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In Greek mythology, Zeus is the god of sky, thunder, winds, clouds and many more, whom from his throne on Mount Olympus, ruled over god and man alike, maintaining order and justice in the universe as the king of the gods. His name is cognate with the first element of his Roman equivalent Jupiter. His mythologies and powers are similar, though not identical, to those of Indo-European deities such as Jupiter, Perkūnas, Perun, Indra and Þórr.

Zeus is the child of Cronus and Rhea, the youngest of his siblings to be born, though sometimes reckoned the eldest as the others required disgorging from Cronus's stomach. In most traditions, he is married to Hera, by whom he is usually said to have fathered Ares, Hebe, and Hephaestus. At the oracle of Dodona, his consort was said to be Dione, by whom the Iliad states that he fathered Aphrodite. Zeus was also infamous for his erotic escapades. These resulted in many godly and heroic offspring, including Athena, Apollo, Artemis, Hermes, Persephone, Dionysus, Perseus, Heracles, Helen of Troy, Minos, and the Muses.

He was respected as an allfather who was chief of the gods and assigned the others to their roles: "Even the gods who are not his natural children address him as Father, and all the gods rise in his presence." He was equated with many foreign weather gods, permitting Pausanias to observe "That Zeus is king in heaven is a saying common to all men". Zeus' symbols are the thunderbolt, eagle, bull, and oak. In addition to his Indo-European inheritance, the classical "cloud-gatherer" (Greek: Νεφεληγερέτα, Nephelēgereta) 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.


The god's name in the nominative is Ζεύς (Zeús). It is inflected as follows: vocative: Ζεῦ (Zeû); accusative: Δία (Día); genitive: Διός (Diós); dative: Διί (Dií). Diogenes Laërtius quotes Pherecydes of Syros as spelling the name, Ζάς.[1]

Zeus is the Greek continuation of *Di̯ēus, the name of the Proto-Indo-European god of the daytime sky, also called *Dyeus ph2tēr ("Sky Father").[2][3] The god is known under this name in the Rigveda (Vedic Sanskrit Dyaus/Dyaus Pita), Latin (compare Jupiter, from Iuppiter, deriving from the Proto-Indo-European vocative *dyeu-ph2tēr), deriving from the root *dyeu- ("to shine", and in its many derivatives, "sky, heaven, god").[2] Zeus is the only deity in the Olympic pantheon whose name has such a transparent Indo-European etymology.[4]

The earliest attested forms of the name are the Mycenaean Greek 𐀇𐀸, di-we and 𐀇𐀺, di-wo, written in the Linear B syllabic script.[5]

Plato, in his Cratylus, gives a folk etymology of Zeus meaning "cause of life always to all things," because of puns between alternate titles of Zeus (Zen and Dia) with the Greek words for life and "because of."[6] This etymology, along with Plato's entire method of deriving etymologies, is not supported by modern scholarship.[7][8]



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 been warned by Gaia and Ouranós that he was prophesied to be overthrown by his son, just as he had previously overthrown his father Ouranós.

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 Ouranós and his own children. Rhea gave birth to Zeus in Crete, handing Cronus a rock wrapped in swaddling clothes, which he promptly swallowed.


Varying versions of the story exist:

  1. According to Hyginus (Fabulae, 139) Zeus was raised by a nymph named Amalthea. Since Saturn (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.
  2. According to Pseudo-Apollodorus (Bibliotheca, 1.1.5-7) Zeus was raised by a goat named Amalthea in a cave called Dictaeon Antron (Psychro Cave). A company of soldiers called Kouretes danced, shouted and clashed their spears against their shields so that Cronus would not hear the baby's cry.

King of the gods

First century statue of Zeus

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's stomach open. Then Zeus released the brothers of Cronus, the Hecatoncheires and the Cyclopes, from their dungeon in Tartarus, killing their guard, Campe.

As a token of their appreciation, the Cyclopes gave him thunder and the thunderbolt, or lightning, which had previously been hidden by Gaia. Together, Zeus, his brothers and sisters, Hecatoncheires 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 who 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 who 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 Mount Etna, but left Echidna and her children alive.

The Birth of Athena

Main article: The Birth of Athena

Early in Zeus' reign, he married the goddess of wisdom, Metis, who was soon with child. When Zeus learned that it was prophesied that Metis would one day give birth to a son more powerful than even himself, Zeus swallowed her whole. Some time later Zeus suffered from a terrible headache and summoned Hephaestus and Apollo. Hephaestus tried to split open Zeus' head whilst Apollo brushed Zeus's hair. From Zeus' head sprang the goddess Athena, fully grown and in battle dress. Zeus favored Athena above all other gods.

Disagreement with Prometheus

Zeus had assigned the brothers Prometheus (English: Forethought) and Epimetheus (English: Afterthought) the task of filling the earth with creatures so that it wouldn't be barren. Epimetheus created the animals of the world using all the gifts available (horns, shells, etc.), leaving nothing for man.

Prometheus then created the first men out of clay, basing their form on that of the gods, and gave them mind. Thus, Prometheus made man superior to the other animals. Yet, they were physically helpless. So Prometheus asked Zeus if he could give them the sacred fire of Olympus, but Zeus denied his request.

