Zeus

Many peoples have a divine figure (Iuppiter in ancient Italy, Dyaus in ancient India, Tiu among the early the Germanic peoples) who more or less corresponds to Greek Zeus as a supreme being or ‘sky-god.’ The root meaning of his name, which is good Greek, is apparently ‘bright,’ and he is god of the phenomena of the sky or, more exactly, those of the atmosphere. His primary functions appear to be connected with rain and the return of fine weather, also, very characteristically, with thunder and lighting. Hence he is associated also with what depends so largely upon the weather, the fertility of the soil, although that is never a very prominent aspect of his cult or nature. To all this a long string of traditional epithets bears witness, such as Ombrios and Hyettios (Rainer), Urios (Sender of favourable winds), Astrapaios (Lightener), Bronton (Thunderer), Georgos (Farmer), and so forth.

But he was so widely worshipped that there is scarcely a department of nature or of human activity with which he has not some connexion. He is closely associated with political life (in Homer, kings derive their authority from him, and Polieus, He of the City, is an ancient title of his), early represented as interested in moral concerns, and from Homer down, so firmly established as the supreme god that we feel no surprise at finding his name used by philosophers of a monotheistic tendency practically as equivalent to ‘God,’ while others, who do not go so far, still are very ready to extend his functions to include, for instance, those of Hades, who is ‘another Zeus’ or ‘Zeus of the lower world’ (Katachthonios) in many passages. Although his myths include many that are early and grotesque, or late and frivolous, he never quite loses his majesty, and is consistently represented in art as a stately figure, a vigorous man in the prime of life, standing or sitting in a dignified attitude, usually draped from the waist down, bearing sceptre or thunderbolt, or both, and attended by his familiar, the eagle.

He also is often represented, in literature and art alike, as associated with the oak, a tree marked out as appropriate not only by its beauty and majesty and its long life, but by two conspicuous facts, namely, that in antiquity it grew very commonly, and not least so in those regions where Zeus was most fervently worshipped, such as Dodona and Arkadia, and that it is very commonly struck by lightning, as the ancients noticed and modern forestry has proved statistically.

Two important attributes of Zeus are the thunderbolt and the aigis. Of the former it need only be said that the universal explanation, before modern researches made the true character of electrical phenomena known, of the destructive effect of lighting was that with the lightning-flash some kind of heavy and pointed missile was thown. In Greek art, this is usually shown as a bi-conical object, often having conventional lightning-flashes attached, and sometimes wings also. The aigis is described, by various authors from Homer down, as a fringed garment or piece of armour (apparently, at times, a shield or corslet). In the hands of a god, or worn by him, it is not only a potent defence, but a magically powerful weapon, which when shaken at an enemy fills him with terror. Being worn by the god of thunder, it is not surprising that it has been again and again interpreted as a thunder-cloud. But the plain meaning of the name puts this out of court. Greek aigis means simply a goat-skin, as nebris means a fawnskin. In its origin this mysterious object is nothing more than a cloak made of a goat’s hide with the hair on, forming a fringe. Just such a garment is worn to this day by Greek peasants, and it doubtless clothed many ancient wooden or stone cult-objects intended to represent Zeus, for the clothing of statues was quite common in Greece. As it was of tough hide, it would serve its wearer as a defence, not only against the weather, but against an enemy’s blows. But being worn by a great god, the aigis, or goat-skin coat, of Zeus would be full of his divine force, or mana, and therefore could, especially when used by him or his favourite daughter Athena, itself work wonders.

An ancient bronze statuette of Zeus
hurling his thunderbolt
(in the National Museum, Athens)

Gaia (Ge) [Earth] and Ouranos [Heaven] warned their son Kronos that he would be overthrown by one of his own children; he therefore swallowed them as fast as they were born. But his consort, Rhea, when she bore her youngest child, Zeus, hid him away, and gave his father a stone wrapped in swaddling clothes to swallow instead. According to Hesiod, Rhea’s children were daughters first, then sons: Hestia, Demeter, Hera; Hades, Poseidon, and Zeus. Concerning the birthplace of Zeus, two tales were current in antiquity; one, possibly the older, declared that he was born in Crete; the other placed the great event in Arkadia. Once born, he was taken to Crete (according to those who do not place his birth there) and hidden in a cave at Lyktos—he was born, according to the Cretan story, in a cavern on Mt. Ide or Mt. Dikte—where he was tended by the local divinities. Food was provided for him by the goat Amaltheia, also by bees who brought him their honey; and his cries were drowned by the noisy war-dance of the Kuretes.

