Learn about the rise of Zeus to power in this episode on Greek mythology. We will learn about what happened to Zeus and his siblings, and how he was able to overthrow his father Cronus. There is also a short story focusing on this special event.
Short Story and Transcript
The Rise of Zeus – Mythology
History repeats itself. That’s the least that can be said about what happened to Cronus who made the same mistake his father did. He was afraid his children would overthrow him one day and he challenged the strongest force of nature, motherhood. However, he thought he would be more cunning than his father and instead of casting his offspring to Tartarus, he was more creative and he started to swallow his own children as soon as they were born.
Every time Rhea gave birth to a child, he would immediately swallow the child and imprison it in the safety of his belly. Rhea’s patience ran its course with the fifth child Cronos swallowed, so when she gave birth to the sixth child, she devised a plan of her own. This sixth child was no other than Zeus. Rhea gave Cronus a stone wrapped in a blanket and Cronos didn’t think twice and swallowed the stone. In the meantime, Rhea sent Zeus to the island of Crete, where he would be safe. There, nymphs tended the baby Zeus while Cretan warriors sang and clashed their swords so that Cronus would not hear his crying.
Baby Zeus grew into a strong god, and maybe the nymph’s raising him is to blame for his playboy nature that characterized this god among many other qualities. Zeus was strong enough to overthrow his father and avenge his siblings that Cronus had swallowed. He became friends with Metis, who some say was a Titaness and others say was an ocean nymph. Metis devised a potion to make Cronus vomit out the children he had swallowed, and some stories say that she gave this potion to Cronus and some other stories claim that Zeus gave him the potion, but that didn’t matter because the potion worked.
Cronus spat forth Zeus’s sisters, Hestia, Demeter and Hera, and his brothers, Hades and Poseidon. Together they were strong enough to stand up to Cronus and the other Titans. Most of the Titans were on Cronus’s side, of course, but a couple of them helped Zeus. This war between the Titans and who came later to be know as the Olympians lasted ten years.
Zeus got help from the hundred-armed giants and the cyclops as well. If you remember from our first episode, these were the children of Gaia, whom Uranus imprisoned in Tartarus. Well, Zeus freed them to join his war effort, and it worked. With their help, the thunderbolt the Cyclops made for him and the strength of the younger Olympians Zeus emerged victorious in this ten-year war.
He imprisoned all the titans in Tartarus, except for the ones who helped him. And now came the time to divide the rule of this big kingdom amongst himself and his brothers. Hades got the underworld, Poseidon got the oceans, and Zeus the sky and the title of king of the gods. Zeus’s rule was supreme. He was indeed the most powerful god in all Greek mythology. The gods and their sisters took up residence on Mount Olympus, which is why they and their offspring are called the Olympian gods or deities.
Zeus was indeed a playboy. He loved two things the most, being the ultimate ruler and women. Zeus fathered numerous children with a series of partners: nymphs, Titanesses, godesses and mortal women. To name some of his most famous children, I will start with the gods.
Let’s start with the first and maybe, the most famous of all. Metis is considered his first partner or wife. She tried to avoid Zeus’s advances by changing herself into different animals, but her tactic didn’t work. We will see that when Zeus puts his mind to something of this sort, he always gets it his way. So, Metis got pregnant. Zeus learned from an oracle that Metis was expecting a girl, but the oracle also told Zeus that if they have a male child, the boy would overthrow his father when he grew up, just as Zeus had overthrown his father. Zeus followed in his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps. Zeus was determined to preserve his power, but he did not wait to swallow the infant, like his father did, he took it a step further and swallowed Metis herself after she changed herself into a fly. Some stories later claimed that Zeus did this to possess Metis’s wisdom, but I don’t buy it. Zeus did this because he was afraid that history would repeat itself one more time.
Time passed and Zeus developed a terrible headache. He cried out in pain, saying he felt as if a warrior were stabbing him from inside with a spear. Hephaestus, the god of metalworking, finally understood what was wrong and split Zeus’s head open with an ax. And there sprang out who came to be Zeus’s favorite child, Athena. By all accounts she was a dutiful daughter, and Zeus tended to indulge Athena, which made the other gods jealous and angry, but this episode is not about Athena, we will talk about her more in later episodes, let’s get back to Zeus’s other children.
