Monday, April 30, 2012

Z is for...Zeus by Matt Posner

Welcome to Unwritten's little corner of the the A-Z Blogging Challenge! If you want to see the whole lineup, click HERE!  

Can you believe it? This is it, the last post in the A-Z Challenge. Who better to wrap things up than Zeus, king of the Greek gods? Join Matt Posner as he gives us the scoop on some cool Greek mythology. Zeus was a naughty god indeed, but he may have had a little non-Grecian help. Read on to see what I mean!

Z is for...Zeus 

Z is for Zeus, which is the English spelling of the Greek king of the gods. Zeus is a character that has transformed from a genuine Greek religious figure, to the Roman god Jupiter or Jove, to a hero and villain in 21st-century movies. First I'll tell you a selection of mythology regarding Zeus' origin and personality; then I'll tell you a theory of how Zeus came to be how he is.
Zeus & Europa 
The mythology states that at the time of creation, there were male and female gods called Ouranos, or Sky, and Gaea, or Earth. These two mated and produced a generation of gods called the titans. The leader of the titans was Cronus (Time). He rose against his father, defeated him, and became the new king of the gods, taking as the queen of the gods none other than his sister, Rhea. (Incest taboos don't apply to primal beings like these, you see.)  A prophecy from their parents stated that his son would overthrow him, just as he had overthrown his father. Thus, Cronus decided to swallow his children as they were born. Rhea was tired of having her children disappeared, and so she substituted a stone for the latest one, who was Zeus. Then Zeus was raised in secrecy, and when the time came, he rose up and defeated his father, as prophesied, restoring all of his brothers and sisters from inside Cronus.
After assigning roles to his existing siblings, Zeus married his sister Hera and got busy making baby gods.  Each of the major gods, the Twelve Olympians, has a varying heritage, some being siblings, some his children. There are also a lot of heroes that owe their birth to father Zeus. Zeus, you see, was a sexually active king of the gods. He went around sleeping with divine and mortal females alike. Once, in the case of Dionysus, the youngest of the twelve Olympians, a god resulted, but most of the time, it was either a mortal hero or a demigod (like Heracles). Hera couldn't do anything about this cheating, because Zeus was so much more powerful. In the Iliad, Zeus claims that if he had a giant tug-of-war with all the other Olympians combined, he would win. No doubt true.
Zeus courting Ganymede
Why was Zeus so dominant and so eager to spread his divine legacy?
Greek historians record the ancestral belief of the Greeks that their ethnicity was formed by conquest. A people living on the Greek peninsula were taken over by invaders called the Dorians. This isn’t a proven event, but it’s at least plausible that there was a big cultural shift in ancient Greece at a time before writing existed there.  If there really was a Dorian conquest, then Zeus is the Dorian god, and his conquest of the prior generation of gods makes sense. It's a means of political and religious control for the new people to dominate the indigenous ones. Here's the message:
"We conquered you, and our god Zeus conquered your gods. Not only that, but if you worship a goddess, then Zeus has had sex with her, either consensually or through rape, and so Zeus is the father of your local hero or city founder also."
The Jupiter
of Smyrna
Here's a hypothetical. Let's say that in the region near Argolis, the eastern Peloponnese, the local mother goddess figure was called Alcmene. Along come our hypothetical Dorians, conquer the area, and then explain how it REALLY happened. Zeus disguised himself as the father god figure, Amphitryon, and became the REAL father of their famous offspring, Heracles, also known by his Latin name Hercules. Over time, Zeus gets all the credit, and both Alcmene and Amphitryon, formerly local gods, are re-imagined as mortals who got played by the much more powerful Zeus. And the mighty fertility god Heracles, known for being shown with a large penis (his "club") and for always fathering a child with every woman he gets with, become a demigod hero rather than a major deity as in the older culture.
Worship of Zeus, as the Roman god Jupiter, was obliterated in the centuries after the Christianization of the Roman Empire. Zeus became a marginal literary figure, and most major images of him, including the world-famous statue at Olympia by the Greek master artist Phidias, were destroyed as obscenities. In the Renaissance,  Zeus was redeemed as a cultural figure, and Greek mythology enjoyed several centuries of popularity in Europe.
Zeus by Buscema and Palmer
Zeus has had a long history in literature and movies. Moving forward from his roles in Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, he has been part of both serious and comic stories and art. Recently, Zeus has been seen in the Clash of the Titans movies, being actually killed in Wrath of the Titans, which came out in early April. My favorite recent incarnation of Zeus is in Marvel comics, where he is a giant red-bearded dude who flies off the handle a lot. Zeus' best musical rendition is "Jupiter, the God of Jollity" by English composer Gustav Holst.
This is about half of one percent of what can be said about Zeus. If you liked it, please go to and buy all my School of the Ages books. For links, go to my website and scroll down to the bottom. 
Matt Posner is a writer and teacher from New York City. Originally from Miami, Florida, he does what he can to make young people's lives better. 

Twitter  @schooloftheages
Facebook:  search "school of the ages series" 


  1. Informative post, Matt :) I always enjoyed reading about mythology, though I somehow missed that Hera was Zeus's sister, as well as his wife! Best of luck with your books!

  2. Excellent read. There's actually a different Khronos [Time] from the Cronos above, and they're different figures. The rest of Cronos above is correct, but Khronos is an elemental, which is the generation of deities with Gaea and Ouranos.

    I did enjoy the modern Clash and Wrath of the Titans movies, though. Particularly with the rebellion of man from the gods, as a way to reflect how societies are less dependent on deities to control their lives than their own judgment and ability to discover.


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