Get to Know a God: Zeus

Zeus of Otricoliā€. Marble, Roman copy after a Greek original from the 4th century. From the villa of Cassius near Tivoli.Zeus, the Greek god of the sky and thunder (in Rome he was called Jupiter), is proof that being a god does not require any sort of moral center or principles, because boy howdy, this guy’s a piece of work. He could probably blame it on bad parenting; his dad went to extreme measures to avoid fatherhood, because he assumed his kids would be as rotten to him as he was to his old man.

Zeus’ pop was Kronos the Titan. Kronos’ dad was Uranus, ruler of the universe, who was kind of a jerk. When Uranus’ wife/mother, Gaia, gave birth to some weird ugly kids, he packed them off to the underworld so he wouldn’t have to look at them. This ticked off Gaia enough that she asked her son Kronos to get involved. Kronos used a sickle to castrate Uranus the next time he showed up at Gaia’s place for a booty call.

Later, after Kronos took up with his sister Rhea, Gaia told him that his kid would take him out the way he took out Uranus, so Kronos decided that the best way to prevent that was just to swallow every kid his wife/sister delivered. Rhea was a bit put out by this, so when kid #6 (Zeus) arrived, she gave birth in secret, hid the kid, wrapped up a rock in a blanket, and handed it over. Kronos swallowed the rock and was none the wiser. Rhea had Zeus raised on the island of Crete, either by his grandma Gaia, or by a nymph named Adamanthea, or a goat named Amalthea (reports vary). If he was raised by a goat, that would explain his later romantic exploits.

The Jupiter de Smyrne, discovered in Smyrna in 1680.Eventually, Zeus grew up, came home, and made the old man barf up his two brothers (Hades and Poseidon) and three sisters (Hestia, Demeter, and Hera ). He then promptly married Hera. They became the parents of seven gods and goddesses (Angelos, Ares, Eilethyia, Enyo, Eris, Hebe, and Hephaestus), but Zeus fathered about a hundred other gods, demigods, nymphs, sylphs, and the occasional monster, with a few dozen random women, because the dude just can’t keep it in his toga. He also hooked up with at least one guy, Ganymede, who earned the distinction of being the only one of Zeus’ paramours to be granted immortality (today he’s the constellation Aquarius).

Naturally, Hera was more than a bit put out by Zeus’ side-action; she usually lashed out at the other women instead of blaming her errant husband. Depending on who’s telling the story, either Hera turned Io into a cow, or Zeus did, so as to hide her from Hera. There are a lot of these sort of interludes, with Zeus disguising himself as everything from a swan to his daughter Artemis in order to get close to some pretty girl. Somehow he always got away with it.

Zeus was a pretty popular god among the mortal set, mostly because he had a soft spot for humans. As the god of the sky, he was more often kindly-disposed toward people than one might expect from a guy who was also the god of thunder; there are surprisingly few accounts of him smiting folks with his thunderbolts, despite being frequently portrayed wielding them in paintings and statues, but there are many tales of him taking pity on weary travelers and those in need.

For you as an incipient god, the lessons to learn from Zeus might include:

1. Be nice to the peasants.

2. Don’t let toxic family relationships and bad upbringing set the course for your later life.

3. If you’re going to cheat on your wife, you have to be ready to support all those kids.

4. Use your godhood responsibly.

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