Tyche To Zeus (Greco-Roman Mythology)



Goddess of fortune whom the Romans equated with Fors Fortuna. Said to be a daughter of Zeus, she was considerably more popular with the Romans than she was with the Greeks. As goddess of luck she conferred or denied gifts with an air of abject irresponsibility. Tyche became a popular object of cult in the fourth century B.C. and later. She was regularly considered the presiding deity of a city in later times, most notably at Antioch, where the Tyche of Antioch, a statue portraying the goddess, was one of the most famous works of antiquity and was used on the city’s coinage. She was portrayed juggling a ball that represented the instability of fortune, sometimes with a rudder seen as guiding men’s affairs, with Amalthea’s horn, or accompanied by Plutus, whose wealth she distributed willy-nilly.



Son of Oeneus, the king of Calydon. Banished for killing either an uncle or a brother, Tydeus fled to Argos, where he married Deiphyle, daughter of Adrastus, their son being Diomedes. Tydeus then joined his father-in-law and brother-in-law, Polyneices, who had married Adrastus’s daughter, Argia, as one of the Seven Against Thebes. The other leaders of this ill-fated expedition were Capaneus, Hippomedon, Parthenopaeus, and Amphia-raus, who had married Adrastus’s daughter, Eriphyle, and who was persuaded to join the expedition by his wife, who had been bribed by Polyneices with the necklace of Harmonia on the advice of Tydeus.

During the assault against Thebes, Tydeus killed Melanippus but was mortally wounded in the fight. Amphiaraus, who held a grudge against Tydeus for the bribing of Eriphyle, persuaded him to drink the brains of the dead Melanippus. Athene, who was fond of Tydeus, had been about to give him an elixir that would have conferred him with immortality. However, when she saw Tydeus drinking the brains of Melanippus she was so disgusted that she left him to die. In later portrayals of this tragic scene, immortality takes the form of the maiden Athanasia.



King of Sparta, possibly the son of Perseus’s daughter, Gorgophone. His brothers or half-brothers were Aphareus, Leucippus, Hip-pocoon, and Icarius, the latter two expelling Tyndareus from Sparta and claiming the throne. Tyndareus was later restored to his rightful position by Heracles, whose descendants later claimed Sparta as theirs.

Tyndareus married Leda, daughter of Thestius of Aetolia, and became the father by her of Clytemnestra. Her other children— Helen, Castor, and Polydeuces—were the result of her union with Zeus. As Tyndareus had once forgotten to sacrifice to Aphrodite, she retaliated by making his daughters unfaithful to their husbands. When the Dioscuri were immortalized, Tyndareus was succeeded as king of Sparta by his son-in-law, Menelaus, husband of Helen.

Typho~n, ~eus


A son of Tartarus and Ge, a gigantic monster who had 100 snakes’ heads or dragons’ heads for arms, wings on his back, thighs covered with vipers, and eyes of flame. He once tried to usurp Zeus’s position by cutting the tendons out of Zeus’s legs and hiding them in a bearskin. They were discovered by Hermes and Pan, who gave them back to Zeus. Typhon fled to Mount Nysa to gain strength from the magical fruits that grew there. Zeus pursued him, and as they ran they hurled mountains at each other. One of them became so covered in Typhon’s blood that it later became known as Mount Haemus (from haima, "blood"). Finally Zeus crushed Typhon under the island of Sicily, where his fiery breath is the source of Mount Etna’s constant smoke and flame.

Before being finally vanquished by Zeus, Typhon fathered many terrible beings on Echidne, among them the Chimaera, the Nemaean Lion, the Hydra, Orthros, Ladon, and the Sphinx.



Mother of the twins Pelias and Neleus by Poseidon. She exposed the children at birth, but they were found and raised by a horseherd. When Tyro later married Cretheus, founder and king of Iolcos, he adopted the boys as his own. Tyro then became the mother of Aeson by Cretheus, but upon Cretheus’s death Pelias imprisoned Aeson and banished Neleus.


Romano-Etruscan The mythical founder of the Etruscan people; no mythology remains of this character.



One of the five surviving Sparti, or "Sown Men," who sprang, fully grown and fully armed, from the ground when Cadmos sowed dragon’s teeth at Thebes. These warriors started to fight among themselves until just five remained: Udaeus, Echion, Chthonius, Hyperenor, and Pelorus. They helped Cadmos build the Cadmea and became revered as the ancestors of Thebes.