In an act of defiance against Zeus' wishes, Prometheus stole some of the fire from Olympus, hiding it in a bundle of straw, and passed it down to humans. Zeus, angered by Prometheus' act, chained Prometheus to a mountain where the Kaucasian Eagle would eat out his liver every day, only for it to grow back and start the painful cycle again. Eventually, the hero and son of Zeus, Heracles shot the eagle and broke the chains binding Prometheus, thus rescuing him.

Conflicts with humans

The Chariot of Zeus, from an 1879 Stories from the Greek Tragedians by Alfred Church.

When Zeus was atop Mount Olympus he was appalled by human sacrifice and other signs of human decadence. He decided to wipe out mankind and flooded the world with the help of his brother Poseidon. After the flood, only Deucalion and Pyrrha remained.[9] This flood narrative is a common motif in mythology.[10]

Throughout history Zeus has been depicted as using violence to get his way and terrorize humans. As god of the sky he has the power to hurl lightning bolts as a weapon. Since lightning is quite powerful and sometimes deadly, it is a bold sign when lightning strikes because it is known that Zeus most likely threw the bolt.

In the Iliad

Jupiter and Juno on Mount Ida by James Barry, 1773 (City Art Galleries, Sheffield.)

The Iliad is a poem by Homer about the Trojan War and the battle over the City of Troy, in which Zeus plays a major part. Scenes in which Zeus appears include:[11][12]

  • Book 2: Zeus sends Agamemnon a dream and is able to partially control his decisions because of the effects of the dream
  • Book 4: Zeus promises Hera to ultimately destroy the City of Troy at the end of the war
  • Book 7: Zeus and Poseidon ruin the Achaeans fortress
  • Book 8: Zeus prohibits the other Gods from fighting each other and has to return to Mount Ida where he can think over his decision that the Greeks will lose the war
  • Book 14: Zeus is seduced by Hera and becomes distracted while she helps out the Greeks
  • Book 15: Zeus wakes up and realizes that Poseidon his own brother has been helping out the Greeks, while also sending Hector and Apollo to help fight the Trojans ensuring that the City of Troy will fall
  • Book 16: Zeus is upset that he couldn't help save Sarpedon's life because it would then contradict his previous decisions
  • Book 17: Zeus is emotionally hurt by the fate of Hector
  • Book 20: Zeus lets the other Gods help out their respective sides in the war
  • Book 24: Zeus demands that Achilles release the corpse of Hector to be buried honorably

List of other deeds

  • Zeus granted Callirrhoe's prayer that her sons by Alcmaeon, Acarnan and Amphoterus, grow quickly so that they might be able to avenger the death of their father by the hands of Phegeus and his two sons.
  • He unsuccessfully wooed Thetis, daughter of Nereus.


Olympian Genealogy in Greek mythology
The Muses
Cadmus of Thebes

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, Eris, Enyo and Angelos as their daughters. In the section of the Iliad known to scholars as the Deception of Zeus, the two of them are described as having begun their sexual relationship without their parents knowing about it.[13] 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, Metis, Themis, Eurynome and Mnemosyne.[14][15] Other relationships with immortals included Dione and Maia. Among mortals were Semele, Io, Europa and Leda (for more details, see below) and with the young Ganymede (although he was mortal Zeus granted him eternal youth and immortality).

Many myths render 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 talking incessantly, and when Hera discovered the deception, she cursed Echo to repeat the words of others.

Transformation of Zeus

Love interest Disguises
Aegina Eagle or a flame of fire
Alcmene Amphitryon
Antiope SaTýr
Asopis Flame of fire
Callisto Artemis
Cassiopeia Phoenix
Danae Shower of gold
Europa Bull
Eurymedusa Ant
Ganymede Eagle
Imandra Shower
Lamia Lapwing
Leda Swan and a star
Manthea Bear
Mnemosyne Shepherd
Nemesis Goose
Persephone Serpent
Semele Fire
Thalia Vulture

Consorts and offspring

Zeus has been a notorious figure due to his sheer number of consorts other than his wife Hera. Concerning myths about Zeus' escapades and consorts, Hera is often depicted as being furious and enraged by Zeus' actions. Often in such stories Hera is depicted as the villain who takes revenge on Zeus by inflicting harm on Zeus' often-helpless consorts. This being the case, many of Zeus' consorts suffer terrible fates. Even so, Zeus' many offspring often survive either due to Zeus' divine power flowing through them, or by Zeus' own intervention. As such, Greek mythology is filled with gods, heroes and kings that are directly descended from Zeus.

