Zeus, the mighty god of thunder, was known to all as the father of the gods and the high king of Mount Olympus. Despite the fact that he was bethrothed to his sister Hera, he often found himself involved in numerous love affairs, not only with mortal women but with goddesses as well.
In order to disguise his extramarital activities, the impassioned god frequently took to transfoming himself and his lovers into various forms and shapes. In spite of all of his precautions, Hera usually proved to be one step ahead of her husband.
In the end, Zeus normally managed to get away unscathed, leaving his female companions to contend with the wrath of his jealous wife. Below are just a few of his most famous liaisons.
King Agenor ruled over the Phoenician city of Sidon, where he lived with his lovely daughter Europa. One morning after waking from a bad dream, Europa roused her companions from their slumber and together they walked to a meadow by the sea. With baskets in hand, the girls enjoyed the soft touch of the morning breeze as they happily wandered through the blooms of hyacinths and wild roses. As Zeus watched from above he caught sight of the graceful Europa and immediately fell in love with her. In order to avoid the watchful eye of Hera, the god changed himself into a white bull before making his descent to earth.
As they watched him make his way through the tall grass, the girls became instantly captivated by the beautiful creature. So calm and serene was he, that without hesitation they fearlessly approached the side of the wondrous beast.
His scent was more fragrant than all the surrounding flowers combined, and his movements filled the air with soft melodic sounds. As Europa approached, the bull laid down at her feet as if to invite her to climb upon his back. This she did, but before any of her friends could follow suit, the lustful god sprang up and ran towards the sea.
As he lept through the air, the water below suddenly became full of magical sea gods and nereids. Realising this could be no ordinary bull, Europa tearfully pleaded with the creature not to abandon her in some strange land. At once, Zeus revealed his true likeness to the distraught maiden, and promised to take her to the island of Crete where she would live and bear him many sons.
The two were happily met on the Cretan shores by the four seasons, who sang songs of welcome and adorned Europa's hair with flowers. The island was well protected by a watchdog named Laelaps and the bronze giant Talos, whose job it was to patrol the shore. Europa bore Zeus three sons; Minos, Rhadymanthys and Sarpedon. For reasons unknown, the god later chose to relinquished his pledge to Europa, and gave her to King Asterius of Crete as his wife.
Europa bore her new husband a daughter whom she named Crete after her new homeland. Because Asterius himself had no sons, he chose to adopt Europa's boys and raise them as his own. Minos later became King of Crete and is best known for building the famous labyrinth that housed the half man, half bull creature known as the Minotaur.
Io, the daughter of the river god Inachus, inadvertently attracted the attention of Zeus as she was performing her priestess duties in the temple of Hera. Each night the god would visit Io in her dreams, bidding the maiden to come and meet with him in the meadow where her father tended his sheep. Alarmed by these nightly visits, Io asked her father for advice. Inachus promptly sent a messenger to the Delphic Oracle in hopes that the priestess could decipher the meaning of these nocturnal encounters. The herald returned with a somber message; Inachus must forever exile Io from her homeland or the people of Argos would be destroyed by a thunderbolt. With little choice, Inachus sadly banished Io from her home. It came to be that one day Hera, who was unable to locate her husband anywhere on Mount Olympus, looked down and saw that the earth was tightly wrapped in a mysterious, thick, black mist.
Immediately suspecting that Zeus was behind this odd occurrence, the suspicious goddess sped down from the heavens to investigate. Hearing the sound of approaching footsteps, Zeus quickly changed Io into a snow white heifer.
When Hera parted the hazy cloud, she found her husband sitting alone with only a beautiful white cow for company. Knowing there must be more to the story, Hera requested that Zeus give her the fine looking animal as a gift. Because he did not want to draw any more attention to himself, the defeated god quietly handed Io over to his wife.
Hera at once ordered Argus Panoptes, a giant with one hundred eyes to stand guard over the unfortunate maiden. She could not have asked for a better watchman than Argus, for never did he close all of his hundred eyes at the same time. Io was tied to an olive tree in the Groves of Mycenae, where she was looked upon both day and night. Zeus sent his messenger Hermes to steal the cow away, but even the god of thieves found it impossible to avoid the vigilant stare of Argus. Fortunately Hermes was also the god of trickery, and it did not take him long to devise a plan that would save Io. He took on the appearance of a shepherd and approached Argus playing a homemade pipe of reeds.
The giant found the music to be very pleasant and readily invited the god to join him in the grove. Hermes sat down on a rock and continued playing, occasionally stopping to tell long winded tales of satyrs and other woodland deities.
