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Home » Greek Mythology Gods: Zeus, The God Of Thunder

Greek Mythology Gods: Zeus, The God Of Thunder

Zeus is one of the most prominent figures in Greek mythology. He’s the father, the king of the Olympians and all living things. But like all ancient Greek gods, he’s multidimensional and his stories reveal a primordial archetype: The King.

He grabbed a handful of dirt from the ground and let it drip down.

“This. This is you and me. The air, the trees, the sea. Nature. Zeus, Hera, Hades. Your ancestors”. He took a deep breath.

“We’ve forgotten that we’re all connected in a way. When I was telling you about Zeus, his wisdom and his rebellious nature, I was talking about you! You have these qualities in you. Mythology is about exploring your subconsciousness, the deepest corners of your inner self, with the guidance of very ancient stories!”


In Greece, it isn’t unusual for schools to visit ancient greek monuments a couple of times per year.

Even though they were supposed to be educational trips, in order to learn about greek mythology and history, most of the times we ended up just walking around without really learning anything.

But things changed in high school. My new philology and history teacher, Mr.P, was an “eccentric”. (In)famous for his ancient greek spirit.

He taught with passion and conviction. He was living up to the ideals of Socrates and Aristotle; the Spartan discipline and the Athenian fiery creativity.

So, when I heard we were going on a trip to Olympia, I was excited, to say the least.

The Temple Of Zeus In Olympia

The Temple Before It Was Destroyed

Every four years, athletes from all over Greece would come to Olympia to participate in the Olympic games, bringing glory to their city-state and honoring Zeus.

Greeks raised a 43 ft, chryselephantine statue of the Father. It was one of the seven wonders of the world. “Was” because it was eventually destroyed by the Roman Empire (or simply disappeared).

Its story is quite interesting and shows how powerful Zeus was in the eyes of the Greeks:


Roman Emperor Caligula decided that: “…statues of the gods as were especially famous for their sanctity or their artistic merit… should be brought from Greece, in order to remove their heads and put his own in their place.”

One Of The 7 Wonders Of The Ancient World

Romans had a long history of bringing ancient artifacts, statues and whatnot from Greece to Rome. After all, their cultures were very similar, sharing Gods, traditions, etc.

But before they managed to “ship” the statue, Caligula was assassinated. The fascinating part is that his death was foretold by  Zeus’ statue: “suddenly uttered such a peal of laughter that the scaffolding collapsed and the workmen took to their heels.”

Of course, many historians report that it was either carried off to Constantinople or simply perished in the same fire that destroyed the whole temple.

Nevertheless, it remains an anecdote that highlights the influence of Zeus, years after his “demise”.


As we were walking amongst the ruins, Mr.P would point out different places and their significance.

“That’s the market, this is where they did pagratio, the gymnasion… Oh, this is where Zeus fought Cronus!”

Greeks didn’t randomly choose the site to honor Zeus. According to the myths, Olympia is where Titanomachy ended.

And this is where our story begins.

The Mythos Of Zeus

The allfather who killed his own father

We had packed lunch, so we head up to a small hill overlooking the stadium where the athletes would run.

“So, Zeus was an interesting fella. You see, according to the prophecy, he was the chosen one. But wait, we have to go back…”, said Mr.P.

Cronus was a Titan, son of Uranus and Gaia.

The Titans and the primitive Gods of “Sky” and “Earth” are a story for another post. For now, all you have to know is that Cronus ruled during the Golden Age… after overthrowing his own father.

Cronus feared he’d suffer the same fate, after hearing about the prophecy. He swallowed his kids to prevent this, except one: Zeus.

Rhea, Zeus’ mother, fooled Cronus and handed him a stone wrapped in swaddling clothes, also known as the Omphalos Stone.

She hid his son in a cave in Crete (an island of Greece).

The Birth Of Zeus

There are many myths of how Zeus was hidden from Cronus.

It is said that he was raised by a goat named Amalthea, while dancers would clap and shout to mask the crying of the baby from his father.

Another version claims he was raised by the nymph Adamanthea. She dangled him by a rope, keeping him away from the earth, the sea, and the sky where Cronus ruled.

Freeing His Brothers and Sisters

After reaching manhood, he forced Cronus to drink an emetic to make him vomit his two brothers and sisters; the first Olympians.

In a war called Titanomachy, the Gods fought the Titans and imprisoned them in Tartara (the underworld).

Zeus became the King of the Olympians and the father of humanity.

The All-Mighty God With The Human Side

Mr.P knew so many details about the stories our heads were spinning. Greek mythology has 100s of different versions and “characters”, you can easily get confused. Everyone and everything has a backstory.

“But that’s not important”, said Mr.P, “you don’t have to know everything to appreciate these myths.”

One of the most important themes that keep repeating in this particular story is Zeus’ wives.

Zeus would transform into animals, things, phenomenons, mortals in order to seduce his love interests.

Some examples are: a shower of gold, a bull, an ant, an eagle, a lapwing, a swan, a star, a bear.

The most famous story is the abduction of Europa.

Painting by Rembrandt

Zeus transformed into a beautiful white bull and mingled in her father’s herd.