Notable consorts

  • Metis: After the war, Zeus married Metis, the titaness of wisdom and daughter of Okeanos and Tethys. Metis sided with the gods during the war and became Zeus' mentor after the war. When Metis first became pregnant, Zeus learned that they were to have a son that would he would eventually overpower him. Zeus acted as his father and grandfather did and tried to change destiny, and he swallowed Metis whole. However, because she was immortal, she gave birth inside of Zeus to a daughter. After their daughter was fully grown, Zeus suffered from a terrible headache. He asked Hephaestus to open his head with a blow with an axe. As Hephaestus did so, Athena, the goddess of wisdom and war, sprang out fully dressed in armor.
  • Themis: After his marriage with Metis, Zeus married Themis (the titaness of justice). With her he had The Moirae, The Horae, and Astraea.
  • Aegina: Aegina was the mortal daughter of the river god Asopus and the sea-nymph Metope. She had either eleven or nineteen sisters. Zeus fell in love with her and abducted her into the shape of an eagle. He flew her to an island where she gave birth to twin sons, Menoetius and Aeacus. Zeus then named the island Aegina after her. Menoetius' daughter, Polymede, gave birth to the hero Jason, and Aeacus' son Peleus married the goddess Thetis, who then bore the warrior Achilles.
  • Kallisto: Kallisto was a nymph who was a servant to Artemis. Zeus fell in love with her and seduced her. As Callisto slept, Zeus raped her and she was pregnant with his child. Hera, hearing of the affair, attacked Callisto's home. Artemis and the other nymphs fought her off as Callisto gave birth to a son, and went into the wilderness, but Hera found her and turned her into a she-bear. One day, she was spotted by a younger hunter who she recognized as her son, Arcas, who hurled his spear at Kallisto. At that moment, Zeus restrained them and placed them in the heavens, creating the constellations Ursa Major (The Big Dipper) and Ursa Minor (The Little Dipper).
  • Semele: Zeus also had an affair with a mortal woman named Semele. Hera, jealous that Zeus had impregnated this woman, disguised herself as an old woman and went to visit Semele. Hera talked friendly with Semele for a while but she eventually asked why her husband was not home. Semele told the old woman that her husband was Zeus, but Hera, still pretending to be the old lady, told Semele that she had met plenty of men who pretended to be Zeus. She told Semele that she should ask Zeus to see him in all his splendor to be absolutely certain that he was who he said he was. When Zeus returned, Semele asked him to grant her one wish. After he swore an oath to grant whatever she wished for, she asked for him to show her his true form, in all it's splendor. Zeus revealed his true form to her, and Semele was burned to ashes. Zeus did however save their son, the god Dionysos, by sewing the unborn infant to his own leg.
Comparative table of Zeus' family
Divine Lovers Offspring Divine Lovers Offspring Mortal Consort Offspring
Aega or • Aegipan[16] Themis • Astraea Alcmene Heracles
Aix or • Nemesis Anaxithea • Olenus[17]
Boetis • Nymphs of Eridanos Calyce • Aethlius or
Ananke Moirai / Fates1 • Moirai / Fates1 • Endymion
1. Atropos 1. Atropos Cassiopeia • Anchinos[18]
2. Clotho 2. Clotho • Atymnius
3. Lachesis 3. Lachesis Chaldene • Milye
Aphrodite Tyche6 (possibly) Horae • Solymus
Asteria Hecate[19] First Generation: Chonia • Lacon[20]
Heracles[21][22] 1. Auxo Chloris • Mopsus[20]
Asterope • Acragas 2. Carpo Cotonia[23] • Polymedes[20]
Calliope • Corybantes 3. Thallo Danaë Perseus
Coryphe • Coria (Athene)[24] Second Generation: Dia • Pirithous
Demeter Persephone 1. Dike Elara or • Tityos
Dionysus[25] 2. Eirene Larissa
Dione 3. Eunomia Europa Minos
• Aphrodite Third Generation: • Rhadamanthus
Eos • Carae 1. Euporie • Sarpedon
Eris • Limos 2. Orthosie • Alagonia[26]
Euanthe or Charites/ Graces2 3. Pherusa • Carnus[27]
Eurydome or 1. Aglaea • Athena[28] Euryodeia • Arcesius
Eurymedusa or 2. Euphrosyne Unknown mother • Aletheia Helen • Musaeus[20]
Eurynome 3. Thalia Unknown mother Ate Hermippe • Orchomenus[29]
• Asopus Unknown mother • Nysean [30] Hippodamia • Olenus[20]
Europa • Dodon[20][31] Unknown mother • Caerus Hippodamia[20] no known offspring
Gaia • Agdistis Unknown mother • Eubuleus[32] Imandra[33] no known offspring
• Manes Unknown mother • Litae Iodame • Thebe[34]
Cyprian Centaurs Unknown mother • Nymphs • Deucalion[35]
Hera • Angelos Unknown mother • Phasis[36] Isonoe (Isione) • Orchomenus
Ares3 Semi-divine Lovers Offspring Lamia • Achilleus (Acheilus)[37][38]
• Arge[35] Aegina Aeacus Lamia • Libyan Sibyl (Herophile)
Eileithyia • Damocrateia[39] Laodamia or • Sarpedon
• Eleutheria[40] Antiope Amphion Hippodamia[20]
Enyo • Zethus Leanida • Coron[20]
Eris Borysthenis • Targitaus Leda Helen of Troy5
Hebe3 Callisto Arcas Pollux
Hephaestus3 Callirrhoe no known offspring Libya • Belus[20]
• Curetes[28] Carme • Britomartis Lysithea Helenus[20]
Hybris Pan Chalcea • Olympus[20] Lysithoe • Heracles[41]
Leto Apollo Charidia • Alchanus[20] Manthea • Arctos[20]
Artemis Chrysogenia[42] • Thissaeus[20] Maera • Locrus
Maia Hermes Electra • Dardanus Megaclite
Metis Athena4 • Emathion • Thebe
Mnemosyne Muses (Original three) • Iasion or Eetion Niobe • Argus
1. Aoide • Harmonia • Pelasgus
2. Melete Eurymedousa • Myrmidon Pandora • Graecus
3. Mneme Eurynome • Ogygias[20] Latinus[43]
Muses (Later nine) Himalia • Cronius • Melera[44]
1. Calliope • Spartaios • Pandorus[44]
2. Clio • Cytus Phthia • Achaeus
3. Euterpe Hora • Colaxes[45] Protogeneia • Aethlius
4. Erato Idaea • Asterion[20] • Aetolus
5. Melpomene • Cres[46] • Dorus
6. Polyhymnia Io Epaphus • Opus
7. Terpsichore • Keroessa Pyrrha • Hellen or
8. Thalia Lardane[35] • Sarpedon • Helmetheus[20]
9. Urania • Argus Semele • Dionysus
Nemesis Helen of Troy Nymphe • Saon Thaicrucia


