Table of Contents
- Greek Gods Family Tree
- Zeus Father Cronus
- Zeus and his Family Tree
- Genealogy of the Olympians
- Lesson Summary
When studying Greek mythology, or any mythological story, it is important to keep in mind that the stories and legends are all oral traditions that have slowly been written down over the millennia. Many stories have shifted, been added to, and changed completely by poets, churches, and citizens over the years. There is no one true story line, and there is no one source for anything Greek mythology, so it is important to take these stories with a grain of salt.
Zeus, generally considered the father and protector of all gods in Greek mythology, had a large and complicated family tree. In myth, two Titans (Rhea and Cronus) created Zeus and his siblings. Rhea was the daughter of Gaia, the Titan of the earth, and Cronus was the son of Ouranos, whom Cronus defeated for control of the universe. Rhea and Cronus had five children before Zeus.
Cronus was the king of the Titans and the god of time in mythology. When he first matured, he castrated his father and overthrew him as king of the Titans. Afraid his children would overtake him in the same way he had done to his own father, Cronus swallowed all five of Zeus's siblings as soon as they were born.
When Zeus was born, his mother hid him from Cronus to save him. She fed Cronus a stone wrapped in cloth, tricking him into believing that he ate Zeus. The young god grew in secret in a Cretan cave on Mount Dicte. There, a nymph named Melissa and a goat called Amalthea raised Zeus until maturity.
Zeus grew to maturity in the seclusion of the Cretan cave. Angry at his father for swallowing his siblings and causing him to live in hiding, Zeus fought back. He returned to his parents and tricked Cronus into drinking a potion that caused him to regurgitate Zeus's five siblings. Once the siblings were freed, a long battle ended with the gods' victory over Cronus and the Titans. Zeus cut his father into small pieces and imprisoned him in the Underworld's strongest prison, Tartarus. After this victory, Zeus and his siblings transformed Mount Olympus into their new home and settled into different jobs.
|Poseidon||god of water (the ocean), earthquakes, horses|
|Hades||god of the Underworld, the wealth of the world|
|Hestia||goddess of the hearth|
|Hera||queen of the gods, goddess of marriage, the lives of women|
|Demeter||goddess of agriculture|
Zeus was known as the father of the gods because of his constant affairs and seductions of famous Greek figures. The number of wives and mistresses Zeus had varies from tale to tale. According to some myths, though, Zeus had only two wives: Metis and Hera. In all stories, most of Zeus's children came from mistresses.
Zeus's first wife was the Titan Metis. During Metis's first pregnancy, Zeus became paranoid that his son would overtake him the way he had his father. He swallowed the pregnant Metis to prevent the birth of his child. The child survived, though, and Athena was born fully grown from the forehead of her father. Athena, Zeus's first child, was the goddess of wisdom and warfare. In many myths, she was a lot like Zeus and was regarded as his favorite child.
Zeus's second wife, his sister Hera, was considered his main wife because they were together for the majority of Greek mythology. She was known as the goddess of marriage and gave Zeus two children.
The story of how Zeus and Hera became married and started their family completely aligns with the other stories of Zeus's character. In myth, Zeus fell in love with Hera, but she wanted nothing to do with him. Zeus, determined to get what he wanted, started a horrible thunderstorm and disguised himself as a poor little cuckoo bird. Perched on Hera's window in the middle of the storm, cuckoo Zeus preyed on Hera's loving nature and waited for her to pick him up.
When Hera picked up what she thought was a defenseless cuckoo, she was greeted by a trickster Zeus who forced her to sleep with him and then shamed the goddess into marrying him.
Hera stayed with Zeus throughout all of his infidelity and, through these affairs, watched him sire more children than any other god. Zeus had many children by other gods, Titans, women, and nymphs.
These are not all of Zeus's children, but they are the most notable and generally accepted by most myths to be his.
Zeus was known in mythology for starting trouble. He often transformed himself or others into animals to aid in his deception. Often impregnating married and unmarried women and abducting others, Zeus was usually not a favorite of the Greek kings, especially those who had daughters. All mortal beings understood that Zeus's presence meant trouble, and this caused many riffs between humanity and Zeus in Greek mythology.
Throughout Zeus's marriage to Hera, when Zeus initiated an affair with a feminine being, Hera either ignored it or became vengeful toward the resulting child or mistress. Zeus's status as king, ability to shapeshift, and natural magnetism allowed him to repeat this cycle for all of mythology, resulting in a confusing web of mistresses and children.
Zeus had affairs with three notable Titans, and, from these affairs were born a few important figures.
|Leto||Apollo (god of art and music) and Artemis (goddess of the hunt)|
|Mnemosyne||the nine Muses|
There were two main nymphs who bore important figures after having an affair with Zeus.
|Maia||Hermes (messenger of the gods)|
Zeus seduced Callisto by pretending to be Artemis, Callisto's patron goddess. When Hera heard of Callisto and Zeus's child, Arcas, she turned the pair into bears. Zeus, taking pity on Callisto and Arcas, transformed them into the constellations Ursa Major and Ursa Minor. This is just one example of Hera's vengeful acts in response to Zeus's infidelity.
