Zeus - Jupiter
in ancient Greek religion, chief deity of the pantheon, a sky and weather god
who was identical with the Roman god Jupiter. His name clearly comes from that
of the sky god Dyaus of the ancient Hindu Rigveda. Zeus was regarded as the
sender of thunder and lightning, rain, and winds, and his traditional weapon was
the thunderbolt. He was called the father (i.e., the ruler and protector) of
both gods and men.
According to a Cretan myth that was later
adopted by the Greeks, Cronus, king of the Titans, upon learning that one of his
children was fated to dethrone him, swallowed his children as soon as they were
born. But Rhea, his wife, saved the infant Zeus by substituting a stone wrapped
in swaddling clothes for Cronus to swallow and hiding Zeus in a cave on Crete.
There he was nursed by the nymph (or female goat) Amalthaea and guarded by the
Curetes (young warriors), who clashed their weapons to disguise the baby’s
cries. After Zeus grew to manhood he led a revolt against the Titans and
succeeded in dethroning Cronus, perhaps with the assistance of his brothers
Hades and Poseidon, with whom he then divided dominion over the world.
As ruler of heaven Zeus led the gods to victory
against the Giants (offspring of Gaea and Tartarus) and successfully crushed
several revolts against him by his fellow gods. According to the Greek poet
Homer, heaven was located on the summit of Olympus, the highest mountain in
Greece and the logical home for a weather god. The other members of the pantheon
resided there with Zeus and were subject to his will. From his exalted position
atop Mount Olympus Zeus was thought to omnisciently observe the affairs of men,
seeing everything, governing all, and rewarding good conduct and punishing evil.
Besides dispensing justice—he had a strong connection with his daughter Dike
(Justice)—Zeus was the protector of cities, the home, property, strangers,
guests, and supplicants.
Zeus was well known for his amorousness—a
source of perpetual discord with his wife, Hera—and he had many love affairs
with both mortal and immortal women. In order to achieve his amorous designs,
Zeus frequently assumed animal forms, such as that of a cuckoo when he ravished
Hera, a swan when he ravished Leda, or a bull when he carried off Europa.
Notable among his offspring were the twins Apollo and Artemis, by the Titaness
Leto; Helen and the Dioscuri, by Leda of Sparta; Persephone, by the goddess
Demeter; Athena, born from his head after he had swallowed the Titaness Metis;
Hephaestus, Hebe, Ares, and Eileithyia, by his wife, Hera; Dionysus, by the
goddess Semele; and many others.
Though regarded by Greek religionists
everywhere as omnipotent and the head of the pantheon, Zeus’s very universality
tended to reduce his importance compared to that of powerful local divinities
like Athena and Hera. Although statues of Zeus Herkeios (Guardian of the House)
and altars of Zeus Xenios (Hospitable) graced the forecourts of houses, and
though his mountaintop shrines were visited by pilgrims, Zeus did not have a
temple at Athens until the late 6th century bc, and even his temple at Olympia
postdated that of Hera.
In art Zeus was represented as a bearded,
dignified, and mature man of stalwart build; his most prominent symbols were the
thunderbolt and the eagle.