Who is Zeus?

Diane Goettel
Diane Goettel

According to the mythology of the ancient Greeks, Zeus was the king of the gods. He is portrayed as the ruler of both the sky and Mount Olympus, the highest mountain in Greece and the legendary home of all deities. Overthrowing his father to come into power, he is said to control the world with thunder and lightning. Through many lovers, he produced a large number children, many of whom were also gods and goddesses. People worshiped many different versions of him, with comparative figures existing in several other cultures.

A statue of the Greek God Zeus.
A statue of the Greek God Zeus.

Roles and Associations

Zeus’ main job was to rule over the sky, but he also had a number of other roles according to various traditions. Some individuals considered him to be the god of crops and harvests, and he is sometimes associated with nature. Many ancient people believed he was a patron of hospitality, as well. A god of justice, he punished liars, keeping people to their oaths, and he brought wrath on dishonest merchants and traders.

In Greek mythology, Zeus is the ruler of Mount Olympus, the highest point in Greece.
In Greek mythology, Zeus is the ruler of Mount Olympus, the highest point in Greece.

Given these duties, he became associated with the oak, his favorite tree, and the eagle, his bird. Both represent courage, strength and righteousness. Some images show him with or as a bull. He is often depicted holding either a thunderbolt or scepter, gathering clouds or sitting as though on a throne.

In Greek mythology, Zeus ruled the world with thunder and lightning.
In Greek mythology, Zeus ruled the world with thunder and lightning.


Greek mythology says that Zeus was the youngest child of Cronus, sometimes called Cronos or Kronos, and Rhea, both of whom were Titans — the children of the Earth and Heavens. Fearing that one of his sons would overthrow him as a prophesy had foretold, Cronus swallowed the rest of Rhea’s children: Hades, Poseidon, Hera, Demeter and Hestia. To protect her new son, whom she delivered in Crete, she wrapped a rock in swaddling clothes and gave it to her husband to consume. Stories vary about how and where he grew up, but a common thread is that he initially was hidden in a cave on Mount Ida.

It is said that Zeus would take the form of a bull when he wanted to take a human lover.
It is said that Zeus would take the form of a bull when he wanted to take a human lover.

Overthrow of Cronus

After reaching adulthood, Zeus confronted Cronus and forced him to vomit up Rhea’s offspring. He also set Cronus’ brothers — the Cyclopes, Hecatonchires and Gigantes — free from Tartarus, a place of intense suffering said to exist below the underworld. The Cyclopes were so grateful that they brought lightning and thunder out of their hiding place and gave them as a present to the hero, who later used them to exercise his power.

Zeus was said to sometimes take the form of a swan.
Zeus was said to sometimes take the form of a swan.

Supported by his siblings and Cronus’ brothers, Zeus fought his father and the other Titans in a great battle called the Titanomachy. Emerging victorious, he sent the defeated gods into Tartarus, and he cast lots with his brothers to divide up rule of the world. Hades received the underworld, Poseidon got the sea, and Zeus took the sky. Together, all three brothers had some control over the Earth.


One of the purposes of ancient myths was to explain the world and how things came into being, as well as to establish rulers of certain elements, phenomena or areas. The Greeks, therefore, found it somewhat natural to portray the king of their gods as more than a little promiscuous, because the stories created more deities with logical authorities. According to legend, his main wife was his own sister, Hera, but he also had affairs with Demeter, Mnemosyne, Dione and many others, including nymphs. Some of those with whom he had trysts were mortals, so his unions produced a number of demi-gods as well as full deities.

To make many of his conquests work, he frequently took different forms. Most notable of these is the bull, but he also appeared as other creatures, such as a swan. In some instances, he impersonated other men.


Considering his many lovers, Zeus produced plenty of children. He is believed to be the father of Aphrodite, who was the daughter of Dione. The famous bard, Homer, reinforced this story in his epic, The Iliad. Through his affair with Demeter, he sired the goddess Persephone, and with Hera, he had Ares, Hephaestus and Hebe. Furthermore, his relationship with Mnemosyne brought the Muses into the world. Most schools of mythology also say he is the father of Minos, Athena, Artemis, Dinoysus, Heracles, Apollo, Hermes, Perseus and Helen.

