Zeus may have been king of the Greek gods, but he certainly was not a god of fidelity. In this lesson, we’ll look at Zeus’ extensive family tree and see how his philandering played into it.
Zeus’ Family Tree
Constructing a family tree can be a lot of fun, but you always know that somewhere you’re going to discover that one crazy relative. Well, for the figures of Greek mythology, there was really no question as to who that relative would be. Zeus was the king of the gods in Greek mythology, defined by his power, justness, and absolute authority. He was also known for his countless affairs and the constant search for female companionship. As a result, Zeus didn’t really have a family tree; he had an entire family forest.
Let’s start with Zeus’ ancestry. Zeus was born to two powerful, cosmic beings known as Titans. His mother Rhea was the daughter of Gaia, the deified Earth. His father was Kronos, son of the sky deity Ouranos. Kronos and Ouranos had a troubled relationship, and Kronos only gained control of the cosmos by overthrowing his father. He didn’t want the same thing to happen to him, so he ate his first five children: the gods Poseidon, Hades, Hestia, Demeter, and Hera.
Finally, however, Rhea stepped in. When she had her youngest son, Zeus, she hid him and instead wrapped a stone in a blanket for Kronos to consume. Years later, Zeus returned and tricked his father into drinking a potion that made him regurgitate the five gods. In the massive battle that ensued, the gods defeated the Titans and claimed control over the heavens.
Wives and Children
Zeus and his siblings took up residence on Mount Olympus and set about ruling the world. It wasn’t long until Zeus took a wife. His first wife was actually a Titan named Metis; it was a brief marriage. At one point, Metis became pregnant, and Zeus started to worry that his own son may continue the cycle in his family and defeat him. So, he swallowed Metis whole. However, Metis was pregnant with a daughter, who sprung out of Zeus’ forehead fully grown. Zeus named her Athena, and she forever remained his favorite child.
After this, Zeus married his main wife in Greek mythology, his sister Hera. With Hera, Zeus had two sons: Hephaistos, god of metallurgy and blacksmith of the gods, and Ares, god of war. Other myths identify several goddesses as daughters of Zeus and Hera as well.
Mistresses: Titans, Nymphs & Humans
Greek mythology is packed with tales of Zeus pursuing various mistresses. Some were gods, some were humans, and some were nymphs. In many of these stories, Zeus seduces unwitting maidens by changing form in order to trick them. Hera, jealous and bitter, ends up striking out against the mistresses time and time again. As a result of his infidelity, Zeus had lots of children. In fact, some myths claim that even Zeus himself could not count all of them. What follows is an incomplete list of Zeus’ mistresses and their offspring, to give you an idea of his philandering.
Despite warring with the Titans, Zeus found plenty of time to engage them in romantic encounters. The Titans were beings of extreme cosmic power, often personifications of abstract concepts, and as a result, the children tended to be pretty powerful. Here are a few.
Leto: The Titaness Leto and Zeus had two children, Apollo (god of music and prophecy) and Artemis (goddess of hunting).
Mnemosyne: An ancient Titaness and the personification of memory. She and Zeus slept together for nine consecutive nights, and as a result, she bore nine muses, goddesses of inspiration.
Themis: This Titaness was the personification of natural law. With her, Zeus had the Fates, the personifications of destiny.
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