So Zeus grew and reached maturity (in Crete?). Rhea or Zeus (or both in collaboration with each other) beguiled Kronos to vomit up the elder children, who thus, although born of their mother before Zeus, were nevertheless now Zeus’ juniors, as not having been born of their father until after Zeus had reached his majority. Zeus then set free certain of his father’s brethren who had been imprisoned in Tartaros, including the Kyklopes, who armed him with thunder and lightening in return for their freedom, and the Hekatoncheires (Hundred-Handers), Briareos and the others, who proved formidable allies in the battle that followed (the famous theomachia, Battle of the Gods). Styx and her brood also rallied to Zeus’ cause. The battle raged for ten years, Zeus and his allies fighting from Mt. Olympos, and the Titans—Kronos and his siblings except Themis—from Mt. Orthrys. The earth and even Tartaros were shaken with the trampling and noise of the immortal combatants, but at last the Titans gave way before the thunderbolts of Zeus and the showers of enormous boulders hurled by the Hundred-Handers. The defeated Titans were then imprisoned in Tartaros, except those who had joined with Zeus and Atlas, whose huge strength was put to good use to hold up the sky. The imprisoned Titans were guarded thereafter by the Hundred-Handers.

Having thus overthrown Kronos as Gaia and Ouranos had foreseen, Zeus now had three important affairs to settle: to divide the conquered universe between himself and his brothers, to provide himself with a consort, and to settle his relations with mankind.

The first of these matters was briefly and amicably arranged: Zeus, Poseidon and Hades cast lots for the three main divisions of the ancestral estate—heaven, the sea, and the under-world, holding Olympos and the earth in common. The absence here of any notion of primogeniture, the exclusion of the sisters from the division, and the retention of a sort of glorified equivalent of the paternal hearth and the land immediately around it, are all quite in accordance with early Greek law, and indeed with early European law generally. Nor need we hesitate to press the comparison because Kronos was not supposed to be dead, being as immortal as his sons. His position, and indeed that of the elder gods generally, is exactly that of the aged father of a Homeric chieftain, Laertes for instance in the Odyssey, who has, for whatever reason, retired from active control of his kingdom or barony. As might be expected from the age of the legend, the characters in it behave precisely like rather primitive Greeks. The result of the sortition was, that Zeus had the sky for his share, Poseidon the sea and coasts contiguous to the sea, Hades the infernal regions.

The nuptials of Zeus, however, were a much more complicated matter. We have already seen how Father Sky (Ouranos) married Mother Earth (Gaia)—and that is an idea found not in Greek tradition only, but in the mythic traditions of very many races. Now Zeus is emphatically a sky-god; it is therefore natural that he should wed a goddess connected with earthly fertility. Hence we find him the consort of Demeter, Semele, and Hera. But once he was paired, in various local legends, with several such goddesses, the result of any attempt to correlate these legends (and such attempts were clearly made very early) must be either that he be represented as polygynous, or that he be thought of as sometimes unfaithful to his legitimate queen. The former solution was impossible, for the Greeks were in principle monogamous, and naturally represented their gods as having the same practice; the latter was more in accordance with their own ideas, which tolerated both concubinage and outright illegitimate unions, and gave children resulting from such unions a recognized, though subordinate, place in the family. Hence Zeus is always represented as having but one wife (generally Hera), but as the father of a number of illegitimate children, who, if they are the sons of goddesses, acquire divine rank themselves, while if their mothers are mortal women, their position, though exalted, is not divine.

Zeus’ numerous unions with mortals are easily explained, in some cases by the probable supposition that the women in question are forgotten—or, as they are technically called, ‘faded’—goddesses; or else as particularizations of the general claim of old royal houses to be ‘scions of Zeus;’ or as expressions of the desire of less illustrious families to provide themselves with a lofty ancestry, even at the price of a bend sinister many generations back. The same explanations hold good also, incidentally, for the many pedigrees which go back, not to Zeus himself, but to some other Olympian.

Even so, a certain number of the unions of gods are marriages with relatives in the first degree, full sisters or daughters. This was never allowed in Greek society, and the only explanation for such cases has to be that a god, simply because divine, might do that as well as many other things with an impunity, and even a propriety, unavailable to any mortal. But ancients themselves noticed this anomaly, and were puzzled by it, in later times.

