To understand a lot of characters in Greek mythology I should probably start by talking about the most powerful Greek god, Zeus. He was the god of the sky, lightning, thunder and justice. His father Cronus (the god of time) and his mother Rhea (the goddess of fertility, motherhood and generation) did not give him the earliest upbringing. His father, Cronus, swallowed his children as soon as they were born because he had heard a prophecy that foretold that one of them would overthrow him. Rhea eventually grew so desperate to have a child that when Zeus was born she hid in a cave in Crete, and gave Cronus a stone wrapped in swaddling instead. Zeus was then taken away and raised by a goat Amalthea.
Once Zeus grew up, he and Rhea devised a plan by which to avenge the 5 swallowed children. Rhea fed Cronus a potion that made him regurgitate the children, and once he had, to then fall into a deep sleep. Zeus had planned to kill Cronus, but when he tried to pick up the scythe to sever his head, he couldn’t move it. That’s because Gaia, the mother of the earth, had made it for Cronus and Cronus alone to be able to use. The other 5 children of Cronus and Rhea (Hestia, Demeter, Hera, Hades and Poseidon) emerging as full-grown adults along with Zeus turned into eagles and fled away from Mount Othrys. The Greeks had a bad habit of killing each other, and so this story of Zeus’ beginning is not surprising.
Zeus was the father of all men and the king of Olympian Gods. He was basically the big cheese of the Greek gods. Zeus was also the god of hospitality and fair treatment of guests. Whenever a stranger was treated badly, they would call on Zeus who would then set things straight. Zeus loved getting involved in anyone’s business honestly. Finally, Zeus was the god of oath keeping. If someone broke a vow, lied or traded dishonestly, they could expect a visit from Zeus. And the only way to get back in his good graces after that was to dedicate a statue to him in a sanctuary. It also explains why there are so many statues of Zeus that have survived, probably because there were more statues of him than anyone else. One thing that is interesting about Greek gods, in general, is that they had the strangest etiquettes and morals. For example, the Erinyes, also known as the Furies, were female chthonic deities of vengeance, that could be called on anyone who broke an oath. That could be something as simple as trying to murder someone that you had extended your hospitality to (The story of Bellerophon).
Now, because Zeus is such an important figure there is too much to talk about in just one blog post. But what I have to mention is Zeus and his, how can I put it, uncontrollable libido? Zeus was a bit of a ladies man, and he ended up fathering A LOT of children. Zeus would pursue all women he found attractive, and because he was such an important figure there wasn’t anything anyone could do about it. If he wanted to have his way with you, then he would. He also loved a challenge. For example in one myth, a woman named Danae had been locked into a bronze prison to stop her from being able to have children. Zeus, not deterred by mere bars, turned himself into golden rain, made his way into the chamber, and impregnated her. She gave birth to Perseus, the guy who in my earlier blog post, would end up killing Medusa. In future blog posts, I will most definitely be talking about some of the other children whom Zeus was the proud father of.
For me, when reading Greek mythology it is also important to consider their Roman equivalents. Zeus, in Roman mythology, is named Jupiter. Jupiter was the chief deity of Roman state religion throughout the Republican and Imperial eras before Christianity became the dominant religion. Also, except for Earth and Uranus, all the planets are named after Roman gods. Jupiter was the King of the Roman Gods, so it makes sense that the largest planet in the solar system is named after him. This is just an interesting fact I thought I would include.
For anyone interested in Greek mythology, Stephen Fry has released two books one named Mythos, and one named Heroes that are a very enjoyable read. It’s especially nice having such a wide variety of mythologies in one place, you can expand your knowledge without having to spend hours looking at different sites!
Until next time,