The Titaness Themis bore Zeus two sets of daughters known as the Fates and the Hours. The ocean nymph Eurynome also had daughters by Zeus, including the Graces. Demeter, Zeus’s sister bore him a beautiful daughter, Persephone, who became later Hades’s wife, but that’s also a story for another episode.
Zeus’s union with the Titaness Mnemosyne produced the nine goddesses known as the Muses. Leto bore Zeus’s twins Apollo and Artemis. Maia, the daughter of Atlas, bore him Hermes. But finally the time came for Zeus to settle down and have a kind of permanent wife. He married his sister Hera, who bore him three more Olympian deities, Ares, Hebe and Hephaestus.
As for his mortal women partners, there are too many to be mentioned in one episode, Zeus was indeed a playboy, but I’m only going to mention his most famous children, or demigods as they were called later.
Zeus visited the princess Danae as a shower of gold and she bore him the hero Perseus. He appeared as a white bull to Europa, another princess, and she bore him Minos, Rhadamanthus, and Sarpedon. Zeus appeared to Leda in the form of a swan. The children of their union were Helen of Troy, her sister Clytemnestra, and the brothers Castor and Pollux. But Zeus’s most famous half-human son was mighty Heracles, who was born to Alcmena, to whom Zeus came disguised as her own husband.
Of course, everyone knew what a playboy Zeus was, including his other partners, but no one took it so personal more than Hera. She was so jealous of Zeus’s other partners, especially the mortal ones, and she hated their offspring and tried to harm them in any way she could. Maybe, this is most famously known in the story of Heracles and the way she intervened in his life trying to harm him. She hated Heracles more than any of Zeus’s other offspring, but this is one hell of a story that I will tell you in a later episode that I will dedicate to Heracles and his story.
But for now, I will leave you with a short story I wrote focusing on the time when Zeus overthrew his father Cronus. Enjoy!
The Rise of Zeus – Short Story
Somewhere in Crete
“Hhhmmm, there is a woman asking about you out there.”
Zeus was surrounded by nymphs who were whispering stories in his ears, and that message came in the middle of one story a nymph was whispering in Zeus’s ear and he seemed to be very interested and aroused by it.
“Tell her to wait. Can’t you see I’m a little busy here.” Zeus replied.
“But she says it’s urgent and she must see you right now.”
Zeus stood up, naked, with a glass of wine in his hand. He was a strapping young man. He drank up and said, “Women! I know I am irresistible but I am really thinking of taking a day off every week. There are other things in life a god must do. All right, tell her to come in”
“Should I wait until your friends leave, sire?”
“Why would you do that? She could come and join them if she wants. They’re not that shy. They walk around naked all day long.” Zeus answered and everyone behind him started laughing.
“As you wish, sire.”
The man went out and a few moments later, a woman came in wearing a clock.
“You’re not planning to wear that all night, darling. Look at us. The party is already on.” Zeus said to the woman offering her a glass of wine.
The mysterious woman took the glass of wine, spilled it on the ground and threw the cup away.
“Careful woman! You have no idea who you’re dealing with here. I’m a …” Zeus started yelling.
“I know exactly who you are. I don’t who’s more stupid, you making all that racket in your supposedly hiding place, or your father up there who doesn’t have the wits to know it is you down here.” The woman answered.
“Who are you woman. Speak.” Zeus lost his playful tone and was serious and you can tell from his stance that he was ready to strike.
The woman slowly took off the hood the covered her head and most of her face.
“Mother. I’m … I’m so sorry. I didn’t recognize you.” Zeus stumbled to find words, then he turned towards the naked nymphs still drinking and giggling. “You, get the hell out here now, please. And why don’t you put something on, like right now.”
The girls rushed out of the room and Zeus tried to look up to face his mother, but his eyes kept the direction of his look down on the floor.
“When are you going to grow up? Do you know how much I have been through to keep your very existence a secret, and you have done nothing to help me with that. You’re always partying, drinking, and I don’t want to talk about your other indecent acts, but all the things you do have one thing in common; they’re loud. They’re too loud even your grandfather in his eternal prison could hear them. I had to make those poor Cretans pretend they’re fighting all day long just to cover your noise. And you don’t want to know what I had to do to distract your father.” Rhea said.