According to Hesiod, Zeus’ first consort was Metis (wisdom, good counsel). But this was a dangerous union, for Metis was destined to bear, first Athena, and then a god who should rule the gods. Zeus therefore took the precaution of swallowing her before the birth of Athena, who in due time was born from the head of her father.

Head of Zeus on an ancient Greek coin

His next wife was Themis. Their offspring was the Seasons (Horai) and the Apportioners (Moirai).

Next came Eurynome, who, like Metis, is represented by Hesiod as a daughter of Okeanos and Tethys. Her children were the Charites, more familiar in English under the Latin translation of their name, the Graces (Gratiae).

A more important union was that of Zeus and Demeter, which again gives us Sky wedding, not exactly Earth, but what grows from Earth, i.e., Corn. The offspring of this was Kore, otherwise known as Persephone. There is another tale, of so-called ‘Orphic’ origin, perhaps originally from some lost Thracian or Phrygian myth. Zeus loved his own daughter, Persephone, and finally was united with her in the form of a serpent or dragon. She bore a wonderful child Zagreus (identified rightly or wrongly with Dionysos), whom the jealous Hera stirred up the Titans to attack. Beguiling him with toys of various sorts, including a mirror, they succeeded in killing him, whereupon they tore him in pieces and devoured him. Athena, however, contrived to save his heart, which she brought to Zeus. He thereupon swallowed it, and destroyed the Titans with his thunderbolts. From their ashes sprang mankind, who therefore are partly divine, as the Titans had eaten Zagreus before they were destroyed, and partly wicked, owing to the wickedness of the Titans. Zeus, having swallowed the heart of his son, was able to beget him once more, this time on Semele. This very quaint tale seems to owe something to the legend of Zeus and Metis; but its details contradict normal Greek tradition at every turn, notably in mating Persephone to Zeus and not to Hades, in the crude doctrine of original sin, in the story of the origin of man, and in the whole part played by the Titans. It has been abundantly proved that it is to be connected with various deities of the so-called Orphic ritual, which grew up in Greece about the seventh and sixth centuries B.C., and thenceforth continued to exist until the downfall of paganism, as a more or less potent influence, but never fully absorbed into native belief or cult.

The next consort after Demeter was Mnemosyne (Memory) the Titaness. Of her were born the nine Muses (Mousai < *monsai), i.e., ‘the Rememberers.’ This seems to be nothing but allegory; by divine help, Memory produces the arts and crafts.

Next comes Leto, mother of Apollo and Artemis.

Finally—after Metis, Themis, Eurynome, Demeter, and Leto, with all of whom he begat various progeny but had nothing resembling human marital relations—Zeus wedded Hera, who became his sole true wife. In Homer, Hera is apparently not his last but his first choice, and their intimacy began before the downfall of Kronos. This is natural enough for a poet whose chief heroes are the great kings of Argos and Mycenae and their vassals. For Hera is from time immemorial the great goddess of Argos, near which the ruins of her temple are still visible.

According to Hesiod, the children of the divine pair Zeus and Hera were three—Hebe, Ares and Eileithyia. The first and last of these are very appropriate children for a goddess intimately connected with the life of women, being respectively the deities of youthful bloom and of childbirth. It is to be noted, however, that both are relatively insignificant. Both goddesses appear in cult, especially Eileithyia; but neither has much mythology. Hebe can hardly, indeed, be said to have any, except that she is represented as wedding Herakles after he was raised to divine rank at his death. Eileithyia has one curious legend of her own, which runs as follows.

At Olympia, on a certain occasion, an attack was feared from the Arkadians. As the Eleans drew up in battle array against them, a woman suddenly appeared, carrying a child which she announced as her own, which she had been warned in a dream to give to the Eleans for their ally. The Elean leaders thereupon laid the baby naked in the van of their army, and when the Arkadians advanced, the child suddenly turned into a serpent. At this the invaders retreated in a panic, the Eleans pursuing them. The serpent disappeared into the ground; a temple was erected on the spot, and thereafter divine honours were paid to the child, under the name of Sosipolis (‘Saviour of the State’), and to Eileithyia, for the unconvincing reason that ‘she brought him into the world’. There seems little doubt that Eileithyia, with her non-Greek name and her supposed Cretan origin, appears in this myth as the divine nurse of a divine child, quite on the Cretan model. To the Romans, Eileithyia was equivalent to Lucina, or Iuno Lucina, goddess of birth.

As a counter-miracle to the birth of Athena from the head of Zeus, Hera produced Hephaistos without father.

