King of the Olympians
Photo: Vatican Museums, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/20/Zeus_Otricoli_Pio-Clementino_Inv257.jpg
Zeus, King of the Olympians, God of Thunder and Order
Roman Name: Jupiter
God of: Thunder, the sky, rain, order and hospitality, as well as the all-powerful King of the Olympians
Parents: Kronos and Rhea
Married to: Hera, but he had many, many other lovers too
Children: Far too many to list in full! But they include his children with Hera: Ares, Hephaestus, Hebe (the goddess of youth) and Eileithyia (the goddess of childbirth), his other divine children, such as Athena, Artemis, Apollo, Hermes, Dionysus, Persephone, the Muses and the Fates, and many mortal heroes such as Heracles and Helen of Troy.
Symbols: thunderbolts, eagles, a crown, the Aegis (a mighty shield) and oak trees.
Location of Story: The Temple of Zeus at Olympieion.
“Why are you taking so long to finish my temple!?” The voice boomed with the thunder. The dark figure of a man raised his arm and threw a bolt of lightning, which blasted into the stone, sending splinters into the air. Delphi could see the sparks crackling from the man’s thick beard. He raised his hand ready to throw another thunderbolt.
“Well, you’re not exactly helping are you?”
Zeus paused and looked over at the girl who had addressed him. She had her arms crossed. “Oh, it’s you,” he boomed and threw the thunderbolt. A flash of lightning obliterated an unfinished statue and Delphi felt all her hairs standing on end. She tried to speak but a huge rumble of thunder smothered her words.
“What?” shouted Zeus. She tried again.
“I said, stop throwing thunderbolts everywhere!”
“What? Why? Nothing wrong with a good thunderbolt!” Zeus roared. “That’ll show them I want my temple finished!”
Delphi looked at the splintered pieces of marble around her. "They might think you want them to stop,” she pointed out. Zeus was about to hurl another thunderbolt but then paused, and lowered his arm. The echoes of thunder died away.
“Ah… I didn’t think of that…” he admitted, his voice merely rumbling. Then he seemed to perk up. “But it never does any harm to remind everyone who’s most powerful! And best!” He threw the thunderbolt into the sky where it lit up the city like a firework, and his deep laughter spread for miles around.
Delphi gave him a Look. Like the one a mother gives to her shouting toddler in the market.
“Is this what the best god would do?” she pointed out. “Have a big temper tantrum? Anyway, I’ve heard some really dodgy stories about you…”
“Like what?” he snapped, frowning.
“Just how many things have you transformed yourself into? I know there was an eagle, a swan, a bull, a shower of gold, was it? What was that about?”
“Err, well that’s not really the type of thing you should…”
“And I know why too,” Delphi said hotly, blushing a little. “I don’t think an all-powerful god should go around doing things like that.”
“Ah, but I can! That’s what being all powerful means. I can do whatever I like!” Zeus boomed.
“Yes, but just because you can, it doesn’t mean you should!”
Delphi turned her back and started to run away before he decided to start throwing thunderbolts again. The storm grumbled behind her.
King of gods
The stories tell us that Zeus is the most powerful of all the gods, and ruler of the gods of Olympus. But that’s what happens when the winners write all the stories. Zeus took over from his father Kronos, and saw off challenges from the Titans and Giants to secure his unquestioned rule over all things.
Aspects of Zeus
In fact, the idea of Zeus is thought to have been combined together from several earlier gods. Originally, he was a rain god, and seen as all powerful because of the importance of rain in growing food. Zeus had many different cults, and over time his identity became mixed together with other powerful gods – of storms, of order, laws, guests and power, but also of mischief and anger. This mix of identities into one god helps explain why Zeus is seen as the best and most powerful of gods, while also sometimes behaving terribly!
He was at his worst when it came to women. Although he was married to Hera, he frequently fell in love with, and had many children with, many goddesses and mortal women. He often liked to transform himself into other forms to seduce these women, such as an eagle, phoenix or bull, but sometimes also a swan, a goose, a vulture, a cuckoo, an ant, a fire, and even a shower of gold. It’s probably best not to think about it too much!
Father of heroes
Understandably, this made his wife furious and caused no end of trouble. But it also led to the birth of many gods, goddesses and heroes who star in many of the Greek myths. His children were often beautiful, such as the Graces (or Charites) and the Muses who would often dance and perform at divine special occasions. Either directly, or through his children, he was also the descendant of many Greek heroes such as Heracles, who was relentlessly punished by Hera to pay Zeus back for being unfaithful.
Zeus was often seen as an angry and vengeful god too, using his thunderbolts (which had been crafted for him by his son Hephaestus), to punish those who went against him or insulted him. This included when he destroyed Odysseus’ fleet of ships when they dared to eat Helios’ cattle, or sending the Harpies against Phineas when he dared to divulge Zeus’ secrets.
Zeus lived on the peak of Mount Olympus with his family, served by his daughter Hebe, the goddess of youth, and his favourite companion Ganymede. There, he would rule from a throne and wear a crown – but even his power wasn’t absolute. In disputes between the gods he would often defer to Themis, the goddess of justice, and even he was powerless to stop the exploits of other powerful gods such as the Fates, and especially his wife!