The Roman form of Odysseus who retained all his earlier Greek attributes and adventures.



The realm of Hades in Greek tradition that later became the realm of Pluto following Roman absorption. The world of the dead was not, as it usually is in modern religious beliefs, a singularly dread realm where only sinners went after death as Heaven was the sole domain of the gods and no mortal, unless specially blessed by the gods themselves, could ever aspire to reach its lofty heights. Instead the Underworld was considered to contain three very distinct regions: the Elysian Fields, where righteous and blessed souls were consigned to live a life of eternal bliss; Asphodel, where the indifferent remained for all eternity; and Tartarus, where the wicked were sent to join the likes of Tantalus, Ixion, and Sisyphus. This lowest region, the nearest equivalent to Hell, was also the home of the Erinnyes or Furies. They were dispatched to hound those who rightly belonged within its confines but had yet to die.

To decide which region best suited each new soul entering the Underworld, Hermes brought them before three judges: Aeacus, Minos, and Rhadamanthus. En route they crossed five rivers: Styx, Acheron, Cocytus, Lethe, and Phlegethon, or Pyriphlegethon. They encountered the ferryman Charon, who ferried them across the Styx upon receipt of an obolos, and the two-headed guard dog of the Underworld, Cerberus.

Urania 1. Greco-Roman One of the nine Muses, being that of astronomy and the sciences. Her name simply means "heavenly," and she is usually depicted with a staff pointing to a globe. She was loved by Strephon, a shepherd of Arcadia, who lamented her when she was lost to him.

2. Greek

A title given to Aphrodite to imply her "heavenly" countenance, especially in Oriental countries; also applied variously to other non-Greek goddesses.

Uran~os, ~us


The personification and god of the sky and the heavens, the most ancient of all the Greek gods and the first ruler of the universe in the very earliest Greek cosmology. He was the partheno-genetic son of Ge and brother of Pontus, who was similarly created. By his mother, Ge, Uranos became the father of the Heca-toncheires, or Centimani (Cottus, Briareus, also called Aegaeon, and Gyas, or Gyges), the one-eyed Cyclopes (Brontes, Steropes, and Arges), and the 12 Titans.

Having first quelled a rebellion by the Cyclopes, whom he consigned to Tartarus, Uranos now had to deal with the uprising of the Titans instigated by his mother, Ge, though one of them, Oceanos, refused to take part in the rebellion. Cronos, the youngest of the Titans, was given a flint sickle by his mother, which he used to castrate Uranos. Drops of blood from the wound fell onto Mother Earth (Ge), and she bore the Gigantes, Meliae, and the three Erinnyes (Alecto, Tisiphone, and Megaera). From the drops of blood that fell onto Pontus (Sea), Aphrodite was born.

With Uranos deposed a new order took his place. The Titans freed the Cyclopes, but Cronos, now supreme, quickly consigned them back to Tartarus, where they were guarded by the Hecatoncheires.

Astronomical: Discovered by chance in 1781 by Sir William Herschel, Uranus is a gas giant that has its axis tilted over to almost 90°; as such it might be considered to roll around its orbit on its polar axis rather than spin around it, as is the case with all other planets in the solar system. It is slightly larger in size than Neptune, having an approximate equatorial diameter of 50,800 kilometers (31,750 miles), and lies at an average distance of 2,869 million kilometers (1,794 million miles) from the sun. The planet has at least five known satellites: Miranda, Ariel, Umbriel, Titania, and Oberon.



One of the five powerful families that seem to have dominated the Roman republic toward the end of the fifth century B.C. The other four families were the Aemilii, Claudii, Cornelii, and Manlii. Each decisively affected the myths and legends of the Roman era, tampering with content to enhance the status of their own family.



Also: Begoe

Ancient Etruscan goddess who is believed to be the root of the Roman goddess Egeria.



Ancient Etruscan city some 12 miles from Rome that controlled the crossing of the River Tiber at Fidenae and thus exerted a powerful influence over the entire area to the south, including a vital salt route. It also rivaled neighboring Caere as the most Hellenized of the early Etruscan cities.

