In Greek mythology, the chief of the Olympian gods (Roman Jupiter). He was the son of Kronos, whom he overthrew; his brothers included Pluto and Poseidon, his sisters Demeter, Hestia, and Hera. As the supreme god he dispensed good and evil and was the father and ruler of all humankind, the fount of kingly power and law and order. His emblems were the thunderbolt and aegis (shield), representing the thundercloud. The colossal ivory and gold statue of the seated god, made by Phidias for the temple of Zeus in the Peloponnese, was one of the Seven Wonders of the World.
Zeus ate his pregnant first wife Metis, goddess of wisdom, fearing their child Athena would be greater than himself. However, Athena later sprung fully armed from Zeus' head when Hephaestus split it with an axe. His second wife was Themis, the personification of order, and third Hera, but he also fathered children by other women and goddesses. The offspring, either gods and goddesses or godlike humans, included Apollo, Artemis, Castor and Pollux/Polydeuces, Dionysus, Hebe, Heracles, Hermes, Minos, Perseus, and Persephone.
Birth and upbringing After the Titan Kronos had swallowed all his children at birth, fearing that one of them would destroy him, Rhea saved Zeus by giving her husband a swaddled stone to consume. He was reared secretly in a cave in Crete, where he was nursed by the goat Amalthaea, and was later taught by Metis.
Overthrow of the Titans With the help of Rhea, Zeus made a potion which caused Kronos to regurgitate his siblings. The ensuing struggle against Kronos and other Titans led by Atlas lasted for ten years, until Gaia, mother of the Earth, promised victory to Zeus if he would deliver her children, the Cyclops (one-eyed giants) and the Hecatoncheires (100-handed monsters), from their imprisonment in Tartarus, the deepest part of the underworld. The Cyclops rewarded Zeus with a thunderbolt, Pluto a helmet of darkness, and Poseidon a trident. With their aid, Kronos and the Titans were overcome and consigned either to the Islands of the Blessed or to Tartarus, where the Hecatoncheires became their guards. Atlas was condemned to bear the weight of the heavens on his shoulders.
In the following division of government, Zeus took the sky, Poseidon claimed the sea, and Pluto became king of the underworld. The earth was their common domain.
Origins Zeus was originally the principal deity of the Ionians, Hellenic invaders of Greece. He was the personification of the bright sky, and possibly the sky as sender of fertilizing rain. Introduced to Greece in about 1200 BC, he was soon identified with the chief chthonian (pertaining to the earth or underworld) deity of pre-Hellenic times. His marriage to Hera, the Great Goddess of pre-Hellenic Greece, symbolized the fusion of the invaders with their predecessors.
Worship At his oracle at Dodona in Epirus, the rustling oak leaves were interpreted as his voice, and the god was often represented with a wreath of this foliage. He was also worshipped at Olympia in Elis where he was depicted with an olive wreath, and where the first olympiad took place in 776 BC. His sacrificial animals were usually bulls, cows, and goats.
Related Credo Articles
The etymology of his name—he is one of the few major Greek gods whose name is Indo-European—associates him with the heavens:...
The chief and father-figure of the gods of Olympus, known to the Greeks as ‘Zeus’ and to the Romans as...
In ancient Greek mythology, the supreme ruler of the gods of Olympus and therefore of all mankind. His domain is the sky and his principal...