Who Was Zeus? - Mythology & Facts

Instructor: Mary Deering

Mary has a Master's Degree in History with 18 advanced hours in Government. She has taught college History and Government courses.

Learn about Zeus, the most powerful god in Greek mythology. Explore the stories that surround the father of the Greek gods and discover his virtues and vices.

Who Was Zeus?

Zeus is a major figure in the Greek pantheon, or group of gods. Zeus was the leader of the Greek gods and is a central figure in Greek mythology. In addition, to acting as the leader of the gods, Zeus was the god of the sky. The ancient Greeks believed that he could control the weather and could even shoot lightning bolts at his enemies.

The Birth of Zeus

Zeus was the son of the god Cronus and his sister and wife, Rhea. Zeus was the last of Cronus and Rhea's children to be born. Cronus was fearful that his children would become more powerful than he was and so he swallowed them whole when they were born. The loss of her children was deeply painful for Rhea. Finally, in desperation, she asked for the help of Gaia, or Mother Earth. Gaia, who had also experienced the loss of her children, agreed. When Zeus was born, Rhea secretly gave the newborn babe to Gaia. She wrapped two stones in cloth and gave them to Cronus in place of the baby and he gobbled them up.

In the meantime, Gaia hid the infant Zeus deep in a cave on the island of Crete. Nymphs nursed him with goat's milk, and with the help of the other islanders, Zeus eventually grew into a powerful young god. When he was fully grown, Zeus joined his parents, disguised as a servant. One day Rhea offered Cronus a delicious drink. After he had finished with the glass, he asked for more and a servant brought it to him. Cronus gulped down the delicious drink, oblivious to the fact that his own son had brought him the cup.

An image of Zeus on a vase
An image of Zeus on a vase

Suddenly, Cronus began to feel a deep pain in his stomach and he became ill. Within a few moments, Cronus vomited up each of the children he had eaten, fully grown. These children were the first Greek gods: Poseidon, Hades, Hera, Demeter, and Hestia. Together with Zeus, they defeated Cronus and his Titan allies and trapped them in Tartarus, a deep abyss.

A God in Love

Although Zeus was married to his sister, the goddess of marriage and childbirth Hera, he was an amorous god and he often fell in love with pretty young women, much to the chagrin of his wife. Zeus was willing to do anything in order to be with the lovely women he met. We can observe this character trait in the story of Zeus and Europa.

Europa was a beautiful young Phoenician woman. According to some stories, Europa was a descendant of another of Zeus' lovers, the nymph Io, who was transformed into a cow by Hera in a fit of jealousy. When Zeus spotted the young woman playing in her father's fields, he was immediately reminded of his lost love and he became entranced. He approached the maiden but she was uninterested in the older god.

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