Hera’s name, like Zeus’, is good Greek, and means ‘Lady;’ it is simply the feminine form of the word which in its masculine form is heros (English ‘hero’). It is noteworthy that the offspring of Zeus and Hera amount in all to five, of whom none is either sufficiently individuated or sufficiently connected with both parents to be a very plausible product of their marriage. Athena is Zeus’ child, but not Hera’s; Hephaistos is Hera’s child, but not Zeus’. Eileithyia is pre-Hellenic, as her name shows, and has been assimilated to the divine family of Olympos not as an outgrowth, but rather as an adjunct—effectively as an adoptive rather than as a natural child of Hera. Hebe is rather more credibly a title or epithet of Hera herself—as it were, one aspect of Hera’s own personality—than an independent deity with any discrete functions of her own.

Ovid (Fasti) calls Ares another child of Hera’s without a father, like Hephaistos, and also like certain other mythic creatures of Hera which served to threaten or annoy Zeus; so in the Iliad (5:888 seqq.) Zeus calls him to his face “most hateful of all gods who hold Olympos,” an imprecation of a sort Zeus never levels against another of putatively his own offspring. That these five deities are somewhat confusedly called children of Hera and Zeus by Hesiod and others after Homer really says no more therefore than that they are accepted members of the extended divine family dwelling on Olympos, and does not point to any such physical genesis of them from the loins of Zeus as is explicit in, for example, the procreation of Apollo and Artemis by Zeus and Leto, or of Hermes by Zeus and Maia, or of Dionysos by Zeus and Semele, etc. It follows that the divine marriage of Zeus and Hera, unlike ordinary mortal marriages which of necessity imperfectly imitate it, is not so compoundeded as are mortal marriages of (often conflicting) procreative and child-rearing functions on the one hand, and the (competing) spousal relationship on the other hand. On the contrary, what distinguishes the ‘model marriage’ of Zeus and Hera is its complete absorption in, and definition by, the manifold relationship between husband and wife, undiluted and undistracted by any shared experience of physical parenthood. Whom Zeus embraces, mixing with her in sexual concourse, he invariably impregnates—all, that is, save Hera, who is thus wife to his husbanding, but not mother to his fathering.

There is one consort of Zeus, very probably the oldest of all, whom Hesiod omits from his list, namely Dione. He knows her name indeed, but only as an Okeanid, and nowhere says anything about her marriage with Zeus. But Homer has heard of her as mother of Aphrodite, who is invariably daughter of Zeus in his poems, therefore he must know of the union between Zeus and Dione. Other ancient authorities show us that Dione is somewhat more important than one would imagine from the little mention made of her in the best known poets. Her name is simply the feminine of Zeus (genit. Dios). At Dodona, but scarcely anywhere else, the divine couple were regularly worshipped. But her relation to Aphrodite is nowhere reflected in cult, and she is so very vague that she was often confused with her better-known daughter.

Not in Hesiod’s catalogue of Zeus’ divine brides, but elsewhere mentioned in the Theogony (v. 938), and in the famous ‘Homeric’ Hymn to Hermes, is Maia, daughter of Atlas. She was one of the Pleiades (the rest were Taÿgete, Elektra, Alkyone, Asterope, Kelaino, and Merope) and Zeus visited her in secret, in the dead of night when Hera was sleeping, on Mt. Kyllene in Arkadia. She bore Hermes.

Having overthrown Kronos, Zeus was by no means without further disputes and rivalries to trouble him. These came chiefy, apart from the revolt of the Giants, from two sources, his own family and mankind. The former seem to have made a serious attempt to overpower and bind him, from which he was saved by Thetis, who brought to his aid Briareos. The three conspirators were Hera, Athena and Poseidon; it is noteworthy that the two former are represented in the Iliad as not over-friendly critics of Zeus, while Poseidon assists the Achaians against the will of his greater brother. But it would seem that together with the general disengagement of the gods from human affairs signaled by the events of the Iliad came also the restoration of good feeling and happy relations amongst the gods; so Athena is generally shown in the most friendly rapport with her father, and nothing like a permanent hostility between him and Poseidon can be traced.