At the turn of the fifth and fourth centuries B.C. the Romans attacked Veii, a fact that is not disputed in history. However, the later belief that the city withstood the Romans for ten years surely owes more than a little to the stories of the siege of Troy. The city finally fell to Rome in 396 B.C., when Marcus Furius Camillus was appointed dictator, having been sole governor of Rome for the duration of the war.

Surviving legend tells very little about the siege of Veii other than how at one point the Romans captured a Veientine soothsayer who revealed that the city would only fall when the Alban Lake was drained. When this story was confirmed by the Delphic Oracle, Camillus ordered the lake to be drained, then ordered his troops to tunnel beneath the city. Having reached a point directly below the temple they heard the Veientine king about to sacrifice to Juno, saying that whosoever made the sacrifice should win the war. Quickly bursting through the floor the Romans offered the sacrifice and then stormed the city. The Veientine Juno was then carried to Rome in triumph.

It is not hard to see the parallel between the tunnel under the city—which gave the Romans a secret entrance to the city—and the earlier Greek stratagem of the Wooden Horse.



The sail of the Argo Navis that was placed in the heavens along with three other parts of the ship: Carina, the Keel; Puppis, the Poop; and Pyxis, the Ship’s Compass.

Astronomical: A constellation of the southern celestial hemisphere that is located between approximate right ascensions 8h00m and 11h00m, declination from -36° to -57°.



An ancient Italian goddess of unknown origin who was originally associated with springtime, gardens, and cultivation but also with the ideas of charm, grace, and beauty. She was later identified by the Romans with Aphrodite when her cult was introduced to Rome from Mount Eryx toward the end of the third century B.C., though legend suggests that Aeneas, her son, brought her cult with him when he landed in Italy to found the Roman race. Thus she also personified love and fertility and became the mother of the cherubic, impish Cupid. She was the patroness of Julius Caesar and Augustus as well as the city of Pompeii, where remains of many Venus representations have been recovered. Her Sicilian name was Cythera, which was used as her surname.

Astronomical: The second-closest planet to the sun, lying between the orbits of Mercury and the Earth. Venus is, at times, the brightest object in the night sky except the Moon and has become well known as the Morning or Evening Star. The planet has an equatorial diameter of 12,102 kilometers (7,594 miles) and lies at an average distance of 108 million kilometers (68 million miles) from the sun. Venus has no satellites and is roughly the same size as the Earth.



The wife of Coriolanus who, with his two young sons and his mother, Volumnia, pleaded with him to withdraw his men, who were besieging Rome after he had sided with the Volscians.



An ancient Etruscan deity who was absorbed into the Roman tradition as the god associated with the ripening of fruit and hence with the seasons of the years. Having the ability to change shape, he used this power to great effect after he had fallen in love with, and been rejected by, Pomona. Changing himself into an old woman, he pleaded his cause so eloquently that Pomona changed her mind. At his festival, held on August 13 to coincide with the ripening of fruit, people made offerings of the first fruits of harvest, a definite forerunner of the modern harvest festival.



Identified with the Greek Hestia, Vesta was the goddess of the hearth and household, fire, and purity and was the patroness of bakers. The daughter of Saturn, she was supreme in the conduct of religious ceremonies and prepared the food of the gods. As goddess of the household hearth, regarded as the center of every home, she in effect had an altar in every home. However, her sanctuary on the Forum in Rome became of paramount importance, for so long as the eternal flame burned within, Rome would not fall. Entry to her sanctuary was permitted only to the Vestal Virgins, servants who tended the sacred flame. As she was regarded as the national guardian of the Roman republic, Vesta’s festival, the Vestalia (7-15 June), became one of the most important events of the religious calendar.

Astronomical: One of the larger asteroids, having an approximate diameter of 550 kilometers (344 miles).

Vestal Virgin


Priestess or priestesses of the cult of Vesta who tended the sacred flame that eternally burned in her temples and who officiated at ceremonies in honor of the goddess. For some rather vague reason, the Vestal Virgins became subject to the most intense and jealous discipline. They entered her service at the age of six or seven and took a vow of chastity, which was absolute for the 30-year period they remained in the goddess’s service. Any girl who broke this vow would, in the early years of the cult, be whipped to death. In later years the punishment consisted of being whipped and then walled in a tomb alive. Due to the national importance of the cult of Vesta, the Vestal Virgins enjoyed a position of unrivaled high prestige within the social order of Rome.



