While Zeus is perhaps best known for casting the thunderbolt, causing thunder and lightning and bringing storms to the earth. However, he is also very much concerned with issues of law and justice (oaths were made by his name) and hospitality, and is also (as Zeus Meilichios) a protective deity associated with the home and family. He is the protector of strangers and supplicants and
Zeus is the father of many children, a number of whom are gods of Olympus as well: Athena, Apollo, Artemis, Hermes, Dionysos, Ares and (in some but not all tales) Hephaistos. He is also said to have fathered the Muses and the Graces, as well as many mortal or semi-divine heroes such as Heracles, Perseus, and Helen of Troy.
Myths and Stories
Zeus’ first story is a crucial one, one which establishes the structure of the mythic world. His father, Kronos, feared that one of his children would one day take over his position of authority over the world; therefore, whenever his wife Rhea gave birth, Kronos would immediately swallow the infant, thereby preserving his own power. Rhea, of course, soon tired of this arrangement and eventually managed to save the youngest child, Zeus, by giving Kronos a rock wrapped in swaddling clothes instead, and sending Zeus into hiding. When Zeus reached adulthood, he forced his father, by means of an emetic, to disgorge all of his siblings–Hestia, Poseidon, Demeter, Hades, and his bride-to-be Hera–and indeed fulfilled Kronos’ worst fears.
Some of the best-known myths of Zeus have to do with his many love affairs with nymphs and mortal women, affairs which often ended badly for the woman when Hera sought revenge against her: Leda, who he wooed as a swan, and who bore him Helen (eventually to be Helen of Troy), and the twins Kastor and Polydeukes (Castor and Pollux); Europa, who he abducted in the form of a bull; Io, who he seduces and then changes into a cow when caught by Hera; and Semele, mother of Dionysos who was destroyed when Hera tricked her into asking Zeus to show himself to her in his true, unbearably brilliant form. Many of these dalliances resulted in the birth of heroes and other notable men and women.
Names and Epithets
Like many of the gods, Zeus was addressed under different names or epithets at different times and under different circumstances.
Zeus Panhellenios (Zeus of All the Hellenes). Refers to Zeus’ position as a god honored in all regions of Greece.
Zeus Polieus (Zeus of the City). Refers to Zeus’ role in protecting the community.
Zeus Xenios (Hospitable Zeus). Zeus Xenios enforced the rules of hospitality; his wrath fell on any who mistreated a guest or a stranger.
Zeus Meilichios (Kindly Zeus). Zeus Meilichios is concerned with the well-being of the household.
Zeus Olympios (Olympian Zeus). Refers to Zeus’ rule of and residence in Olympus among the other gods.
Zeus was honored in a number of festivals throughout the Hellenic world, including the following:
Diasia, an Athenian festival to Zeus Meilichios wherein he was offered cakes.
Dipolieia, an ancient and unusual festival in which, following the sacrifice of an ox, the axe used in the ceremony is subsequently brought to trial and thrown into the sea.
Olympieia, a festival for Zeus Olympios, featuring sports competitions, particularly those having to do with horses.
Pompaia, another festival to Zeus Meilichios, focusing on the survivial of the crops.
Gamelia, a festival honoring the sacred marriage of Zeus and Hera.
He was also honored in the home as Zeus Ktesios and Zeus Meilichios, as protector of the home and the larder.
Zeus’ symbols and attributes include, of course, the lightning bolt. He is also associated with the aegis, the eagle, and the oak tree.