Zeus in Greek mythology is the king of the gods, the ruler of Mount Olympus, and god of the sky and thunder after overthrowing Cronus and displacing the Titans. 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).

Zeus' symbols are the thunderbolt, eagle, bull and the oak. In addition to his Indo-European inheritance, the classical Zeus also derives certain iconographic traits from the cultures of the ancient Near East, such as the scepter. Zeus is frequently envisaged by Greek artists in one of two poses: standing, striding forward, a thunderbolt leveled in his raised right hand, or seated in majesty.

The son of Cronus and Rhea, he was the youngest of his siblings. He was married to Hera in most traditions, although at the oracle of Dodona his consort was Dione: according to the Iliad, he is the father of Aphrodite by Dione. Accordingly, he is known for his erotic escapades, including one pederastic relationship with Ganymede. His trysts 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 sired Ares, Hebe and Hephaestus.

His Roman counterpart was Jupiter - his Etruscan counterpart was Tinia.

He has always been associated as being a weather god, as his main attribute is the thunderbolt, he controlled thunder, lightning and rain.

Theocritus wrote circa 265 BCE, Sometimes Zeus is clear, sometimes he rains. He is also known to have caused thunderstorms. In Homer's epic poem the Iliad he sent thunderstorms against his enemies.

His other symbols besides lightning, were the scepter, the eagle and his aegis (the goat-skin of Amaltheia).




Prehistory

Zeus is the continuation of Dyeus, the supreme god in Indo-European religion, also continued as Vedic Dyaus Pitar (Jupiter), and as Tyr (Ziu, Tiw, Tiwaz) in Germanic and Norse mythology. Tyr was however supplanted by Odin as the supreme god among the Germanic tribes and they did not identify Zeus/Jupiter with either Tyr or Odin, but with Thor.

In addition to his Indo-European inheritance, the classical Zeus also derives certain iconographic traits from the cultures of the ancient Near East, such as the scepter.




Art

In art, Zeus was usually portrayed as bearded, middle aged but with a youthful figure. Artists always tried to reproduce the power of Zeus in their work, usually by giving him a pose as he is about to throw his bolt of lightening. There are many statues of Zeus, but without doubt the Artemisium Zeus is the most magnificent.




Birth

Cronus sired several children by Rhea: Hestia, Demeter, Hera, Hades, 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. But when Zeus was about to be born, Rhea sought Uranus and 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.


Mount Lykaion: Mythic Birthplace of Zeus Said Found   Live Science - February 10, 2009
The Greek god of thunder and lightning had Earthly beginnings, and scientists think they finally know where. Ancient Greeks first worshipped the omnipotent Zeus at a remote altar on Mount Lykaion, a team of Greek and American archaeologists now think. During a recent dig at the site, the researchers found ceremonial goods commonly used in cult activity and dated at over three millennia old, making them the earliest known "appearance" of Zeus in Greece.




Childhood

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 clapped their hands to make noise so that Cronus would not hear the baby's cry.

  • 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 after her death.

  • He was raised by Melissa, who nursed him with goat-milk

    Zeus becomes king of the gods

    After reaching manhood, Zeus forced Cronus to disgorge the other children in reverse order of swallowing: first the stone, which was set down at Pytho under the glens of Parnassus to be a sign to mortal men, then the rest. 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. The Titans were then cast into a shadowy underworld region known as Tartarus.

    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). Land 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.

    Gaia was upset at 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 as challenges for future heroes.




    Lovers

    According to legend, Metis, the goddess of prudence, was the first love of Zeus. At first she tried in vain to escape his advances, but in the end succumbed to his endeavor, and from their union Athena was conceived. Gaia warned Zeus that Metis would bear a daughter, whose son would overthrow him. On hearing this Zeus swallowed Metis, the reason for this was to continue to carry the child through to the birth himself. Hera (his wife and sister) was outraged and very jealous of her husband's affair, also of his ability to give birth without female participation. To spite Zeus she gave birth to Hephaestus parthenogenetically (without being fertilized) and it was Hephaestus who, when the time came, split open the head of Zeus, from which Athena emerged fully armed.

    Zeus and Hera

    Zeus was brother and consort of Hera. The issue of their union was Ares, though Hera produced other offspring of her own: Hephaistos, Eileithyia, Hebe. The conquests of Zeus among nymphs and the mythic mortal progenitors of Hellenic dynasties are famous. Olympian mythography even credits him with unions with Demeter, Latona, Dione and Maia.

    Among the mortals: Semele, Io, Europa and Leda. Mythic anecdote 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.

    Hera bore Zeus - Ares, Hephaestus, Hebe and Eileithyia, but Zeus had numerous liaisons with both goddesses and mortals. He either raped them, or used devious means to seduce the unsuspecting maidens. His union with Leto (meaning the hidden one) brought forth the twins Apollo and Artemis. Once again Hera showed her jealousy by forcing Leto to roam the earth in search of a place to give birth, as Hera had stopped her from gaining shelter on terra-firma or at sea. The only place she could go was to the isle of Delos in the middle of the Aegean, the reason being that Delos was, as legend states, a floating island.

    In some of Zeus' human liaisons, he used devious disguises. When he seduced the Spartan queen Leda, he transformed himself into a beautiful swan, and from the egg which Leda produced, two sets of twins were born: Castor and Polydeuces and Clytemnestra and Helen of Troy.