An ancient agricultural deity who became increasingly associated with Roman military successes. As the personification of victory she was associated with both Mars and Jupiter.



A god of the woods who had some attributes in common with Faunus, perhaps being simply an aspect of the latter.



Full name Publius Verilius Maro Virgil (70-19 B.C.). Roman poet born in Andes near Mantua in Cisalpine Gaul, where his father was a small-scale farmer. Educated at Cremona and Mediolanum (Milan), he arrived in Rome at the age of 16 to study rhetoric and philosophy before returning to his father’s farm shortly before it was confiscated. Virgil, however, was amply compensated and returned to Rome, where he became a court poet. In 37 B.C. his Eclogues, a series of ten pastoral poems that he had started some six years before while still on his farm, were received with great enthusiasm. Shortly afterwards he left Rome and moved to Campania, though he still retained the patronage of Maecenas, a Roman statesman and trusted counselor of Augustus whose name has become a synonym for a patron of letters.

Having acquired a considerable degree of affluence under Maecenas, Virgil was able to boast a villa at Naples and a country house near Nola. His Georgics or The Art of Husbandry, a series of four books dealing with the various arts of farming, appeared in 30 B.C. and confirmed him as the foremost poet of his age. The remaining 11 years of his life were devoted to his masterpiece, Aeneid, considered the most important poem in Latin literature and a great influence of later European works. The work was almost complete by 19 B.C., when Virgil left Italy to travel Asia and Greece. He landed in Athens, returning home simply to die. At his own wish he was buried in Naples, for many hundreds of years his tomb being revered as a sacred place.

The supremacy of Virgil in Latin poetry was immediate and almost unquestioned. His books had become classics in his own lifetime and had, soon after his death, become textbooks throughout western Europe. By the third century a.d. they ranked as sacred works and were regularly used for divination purposes.


Greco-Roman "The Maiden"; said to be Astraea, goddess of justice and the daughter of Zeus and Themis. After her death she was placed in the heavens as the constellation Virgo, with her scales of justice, given to her by her mother, next to her in the sky as the constellation Libra. To the Romans the constellation represented Ceres, goddess of the harvest, holding a spike of wheat.

Astronomical: A large constellation straddling the celestial equator and forming the sixth sign of the Zodiac (August 24-September 23). Virgo lies between approximate right ascensions 11h40m and 14h10m, declination from +14° to -22°. The star Spica (a Vir), which the Romans took to represent the spike of wheat held by Ceres, is an eclipsing variable of magnitude 0.91-1.01, spectral type B1V, at a distance of 260 light-years.



The personification of manly valor, represented as a victorious, armed, virginal youth.



The Volscians were an ancient people who inhabited the town of Corioli (modern Monte Giove). The town was captured in 493 B.C. by Cnaeus Marcius, after which he received his cognomen Coriolanus. He, however, sided with the Volscians and attacked Rome.



The mother of Coriolanus who, with his wife, Vergilia, and their two young sons, came to plead with her son to withdraw his forces, then attacking Rome following his allegiance with the Volscians.



An ancient Italian god—like Jupiter, a god of the sun—and the first god of the Tiber, he evolved to become the god of fire and patron of metalworkers, sometimes known as Mulciber, who was eventually identified with the Greek Hephaistos. Originally called Volcanus as the god of volcanoes, he was born when a spark fell from the heavens onto a human girl. His temples were sensibly sited outside city walls. Often invoked to avert fires, he had associations with thunderbolts and the sun and was finally interpreted in terms of life-giving warmth. His main festival, the Volcanalia, was held on August 23.

Having become equated with Hephaistos, Vulcan naturally absorbed many of his attributes and qualities. His main legends concern his involvement with Aeneas, in the role taken earlier by Hephaistos. He supplied Aeneas with wonderful armor, which included a magnificent shield that depicted the future history of Rome, including the great victory of Augustus at the Battle of Actium. According to Evander in relating a story to Aeneas, his son, Cacus, was killed by Heracles on the Palatine Hill.


Romano-Etruscan One of the oldest and most powerful Etruscan cities that lay in close proximity to the somewhat more powerful Tarquinii, about 40 miles north of Rome.

