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Greek God Zeus: Epithets & Roles

Instructor: Jessica M Lathrop

Jessica has a master's degree in history with a focus on ancient and classical civilizations.

Zeus was the most powerful figure in ancient Greek mythology, the father of all Greek gods and purveyor of justice. Learn about the many attributes of this awe-inspiring god within this lesson.

God of All Gods

Zeus Statue with Thunder Bolt
Zeus

Zeus is the ancient Greek god of the sky, the king over all other Greek gods, and ruler of justice. Zeus is considered the supernatural father of all, both humans and gods alike. The symbols attributed to Zeus include the thunderbolt, the eagle, and the bull or bull horns. Many other ancient European cultures had similar gods, such as the Roman god Jupiter or the Norse god Thor; these gods have similar powers and iconographic attributes.

Because Zeus was the god of the sky and justice, the weather was often accredited to his various moods. For instance, if it was sunny then Zeus was content, whereas if it was storming then Zeus was believed to be angry. The Greek people often held ceremonies and rituals designed to appease Zeus and the lesser gods in attempts to gain Zeus's favor or his mercy.

Although Zeus had several siblings (such as the sea god Poseidon, or Hades, the god of the underworld), he was considered the ruler of all gods because he freed his siblings from the belly of his father, the Greek Titan named Cronus.

Primary Roles

Zeus Image on Vase
Vase Image

Zeus's primary role was as the king god, ruling over everything on Earth. He sat atop Mount Olympus, the tallest mountain in Greece, where he ruled over all other gods in the Greek pantheon and their children. The Greek pantheon was the temple of all 12 Olympic Gods, which consisted of Zeus and his siblings.

Because he was the leader over all, he was given many different epithets describing his many powers and vast dominion:

  • Zeus Olympios - Zeus, King of the Gods; Ruler of Olympians and the patron of the Olympic games.
  • Zeus Panhellenios - Zeus, King of all Greeks, judge and protector of the people of Greece.
  • Zeus Aegiduchos - Zeus as bearer of the Aegis, the divine shield, a symbol of protection.
  • Zeus Agoraeus - Zeus of the marketplace (called an agora in Greek), presiding justice over dishonest merchants.
  • Zeus Horkios - Zeus of pledges and promises, ensuring honesty and revealing liars.

Zeus as Lover and Father

Bust of Zeus
Zeus Bust

Because Zeus has such a large amount of powers and high level of authority, his image is included in many Greek artifacts, such as vases, sculptures, temple relief carvings, and even fountains and baths. Many of these images include Zeus with thunderbolts in his hands, powerful and masculine features, and luscious curly hair and full beard to exemplify his godly beauty.

Zeus is included in a great variety of mythological stories and is attributed to fathering countless children with both his sister, Hera, lesser deities and even humans. Hera is the goddess of marriage and queen of Olympus. Zeus's love for women is described in many narratives, depicting him as a lustful philanderer. Hera is therefore a very jealous mate, punishing his many lovers and offspring. Zeus often has to intervene to protect those from Hera's revenge.

Zeus with lover
Zeus Lover

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