ZEUS was the King of the Gods and the god of the sky, weather, law and order, destiny and fate, and kingship. He was depicted as a regal, mature man with a sturdy figure and dark beard. His usual attributes were a lightning bolt, a royal sceptre and an eagle.
Zeus was the youngest child of the Titans Kronos (Cronus) and Rheia. Kronos devoured each of his children as they were born, but Zeus escaped this fate when his mother spirited him away, handing the Titan a stone substitute wrapped in swaddling cloth.
The god was raised in secrecy on Mount Dikte in Krete (Crete) where he was nursed by nymphs on the milk of the goat Amaltheia and guarded by the warrior Kouretes (Curetes) who drowned out the sound of his crying with their shield-clashing battle-dance.
Upon coming of age Zeus recruited the goddess Metis to his cause. She served the Titan Kronos a magical draught which caused him to disgorge the young gods he had devoured.
Zeus liberated the six giant-sons of Heaven from the pit of Tartaros. In gratitude the Kyklopes (Cyclopes) armed him with lightning-bolts and the Hekatonkheires (Hundred-Handed) aided him in his assault on the Titanes with volleys of thrown boulders. Kronos and his allies were eventually defeated and banished to a prison beneath the earth.
After the fall of the Titan-gods, Zeus and his brothers drew lots to divide rule of the cosmos – Zeus won the heavens, Poseidon the sea and Haides the underworld.
Zeus devoured the pregnant goddess Metis when an oracle revealed that her son was destined to replace him as King of the Gods. Their child, Athena, was subsequently born in his belly and birthed directly from his head.
Zeus married his sister Hera, queen of the heavens, after seducing her in the guise of a cuckoo-bird. But this union of ever quarreling sky-god and sky-goddess proved not to be a match made in heaven!
Prometheus crafted the race of man and gave them fire stolen from the gods of heaven. Zeus punished this act by ordering the creation of the first woman, Pandora, and sent her to earth with a vessel full of troubles to plague mankind. Prometheus himself was arrested and chained to a mountain with an eagle set to torment him.
The early generations of man descended into wickedness and corruption and Zeus decided to wipe them from the face of the earth with a great deluge. One virtuous couple, Deukalion and Pyrrha, were spared and afterwards allowed to repopulate the world with the casting of stones which transformed into men.
The earth-goddess Gaia (Gaea), angered by the imprisonment of the Titanes, urged the Giants to rise up against the gods of Olympos. They laid siege to the heavenly fortress but Zeus laid low their king and many others with his deadly lightning-bolts.
Gaia produced one more giant, Typhoeus, the most monstrous of his kind and set him upon Olympos. The rest of the gods fled in horror and Zeus himself was defeated in combat with the monster tearing the sinews from his limbs rendering him helpless. Pan later stole back the god’s strength and, restored, Zeus defeated the giant in a rematch and bound him beneath Mount Etna.
Zeus seduced many mortal woman including Leda in the guise of a swan, Europa as a bull, Danae as a shower of gold, Alkmene as her own husband, Kallisto (Callisto) as the goddess Artemis, and Antiope as a satyr.
The god’s favorite mortal son was Herakles (Heracles) whom he supported throughout his trials and eventually welcomed to Olympos as a god.
Zeus punished the worst villians of myth for their impiety and crimes against the gods including Tantalos who stole ambrosia from heaven, Lykaon (Lycaon) who served human flesh to the gods, Ixion who attempted to rape Zeus’ wife the goddess Hera, and Salmoneus who tried to imitate Zeus and steal the worship that was due the gods.
Befitting his role as King of the Gods, Zeus was attended by a large complement of lesser divinities.
His throne was guarded by four winged spirits, two male and two female, named Kratos (Strength), Zelos (Rivalry), Nike (Victory) and Bia (Force). Kratos and Bia functioned as muscular enforcers and were tasked with jobs such as the apprehension and imprisonment of the Titan Prometheus. Nike drove Zeus’ chariot and often accompanied him in miniature form as something of a divine familiar.
The god Hermes was Zeus’ personal herald who acted as diplomat, envoy and general agent of the god’s will.
His messenger was Iris, the winged goddess of the rainbow, who simply relayed messages verbatim and delivered commands to the other gods.
Zeus’ high councillor Themis, goddess of law and order, was seated beside his throne. She was attended by their six daughters the Moirai (Fates) and the Horai (Seasons). These goddesses were collectively responsible for the orderly functioning of the cosmos. Themis was also charged with summoning all of the gods to assembly in the courtyard of Zeus.
The god’s virgin sister Hestia also resided in his palace where she tended the ever-burning, divine hearth-fire in the center of his hall.
Metis, goddess of wisdom, was perhaps his most unusual attendant. Zeus swallowed her whole to avoid a prophesy and she took up residence in his belly. The ancient Greeks believed the belly rather than the brain was the seat of thought and emotion, and so by subsuming her he effectively implanted wise counsel in his mind. She continued to exist in some form or other within the god, even to the extent of birthing Athena there and equipping her with armour and weapons before her second birth from Zeus’ head.