaddling clothes, which he promptly swallowed.
Rhea hid Zeus in a cave on Mount Ida in Crete. According to varying versions of the story:
- He was then raised by Gaia.
- He was raised by a goat named Amalthea, while a company of Kouretes— soldiers, or smaller gods— danced, shouted and clashed their spears against their shields so that Cronus would not hear the baby's cry. (See cornucopia.)
- He was raised by a nymph named Adamanthea. Since Cronus ruled over the Earth, the heavens and the sea, she hid him by dangling him on a rope from a tree so he was suspended between earth, sea and sky and thus, invisible to his father.
- He was raised by a nymph named Cynosura. In gratitude, Zeus placed her among the stars.
- He was raised by Melissa, who nursed him with goat's-milk and honey.
- He was raised by a shepherd family under the promise that their sheep would be saved from wolves.
Zeus becomes king of the gods
After reaching manhood, Zeus forced Cronus to disgorge first the stone (which was set down at Pytho under the glens of Parnassus to be a sign to mortal men, the Omphalos) then his siblings in reverse order of swallowing. In some versions, Metis gave Cronus an emetic to force him to disgorge the babies, or Zeus cut Cronus' stomach open. Then Zeus released the brothers of Cronus, the Gigantes, the Hecatonchires and the Cyclopes, from their dungeon in Tartarus (The Titans; he killed their guard, Campe. As gratitude, the Cyclopes gave him thunder and the thunderbolt, or lightning, which had previously been hidden by Gaia.) Together, Zeus and his brothers and sisters, along with the Gigantes, Hecatonchires and Cyclopes overthrew Cronus and the other Titans, in the combat called the Titanomachy. The defeated Titans were then cast into a shadowy underworld region known as Tartarus. Atlas, one of the titans that fought against Zeus, was punished by having to hold up the sky.
After the battle with the Titans, Zeus shared the world with his elder brothers, Poseidon and Hades, by drawing lots: Zeus got the sky and air, Poseidon the waters, and Hades the world of the dead (the underworld). The ancient Earth, Gaia, could not be claimed; she was left to all three, each according to their capabilities, which explains why Poseidon was the "earth-shaker" (the god of earthquakes) and Hades claimed the humans that died. (See also: Penthus)
Gaia resented the way Zeus had treated the Titans, because they were her children. Soon after taking the throne as king of the gods, Zeus had to fight some of Gaia's other children, the monsters Typhon and Echidna. He vanquished Typhon and trapped him under a mountain, but left Echidna and her children alive.
Zeus and Hera
Zeus was brother and consort of Hera. By Hera, Zeus sired Ares, Hebe and Hephaestus, though some accounts say that Hera produced these offspring alone. Some also include Eileithyia and Eris as their daughters. The conquests of Zeus among nymphs and the mythic mortal progenitors of Hellenic dynasties are famous. Olympian mythography even credits him with unions with Leto, Demeter, Dione and Maia.
Among the mortals: Semele, Io, Europa and Leda. (For more details, see below).
Many myths renders Hera as jealous of his amorous conquests and a consistent enemy of Zeus' mistresses and their children by him. For a time, a nymph named Echo had the job of distracting Hera from his affairs by incessantly talking: when Hera discovered the deception, she cursed Echo to repeat the words of others.
Consorts and children
By divine mothers
*The Greeks variously claimed that the Fates were the daughters of Zeus and the Titaness Themis or of primordial beings like Nyx, Chaos or Anake.
† Hermes and Poseidon also played a part in Orion's conception and are also biological fathers of him. He is described as being "Earth-born" and was gestated buried beneath the ground; this is Gaia's domain, though she had no direct involvement in his birth or development. Other versions of his parentage include a version of the former excluding Poseidon and one with solely Poseidon and Euryale as his parents.
- Zeus turned Pandareus to stone for stealing the golden dog which had guarded him as an infant in the holy Dictaeon Cave of Crete.
- Zeus killed Salmoneus with a thunderbolt for attempting to impersonate him, riding around in a bronze chariot and loudly imitating thunder.
- Zeus turned Periphas into an eagle after his death, as a reward for being righteous and just.
- At the marriage of Zeus and Hera, a nymph named Chelone refused to attend. Zeus transformed her into a tortoise (chelone in Greek).
- Zeus, with Hera, turned King Haemus and Queen Rhodope into mountains (the Balkan mountains, or Stara Planina, and Rhodope mountains, respectively) for their vanity.
- Zeus condemned Tantalus to eternal torture in Tartarus for trying to trick the gods into eating the flesh of his butchered son.
- Zeus condemned Ixion to be tied to a fiery wheel for eternity as punishment for attempting to violate Hera.
- Zeus sunk the Telchines beneath the sea for blighting the earth with their fell magics.
- Zeus blinded the seer Phineus and sent the Harpies to plague him as punishment for revealing the secrets of the gods.
- Zeus rewarded Tiresias with a life three times the norm as reward for ruling in his favour when he and Hera contested which of the sexes gained the most pleasure from the act of love.
- Zeus punished Hera by having her hung upside down from the sky when she attempted to drown Heracles in a storm.
- Of all the children Zeus spawned, Heracles was often described as his favorite. Indeed, Heracles was often called by various gods and people as "the favorite son of Zeus", Zeus and Heracles were very close and in one story, where a tribe of earth-born Giants threatened Olympus and the Oracle at Delphi decreed that only the combined efforts of a lone god and mortal could stop the creature, Zeus chose Heracles to fight by his side. They proceeded to defeat the monsters.
- Athena has at times been called his favorite daughter.
- His sacred bird was the golden eagle, which he kept by his side at all times. Like him, the eagle was a symbol of strength, courage, and justice.
- His favourite tree was the oak, symbol of strength. Olive trees were also sacred to him.
- Zelus, Nike, Cratos and Bia were Zeus' retinue.
In Neoplatonism, Zeus' relation to the Gods familiar from mythology is taught as the Demiurge or Divine Mind. Specifically within Plotinus' work the Enneads
- Ζήνων, Zenon,
- Δίας, Dias
- Zeus Hospites- as a protector of guests
- Zeus Philoxenon- as a protector of foreigners
- Olumpios- the Olympian
- Astrapios- literally, "the lightninger"
- Brontios- the Thunderer
Spoken-word myths — audio files
|Zeus Myths as told by story tellers|
|1. Zeus and Tantalus, (including Pelops and Poseidon episode), read by Timothy Carter|
|Bibliography of reconstruction: Homer, Odyssey, 11.567 (7th c. BC); Pindar, Olympian Odes, 1 (476 BC); Euripides, Orestes, 12–16 (408 BC); Apollodorus, Epitomes 2: 1–9 (140 BC); Ovid, Metamorphoses, VI: 213, 458 (AD 8); Hyginus, Fables, 82: Tantalus; 83: Pelops (1st c. AD); Pausanias, Description of Greece, 2.22.3 (AD 160–76)|
|2. Zeus and Ganymede, read by Timothy Carter|
|Bibliography of reconstruction: Homer, Iliad 5.265ff; 20.215–35 (700 BC); Anonymous, Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite 202ff. (7th c. BC); Sophocles, The Colchian Women (after Athenaeus, 602) (b. 495 – d. 406 BC); Euripides, Iphigenia in Aulis (410 BC); Apollodorus, Library and Epitome iii.12.2 (140 BC); Diodorus Siculus, Histories 4.75.3 (1st c. BC); Virgil, Aeneid 5. 252–60 (19 BC); Ovid, Metamorphoses 10.155ff. (AD 1–8); Hyginus, Poetica Astronomica|