Zeus was known for the seduction and coercion of many Greek women. He often used trickery to get feminine beings to lie with him. A few bore him demi-god children.
|Semele (princess of Thebes)||Dionysus (god of wine and revelry)|
|Danae (princess of Argos)||Perseus (Greek hero)|
|Alkmene (daughter of Perseus)||Hercules (Greek hero)|
|Leda (queen of Sparta)||Helen of Troy (the face that began the Trojan War)|
The mortal Semele was one of the only women in Greek mythology who knew she was sleeping with Zeus and not some other being amidst the affair. After Semele gave birth to Dionysus, the jealous Hera sought revenge on her. Hera manipulated Zeus into showing Semele his true form, a sight too divine for human eyes. Looking upon Zeus in is godly form killed Semele.
There were twelve Greek gods and goddesses who lived and ruled on top of Mount Olympus. These gods are called the Olympians, and they were all either siblings or children of Zeus.
|God/Goddess||Status||Relation to Zeus|
|Zeus||King; god of the sky||Zeus|
|Hera||Queen; goddess of marriage||sister-wife|
|Poseidon||god of the sea||brother|
|Demeter||goddess of agriculture||sister|
|Athena||goddess of wisdom and warfare||daughter|
|Apollo||god of music and art||son|
|Artemis||goddess of the hunt||daughter|
|Ares||god of war||son|
|Hephaistas||god of fire||son|
|Aphrodite||goddess of love and beauty||daughter (in some myths)|
|Hermes||messenger of the gods||son|
|Hestia||goddess of the hearth||sister|
Zeus's brother Hades was not considered an Olympian because he resided in and ruled the Underworld. Some myths interject that Hades was the most powerful god because of his status in the Underworld. As the king of the Underworld, Hades would eventually rule over all souls. Hades's wife, Persephone, is usually depicted as the daughter of Demeter and Zeus and was the Queen of the Underworld and goddess of spring.
Though there were many other deities who lived on Mount Olympus in myth, the twelve listed were the main ruling gods and goddesses. On Mount Olympus, the gods could live above humanity in peace, and they would often hold council to make decisions or ask Zeus's opinions on subjects having to do with mortals and other gods. The main purpose of having Olympians was to differentiate between ethereal and chthonic gods. This means that the Twelve Olympians were worshipped differently than Hades because they were ethereal gods (gods who live in the sky) rather than chthonic gods (gods who live below the earth).
Greek myth is based on oral traditions which change rapidly to fit different cultures, religions, and works of writing. When studying Greek mythology, it is important to remember that there is no one book to verify all Greek myths and legends and that stories often contradict one another.
Zeus's family tree was a twisted and tangled forest of sister-wives, children, grandchildren, and siblings. Zeus, king of the Greek gods and god of the sky, narrowly escaped being swallowed by his Titan father, Cronus. This was because his Titan mother, Rhea, hid him away in a Cretan cave. When he matured, Zeus fed Cronus a potion that made him regurgitate all five of Zeus's siblings. These were the first six gods in Greek mythology.
The gods defeated the Titans and created a home at the top of Mount Olympus, where they all ruled for the rest of Greek mythology. Also lasting the entirety of Greek mythology was the immense number of affairs Zeus had while married to his sister Hera. Some of the children born from these affairs became well-known Greek figures and/or gods.
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Write an essay of approximately two to three paragraphs that describes Zeus' parents and his early family life. Be sure to discuss his siblings and his parents' marriage.
Example: Zeus' mother, Rhea, had to ensure that his father, Kronos, would not eat him.
Write an essay of about two to three paragraphs that discusses Zeus' married life and his relationships with his children.
Example: Athena was Zeus' favorite child.
In an essay of approximately one to two paragraphs, define Titans and nymphs, and explain why they appealed to Zeus. Also be sure to explain why Zeus was attracted to human women.
Example: Nymphs were known for their beauty, thus making them especially alluring to Zeus.
Create a chart, poster, or some other type of graphic organizer that lists and briefly describes the important Titan mistresses in Zeus' life.
Example: Zeus' relations with Leto produced Apollo and Artemis.
Make a poster, chart, or some other type of graphic organizer that lists and briefly describes the significant nymphs in Zeus' life.
Example: Maia came from the mountains.
Create a poster, chart, or some other type of graphic organizer that lists and describes the mortal women who were significant in Zeus' life.
Example: Danae was kept locked up by her father, so Zeus had to take the form of rain to visit her.
Zeus tricked his father into drinking a potion that would cause him to regurgitate the other five gods. This caused a war between titans and gods, and the war was won when Zeus cut his father into pieces and imprisoned him and the other titans in Tartarus.
The two Titans Cronus and Rhea birthed the six original Greek gods. These gods were Zeus, Poseidon, Hades, Hera, Hestia, and Demeter. Most of the other gods and goddesses were children of Zeus and another deity. The six most referenced are Athena, Hephaestos, Ares, Artemis, Apollo, and Hermes.
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