Wandering Rocks


Sometimes confused with the Symplegades, these rocks were off the coast of Sicily, not in the Strait of Messina. Safe passage between them could be affected, as done by the Argonauts, with the help of the Nereides.



Though the concept of a man-wolf—a werewolf—might be considered modern, the idea was current during classical times. Indeed, at the feast of Zeus Lycaeus a cauldron of miscellaneous animal entrails and those of a man was stirred. Participants in the celebrations would eat the resulting mixture, and anyone who ate a human part would be instantly transformed into a wolf. The transformation of a man into a wolf frequently appears in classical mythology, notably the story of Lycaon.

Wooden Horse


Also known as the Trojan Horse, the stratagem by which the besieging Greek forces finally managed to gain entry to, and thus sack, the city of Troy at the end of the ten-year Trojan War. Homer reports that the idea of the Wooden Horse was thought up by Odysseus, though the scheming Athene seems to have had more than a passing hand in its conception. It was built by the cowardly Epeius and had room within its hollow belly to hide upwards of 23 of the greatest Greek heroes, Odysseus among them. It was inscribed, "To Athene from the Greeks for their safe return," then left on the shore when the Greek fleet sailed to the island of Tenedos.

Alerted by Sinon, the only Greek that remained on Trojan soil, the warriors within the horse emerged while the city slept, its citizens having dragged the huge edifice within the confines of the city amid much celebrating. The warriors opened the gates to the city and allowed the returning Greek forces to enter and sack Troy.



1. The original name of the River Scamander, the river running across the Trojan Plain; its name was changed when Scamander of Crete jumped into its waters.

2. One of the horses of Achilles along with Balius. They were the offspring of Zephyrus, the west wind, and Podarge, the Harpy. Given to Achilles’ father, Peleus, at his wedding to Thetis, they passed into the ownership of Achilles, who took them to the Trojan War. They wept at the death of Patroclus, and Xanthus was briefly given the power of speech by Hera to warn Achilles of his approaching death.



Son of Hellen and brother of Dorus and Aeolus, he was allotted the Peloponnesos when he and his brothers divided Greece among themselves. Instead he came to Athens, where he married Creusa, daughter of Erechtheus, the king. Their sons were Ion and Achaeus. Following the death of Erech-theus, Xuthus judged that Creusa’s eldest brother, Cecrops, should succeed his father, a decision that led his other brothers-in-law to expel him from Athens. After that he settled in Achaea, though some sources say it was Xuthus rather than Cecrops who succeeded Erechtheus.



A son of Zeus according to a Cretan legend in which the Titans tore him to pieces and ate him alive, though Athene saved his heart. He was later identified with Dionysos when the ceremonies of his cult were designed to promote closer harmony and union with the god.



A Thracian deity who closely resembled Dionysos and provided his votaries with immortality after death. Petitions to the god were accompanied by the barbarous ritual of hurling a man onto the points of three spears. If he died it was a sign that the prayers had been heard. If he lived, they tried again.



The god, and thus the personification, of the west wind. One of the sons of Astraeus and Eos and the brother of Hesperus, Notus, the south wind, Eurus, the east wind, and Boreas, the north wind. He lived with the other three winds in a cave on the floating island of Aeolia, where they were released by Aeolus, either at his whim or at the command of the gods. Along with Apollo he loved the youth Hyacinthos, who was accidentally killed by a quoit thrown by Apollo. At first rough and forceful, Zephyrus was later tamed, perhaps through his marriage to Chloris.



The twin brother of Calais, the winged offspring of Boreas and Oreithyia, and brother of Cleopatra. The twins accompanied Jason on his quest for the Golden Fleece and were thus Argonauts. In Thrace they drove away the Harpies that were plaguing the blind prophet Phineus, Cleopatra’s husband, and freed from prison the sons of Cleopatra, their cousins, whom Phineus had falsely suspected.



