Ancient Greek God

February 4, 2020 – 09:44 am


Unlike many Greek divinities, the origins of Zeus' name are undisputed. "Zeus" is connected with an ancient Indo-European deity Dyeus, which roughly translates as 'sky', 'day' (as opposed to night) and 'clear'. All of these point to his role as a god of the heavens, the sky and thunder.


As the king of the Greek Gods, Zeus has been portrayed endlessly in art, often with specific aspects or symbols to identify him and his purpose. For example, early Classical vase paintings often show him throwing thunderbolts, identifying him as a powerful warrior deity, affiliated with Hephaestus the god of the forge and maker of thunderbolts (see figure 1). However, as the classical period progressed, it became fashionable to depict Zeus seated on a throne, holding a sceptre, often accompanied by the goddess Nike, thus symbolising his role as king and patriarch of the gods (see figure 2). It is important to note, however, that Zeus was not considered to be a tyrant and literature depicts him as fair and even-handed, especially considering that one of his mani functions was the lord of Justice. Regardless of his specific iconography, Zeus is always portrayed as an imposing man, full-grown and with a beard - indicating his status as experienced patriarch of the Olympian family, as opposed to other male deities such as Apollo and Hermes who are often depicted as young men (ephebes) with no beards; erotically appealing, but not powerful. Zeus' power is further indicated by his symbols of the eagle, the bull and the full-grown oak tree.


Before the pantheon of Greek gods we are familiar with ruled atop Olympus, an earlier generation of deities, known as Titans, held power. The ruler of these divine beings was Cronus, son of Gaia (Mother Earth). Cronus' mother had informed him that he would be usurped by one of his offspring who would be tremendously powerful. Therefore, whenever Cronus' wife Rhea bore a child he would swallow the newborn god to prevent them from overturning his power. Having devoured Hestia, Demeter, Hera, Hades and Poseidon, Cronus was tricked by his wife who, out of love for her child, bore Zeus in secret, while offering a stone wrapped in swaddling clothes to Cronus in place of the baby. Sources disagree as to the upbringing of Zeus, some saying he was raised by Gaia, others by the Nymph Metis, still others maintain that he was brought up by Amalthea the goat! Regardless, all sources agree that when he was fully grown, Zeus returned to mount Olympus to confront his father.

Zeus Overturns Cronus

Again, sources conflict on the details of the encounter between Zeus and Cronus, some say that Metis administered an emetic drug in order to make Cronus vomit up his devoured children, while others say that Zeus cut open his father's stomach to release his brothers and sisters. Zeus proceeded to free the Gigantes (100 handed giants), Cyclopes (one eyed giants) and Hecatonchires (three giants each with fifty heads), all the siblings of Cronus whom the tyrant had imprisoned in Tartarus. In thanks for their freedom, the Cyclopes gave Zeus the knowledge of how to craft thunderbolts. Armed with these weapons and aided by his brothers and sisters as well as the freed giants, Zeus waged war on the Titans (this battle is popularly referred to as the Titanomachy). The Titans were overthrown and relegated to Tartarus to be punished for all eternity guarded by the Gigantes. Atlas, however, was singled out for special punishment as he had been the joint-leader of the Titans (with Cronus) and Zeus forced him to bear the weight of the sjk on his shoulders for ever. Not all those of the generation of the Titans sided with Cronus; Oceanus remained neutral, and Promethius is said to have been a great help to Zeus. Having usurped the old gods, Zeus instated himself as the king of Olympus and lord of the sky, delegating domains to his siblings (e.g. Poseidon was given dominion over the sea and Hades control of the Underworld). The only beings whom Zeus did not claim control over were Destiny and the Fates, who continued to be infallible throughout the reign of Zeus, as can be seen in Homer's Iliad, in which Zeus tells Thetis he cannot save her son's life for he is destined to die.


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