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She wanted to see Zeus fully revealed. Since Zeus never broke his word, he sadly showed himself forth in his true essence, a burst of glory that utterly destroyed Semele, burning her up. Yet Zeus spared her unborn infant, sewing it up inside his thigh until it was able to emerge as the god Dionysus. His birth from Zeus's thigh alone conferred immortality on him. Some were founders of cities or countries, like Epaphus, who founded Memphis; Arcas, who became king of Arcadia; Lacedaemon, the king of Lacedaemon and founder of Sparta. One was the wisest law-giver of his age, the first Minos.

Another was a fabulous beauty, the famous Helen of Troy. And one was a monster of depravity: Tantalus, who served up his son Pelops as food to the gods. As a general rule Zeus's mortal children were distinguished for one reason or another. On occasion their mothers were notable for something besides merely attracting Zeus with their beauty. Leda, for example, after being visited by Zeus in the form of a swan, gave birth to an egg from which came Helen and Clytemnestra, and Castor and Polydeuces. But since Leda's husband Tyndarus also made love to her shortly after Zeus, the exact paternity of these quadruplets was subject to question.

Poor Io was famous for her long persecution at the hands of Hera. Zeus fell in love with Io and seduced her under a thick blanket of cloud to keep Hera from learning of it. But Hera was no fool; she flew down from Olympus, dispersed the cloud, and found Zeus standing by a white heifer, who of course was Io. Hera calmly asked Zeus if she could have this animal, and Zeus gave it to her, reluctant to go into an explanation.

But Hera knew it was Io, so she put her under guard. The watchman Argus with a hundred eyes was put in charge. Eventually Zeus sent his son Hermes to deliver lo from Argus, which was very difficult because Argus never slept. In disguise Hermes managed to put Argus to sleep with stories and flute-playing, and then Hermes killed him.

As a memorial to Argus, Hera set his eyes in the tail of her pet bird, the peacock. But Hera was furious and sent a gadfly to chase Io over the earth. Still in the form of a heifer, Io ran madly from country to country, tormented by the stinging insect. At one point she came across Prometheus chained to his rock in the Caucasus, and the two victims of divine injustice discussed her plight. Prometheus pointed out that her sufferings were far from over, but that after long journeying she would reach the Nile, be changed back into human shape, give birth to Epaphus, the son of Zeus, and receive many honors.

And from her descendants would come Heracles, the man who would set Prometheus free. If Hera was diligent about punishing lo, Europa escaped her wrath scotfree.

One morning this lovely daughter of the king of Sidon had a dream in which two continents in female form laid claim to her. Europa belonged to Asia by birth, but the other continent, which was nameless, said that Zeus would give Europa to her. Later, while Europa and her girl companions were frolicking by the sea, Zeus was smitten with the princess and changed himself into a marvelous bull of great handsomeness. He approached the girls so gently that they ran to play with him.

Zeus knelt down and Europa climbed on his back. Then the bull charged into the sea, and on the sea journey Europa and Zeus were accompanied by strange sea creatures: Nereids, Tritons, and Poseidon himself. Europa then realized that the bull was a god in disguise and she begged Zeus not to desert her. Zeus replied that he was taking her to Crete, his original home, and that her sons from this union would be grand kings who would rule all men.

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In time Europa gave birth to Minos and Rhadamanthus, wise rulers who became judges in the netherworld after death. And Europa gave her name to a continent. Despite his conquests Zeus was not always successful in his amorous pursuits. The nymph Asteria managed to resist him only by the most desperate means — changing herself into a quail, flinging herself into the sea, and becoming the floating island of Ortygia.

On one occasion Zeus himself renounced the nymph Thetis when he learned that she would give birth to a son greater than its father. Further, Zeus's infatuations were not limited to women, for when he fell in love with the youthful Ganymede he had the boy abducted by his eagle and brought up to Olympus to serve as cupbearer. In previous sections we have seen Zeus's power as king of the gods and a dispenser of justice to men, but here we see him as a procreator.

Rose has pointed out, the Greeks had a choice of making Zeus either polygamous or promiscuous because the role of All-Father was indispensable to him. Zeus had acquired wives as his worship spread from locality to locality and he had to marry each provincial earth goddess. However, polygamy was foreign to the Greeks and unacceptable, so they had to make him promiscuous. The same majestic god who fathered seven of the great Olympians also fathered a number of human beings, and many ruling or powerful families traced their lineage to Zeus.

So if his battles with Hera and his deceptions lessened his dignity, that was the price the Greeks paid for their illustrious family trees. The myths about Zeus are primarily concerned with establishing his mastery over gods and men. His predominance in the Olympian pantheon is largely asserted by the fact that he fathered seven of the major gods. Once again we see the humanization of the gods. Zeus and Hera have distinct personalities and a realistic family situation. Everything they do has an understandable motive.

Thus, when Zeus changes himself into bestial forms he does so to satisfy his lust.


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The Greeks had a driving passion for order. They continually rationalized their myths, tried to explain obscurities, and attempted to make the fantastic elements more believable. Hesiod describes how Zeus came to be the most important god and shows why it is better for the world as a whole that Zeus rather than his predecessors is in charge. Hesiod's Works and Days tells myths that explain why Zeus has made life hard for humans and why they must work to survive while the gods live at their ease, free from cares.

Hesiod wrote his epic poems in roughly the same era as Homer, probably in the eighth-seventh centuries B. But unlike Homer, Hesiod does tell us something about himself in the course of his two poems, as the information becomes relevant to his theme. He says in the Works and Days that his father came from Cyme in Asia Minor, "fleeing from cruel poverty, which Zeus gives to men, and he settled near Mount Helicon in a miserable village, Ascra, cruel in winter, harsh in summer, no good at any time" Works and Days But even though Zeus made his father's life hard and drove him away from his home, Hesiod tells us in the Theogony how Zeus's daughters the Muses gave him the gift of song.

The gods give both bad and good, and no mortal can accomplish anything extraordinary without the help of the gods. Zeus became the most important god because he used intelligence as well as power, and he used his intelligence to ensure that he would not be replaced by an even stronger successor. He cared about justice, and he gave the other gods rights and privileges in return for their allegiance to him. But even though Zeus, a male god, is the ruler, he works in conjunction with other gods, including many goddesses, who encourage, discourage, and even direct the actions of the male gods.

Sexual attraction allows females to get their way without force, by a deception so potent that Zeus can use it as a means of punishing humankind.

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In Works and Days , Hesiod explains how Zeus took the "means of life" away from mortals, but another god, Zeus's cousin Prometheus, stole fire from the gods to help humans. In reprisal Zeus ordered the god Hephaestus to create the first woman, who was sent to punish men, not, like Eve in Genesis, to be a helper and a comfort. But, as Hesiod shows in other myths, mortals have made it even harder for themselves by refusing to honor justice. Hesiod's Theogony begins with an invocation to the Muses of Mount Helicon.

He describes how the nine Muses, the daughters of Zeus, wash in one of the nearby springs and then go to dance on the peaks of the mountain. After mentioning the names of all these gods Hesiod relates what the Muses once said to him:. They once taught Hesiod beautiful song, as he was pasturing his lambs beneath holy Helicon.

First the goddesses, the Muses of Mount Olympus, the daughters of aegis-bearing Zeus, addressed this speech to me: "Shepherds of the wilderness, evil disgraces, mere bellies, we know how to tell many lies that are like the truth, and we know, when we wish, to speak the truth. Theogony These lines tell us that Hesiod has learned his song from the Muses, but when they gave him the staff that marked him as a poet, they offered him a sharp reminder of the difference between themselves and mortals like himself.

He is a miserable creature, a slave to his stomach who lives in ignorance of what is really true and what is not. The Muses know the difference, because they are gods. The branch of laurel wood marks him as someone to whom they have given a precious gift, but it means that his duty as a singer is to praise the gods, beginning and ending with themselves. So Hesiod stops talking about himself and begins to speak of the Muses, "who with their singing gladden the great mind of Zeus on Olympus, telling of what is and what will be and what was before, each taking up the song" The Muses sing and dance, so that the peaks of Olympus resound with their song.

They sing of Earth and Heaven and their children, and then of Zeus, the greatest of the gods, and finally of men and of the giants. Then the poet tells the story of the Muses' birth, how Zeus lay with their mother, Memory, for nine nights, and how they now live a short distance from Olympus, with the Graces and Desire. They go to Olympus, singing of how their father overcame his father Cronus, and how he assigned the gods each a place and awarded them honors. Each has powers of her own, but Calliope is the head of them all, because she accompanies kings.

A king whom the Muses love can speak sweetly, and his people can see that he rules justly and is able to stop quarrels; they honor him as if he were a god, and he stands out from the others in the assembly: "Such is the sacred gift of the Muses to humankind" Song is not only a means of conveying information: it gives pleasure and takes away pain In that way it is an even greater gift for mortals than it is for the gods, who have no real sorrows to forget, since death and disease cannot affect them.

Hesiod now asks the Muses to help him sing about the genealogy of the gods He requests that they sing of the gods who were born from Earth and Heaven, and Night, and the children of the Sea, and their children, who divided the wealth and distributed the honors among them, and who first occupied Mount Olympus: "Tell me all this, Muses who dwell in Olympus, from the beginning, and tell me who were the first among the gods" Even before Hesiod begins his main narrative he indicates that a central theme of his poem will be the division of power and the distribution of honors among the gods, and that Zeus and his family, the dwellers on Mount Olympus, are the most important gods.

From the Void Chaos was born the goddess Earth, "who is the seat, fixed forever, of the gods who hold the peaks of Mount Olympus" ; other gods came from the Void as well, and Earth gave birth to Heaven, who became her husband, "equal to herself [in size], so that he might form a complete boundary for her, and that he might be a seat for the blessed gods, fixed forever" Then she bore the Mountains, the Nymphs, and the Sea.

With Heaven as father, she gave birth to more children, including Oceanus, Hyperion, Iapetus, Theia, Rhea, Themis, Mnemosyne, Phoebe, Tethys, and Cronus the crooked-minded, who hated his father, and the one-eyed Cyclopes, who later gave Zeus the thunderbolt and made the lightning for him. Heaven hated all his children, and he put them back again inside their mother so they could not come into the light.

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Earth got Heaven to stop hiding his children inside her by taking the moral initiative against the injustice. She asks her children to avenge the "evil outrage of your father, for he was the first to plan disgraceful deeds" All the others are afraid, but Cronus the crooked-minded agrees to help her, echoing her words, "I do not care about our accursed father, for he was the first to plan disgraceful deeds" Earth hides Cronus in ambush, then creates and gives him a great sharp sickle of gray stone.

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When Heaven comes to make love to Earth, Cronus uses the sickle to cut off his father's genitals.