Twin brother of Amphion, the sons of Antiope by Zeus. Having given birth to the divinely conceived twins, Antiope was divorced by her husband, Lycus, king of Thebes, who then married Dirce, who treated Antiope cruelly. Meanwhile, Zethus and Amphion had been reared by cattleherds on Mount Cithaeron. When they had grown to manhood they were told the truth and returned to Thebes to exact their revenge. They killed Lycus and then disposed of Dirce, tying her to the horns of a wild bull, which threw her body into a well that henceforth bore her name. The twins then took possession of the city and built the lower fortifications below the Cadmea. Zethus married Thebe, who gave her name to the city; Amphion married Niobe. The twins then jointly ruled Thebes.



The supreme god of the Greek pantheon, later equated with the Roman Jupiter or Dis (Pater), omnipotent king of gods, god of the sky, weather, thunder, and lightning (hence called "the Thunderer"), ruler of mankind, gatherer of clouds, and especially associated with mountaintops, though his greatest temples, at Dodona, Olympia, and Nemea, all lie in peaceful valleys. Zeus was also revered as the god of home and hearth and dispenser of good and evil, of hospitality to strangers, and of oaths. He was identified with the snake-formed Meilichius, "the Placable," and Ktesios, the god of storerooms. His attributes were the scepter, thunderbolt, eagle, a figure of Victory in one hand, and his aegis, a sacred goatskin shield, representing the thundercloud. The oak, the eagle, and mountain summits were sacred to him, and his sacrifices were usually bulls, cows, and goats, the latter holding special significance through his legendary connection with the she-goat Amalthea. The Dodonean Zeus was usually portrayed wearing a wreath of oak leaves, whereas the Olympian Zeus was sometimes wearing one of olive leaves.

His origins appear to be the Achaeans, who entered Greece and introduced his worship c. 1450 B.C. together with his consort Dione, who some sources, including Homer, make the mother of Aphrodite by Zeus. However, her worship did not penetrate south of Epirus, where the earliest of Zeus’s sanctuaries was located, at Dodona. Here the sacred rustling of oak leaves was interpreted as the oracle of the god. Oak trees are especially sacred to Zeus, for they were believed to be struck by lightning far more frequently than was any other species of tree. He was also worshipped at Olympia in Thessaly and at Olympia in Elis.

On Crete Zeus was a young god, the consort of the dominant Mother Goddess, though the more usual legend makes him the youngest son of Cronos and Rhea. He was replaced with a stone wrapped in swaddling when his father sought to swallow him, as he had his other children. Rhea, at least according to Minoan tradition on Crete, hid the baby Zeus in the Dictaean Cave, where her priests, the Curetes, clashed their weapons together in order to drown the baby’s cries while the she-goat Amalthea acted as his nurse.

Having safely reached manhood, Zeus was first counseled by Metis, a daughter of Oceanos; upon her advice and with Rhea’s help, she administered a potion to his father, Cronos, which made him vomit first the stone he had swallowed in place of Zeus and then his other children—Hestia, Demeter, Hera, Hades, and Poseidon. Together they made war against their father and the other Titans, who were led by Atlas, though the latter’s brothers, Prometheus and Epimetheus, stood alongside Zeus.

This war, known as the Titanomachia, was waged in Thessaly and lasted for ten years until Ge promised Zeus victory if he would free her sons, the Hecatoncheires, and the Cyclopes from their imprisonment in Tartarus. The Cyclopes provided the three deities with divine weapons. To Zeus they gave his thunderbolt, to Hades his helmet of invisibility, and to Poseidon his trident. Thus armed, the three quickly overcame Cronos as the Hecatoncheires stoned the other Titans. Defeated, they were consigned to Tartarus, where they were guarded by the Hecatoncheires. As punishment Atlas, the leader of the Titans, was made to carry the sky on his shoulders for eternity. In this way the third generation of deities came to rule supreme.

Dividing the universe by lot, Hades became god of the Underworld, Poseidon god of the sea, and Zeus god of the sky; earth remained the common territory of all three. Zeus established his court on the lofty summit of Mount Olympus between Macedonia and Thessaly, and there he lived in a wondrous palace along with Poseidon, their sisters, Hestia, Hera, and Demeter, and seven other great deities: Aphrodite, Athene, Apollo, Artemis, Hephaistos, Ares, and Hermes. Hades also had a palace on Olympus but usually resided in the Underworld. Likewise Poseidon, who also had a palace beneath the sea. At a later date Hestia was replaced as one of the Olympian deities by Dionysos.