But Man found a champion, who according to some accounts was their creator, in the person of Prometheus (the ‘Foresee-er’) the Titan. It was the business of this demi-god to make man in the first place out of clay (the place where he got it, at Panopea, a couple of miles from Chaironeia in Boiotia, was shown to the curious in historical times, together with some stones, petrified remnants of the clay which had been left over), and when he had done so, Athena breathed life into the images. Therefore, not unnaturally, he favoured and supported his own creation. Zeus had but little love for mankind at this time, and oppressed them, among other inflictions depriving them of fire. Prometheus came to the rescue; he stole fire either from heaven, or from the forge of Hephaistos (the former is much the commoner version, but the other as old as Aeschylus). This he carried to earth in a dry, pithy stalk of fennel (narthex; the plant ferula communis is meant). He also taught mankind all manner of arts and sciences, thus raising them from their brutish conditon. So at least the matter is represented in the current classical story; it is obvious that this is in conflict with the Hesiod’s myth of the Golden Age, or it can be brought into agreement with Hesiod’s myth only by supposing some kind of degradation to have taken place (which is easy to suppose, given that such degradation is in fact predicted in the myth of the Golden Age itself).

So Prometheus appears as a sort of-divine culture-hero, or aboriginal inventor, a very well known figure of folklore, which always mythopoeically answers the question ‘how did we get such-and-such a custom, or piece of knowledge?’ by naming a person, human or divine, who discovered or originated it.

The theft of fire brought down upon Prometheus the anger of Zeus, whose unfriendly designs towards mankind (in Aeschylus, he had intended to destroy them utterly) were thus frustrated. Zeus had already a decided reason for disliking the Titan, who possessed the fatal secret of the marriage of Thetis (read the file about the marriage of Thetis), and in addition, according to an old and obviously popular tale, had cheated him outrageously as follows. It being agreed that men should sacrifice to the gods and share the victim with them, the question arose which part should be for men and which for the gods. Prometheus was called upon to arbitrate. He killed an ox, cut it up, and separated the flesh and entrails from the bones. The latter he wrapped in fat and made, with the hide, into a bundle; the rest he enclosed in the stomach. Zeus, on being given his choice, at once snatched the inviting-looking parcel of fat, and was furious to find that he had got little but bones. Hence it is that men sacrifice little or none of the best meat to the Olympians, but eat it themselves at the sacrificial banquet.

Zeus plotted vengeance, and therefore caused to be created a woman to beguile Prometheus to his ruin. Hephaistos formed her out of wet clay; Athena made her alive and dressed her; the Charites and Peitho (the spirit of Persuasion) decked her with jewellery; the Horai wreathed her with flowers, Aphrodite gave her beauty and charm, and finally Hermes taught her all manner of guile and treachery. This lovely plague was sent, not to Prometheus himself, but to his brother Epimetheus (Afterthought), who was more easily deceived and accepted her, despite his brother’s urgent warnings to have nothing to do with any gifts from Zeus. She had brought with her a jar, containing all manner of evils and diseases; this she opened, and they all flew out, leaving only Hope under the lid. From this woman, who was called Pandora (All Gifts) from the part which the various gods had taken in her creation, comes the race of women, who have plagued men ever since.

Finally, Zeus took stern measures to make Prometheus submit. Hephaistos, accompanied by Kratos and Bia (Strength sud Force, the children of Styx), carried the Titan to an isolated mountain peak, and there chained him to a rock. Daily an eagle visited him, and tore his liver; every night, the liver grew again, thus making the torture unending. So he remained in agony for long ages, possibly, in the intention of the original narrators, for ever; but in the usual story, he was released by Herakles, who wandered into that region seeking the apples of the Hesperides. There seems to be a double version of the legend here, for it is also said that Prometheus finally yielded and surrendered the secret of Thetis’ fatal child in time to prevent Zeus from marrying her. The classical accounts generally harmonize the two; Prometheus had yielded, and Herakles acted by Zeus’ direction, or with his consent.

As the story of Prometheus was very popular, and is handled by a long series of writers, good, bad and indifferent, from Hesiod down, it is only to be expected that many variants should exist. Thus, there was trouble not only between Zeus and Prometheus, but also between Prometheus and Hephaistos, who was in an obvious sense his rival as a creator, Hephaistos being one variant robbed by Prometheus, and also acting as his executioner. The parents of Prometheus are normally Iapetos and Klymene or Themis, but various more or less obscure writers give as his father Eurymedon (a giant) or Uranos, while his mother is also given as Asia or Asopis. His wife is variously named; according to one account, supposed to be Hesiodic, he did after all marry Pandora, and their son was Deukalion. Other names given in various authorities are Kelaino (presumably not the Harpy), Pyrrha, Klymene, Asia (here again the same name recurs in two different generations; for some lost reason he is associated with a mythical personage who is called now his mother and now his wife), Pryneia, Hesione, and Axiothea; this last seems due to a real cannexion in cult with the Kabeiroi, several of whose names begin with the syllables axio-. The locality of his punishment, not given by Hesiod, is different in different authors, but usually it is somewhere in the Caucasus. Finally, he appears in one late account as in a sense creating men a second time, for after the Flood he came with a torch of celestial fire and gave life to the stones thrown by Deukalion and Pyrrha.