• Nympheus[20]
Persephone • Melinoë Othreis • Meliteus Thebe • Aegyptus[34]
• Zagreus Phoenissa[48] • Endymion[20] • Heracles[49]
Selene • Dionysus[50] Plouto Tantalus Thyia


• Magnes
• Ersa Podarge • Balius • Makednos
• Nemea • Xanthus Unknown mother • Calabrus
Nemean Lion Salamis • Saracon[20] • Geraestus
• Pandia Taygete Lacedaemon • Taenarus[52]
Styx • Persephone Themisto • Archas Unknown mother • Corinthus
Thalassa • Aphrodite Torrhebia • Carius Unknown mother • Crinacus[53]
Thalia Palici Nymph African • Iarbas No mother • Orion[54]
Nymph Sithnid • Megarus
  • 1The Greeks variously claimed that the Moires/Fates were the daughters of Zeus and the Titaness Themis or of primordial beings like Chaos, Nyx, or Ananke.
  • 2The Charites/Graces were usually considered the daughters of Zeus and Eurynome but they were also said to be daughters of Dionysus and Aphrodite or of Helios and the naiad Aegle.
  • 3Some accounts say that Ares, Hebe, and Hephaestus were born parthenogenetically.
  • 4According to one version, Athena is said to be born parthenogenetically.
  • 5Helen was either the daughter of Leda or Nemesis.
  • 6Tyche is usually considered a daughter of Aphrodite and Hermes.

Roles and epithets

Roman marble colossal head of Zeus, 2nd century AD (British Museum)[55]

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 deity as doing something random at some particular place, the epithets or titles applied to Zeus emphasized different aspects of his wide-ranging authority:

  • Zeus Aegiduchos or Aegiochos: Usually taken as Zeus as the bearer of the Aegis, the divine shield with the head of Medusa across it,[56] although others derive it from "goat" (αἴξ) and okhē (οχή) in reference to Zeus' nurse, the divine goat Amalthea.[57][58]
  • Zeus Agoraeus: Zeus as patron of the marketplace (agora) and punisher of dishonest traders.
  • Zeus Areius: either "warlike" or "the atoning one".
  • Zeus Horkios: Zeus as keeper of oaths. Exposed liars were made to dedicate a votive statue to Zeus, often at the sanctuary at Olympia
  • Zeus Olympios: Zeus as king of the gods and patron of the Panhellenic Games at Olympia
  • Zeus Panhellenios ("Zeus of All the Greeks"): worshipped at Aeacus's temple on Aegina
  • Zeus Xenios, Philoxenon, or Hospites: Zeus as the patron of hospitality (xenia) and guests, avenger of wrongs done to strangers

Additional names and epithets for Zeus are also:

  • Abrettenus (Ἀβρεττηνός) or Abretanus: surname of Zeus in Mysia[59]
  • Achad: one of his names in Syria.
  • Acraeus: his name at Smyrna.
  • Acrettenus: his name in Mysia.
  • Adad: one of his names in Syria.
  • Adultus: from his being invoked by adults, on their marriage.
  • Apemius: Zeus as the averter of ills
  • Apomyius Zeus as one who dispels flies
  • Astrapios ("Lightninger"): Zeus as a weather god
  • Bottiaeus: Worshipped at Antioch
  • Brontios ("Thunderer"): Zeus as a weather god
  • Diktaios: Zeus as lord of the Dikte mountain range, worshipped from Mycenaean times on Crete.
  • Ithomatas: Worshipped at Mount Ithome in Messenia
  • Zeus Adados: A Hellenization of the Canaanite Hadad and Assyrian Adad, particularly his solar cult at Heliopolis[60]
  • Zeus Bouleus: Worshipped at Dodona, the earliest oracle, along with Zeus Naos
  • Zeus Georgos (Ζεὺς Γεωργός, "Zeus the Farmer"): Zeus as god of crops and the harvest, worshipped in Athens
  • Zeus Helioupolites ("Heliopolite" or "Heliopolitan Zeus"): A Hellenization of the Canaanite Baʿal (probably Hadad) worshipped as a sun god at Heliopolis (modern Baalbek)[60]
  • Zeus Kasios ("Zeus of Mount Kasios" the modern Jebel Aqra): Worshipped at a site on the Syrian–Turkish border, a Hellenization of the Canaanite mountain and weather god Baal Zephon
  • Zeus Labrandos ("Zeus of Labraunda"): Worshiped at Caria, depicted with a double-edged axe (labrys), a Hellenization of the Hurrian weather god Teshub
  • Zeus Meilichios ("Zeus the Easily-Entreated"): Worshipped at Athens, a form of the archaic chthonic daimon Meilichios
  • Zeus Naos: Worshipped at Dodona, the earliest oracle, along with Zeus Bouleus
  • Zeus Tallaios ("Solar Zeus"): Worshipped on Crete

Cults of Zeus

Marble eagle from the sanctuary of Zeus Hypsistos, Archaeological Museum of Dion.