Different Versions

Even though the ancient Greeks were a highly sophisticated society for their time, logistical problems with travel meant that communications were rather slow, and that, over time, different areas developed slightly different versions of very similar myths. As a result, several deities or interpretations of Zeus can be seen as representing a single god, with names based on both the area of worship and his associations. Some experts divide these broadly into four versions, including the national Hellenic, Dodonaean, Arcadian and Cretan Zeus.

Parallels for this god also existed in other cultures. In the Roman tradition, for example, he was Jupiter. People have also compared him to the Etruscan Tinia, Egyptian Ammon and Hindu Indra. The exact roles might vary slightly from society to society, but the idea of a supreme deity, particularly one that ruled over Heaven or the sky, remains consistent.

Worship and the Olympic Games

In order to pray and pay homage to Zeus, Greeks would travel to his temple at Mount Olympia. They held a festival there every four years, and part of the celebration was athletic games. Although these early competitions held much more political weight then than they do today, the tradition lead to the contemporary Olympic Games.

In Greek mythology, Hades is the god of the underworld and the chief caretaker of the abode of the dead.
In Greek mythology, Hades is the god of the underworld and the chief caretaker of the abode of the dead.
Diane Goettel
Diane Goettel

In addition to her work as a freelance writer for wiseGEEK, Diane is the executive editor of Black Lawrence Press, an independent publishing company based in upstate New York. She has also edited several anthologies, the e-newsletter Sapling, and The Adirondack Review. Diane has a B.A. from Sarah Lawrence College and an M.A. from Brooklyn College.

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Discussion Comments


"The perfection of nature proves there is only one God (Allah)..."

How does it prove there is one God? and how does it prove that the one God is Allah? the one God could be something/someone unknown to us still.

To say that there is prove of the existence of a God is something you can never say. because we can't be 100 percent sure that there is indeed something out there that watches us.


I think gods are cool, not only because I have just read the Percy Jackson series, but because since then I have searched about them and learned several things, but now I'm confused. OK, say the gods are definitely fake (which I hope they aren't) so why would they be online and people go to church for them? And why are people who don't believe in them considered 'cruel'?


Some facts on Zeus:

His Roman name is Jupiter. He is the youngest son of Cronus, who tried to swallow Zeus as a baby. Cronus had already swallowed the other siblings. Zeus overthrew Cronus and made him vomit all of his siblings up.

His upchucked siblings are Poseidon, Hades, Hera, and Hestia. He and Hera were married.


Then why do in religions they say that we are a god or are our own god. That if we are good enough that we can become reincarnated as a higher being, and just because the religion says it doesn't mean it's true.

And no, i am not an atheist. I just don't believe that one religion is correct and the rest are not. So I will not say that there is one god or there are many gods. I'm just stating my opinion.


"And for the Muslims, I believe that if there is a god or Allah, then why can't there be a zeus?"

Good point, so let's think about it. If zeus exists along with other gods, there would be clear signs of conflict between them (just look at the damage different leaders all over the world have done).

The article states that zeus has had numerous extra marital affairs. Surely this would cause conflict between the different gods as it does do when real affairs happen between humans (humans will even go so far as to commit murder as a possible revenge). Plus this is not the correct type of conduct for a god.

Allah says in the Qur'an: "Say, He is God, the one and only God; the eternal, the ever lasting, the self sufficient. He fathered no one nor was He fathered and no one is comparable to Him."


Zeus is the greek king god of Olympus. He is one of the top three gods, along with his brothers Poseidon and Hades.

And for the Muslims, I believe that if there is a god or allah, then why can't there be a Zeus?


This is why I am a Muslim - if there were multiple gods as described above, then naturally there would be competition and conflict between each other. It's so funny to read that Zeus had 'extramarital trysts'. Who makes this up?

The perfection of nature proves there is only one God (Allah). It is man who has been given free will and this is what we will have to answer for on 'The Day' we return to him.


Was his shield important?


Why do the gods and goddesses have weird names?

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