But now Earth began to bring forth monstrous and huge births, the Giants, to do battle with the new race of gods. Concerning the nature of these vague if formidable beings, it is difficult to be precise, but this much may be noted, that they are continually represented as imprisoned, after their defeat, under one or another of the volcanic regions known to the Greeks. Thus, Typhoeus (if he is even properly to be counted as one of the Giants) is in or under Arima, wherever exactly that may be; later ages identified it with the volcanic island Inarime, not far from Naples; Enkelados is under Aitna, and so forth. It is further noteworthy thaf Typhoeus, at any rate, is not always a helpless prisoner there, for it is there that he begets his hideous offspring on Echidna. The Giants’ nature, in pure Greek tradition, is rather violent than positively wicked; Greek theology knows no devil. It is further to be noted that of the Giants proper a great number have good Greek names, as Agrios (Wild), Phoitos (Goer?), Thoön (Swift), Hippolytos (Looser of Steeds, i.e., probably, Rider or Charioteer), Ephialtes (elsewhere the name of the nightmare demon), and so on. As also their functions somewhat overlap those of the Titans, we might even go so far as to call them a sort of Greek equivalent of these pre-Hellenic deities, with this difference, that the latter seem once to have been worshipped, while the Giants were not, but remain mythological figures.

What may be called the orthodox account of them is, that they were born from Earth when the blood-drops from the mutilation of Uranos fell upon her. Hence they are often called Gegeneis, i.e., earth-born. Indeed there are stories, some of them very early, in which the Giants, either under that name or under that of Gegeneis, are wild and savage men, something like the Kyklopes, whom in some ways they resemble in their nature. This is true of the Giants in Homer, of the Gegeneis in Apollonios Rhodios, who usually drew upon early and good sources for his tales.

These Giants, then, were stirred up by their mother to attack the Gods, whether out of desire to avenge Ouranos (an inconsistent motive, seeing that she herself prompted the revolt against him), or to avenge some insult or wrong done to herself later. We have, in ordinary mythology, three distinct attempts. There is first the Gigantomachy proper; second, the assault by Typhoeus; and third, the attempt of the Aloadai.

Of the Gigantomachia we do not find any detailed account in any surviving author older than Pindar, although it is possible that some lost passage of Hesiod may have dealt with it, and there are allusions to it in Xenophanes and the Batrachomyomachia (The Battle of the Frogs and the Mice), a poem of uncertain but fairly early date, parodying Homer. Herakles was a participant in it, fighting on the side of the gods and vanquishing the formidable giant Alkyoneus. The scene of the contest was Phlegra; on this point most versions of the story are agreed, but as night be expected, all are not so clear as to where Phlegra was. Properly, it seems to be a district of the isthmus of Thrace, but the name of the Campi Phlegraei near Vesuvius still bears witness to the desire of early Greek settlers in Italy to take the famous myth with them. Other localities are also named.

In the fullest account we have, that of Apollodoros, the sequence of events was as follows. The Giants were of formidable and monstrous shape, part human, but of vast size, and with serpents for feet (a detail in which most accounts agree). Furthermore, Earth had caused a certain plant to grow which should make them utterly invincible, and even without this, they could not be defeated by the gods alone, but only by a combination of the gods with a mortal. Zeus however took measures to meet the danger, engaging his son Herakles as an ally and forbidding Sun, Moon and Dawn to showw the whereabouts of the magic herb, which he himself gathered. Even so, it was a most desperate fight, for the Giants advanced hurling vast rocks and torches made of whole oak-trees. The gods on their side performed prodigies of valour, strength, and policy, which the fancy of sundry poets detailed at considerable length. At last the Giants were defeated and crushed, some being buried under islands, Enkelados for example under Sicily, which Athena threw at him, while Polybotes was overwhelmed by Poseidon under a large fragment broken off from Kos, which formed the little volcanic islet of Nisyra.