    He visited princess Danae as a shower of gold, and from this union the hero Perseus was born. He abducted the Phoenician princess Europa, disguised as a bull, then carried her on his back to the island of Crete where she bore three sons: Minos, Rhadamanthys and Sarpedon. Zeus also took as a lover the Trojan prince Ganymede. He was abducted by an eagle sent by Zeus (some legends believe it was Zeus disguised as an eagle). The prince was taken to Mount Olympus, where he became Zeus' cup-bearer.

    Zeus also used his charm and unprecedented power to seduce those he wanted, so when Zeus promised Semele that he would reveal himself in all his splendor, in order to seduce her, the union produced Dionysus, but she was destroyed when Zeus appeared as thunder and lightening.

    Themis, the goddess of justice bore the three Horae, goddesses of the seasons to Zeus, and also the three Moirae, known as these Fates. When Zeus had an affair with Mnemosyne, he coupled with her for nine consecutive nights, which produced nine daughters, who became known as the Muses. They entertained their father and the other gods as a celestial choir on Mount Olympus. They became deities of intellectual pursuits.

    Also the three Charites or Graces were born from Zeus and Eurynome. From all his children Zeus gave man all he needed to live life in an ordered and moral way.




    Role and Epithets

    Zeus played a huge role in the Greek Olympic pantheon. He fathered many of the heroes and heroines and was featured in many of their stories.

    Though he was the god of the sky and thunder, he was also the most supreme cultural artifact; in some senses, he was the embodiment of Greek religious beliefs and the archetypal Greek deity.

    The epithets or titles applied to Zeus emphasized different aspects of his wide-ranging authority:




    Temples



    Temple of Zeus

    Zeus had many Temples and festivals in his honor, the most famous of his sanctuaries being Olympia, the magnificent "Temple of Zeus", which held the gold and ivory statue of the enthroned Zeus, sculpted by Phidias and hailed as one of the "Seven Wonders of the Ancient World". Also the Olympic Games were held in his honor. The Nemean Games, which were held every two years, were to honor Zeus. There were numerous festivals throughout Greece: in Athens they celebrated the marriage of Zeus and Hera with the Theogamia (or Gamelia). The celebrations were many. In all, Zeus had more than 150 epithets, each one being celebrated in his honor.



    Statue of Zeus at Olympia




    Panhellenic Cults of Zeus


    The major center at which all Greeks converged to pay honor to their chief god was Olympia. The quadrennial festival there 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 animal victims immolated there.

    Outside of the major inter-polis sanctuaries, there were certain modes of worshipping Zeus that were shared across the Greek world. Most of the above titles, 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.

    On the other hand, certain cities had Zeus-cults that operated in markedly different ways.




    Cretan Zeus


    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 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 Euhemerism have not survived, but Christian patristic writers took up the suggestion with enthusiasm.


    Laconian kylix of the 6th century BC, showing Zeus Lykaios with an eagle.




    Zeus Lykaios in Arcadia

    The title Lykaios is morphologically connected to lyke "brightness", and yet it looks a lot like lykos "wolf". This semantic ambiguity is reflected in the strange cult of Zeus Lykaios in the backwoods of Arcadia, where the god takes on both lucent and lupine features. On the one hand, he presides over Mt Lykaion ("the bright mountain") the tallest peak in Arcadia, and home to a precinct in which, allegedly, no shadows were ever cast (Pausanias 8.38).

    On the other hand, he is connected with Lycaon ("the wolf-man") whose ancient cannibalism was commemorated with bizarre, recurring rites. According to Plato (Republic 565d-e), a particular clan would gather on the mountain to make a sacrifice every eight 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 eight-year cycle had ended.




    Subterranean Zeus

    Although etymology indicates that Zeus was originally a sky god, many Greek cities honored Zeuses 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 indifferently as snakes or men in visual art. 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 or 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 2nd 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 (Od. 14.326-7). By the time Herodotus wrote about Dodona, female priestesses called Peleiades ("doves") had replaced the male priests.

    Zeus' wife 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 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 (Pausanias 3.18).

    Other oracles of Zeus - The chthonic Zeuses (or heroes) Trophonius and Amphiaraus were both said to give oracles at the cult-sites.




    Zeus and Foreign Gods

    Zeus was equivalent to the Roman god Jupiter (from Jovis Pater or "Father Jove") and associated in the syncretic classical imagination 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 Neopaganism

    Far from the role Zeus held in Ancient Mythology, modern Neopagans typically view Zeus as a governing figurehead and little more. Most neopagans reject ancient myths about Zeus. Zeus has relatively few worshippers in modern neopaganism, and (unlike his roles in Mythology) is seen as a god of governance and authority.

    Though many see Zeus as the King or Figurehead as ruler over the Olympians, they often consider him of lesser importance than the Gaia and other popular Titan gods who are not believed to be bound to Tartarus.

    The power and influence of Zeus is thought to pale in importance to Hades and other gods more directly related to the afterlife. It is thought by many Neopagans, for example, that Hades holds far greater power than Zeus, and that his decisions and authority, particularly over the fate of mortals, often overshadows Zeus. Those sects that do include worship of Zeus often do so in passing, including him with other gods simply because of his relation in mythology.

    There is little relevance between actual mythology and modern perceptions of Zeus by most Neopagans. It could be argued that, by and large, modern Neopagan perceptions of Zeus are New Age and not founded in any actual history or mythology. Worship of Zeus sometimes includes the burning of oils, or more often a passing utterance of him as an authority of Olympus or husband of Hera (a more popular deity in modern neopaganism).





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