As the god droned on telling one story after another, the eyes of the giant became heavy with slumber. One by one they closed, until finally all were shut. When Hermes was sure Argus was fast asleep, he jumped to his feet and killed him with the blade of his sword.
Hera was so distraught over the death of her faithful servant, that she removed his eyes and placed them on the tail of her favorite bird, the peacock. Though it appeared that Io was free, Hera sent a gadfly to torment her rival with its constant sting.
In her anguish, Io ran from land to land but could not elude the winged devil that pursued her. As Io entered into the mountains she soon came upon the place where Prometheus lay bound. The Titan kindly offered his help by pointing out which was the best route for her to follow. As her journey continued, Io frantically ran along the shore in search of a safe place to catch her breath. To this day the sea still bears the name Ionian in her honor. Io finally came to rest upon the banks of the Nile River in Egypt.
Here Zeus restored her to human form, and she went on to bear him a son named Epaphus, who would later become one of the great kings of Egypt. It was through these descendants of Epaphus that the city of Thebes, Crete and Argos were colonized.
During the reign of the Titan Cronus, it was prophesied that just as he had defeated his father Uranus, he would himself fall at the hands of one of his own offspring. In order to preserve his position as king, Cronus took to swallowing his children the minute they were born. Growing tired of this, Cronus' wife Rhea decided to outsmart her husband and after giving birth to her youngest son Zeus, she hid the baby safely away in a cave on the Island of Crete. She then disguised a stone by wrapping it in a baby's blanket before bringing it to her husband to swallow. Safe from the hands of his father, the infant Zeus lived in the care of the goat nymph Amalthea. He was also under the guard and protection of the Curetes, who by clashing their spears together raised such a noise that all sounds of the baby's cries were silenced. His cradle was securely suspended between two trees, as to prevent Cronus from finding the child whether he be in the heavens or upon the earth.
As time passed Zeus quickly grew to be a man, and just as the oracle predicted, the young god returned to defeat his father and take possession of the throne.
The goddess Metis assisted by mixing a special tonic for Cronus to drink. The potion tasted so horrible it caused him to vomit up all the children that he had swallowed; Poseidon, Hades, Demeter, Hera and Hestia. All joined forces with their brother Zeus and brought about the end of their father's reign. According to some accounts, Cronus then escaped to Sicily where his rule is often referred to as the Golden Age.
It is interesting to see that Zeus is both the youngest and oldest of all the siblings. Because he was the last child of Rhea's to be born, we can recognize him as being the youngest in the family.
But, if we take into account that he already existed at the time his siblings were released from the stomach of Cronus, he now becomes the eldest child. This is another classic example of a father god being seen as the first and the last, the Alpha and the Omega.
When Zeus became king, he decided that he would take Metis for his wife. The goddess first tried to avoid his advances by changing into many different forms, but eventually she gave in to his wishes. When Metis became pregnent, Gaia informed Zeus that though his wife was presently carrying a daughter in her womb, the time would come when she would give birth to a son destined to become more powerful than his father. Not wanting to experience the same fate as Cronus, Zeus grabbed hold of Metis and swallowed her up. She lived on inside of the god and when the time came for her baby to be born, Zeus started to experience severe headaches. He called upon the god Hepheastus and ordered him to split his head open with an axe.
The moment the mighty blade hit his skull the goddess Athena popped out, fully grown and dressed in fine armor. She was the favorite daughter of Zeus, and the only one beside the god himself who could carry his thunderbolts. As for Metis, she remained forever inside of her husband, whispering advice to him but never producing any more children.
Another love of Zeus was Leda, the daughter of King Thestius of Aetolia. She was given in marriage to a young man named Tyndareus, who after being forced from the throne of Sparta, came to Aetolia seeking refuge. Leda bore many children, but there were whispers as to just how many of them were actually fathered by her husband.
Unbeknownst to Tyndareus, Leda had been carrying on an affair with Zeus during the course of their marriage. The god would pay frequent visits to her, but always while wearing the shape of a swan. Before long Leda realized she was pregnant and went on to give birth to four children in a most unusual way.
She laid two eggs. From one hatched Castor and Clytemnestra, who were fathered by Tyndareus and therefore mortal. From the other egg, out popped Helen and Polydeuces, who were fathered by Zeus and half divine.
Both Helen and Clytemnestra became famous for their roles in the Trojan War, while Castor and Polydeuces went on to become well respected warriors known as the Discouri. They were later placed among the stars as the constellation Gemini.
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