Panhellenic cults

Colossal seated Marnas from Gaza portrayed in the style of Zeus. Roman period Marnas was the chief divinity of Gaza (Istanbul Archaeology Museum).

The major center where all Greeks converged to pay honor 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 Velchanos

With one exception, Greeks were unanimous in recognizing the birthplace of Zeus as Crete. Minoan culture contributed many essentials of ancient Greek religion: "by a hundred channels the old civilization emptied itself into the new", Will Durant observed,[61] and Cretan Zeus retained his youthful Minoan features. The local child of the Great Mother, "a small and inferior deity who took the roles of son and consort",[62] whose Minoan name the Greeks Hellenized as Velchanos, was in time assumed as an epithet by Zeus, as transpired at many other sites, and he came to be venerated in Crete as Zeus Velchanos ("boy-Zeus"), often simply the Kouros.

In Crete, Zeus was worshipped at a number of caves at Knossos, Ida and Palaikastro. In the Hellenistic period a small sanctuary dedicated to Zeus Velchanos was founded at the Hagia Triada site of a long-ruined Minoan palace. Broadly contemporary coins from Phaistos show the form under which he was worshiped: a youth sits among the branches of a tree, with a cockerel on his knees.[63] On other Cretan coins Velchanos is represented as an eagle and in association with a goddess celebrating a mystic marriage.[64] Inscriptions at Gortyn and Lyttos record a Velchania festival, showing that Velchanios was still widely venerated in Hellenistic Crete.

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". Ivory statuettes of the "Divine Boy" were unearthed near the Labyrinth at Knossos by Sir Arthur Evans. 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 myth of the death of Cretan Zeus, localized in numerous mountain sites though only mentioned in a comparatively late source, Callimachus,[65] together with the assertion of Antoninus Liberalis that a fire shone forth annually from the birth-cave the infant shared with a mythic swarm of bees, suggests that Velchanos had been an annual vegetative spirit.[66] 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.

Zeus Lykaios

Laurel-wreathed head of Zeus on a gold stater, Lampsacus, c 360–340 BC (Cabinet des Médailles).

The epithet Zeus 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.[67] 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,[68] 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.

There is, however, the crucial detail that Lykaios or Lykeios (epithets of Zeus and Apollo) may derive from Proto-Greek *λύκη, "light", a noun still attested in compounds such as (Greek: ἀμφιλύκη), "twilight", (Greek: λυκάβας), "year" (lit. "light's course") etc. This, Cook argues, brings indeed much new 'light' to the matter as Achaeus, the contemporary tragedian of Sophocles, spoke of Zeus Lykaios as "starry-eyed", and this Zeus Lykaios may just be the Arcadian Zeus, son of Aether, described by Cicero. Again under this new signification may be seen Pausanias' descriptions of Lykosoura being 'the first city that ever the sun beheld', and of the altar of Zeus, at the summit of Mount Lykaion, before which stood two columns bearing gilded eagles and 'facing the sun-rise'. Further Cook sees only the tale of Zeus' sacred precinct at Mount Lykaion allowing no shadows referring to Zeus as 'god of light' (Lykaios).[69]

Additional cults of Zeus

The statue of Zeus at Olympia, Greece with athletes competing in the foreground. Line engraving from 'Diversarum Imaginum Speculativarum,' published by Joannes Gallaeus at Antwerp, 1638

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"), Zeus Katachthonios ("under-the-earth") and Zeus 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. Ancient Molossian kings sacrificed to Zeus Areius. Strabo mention that at Tralles there was the Zeus Larisaeus.[70]

Non-panhellenic cults

Roman cast terracotta of ram-horned Jupiter Ammon, 1st century AD (Museo Barracco, Rome).

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 honor.[71] Other examples are listed below. As Zeus Aeneius or Zeus Aenesius, he was worshiped in the island of Cephalonia, where he had a temple on Mount Aenos.[72]

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. In addition, some foreign oracles, such as Baʿal's at Heliopolis, were associated with Zeus in Greek or Jupiter in Latin.

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 on 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.[73] 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 Siwa Oasis 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 in the Hellenistic imagination of a Libyan Sibyl.

Zeus and foreign gods

Evolution of Zeus Nikephoros ("Zeus holding Nike") on Indo-Greek coinage: from the Classical motif of Nike handing the wreath of victory to Zeus himself (left, coin of Heliocles I 145-130 BC), then to a baby elephant (middle, coin of Antialcidas 115-95 BC), and then to the Wheel of the Law, symbol of Buddhism (right, coin of Menander II 90–85 BC).

