Zeus was the ruler of all Gods and humans. He lived with the other gods at the top of Mount Olympus. Sometimes, Olympus was thought of as an actual mountain in Greece, but more often as a beautiful place in the heavens. Zeus was the youngest son of the Titans, Kronos and Rhea. They produced many offspring, but Kronos could not allow his children to survive because it had been prophesied that he would be dethroned by one of his children. He swallowed each of them following their birth, except for Zeus, who was saved by his mother Rhea. She gave Kronos a stone wrapped in swaddling clothes for him swallow instead of Zeus. He grew to manhood, attended by nymphs on the island of Crete. Zeus was able to save all his siblings, and with a thunderbolt, he killed Kronos (Thury Devinney 39). This earned him the right to become the leader of the gods.
With the writings of Homer, Zeus is pictured in two different ways, as the God of justice and mercy and the punisher of the wicked. Despite his power, he had a weakness for mortal women and frequently descended to earth to couple with them. He had numerous affairs with both human and goddess, however, Zeus was married to his sister Hera. Due to his many affairs their marriage was not a happy one and Zeus used all kinds of tricks to hide his infidelity from her. Their marriage produced four children. Hebe was the goddess of youth and acted as a cupbearer of the gods. Ares, the god of war. Eileithuia, the goddess of child bearing. And Hephaistos, the craftsman of the gods (Thury Devinney 40). The offspring of Zeus from other affairs were too numerous to count. He had other wives before Hera, the first being Metis. Zeus had thirty-two mortal children and most of them were leaders of the Greek nations. He also had thirty-eight immortal children. Only five of them were from his wives.
Hera’s jealousy and Zeus’ need to satisfy his lust and to have his desires appeased were human nature. Gods were supposed to be divine, but many of the qualities that Zeus had were of very low moral character.
According to myths the gods created men. The first race of men lived in harmony. This was the Golden Age where there was no pain, toil or old age. Dying was as easy as falling asleep. They enjoyed the fruits of the earth and after death, they remained as spirits to protect men from evil.
Next the gods created the Silver Age. This was inferior to the Golden Age. They remained children for a hundred years and were dominated by their mothers. In this age they had to work, and the year was divided into seasons. Then men knew cold and heat. Crime began in this period and Zeus was displeased and put an end to this age.
Zeus then created the Bronze Age out of ash spears. These men were strong and violent warriors, who worked in metal and created some tools of civilization. They finally destroyed themselves with their warfare.
The next period was the Heroic Age, many heroes and mighty deeds were performed. Heracles, Jason, Theseus and the heroes of the Trojan war were all part of this age. One of the greatest celebrations was the Olympian Games. They took place every four years in Olympia, even if there was a war between the city states of Greece, they stopped the war to take part in the games. Our present-day Olympics is patterned from those games.
Zeus then created the Iron Age, the worst race of men to ever appear on the earth. The things that now exist were the same as then. Hard work, trouble, pain and weariness were all present. They were considered evil which caused the gods to abandon them. At this time Zeus was disgusted with man and his evil and decided to destroy them with a flood. Some of the people were warned and prepared for it by getting into a chest with provisions. After ten days the flood subsided, and the chest rested on a mountain. The few people came out and offered a sacrifice to Zeus. They asked him to restore the human race.
The tale of the five ages of man shows that there was a negative attitude by the gods about each age. While the gods improved with each age, man degenerated from age to age. This does not match with our belief that each age has improved. We started as primitive man and as time passed, man progressed to his present state. The story of Zeus’ flood has a biblical comparison to the flood of Noah’s generation.
- Thury, Eva M., and Margaret Klopfle Devinney. Introduction to Mythology: Contemporary Approaches to Classical and World Myths. Oxford University Press, 2017.