A post-Homeric story tells that Zeus had to put down a rebellion by the Gigantes, 24 giant sons of Ge with serpents’ tails who tried to avenge the imprisonment of their brothers, the Titans, by attacking Olympus. This rebellion was led by Alcyoneus and included the likes of Porphyrion, Ephialtes, Mimas, Pallas, Enceladus, and Polybutes. A terrible struggle ensued on earth and in Olympus, and victory was won only after the intervention of Heracles—appearing before his apotheosis and indicating the late origin of the myth—who provided the gods with a magic herb of invulnerability and always leveled the final blow. Enceladus was imprisoned beneath Mount Etna on Sicily and Polybutes under Mount Nisyrus, the interments being seen as the cause of the volcanic natures of the mountains.

Ge now brought forth the terrible monster Typhon to avenge the destruction of her sons. Fathered by Ge’s own son, Tartarus, Typhon was the largest being ever created, his huge limbs ending in serpents’ heads, his eyes breathing fire. As he approached Olympus the gods fled, disguised as animals, to Egypt. Zeus assumed the form of a ram, Apollo a crow, Dionysos a goat (his inclusion again indicating the late origin of the myth), Hera a white cow, Artemis a cat, Aphrodite a fish, Ares a boar, and Hermes an ibis. Athene alone remained undaunted and persuaded Zeus to attack Typhon. After a terrible battle—during which Zeus was temporarily incapacitated but rescued by Hermes and Pan—Zeus finally destroyed Typhon with his thunderbolt and buried him under Mount Etna, once more causing the volcanic nature of that mountain.

Unlike their brothers, the Titans, Prometheus and Epimetheus had not been imprisoned, for they had sided with Zeus in his epic struggle. Prometheus became regarded as the benefactor of mankind when he stole fire from Heaven, an act that brought about divine retribution. Prometheus was chained to a crag in the Caucasus, where an eagle or a vulture tore at his liver during the day, the organ regenerating each night. There he remained until Heracles, with Zeus’s permission, shot the eagle and freed Prometheus. To punish mankind Zeus ordered Hephaistos to make the first woman, Pandora, who married Epimetheus. Having done so she opened a box she had been given, and from it all the ills that plague mankind escaped, Hope alone remaining at the bottom.

Luxuriating in the warmth of the fire stolen for them by Prometheus, mankind became impious, thus ensuring the anger of Zeus. He decided to wipe out mankind by releasing the great Flood. However, Prometheus overheard Zeus’s plans and relayed them to his son, Deucalion, who built a wooden vessel in which he and his wife, Pyrrha, daughter of Epimetheus, would ride out the storm, which covered the face of the earth for nine days.

Reigning supreme in Heaven, Zeus first married Metis, an Oceanid, the daughter of Oceanos and Tethys. However, while she was pregnant with Athene an oracle foretold that any son born to Metis would be greater than his father. Mindful of how he had overthrown his own father, Zeus swallowed Metis. Sometime later he was walking on the shores of Lake Triton when he suffered an agonizing headache. Realizing the cause of the pain, Hermes persuaded either Hephaistos or Prometheus to cleave open Zeus’s skull. From the wound sprang the fully grown and fully armed Athene.

Zeus then married Themis, a Titan daughter of Uranos and Ge. Their children were the Horae and the Moirae, though some sources say that the latter were the children of Erebos and Night and that even Zeus himself was subject to them. There followed a daylong marriage to Mnemosyne, during which the nine Muses were conceived. Zeus next married his reluctant sister, Hera, whom he sought out in the form of a cuckoo on the island of Crete, perhaps in Argos, their wedding night being spent on Samos. Zeus became the father by her of Ares, Hebe, and Hephaistos. The latter may have been the parthenogenous son of Hera, a situation that is more likely, as Hephaistos was apparently present at the birth of Athene, and if he had been the son of Zeus and Hera he would have attended the event before he himself was even born.

On one occasion Zeus’s authority was challenged by his wife in collaboration with Poseidon and Apollo. This revolt was successful in putting Zeus in chains, but he was freed by Briareus and Thetis, and he punished Hera, hanging her by the wrists to the sky, an anvil on each ankle. Apollo and Poseidon were sent to serve King Laomedon as bondsmen, and there they built the great, unbreachable walls of Troy. Apollo later killed the Cyclopes after Zeus had killed his son, Asclepios. Zeus punished him by sending him to serve King Admetus of Thessaly.