Earth, however, found means to cause a new upheaval, for she brought forth one most prodigious monster, Typhon or Typhoeus. On the description of this extraordinary creature poets from Hesiod onwards have lavished much ingenuity. According to Hesiod, he was the child of Earth and Tartaros; ‘stout were his hands and full of labours; untiring were the feet of the mighty god; also from his shoulders there sprang a hundred heads of a serpent, a terrible dragon, licking with dark tongues, and from the eyes in his monstrous heads fire sparkled beneath his brows; and in all the dreadful heads was a voice that sent forth a sound unspeakable; now he spake in the speech of the gods, now again like a bellowing bull, untameable of might, proud in voice; and again like the cry of whelps, a wonder to hear, and again with whistlings, till the tall hills echoed.’ Then follows an eloquent description of how Zeus arose in his might against him, hurling his thunder and lightning until the whole universe shook and was afraid, setting Typhoeus on fire and bringing him down helpless, after which he hurled him into Tartaros. He was still not dead, being indeed as immortal as his great conqueror, and lived to be the father of the Winds, except the South and West (Notos and Zephyros), which are kindly breezes and of divine origin.

Another ancient bronze statuette of Zeus
aiming his thunderbolt
(in the National Museum, Athens)

But there was another story too, yet more obviously ancient. According to it, the battle was not so simply decided. Typhon (as he is called in this variant especially) was indeed put to flight by Zeus, but turned at bay when he got to Mt. Kasion, on the borders of Syria. Grappling with Zeus, he wrenched from him his sword (harpe, a kind of sickle or scimitar, the same weapon with which Kronos overcame Ouranos and Perseus the Gorgon; doubtless it has some ancient but forgotten sacral connotation), and with it Typhon cut out the sinews of Zeus’ hands and feet. Thus disabled, Zeus was thrust by his opponent into the Korykian Cave (in Kilikia; not the cavern of that name on Mt. Parnassos), and the sinews were hidden away under the ward of a monster called Delphyna, half serpent and half woman. Hermes and Aigipan, however, stole them back (according to Nonnos, Kadmos disguised himself as a herdsman and distracted Typhon’s attention with his piping); Zeus flew up to heaven on a winged chariot, resumed his thunderbolts, and pursued Typhon to Mt. Nysa.

There the Moirai beguiled Typhon into eating the food of mortals, which of course was no fit diet for him, and so weakened him. Still he resisted valiantly, and made so furious a stand in Thrace that Mt. Haimos (the Balkan massif) was named from the blood (haima) which he shed there. Thence he was pursued into Sicily, and there buried under Mt. Aitna. We need not trouble ourselves with the last detail; it is part of the natural attempt of the Western Greeks to get famous legends localized in their own territories; the rest has every appearance of being ancient, and the geography indicates what we might have guessed, that it is Anatolian.

Another story of this great contest is falsely attributed to Pindar, but is clearly a late bit of aetiology. The gods so feared Typhon that they fled to Egypt, and there disguised themselves as various beasts: Zeus as a ram, Apollo as a raven, Dionysos as a goat, Hera as a cow, Artemis as a cat, Aphrodite as a fish, Hermes as an ibis. Clearly this is nothing but a foolish attempt to explain why Ammon, identified with Zeus, has a ram’s horns, the raven is sacred to Apollo, the goat to Dionysos (who sometimes has the form of a goat), Hathor—identified with Hera—has the shape of a cow, and Hera herself is traditionally called boöpis (cow-eyed), the Syrian Atargatis—who was identified with, and probably is really related to, Aphrodite—has sacred fish in her shrine, and Thoth—identified with Hermes—is ibis-headed. These identifications are in most cases old, as old at any rate as the fifth century b.C. Typhon himself is the traditional Greek equivalent of the Egyptian Set, the enemy of Osiris.

As to the name of this monstrous figure, the etymology is uncertain; his association with the winds suggests that he is a wind-daimon of some sort, which would fit very well his monstrous and violent strength, also the grotesque variety of noises which, according to Hesiod, he was capable of producing. Typhon had no temples, no ritual, and no cult-statues, and therefore the fancy of poet and artist was quite unfettered. As in the case of the Giants and Titans, the imagery may owe something also to volcanic phenomena; an early and widely popular theory credited subterranean winds with producing eruptions and earthquakes.

Lastly we must mention the Aloadai, Otos and Ephialtes. They too were gigantic, and they too threatened to overthrow Zeus and Zeus’ government, but their threat miscarried and came to nought without Zeus’ having to engage them in combat. Their story is best told in the words of Homer’s Odyssey, 11:305 seqq., supplemented by another morsel about them in the Iliad, 5:385 seqq. The accounts given in most later authorities are hardly more than explanations and expansions of those two passages; what they owe to independent evidence and what to mere commentators’ imagination is not easy to say.