Vajrapāni as Herakles or Zeus

Zeus as Vajrapāni, the protector of the Buddha. 2nd century, Greco-Buddhist art.[74]

Zeus was identified with 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. The Seleucid ruler Antiochus IV Epiphanes erected a statue of Zeus Olympios in the Judean Temple in Jerusalem.[75] Hellenizing Jews referred to this statue as Baal Shamen (in English, Lord of Heaven).[76]

Zeus and the sun

Zeus is occasionally conflated with the Hellenic sun god, Helios, who is sometimes either directly referred to as Zeus' eye, or clearly implied as such. Hesiod, for instance, describes Zeus' eye as effectively the sun.[77] This perception is possibly derived from earlier Proto-Indo-European religion, in which the sun is occasionally envisioned as the eye of *Dyḗus Pḥatḗr (see Hvare-khshaeta).

The Cretan Zeus Tallaios had solar elements to his cult. "Talos" was the local equivalent of Helios.[78]

Zeus in philosophy

In Neoplatonism, Zeus' relation to the gods familiar from mythology is taught as the Demiurge or Divine Mind. Specifically within Plotinus's work the Enneads[79] and the Platonic Theology of Proclus.

Zeus in the Bible

Zeus is mentioned in the New Testament twice, first in Acts 14:8–13: When the people living in Lystra saw the Apostle Paul heal a lame man, they considered Paul and his partner Barnabas to be gods, identifying Paul with Hermes and Barnabas with Zeus, even trying to offer them sacrifices with the crowd. Two ancient inscriptions discovered in 1909 near Lystra testify to the worship of these two gods in that city.[80] One of the inscriptions refers to the "priests of Zeus", and the other mentions "Hermes Most Great"" and "Zeus the sun-god".[81]

The second occurrence is in Acts 28:11: the name of the ship in which the prisoner Paul set sail from the island of Malta bore the figurehead "Sons of Zeus" aka Castor and Pollux.

The deuterocanonical book of 2 Maccabees 6:1, 2 talks of King Antiochus IV (Epiphanes), who in his attempt to stamp out the Jewish religion, directed that the temple at Jerusalem be profaned and rededicated to Zeus (Jupiter Olympius).[75]

In modern culture

Depictions of Zeus as a bull, the form he took when abducting Europa, are found on the Greek 2-euro coin and on the United Kingdom identity card for visa holders. Mary Beard, professor of Classics at Cambridge University, has criticized this for its apparent celebration of rape.[82]

Zeus has been portrayed by Axel Ringvall in Jupiter på jorden, the first known film adaption to feature Zeus; Niall MacGinnis in Jason and the Argonauts[83][84] and Angus MacFadyen in the 2000 remake; Laurence Olivier in the original Clash of the Titans, and Liam Neeson in the 2010 remake, along with the 2012 sequel Wrath of the Titans; Anthony Quinn in the 1990s TV series Hercules: The Legendary Journeys; Rip Torn in the Disney animated feature Hercules; Corey Burton in Hercules, God of War II, God of War III, God of War: Ascension, PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale, and Kingdom Hearts 3;[85] and Sean Bean in Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief (2010).[86]


  • In John C. Wright's Chronicles of Chaos, Zeus, called "Lord Terminus", has recently died, and infighting over his throne fully occupies Olympus, and his commands with regards to the children are a determining factor in their lives.


Zeus as he appears in God Is Dead.

  • In the Batman comics, a former teacher named Maximilian "Maxie" Zeus believes himself to be a reincarnation of Zeus.
  • Zeus appears in the ongoing comic series God Is Dead, published by Avatar Press.


  • In the 1997 Disney film Hercules, Zeus is voiced by Rip Torn. Zeus and Hera give birth to Hercules at the beginning of the film. The jealous Hades has Pain and Panic kidnap Hercules but fail in their attempt to kill him. Sixteen years later, Hercules questions where he truly belongs. His foster parents reveal how they found him with a medallion bearing the symbol of the gods, so Hercules travels to the Temple of Zeus, where the almighty god's statue comes to life and reveals his past and true lineage. He tells Hercules that the only way he can return to Mount Olympus is to become a true hero.
  • Zeus appears in the 1981 action-adventure film Clash of the Titans.
  • In the 2010 remake of the 1981 Clash of the Titans, Zeus is portrayed by Liam Neeson. The prologue of the film states Zeus convinced Hades to create a beast to defeat the Titans, the Kraken. When the Titans were overthrown, Zeus remained as king of the heavens, and Hades, tricked by Zeus was left to rule the underworld in darkness and misery. When humans began rebelling against the gods, Zeus wanted to give them a lesson, and so, impersonating king Acrisius, he impregnated Acrisius' wife (Danae). Many years later, Hades visits Olympus and offers Zeus help in teaching humans their real place in the world. Zeus wanted to teach the humans a lesson, but not at the cost of a son, and so Zeus gave a Pegasus and the Lightning Sword to Perseus, to aid him on his quest to slay Medusa. But this time it was Zeus who was tricked by Hades, as with Zeus command, Hades released the Kraken. The presence of the Kraken weakened the gods but Perseus managed to defeat it. Zeus was in debt with Perseus and to repay him the fact Perseus saved the gods, before leaving in as a bolt of lightining Zeus brought Io back to life.
  • Liam Neeson returns as Zeus in the 2012 film Wrath of the Titans.