Though oft-married, Zeus is perhaps most famous for his many extramarital liaisons. He became the father of numerous beings by these affairs, which his jealous wife was always trying to end or at least to hinder. He was the father of Persephone by his own sister, Demeter, and of the Charites or Graces by Eurynome. Four of the Olympian deities were sons of Zeus by mortal women. Apollo and Artemis by Leto; Hermes, his herald, by Maia; and Dionysos by Semele, whom he appeared before as a mortal. Hera persuaded the hapless Semele to ask her mysterious lover to appear in his true form. Zeus reluctantly agreed, and Semele was consumed by the fire from his thunderbolt. Zeus rescued the unborn child from the ashes and sewed him up in his thigh; Dionysos was thus delivered three months later. Zeus is also one of the possible fathers of Eros by Aphrodite, though both Hermes and Ares are also credited with his paternity.

Other mortals were pursued by Zeus. Danae, imprisoned by her father, Acrisius, after an oracle had foretold that her son would kill him, bore Perseus to Zeus, who had appeared to her as a shower of gold. Perhaps his most famous son is Heracles, born to the mortal Alcmene after Zeus appeared to her in the guise of her absent husband, Amphitryon, who returned the following day amid much confusion and fathered Iphicles. The twins were born at the same time, though Heracles was in fact one night older than his half-brother. When Heracles finally died and was brought to Olympus, Zeus persuaded Hera to adopt him as her son, after which he married their daughter, Hebe.

In the form of a bull Zeus carried the beautiful Europa, daughter of Agenor, to Crete. There he fathered her three famous sons: Minos, Rhadamanthus, and Sarpedon. Other conquests, and mortal children, included the twins Amphion and Zethus to Antiope, to whom he appeared as a satyr; Dardanos, the son of Electra the Pleiad; Tantalus, the son of the nymph Pluto; Helen, Castor, and Polydeuces by Leda, to whom he appeared as a beautiful white swan; and Bootes, the son of Callisto, whom he turned into a she-bear as punishment for her lack of chastity. Io was approached by Zeus disguised as a cloud, but

Hera saw through the deception and turned Io into a white heifer; she also sent a gadfly to sting it. Io fled to Egypt, where Zeus restored her human form and she bore their son, Epaphus. He wooed the nymph Aegina as a flame, later turning her into the island that bears her name, upon which he became a rock. Zeus also had a liking, though not displayed as often compared to other gods, for beautiful youths, his only real exhibition of any homosexual tendency being when he bartered for Ganymede and had the youth carried up to Olympus by an eagle to be made his cupbearer and catamite.

It is impossible to compile an accurate narrative concerning Zeus, for there are very few Greek myths that do not have some connection with the supreme deity. No other deity in any other culture became so entangled in virtually the entire mythology of that culture. Zeus remains the most powerful god of ancient civilization, yet strangely his mythology is merely concerned with the legends of other gods and mortals, save for his struggle to gain supremacy at the start of his life. Various festivals were connected with the worship of Zeus, notably the Pandia (the Festival of All-Zeus), the Diasia, which was celebrated at night and was connected with fertility rites, and the Dipolieia, in which events centered on the commission of a sacrificial act of murder.

Zeus was not normally thought of as having ever died, for that simple task would be impossible of an immortal. However, there was a Cretan belief that Zeus did indeed die and was buried on Mount Youktas, a peak approximately 15 kilometers south of Iraklion that from a certain angle has the uncanny look of a helmeted warrior.

Zeus was often depicted in art either seated on his throne or striding forward, usually clutching his thunderbolt and sometimes accompanied by an eagle. He was also often shown holding a small figure of Victory and wearing a wreath of oak or olive leaves. The most famous representation of Zeus in ancient art, regrettably no longer extant, was the massive statue by Phidias at Olympia. First erected c. 430 B.C., it was almost 12 meters tall, showed the god enthroned, holding a Victory figure and scepter, and was decorated with ebony, ivory, gold, and precious stones. Notable surviving representations are a bronze statuette from Dodona and a larger-than-life-size bronze figure from Cape Artemisium thought to represent either Zeus or his brother, Poseidon.

Next post:

Previous post: