We bet you’ve all heard of Zeus, even if you may not know exactly who he is. Well, if you already knew who Zeus is, you’re still in for a treat because the number of people he slept with and the measures he took to achieve his amorous desires will serve as an eye-opener for you!
WHO ON EARTH IS ZEUS?
Well, technically, he isn’t on earth because he is the Greek god of sky! Not only that, he also ruled as the King of the Olympus gods after disposing his father, Cronus. Zeus was seen as unfaithful as he was notorious for sleeping around. However, most of his romantic pursuits weren’t consensual. He had the habit of transforming himself into animals to rape the women he was attracted to!
THE SEVEN OFFICIAL MARRIAGES
Zeus’ official wife and queen was his sister, Hera, the goddess of marriage. He succeeded in bestowing that title upon her when he violated her in his real form after disguising himself as an injured cuckoo to receive Hera’s pity. Truly embarrassed by this incident, Hera had no choice but to wed Zeus to mask her shame.
Hera was notorious for her jealous and vengeful nature (also known as Hera’s wrath). She was always seen meddling in Zeus’ countless affairs and exacting revenge on her love rivals. In fact, Hephaestus, one of Hera's offspring, was her virgin-born child whom she bore in a fit of anger as she could not stand watching Zeus sleep around with other women!
Zeus’ first wife, Metis, the goddess of wisdom did not share a long union with him. Threatened by the knowledge of being overthrown by a second child, Zeus tricked Metis into turning herself into a fly and swallowed her before the birth of their firstborn, Athena. Nine months after swallowing Metis, Zeus had a terrible headache and ordered to have his forehead split open with an axe, from which Athena sprang out. (“The Goddess Athena”, loc. 16-19) Fun fact: Zeus became wiser after swallowing Metis and it was said that the goddess of wisdom was giving him advice from his tummy!
Zeus wanted it all, family or not. In fact, before Zeus wedded Hera, the sister he was first attracted to was Demeter! Despite Demeter’s resistance, Zeus successfully violated her by disguising himself as a bull. Zeus’ next wife was his aunt, Mnemosyne, who gave birth to the nine Muses after she slept with him for nine solid nights.
Zeus wedded Hera while his sixth wife, Leto, was pregnant with his child. Hera was incredibly jealous of Leto hence she gave Leto an incredibly hard time during her pregnancy. Thankfully, Leto managed to birth two children who grew up fast and protected their mother.
Aside from his marriages, Zeus had numerous affairs as well. In fact, he also slept with our Mother Earth, Gaia! Gaia was his grandmother and they bore two children together.
Zeus’ taste in women was far from exclusive. Divine or mortal, Zeus was unstoppable (imagine Hera’s rage). Zeus had an affair with a mortal woman, Semele, and when Hera came to know of this affair, she disguised herself before Semele and convinced her to ask Zeus to present himself in the same grandeur that he would before Hera. Zeus granted Semele’s wish although it meant her death as she was a mortal incapable of withstanding the grandeur in which Zeus appeared.
Hera’s wrath also extended to another mortal whom Zeus had an affair with — Io, who was well-known for her long persecution by Hera. Zeus seduced Io under a cloud to prevent Hera from finding out. Fun fact: Io was a priestess at one of Hera’s temples so if Zeus and Io were caught red-handed in bed, Io would be damned! Zeus turned Io into a cow before Hera confronted him about the two of them. However, he was outsmarted by Hera as she knew that the cow was Io and demanded Zeus to gift it to her. When Zeus asked for Io to be delivered back to him, Hera sent a gadfly (no, not Socrates!) to chase after Io who was still in her cow form. Io ultimately escaped the clutches of Hera and the gadfly at Nile, where she transformed back to human form and gave birth to Zeus’ son.
The famous Helen of Troy was also fathered by Zeus when he visited Leda in the form of a swan which resulted in Leda giving birth to an egg from which came Helen and her twin, Clytemnestra. However, the exact paternity of Helen and Clytemnestra was questionable as Leda slept with a mortal man shortly after she was visited by Zeus. Leda also had another pair of twins who were supposedly fathered by the mortal man. Well, they didn't have the technology to run a DNA test back then!
THE MALE LOVER
Homosexuality wasn’t uncommon among the Greeks as we’ve discussed in class. Zeus’ erotic escapades certainly weren’t restricted to the female gender only! He was attracted to Ganymede, a Troy Prince and had him abducted to Olympus to serve as a cupbearer to the gods. Although not many cultures today approve of such behaviour, the Greeks practiced pederasty. As such, even though Zeus was perceived as being lustful and lecherous by raping women repeatedly, he assumed a more mature and responsible role of a mentor when he introduced an innocent boy into the ways of adult society. *Click here for more information on pederasty!
Zeus’ amorous escapades were difficult to track. Apart from his numerous erotic and incestuous relationships, he also had many children whose mothers were unknown, hence the genealogy of the gods could be really confusing and baffling! Oh well, guess we just have to . . .