  • In the 1992 animated series Batman: The Animated Series, Maximilian Zeus is a shipping tycoon who believed himself to be a reincarnation of Zeus. He is based off of the comic book character of the same name.
  • In the 1998 Disney TV series Hercules: The Animated Series, Zeus is voiced by Corey Burton.
  • In the House of Mouse episode, "Unplugged Club", his lightning bolt is used to recharge the club with red and black electric cables thanks to Mickey Mouse who calls him "Big Z".
  • In the 2004 animated series The Batman, Maximilian Zeus appears once again as a Greek mythology obsessed multimillionaire. He runs Zeus Industries. Maxie uses a high-tech suit of armor that more closely resembles Roman than Greek. He is based off of the comic book character of the same name.
  • Zeus appears various times in the Xena/Hercules franchise.
    • In the Hercules telemovies, Zeus is portrayed by Anthony Quinn.
    • Peter Vere-Jones portrays Zeus in the episode "Judgement Day" from Hercules: The Legendary Journeys.
    • John Bach portrayed Zeus in the episode "Valley of the Shadow" on the tv-series Young Hercules.
    • Charles Keating played Zeus on the final episode of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys.
    • Roy Dotrice portrayed Zeus at the end of season four of Hercules: The Legenday Journeys.
    • Peter Rowley voiced Zeus in Hercules and Xena - The Animated Movie: The Battle for Mount Olympus.

Video Games

  • Zeus appears in The Battle of Olympus. In the game the hero Orpheus gains Zeus favor, thanks to that, Zeus also convinces the other gods to imbue Orpheus with powers.
  • Zeus appears in the Kid Icarus video game series.
  • In the 1989 NES game Batman: The Video Game, the villain Maxie Zeus appears as minor enemy, aiding The Joker. Maxie Zeus is a Greek mythology obsessed criminal who believes himself to be Zeus. He is based off of the comic book character of the same name.
  • Zeus appears in Sony Computer Entertainment's God of War series of video games, voiced by Paul Eiding in God of War, Corey Burton in God of War II and God of War III, Fred Tatasciore in Ghost of Sparta:
    • First appearing in God of War, Zeus initially aids Kratos.
    • Revealed in Ghost of Sparta to have ordered the imprisonment of Kratos' brother Deimos, thinking (incorrectly) that the sibling would be responsible for the demise of Olympus. Many years later, Zeus aids Kratos against Ares, who kills the God of War and takes his place. Zeus, however, is infected by fear and eventually tricks Kratos into draining his godly powers into the Blade of Olympus, stating it is necessary so as to deal with a new threat (actually created by Zeus). Kratos, stripped of his power, is mortally wounded while human, and killed by Zeus. With the help of the Titan Gaia, Kratos uses the power of the Sisters of Fate to return to the moment Zeus betrayed him and after extensive combat defeats the King of Gods. Zeus is saved by Athena, who sacrifices herself to preserve Olympus. Before dying, Athena reveals that Kratos is in fact Zeus' son, and that he fears a perpetuation of the son-killing-father cycle (as he himself imprisoned his father Cronos). This is confirmed when Kratos discovers that Zeus was infected with fear when Kratos opened Pandora's Box and used its power to kill Ares. After an enlightening encounter with Pandora, Kratos finally kills Zeus.