“Good to see you, too mom!” Zeus answered.
“My dear Zeus, I just worry your father would find out about this before it’s time. I wouldn’t be able to save you from his wrath. He’s still the king and there are all those titans behind him. You can’t afford to be that reckless.”
“I know mom, but I am strong now. I can stand to him. And there is this plan I told you about last time. Metis assured me that this potion of hers will work.” Zeus said.
“Well, look at you, my boy. You are a man to be feared. You’re strong and cunning, not too careful though, and that’s why I’m still reluctant about this plan of yours.” Rhea said.
“Don’t worry, mom. I’m not that stupid, you know. I know how strong Cronus and his titans are.” Zeus said.
“But Metis is a Titaness. You know that.”
“You are a Titaness, mom. You know that.”
“Yes, but I’m your mother. How can trust Metis.”
“We have many things in common, not to drag you into boring details. Trust me on this one. Metis is very wise and cunning, just the two things you’ve always wanted me to look for in a woman.”
“Oh, and you clearly followed my advice with those stupid nymphs I just saw you with.”
“Come on, mom. These are just my friends.”
“Do you treat all your friends like that?”
“Don’t be old-fashioned mom. It’s a new dawn, times have changed.”
“Well, not in everything they didn’t. History keeps repeating itself, but you may be right. We cannot wait any longer. We have to strike soon. I don’t think I can keep your existence a secret from Cronus anymore. He’s getting suspicious lately. We’re lucky they won’t invent X-ray scanners not for thousands of years to come. He would have known I have replaced you with a rock.”
“So, shall we get on with it?” Zeus asked.
“Yeah. I guess it’s finally time. Let’s do it tomorrow. Your father is having a feast for a few select titans, so there will be a lot of drinking. We might be able to slip that potion of yours in his drink, and I hope Metis is as good as you say.”
“Don’t worry, mom. Everything will work out just fine. Once we get my brother and sisters out, we’ll get the hell out of there and we’ll figure out our next move.”
“I don’t know. I still feel all of this is not enough. Do you know how powerful your father is, not to mention the other titans who are as strong?” Rhea said.
“Trust me, mom. I may look like a stupid playboy, but I am a little more than that. We’ve got allies. The hundred-armed giants are on our side, and the Cyclops.”
“How did you even get to talk to them?”
“Well, I talked to grandma.”
“You idiot, your grandma would always side with her favorite son, Cronus. You’re even more stupid than I thought.”
“I know she would always prefer my father to me, but who told you that she knew who I was.”
“I just told her I was a priest worshiping her children the Cyclops, and I needed her blessing to meet with them to get their blessing, too.”
“And did that work?”
“You know how grandma is bitter about their being banished. After all, they’re her children, too. Monsters or not, so she couldn’t resist the fact that there would be someone in this world that might worship those monsters, so she let me in. Maybe she wanted to make them feel better about themselves as a kind of consolation for the eternal prison they have to live in.”
“You sneaky little devil.” Rhea said.
“And you know the relationship between the Cyclops and my father is not that warm.”
“I know. They hate him as much as he does.”
“So it was not that difficult to convince them to join me, and they introduced me to the hundred-armed giants who liked my father even less.”
“Well, in that case — that fixes the balance of power. At least, we’ll get a chance for a fair fight.”
“Well, it might be a little bit better than that. The Cyclops promised to make me a weapon the world has never seen before. They call it the Thunderbolt. I don’t know what it is to be honest, but I got the chance to see some other weapons they had. I was so impressed, but they told me none of these weapons would even compare to this new Thunderbolt. It will be a game changer.” Zeus said.
“I hope so, my boy. I admit. I thought you were a dumb playboy brute, but you are much more than meets the eye, even if those were your mother’s.”
“Don’t worry, mother. Tomorrow, we’ll free our brothers and sisters and we’ll usher in a new era after we get rid of Cronus and his titans.”
“I hope you don’t get rid of me.” Rhea said quietly.
“What did you say, mom?”
“Nothing my boy, I was wishing you good luck.”
Rhea then hugged her son and gave him her blessing before leaving the room and going back to Cronus as she was planning to give him the night of his life as one last time she wanted to distract him for she wanted to make sure the element of surprise would hit him with all its might the next day.