First, as to their mother’s meeting with Poseidon, two stories are told; according to one, she was enamoured of the god and used daily to go to the sea-shore and pour water into her bosom, till at length he visited her; according to another, her love was the river-god Enipeus, and Poseidon deceived her by assuming his shape. Yet another account makes them children of the Earth, not of Iphimedeia. The reason for their quarrel with the gods was that they desired to wed Hera and Artemis; their especial quarrd with Ares was that he had killed Adonis; this is assuredly a late variant. Their death was due to Artemis as well as Apollo, or to Artemis only, in some variants: a hind, or Artemis in the shape of one, ran between them; both shot at her, and each hit the other. Hyginus has the curious story that they went to Tartaros and were there bound back to back against a column, serpents being used for the fastenings, while on the column an owl perches. This may go back to some forgotten picture. The later authors who tell these tales calculate from Homer’s description that the rate of growth of the monstrous brothers was nine inches (digiti) a month, or nearly seven feet, English measure, a year; or that their yearly growth was a fathom in height, a cubit in breadth.

There is, however, a group of legends which is more interesting than these fanciful details, and serves to throw better light on the basic character of the Aloadai. According to a tradition as old, at least in part, as Hesiod, they appear as beneficent beings, founders of cities and originators of the cult of the Muses. The scene of their activity varies; they are to be found in Thessaly and Boiotia, they go to Naxos to rescue their mother and sister, who had been kidnapped, and they are worshipped in the latter place as heroes. Otos also was reported to have been buried in Crete, and Iphimedeia was worshipped in Mylasa in Karia. Here we have no rebels against heaven nor upsetters of the established order of the universe, but rather some kind of culture-heroes or gods. It is perhaps worth remembering also that Iphimedeia and their sister Pankratis or Pankrato are represented as being nurses of Dionysos, which provides a link with the island of Naxos, where the cult of that deity flourished. As Naxos is also a seat of the worship of the Great Mother, in the form of Aphrodite Ariadne, it may be that Iphimedeia (‘Mighty Queen’) is simply the Great Mother herself in one of her many forms; this would certainly account for the version according to which the Aloadai were sons of Earth, and for the statement that their mother ws worshipped in Kana, where one would expect an Anatolian goddess to be worshipped.

The Aloadai, like the Titans, might not unreasonably be supposed to be old gods; and there might be an indication of this in the identity of name between one of them and the demon of nightmare (Ephialtes, Epiales, Epheles; other variants are also found). It is well known that th gods of an older religion are sometimes remembered as the demons of a newer one, and this was occasionally true even among the religiously tolerant Greeks. The name might well be interpreted as ‘he who leaps upon his enemy;’ it might also be degraded into meaning an incubus or nightmare imp, who leaps or, as we say, ‘sits’ upon the chest of the disturbed sleeper.

As a glance at the texts here summarized will abundantly show, the Titans, the Giants, the Aloadai, and Typhon were frequently confused by our authorities, especially the later ones. Typhoeus and Ephialtes appear as names of Giants, for example, and the Giants are not infrequently said to have piled up mountains in order to reach the gods. Even the Hekatoncheires were sometimes added to the confusion by ancient writers, despite the Hundred-Handers’ usually friendly attitude toward Zeus.

The further mythology of Zeus is mostly concerned with his interventions in favour of or against particular gods or human beings. In literature, he was of course referred to by practically every writer, and no brief sketch of all their diverse remarks is possible, or would add much of value to understanding the ancient Greek mythic tradition. It may, however, be noted that apart from philosophers who treat of the nature of God, or of the gods, Zeus is especially prominent in the works of Aeschylus, the greatest theologian of all Greek poets. Usually, Zeus embodies that tragedian’s ideas of divine omnipotence and moral excellence. And in general for other authors too, Zeus is a dignified figure, always superior to the other gods, and therefore passing without great effort into the God of a practically monotheistic philosophy, though this throws into great prominence the many passages in sundry writers which treat in a frivolous way the numerous stories of Zeus’ light loves. That contrast however serves only further to emphasis what is otherwise amply apparent without it, namely that between the origin of such tales in the early mythic paradigm of a Sky-father’s recurrent mating with an Earth-mother and the later, classical understanding of Zeus among Greek (and Roman) literati, an unbridgeable gulf yawned.

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