Europa noticed the animal and got on its back. The bull ran off, swimming to Crete. Zeus revealed his true identity and made Europa the first Queen of Crete.

(According to historians, this myth might be inspired by real events; Cretans kidnapping Europa to avenge the kidnapping of princess Io.)

But in most versions of the myth, Hera is his true wife (and sister).

She was always jealous and an enemy of Zeus’ love interests.

He tried to distract her by having the nymph Echo talk incessantly. Hera realized this and cursed Echo to repeat the words of others — hence “echo”.

The relationship between Hera and Zeus seems very “human-like”. Filled with ups and downs and complex dynamics.

In a section of Iliad, called the “Deception of Zeus”, Hera seduces Zeus to distract him and help Greeks get the upper hand in the Trojan War.

It’s obvious that the morality of Gods, even their relationships, is less than ideal. After all, the ancient Greek Gods were archetypes, representing human nature.

And Zeus, the King Of The Gods, wasn’t any different.

The Archetype: Father And King

“…then you will see how far I am strongest of all the immortals. Come, you gods, make this endeavor, that you all may learn this. Let down out of the sky a cord of gold; lay hold of it all you who are gods and all who are goddesses, yet not even so can you drag down Zeus from the sky to the ground, not Zeus the high lord of counsel, though you try until you grow weary. Yet whenever I might strongly be minded to pull you, I could drag you up, earth and all and sea and all with you, then fetch the golden rope about the horn of Olympus and make it fast, so that all once more should dangle in mid air. So much stronger am I than the gods, and stronger than mortals”

– Illiad

Zeus – Ζευς – Διας

It means “day” or “sky”, depending on how far back you go.

He holds the thunderbolt, a gift from Gigantes (giants) and aegis (either a shield or animal skin).

He’s the Ruler, mentor, protector, and King of the Gods and humans. He lives in mount Olympus and he controls the weather from above, striking his foes and maintaining justice.

“Yes, he was wise. The father figure. But he was also whimsical and rebellious. He’s the most powerful creature in the world!”, said Mr.P. “You know, people would fear him because he was truly free. It is said that he only feared Nyx and the Fates. But he was truly free…”

“For know that no one is free, except Zeus”
Aeschylus

Are Zeus and Odin Related?

Zeus and Odin

It’s always interesting to see the same patterns emerging between different cultures.

Odin seems to possess the same qualities of Zeus. The Wise Ruler.

On the other hand, Thor has the temperament and power of the Greek God.

This phenomenon is quite common when it comes to prehistoric religions. Many myths are a retelling of the same story, using a different language.

  • Romans had Jupiter
  • Germans had Odin/Thor
  • Egyptians had Ammon

The details obviously change but the archetype re-emerges.

Zeus in 2019

“Old stories, for young people. Why do you care what an old, bearded Greek God does?”

Mr.P looked at us with such hope in his eyes.

“This. This is you and me. The air, the trees, the sea. Nature. Zeus, Hera, Hades. Your ancestors”. He took a deep breath.

“Do you know why the ancients wrote these stories, these myths? They represented a part of themselves, a part of you, that we forget in this day and age.”

If you’re reading this, it means you’ve learned a couple of cool anecdotes about the Greek God, Zeus.

But what I truly hope to achieve with this post, is to make you read the mythos of Zeus and realize that what you’re reading is about yourself.  Consider this an invitation to dig deeper.

Perhaps, you won’t transform into a bull or throw thunderbolts at your enemies. Symbolism was always a valuable tool to communicate deeper meaning. It’s up to you to interpret the ancient texts and arrive at your own conclusions.

When I was a little kid, I thought I could control the weather. True story.

One day, I was sitting near the window, looking at the clouds. For some reason, I got up, closed my eyes, and visualized thunders and rain. Lo and behold, it happened.

Mount Olympus, The Throne Of Zeus

OK, I don’t think I’m responsible for the storm (?) but the metaphysical sensation of being powerful and nothing stopping you… that feeling was 100% real.

When I’m facing a difficulty or something seems impossible, I remember that kid causing a thunderstorm. I look up in the sky and my ancestral father looks back at me.

-G.K

P.S- Leave your thoughts in the comments below. I’m curious to learn about your own interpretation of the God Of Thunder!


3 thoughts on “Greek Mythology Gods: Zeus, The God Of Thunder”

  1. Pay attention to the oral histories that are handed down to you by your grandparents. That’s how all these different mythologies were born–by mouth. All history is based on two causes: conflict & change. Where there is conflict there will be change. And all change brings about more conflict. It never stops. You can’t read any mythology without seeing the conflict/change cycle. Read all you can. Let it germinate in your brain somewhere and then tell your stories, see how much of what you read shows up in your tome. All the good writers started out as voracious readers. Continue to amaze yourselves.

    Reply
    • Great pattern recognition Mike, I’ll start paying attention to this in my own life.

      Would you say that the nature of life itself then, is conflict?

      (Would line up with ideas from prominent thinkers, I suppose, like “the only constant is change”)

      – Forrest

      Reply

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