Zeus Gallery

Image gallery of Zeus

See also

External links


  1. Lives of Eminent Philosophers, Diogenes Laërtius,, Editor R.D. Hicks, 1972
  2. 2.0 2.1
  3. R. S. P. Beekes, Etymological Dictionary of Greek, Brill, 2009, p. 499.
  4. Burkert(1985). Greek Religion. p. 321
  6. "Plato's Cratylus," by Plato, ed. by David Sedley, Cambridge University Press, 6 Nov 2003, p.91
  8. Joseph, John Earl (2000). Limiting the Arbitrary.
  10. Leeming, David (2004). The Oxford Companion to World Mythology. Oxford University Press.
  12. Homer, Penguin Classics (1990)
  13. Iliad, Book 14, line 294
  14. Theogony 886–900.
  15. Theogony 901–911.
  16. Hyginus, Fabulae 155
  17. Stephanus of Byzantium, s. v. Ōlenos
  18. Pseudo-Clement, Recognitions 10.22]
  19. According to Musaeus as cited Scholiast on Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica 3.467
  20. 20.00 20.01 20.02 20.03 20.04 20.05 20.06 20.07 20.08 20.09 20.10 20.11 20.12 20.13 20.14 20.15 20.16 20.17 20.18 20.19 20.20 Pseudo-Clement, Recognitions 10.21-23
  21. Cicero. De Natura Deorum, 3.16
  22. Athenaeus. Deipnosophists, 9.392
  23. Daughter of Lesbus
  24. Cicero, De Natura Deorum 3.59
  25. Scholiast on Pindar, Pythian Odes 3.177; Hesychius
  26. Natalis Comes, Mythologiae viii.23
  27. Pausanias, Graeciae Descriptio 3.13.5
  28. 28.0 28.1 Diodorus Siculus, Bibliotheca historica 6.1.9
  29. Scholia on Iliad, 2. 511
  30. Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica, 2.904-906
  31. Stephanus of Byzantium, s. v. Dōdōne, with a reference to Acestodorus
  32. Hymn 30.6, as cited by Graf and Johnston, Ritual Texts, pp. 123–124 (Hymn 29 in the translation of Thomas Taylor).
  33. Daughter of Geneanus as cited in Pseudo-Clement, Recognitions 10.21-23
  34. 34.0 34.1 Tzetzes on Lycophron, 1206
  35. 35.0 35.1 35.2 A Classical Manual, being a Mythological, Historical and Geographical Commentary on Pope's Homer, and Dryden's Aeneid of Virgil with a Corpus Index, John Murray, 1833
  36. Valerius Flaccus, Argonautica 5.205
  38. Ptolemy Hephaestion Book 6
  39. Scholia on Pindar, Olympian Ode 9, 107
  40. Eleutheria is the Greek counterpart of Libertas (Liberty), daughter of Jove (Zeus) and Juno (Hera) as cited in Hyginus, Fabulae Preface
  41. Cicero, De Natura Deorum 3.16.42
  42. Daughter of Peneus
  43. Ioannes Lydus, De Mensibus i.13
  44. 44.0 44.1 Pseudo-Clement, Recognitions 10.21
  45. Valerius Flaccus, Argonautica 6.48ff., 6.651ff
  46. Stephanus of Byzantium s. v. Krētē
  47. Daughter of Proteus
  48. Daughter of Alphionis (Alpheus)
  49. John Lydus, De mensibus 4.67
  50. Cicero, De Natura Deorum 3.21-23
  51. Hesiod, Ehoiai fr. 3 as cited in Constantine Porphyrogenitus, De Thematibus, 2 (p. 86 sq. Pertusi)
  52. Stephanus of Byzantium, s. v. Tainaros
  53. Diodorus Siculus, Bibliotheca historica 5.81.4
  54. Hyginus, Fabulae 195 in which Orion was produced from a bull's hide urinated by three gods, Zeus, Poseidon and Hermes
  55. The bust below the base of the neck is eighteenth century. The head, which is roughly worked at back and must have occupied a niche, was found at Hadrian's Villa, Tivoli and donated to the British Museum by John Thomas Barber Beaumont in 1836. BM 1516. (British Museum, A Catalogue of Sculpture in the Department of Greek and Roman Antiquities, 1904).
  56. Homer, Iliad i. 202, ii. 157, 375, &c.
  57. Spanh. ad Callim. hymn. in Jov, 49
  59. Strab. xii. p. 574
  60. 60.0 60.1 Zeus: A Study in Ancient Religion, Aurthor Bernard Cook (1914)
  61. Durant, The Life of Greece (The Story of Civilization Part II, New York: Simon & Schuster) 1939:23.
  62. Rodney Castleden, Minoans: Life in Bronze-Age Crete, "The Minoan belief-system" (Routledge) 1990:125
  63. Pointed out by Bernard Clive Dietrich, The Origins of Greek Religion (de Gruyter) 1973:15.
  64. A.B. Cook, Zeus Cambridge University Press, 1914, I, figs 397, 398.
  65. Richard Wyatt Hutchinson, Prehistoric Crete, (Harmondsworth: Penguin) 1968:204, mentions that there is no classical reference to the death of Zeus (noted by Dietrich 1973:16 note 78).
  66. "This annually reborn god of vegetation also experienced the other parts of the vegetation cycle: holy marriage and annual death when he was thought to disappear from the earth" (Dietrich 1973:15).
  67. A morphological connection to lyke "brightness" may be merely fortuitous.
  68. Republic 565d-e
  69. A. B. Cook (1914), Zeus: A Study in Ancient Religion, Vol. I, p.63, Cambridge University Press
  70. Strabo, Geography, book 14, chapter 1.42
  71. Schol. ad Pind. Ol. vi. 162
  72. Hesiod, according to a scholium on Apollonius of Rhodes. Argonautika, ii. 297
  73. Odyssey 14.326-7
  74. "In the art of Gandhara Zeus became the inseparable companion of the Buddha as Vajrapani." in Freedom, Progress, and Society, K. Satchidananda Murty, R. Balasubramanian, Sibajiban Bhattacharyya, Motilal Banarsidass Publishe, 1986, p. 97
  75. 75.0 75.1 2 Maccabees 6:2
  76. David Syme Russel. Daniel. (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 1981) 191.
  77. Ljuba Merlina Bortolani, Magical Hymns from Roman Egypt: A Study of Greek and Egyptian Traditions of Divinity, Cambridge University Press, 13/10/2016
  78. Karl Kerenyi, The Gods of the Greeks 1951:110.
  79. In Fourth Tractate 'Problems of the Soul' The Demiurge is identified as Zeus.10. "When under the name of Zeus we are considering the Demiurge we must leave out all notions of stage and progress, and recognize one unchanging and timeless life."
  80. The translation of Hermes
  81. The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, edited by J. Orr, 1960, Vol. III, p. 1944.
  82. A Point of View: The euro's strange stories, BBC, retrieved 20/11/2011
  86. Roger Ebert's Movie Yearbook 2011
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Preceded by:

(Contested with Ophion)

King of the Greek Gods
Succeeded by
None (Incumbent)