The Feast In Cronus’s Palace
The feast was magnificent, a big table stood in the middle of the big hall, worthy of the titans sitting at it. But there were not too many titans there that night. Cronus did not invite all the titans to that feast. He only invited a few, the ones he trusted the most.
“My brothers and sisters. I remember the day I freed you from Tartarus and I know how grateful you are until this very day, and I chose you today to be with me to celebrate yet another year of our supreme rule over the universe. But there is something else I want you to help me with.” Cronus said.
“Whatever you want, brother. You know we will never fail you.” Hyperion answered.
“I could engulf the entire world with all the creatures in it in my waters leaving only the creatures that cannot live without me if that can serve you in any way, brother.” Okeanos said.
“Hold your horses, Okeanos. I don’t want a water world. I don’t want to kill everybody who lives on land. I just want you to help me find the traitor within my family.”
“Traitor. Who can betray you, brother. You are the greatest, perfect, most complete…” Hyperion said
“Yeah, yeah, I know the rest, so save me the whole list, please. I feel there is someone who is scheming to overthrow me, and I need to know who that is.” Cronus said.
“Who would dare to do such an unthinkable thing? I don’t think there is anyone stupid enough to stand up to you and behind you, there is all of us.” Rhea said.
Cronus looked at Rhea and she couldn’t tell if he had any idea that she was the one scheming all along. She was afraid he might have known or heard something about Zeus. That could ruin all her plans and she may never be able to see her children anymore.
“Why don’t we all drink to loyalty and to the future of our family for thousands of years to come.” Rhea said while she stood up and asked for more wine.
Metis came with the wine and started with the glass that mattered the most, the one meant to be drunk by Cronus. All the titans had their glasses up and they drank to loyalty and thousands of years of their ultimate rule over the universe.
Cronus drank up his glass, and started to feel sick. He sprang up tossing the table violently and with it his brothers who were all now unconscious on the floor.
“What’s in that cup? What did you have me drink, woman?” Cronus said.
Rhea walked slowly toward Cronus who was wriggling on the floor and said, “The same cup your father had to drink. Now give my back my children.”
“Grr. Damn you woman. I gave you everything a titan would ever dream of having.” Cronus said.
“Yeah. That’s right. But you took away the only thing a mother can never let you take away.”
Cronus wriggled on the floor like a fish out of water, and he tried to stand up but he couldn’t make it all the way and he was on his knees holding his belly trying to ease the pain when he vomited and out he hurled five fully grown children and a rock, and dropped unconscious.
At this moment, while the other titans were still unconscious on the floor, Zeus rushed in to get to his sisters and brothers and lead them away from the palace while he still had the chance.
“Run away. Now while you can before they come round.” Rhea said.
Rhea looked at each of her five children with tears flowing from her eyes because she knew she might not be able to see them again. She wished she could have seen them grow to become this beautiful and strong. But that one look might be enough to quench a mother’s thirst even if for just a little while to see her own children.
“Zeus, you lead them. First take them out of here. Somewhere safe. Tell them all about what happened while they were locked in the belly of that beast. Rest, but not for long. As soon as your father comes round, he will summon all the other titans to come after you. You have to be ready. I may never see you again, but I know that you will be victorious and the world will speak of your name forever. Go my boy, be the best you can be. Be who you were born to be. Love whoever you want to love, but try not to hate too many. Don’t fear your children. Raise them, love them, indulge them, and always be there for them. Do whatever you want to do. Rule whomever you want to rule, but know you will never be a happy man if you put anyone first before your own children. Never deprive a mother of her children. Be strong for the weak, be just and love the ones you create so that they may love you back. Keep your brothers and sisters close, but your children closer, for when the time comes, they will be the ones that will come to your help. One of your children will have your strength even if only half his blood is divine. Protect him for he will be the one that will come to your aid when your need is dire.
Run along my children, you have years of war and sorrow ahead of you, but knowing that you will emerge victorious will always make me feel at peace.”
Rhea said that with her arms wrapped around her children.
Zeus with tears rushing down his cheeks gave his mother one last hug and led his brothers and sisters out of Cronus’s castle back to a cave in Crete where they ate and rested for the night for the next day the war with the titans would begin.