Ancient history


Zeus (in ancient Greek Ζεύς / Zeús, from the Indo-European root *dyēus, god of the sky) is the king of the gods in Greek mythology. He reigns over Heaven and has the eagle and lightning as his symbol. Son of Cronos and Rhea, he is married to his sister Hera. He had several sons including Herakles, a demi-god, Athena, who was given birth to by himself, the great Zeus, and who came out of the top of his skull which was split by Hephaestus, his own son, denied his father some time later.

Zeus is related to Jupiter in Roman mythology. We also find similar deities in other pantheons:Taranis among the Gauls, Odin among the Scandinavians or even Varuna among the Hindus.

The birth of this son of brother-and-sister Titans brings an early pre-Olympian legend. Indeed, fearing to be dethroned by one of his children, Cronos, from their birth, devoured them. Rhea, afflicted, decided to save her sixth child, Zeus, by offering her husband a large stone for a meal instead of the infant.

She raised the latter in secret at Lyctos, in Crete, where he was fed with the milk of the Amalthea goat (one of whose horns would become the cornucopia). In order for Cronus not to hear the cries of the newborn, his mother had placed some of her children, the Curetes, very noisy armed warriors, around the landmark. Growing up, he set a trap for his father in order to free his brothers and sisters, thanks to an emetic potion.

The mythographer Antoninus Liberalis reports in his Metamorphoses a different version of the legend, taken from Boios:Rhea gives birth to Zeus in a Cretan cave. There, the child is fed by bees. Four natives venture into the cave one day to collect honey, and see the young god. Angry, he threatens to strike them down, but is held back by Themis and the Moirai, because it is “forbidden to die in this sacred place”. Zeus then transforms them into birds, bearers of omens. The rest of the legend is lost. There are few clues to link this passage with the hesiodic version.

According to Homer, however, Zeus is the eldest child of Cronus, and derives his power from it. Thus, Poseidon gives in to him during the Trojan War, because “they both have the same origin and the same parentage; but Zeus is his senior and knows more than him” (The Iliad, XIII, 354-355). In Homer, his consort is the Oceanid Dione, who remains associated with him in the oracular sanctuary of Dodona.

Zeus is famous for his countless adventures with mortals, goddesses and nymphs:Danae, Alcmene, Semele, Leto, Europe, Ganymede, etc. He is the father of many gods:Athena, Dionysos, Hermes, Apollo and Artemis; many heroes:Heracles, Perseus, Castor and Pollux, etc.

These numerous infidelities of Zeus to his third wife Hera (after Metis and Themis) are the cause of frequent disputes between the divine spouses. Moreover, the goddess showing a very vindictive character, she often pursued with her revenge the mistresses (Io, Leto, etc.) or even the children (Heracles) of her husband.

As evidenced by his name, derived from the Indo-European root *dei- meaning "to shine"[1], Zeus shares sovereignty over the terrestrial world and the air. Nicknamed Κεραυνός/Kéraunos (“thunderbolt”), he is armed with lightning, which was made for him by the Cyclopes, his uncles. The thunderbolt has three lightning bolts:the first to warn, the second to punish and the third, for the end of time, in order to destroy the world.

But Zeus is also the master of natural phenomena:thunder, waterspouts, clouds, etc. The meteorites are dedicated to him. In his epiclesis of Μαιμάκτης / Maimáktês, he wards off the storm. It is also he who, according to the Works and the Days (v. 415), makes it rain on the earth:thus, the Greeks call "water of Zeus" (τὸ ἐν Διὸς ὕδωρ) the "water of the sky" of the French .

Linked to natural phenomena, it is logically associated with crops and agricultural cycles. Hesiod thus advises to invoke Infernal Zeus and Demeter, when plowing, so that the land is fertile (ibid., v. 465). Under the epiclesis of Κτήσιος / Ktếsios, it protects the pantry and has as attributes the cornucopia and the domestic serpent.

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