Zeus the almighty God of Mount Olympus, the wielder of thunder, and the ruler of the skies, has and forever shall remain an enigmatic figure in Greek literature. The Zeus family tree is extensive, and showers light upon the way this brave ruler lead his immortal life and why he was chosen to be the ‘King of all Gods’.
Greek mythology is richly woven with legends of gods and goddesses. Such is the effect of these elaborate tales, that it makes man want to turn back the clock and be a part of this romantic, adventurous, and mysterious time. Ancient Greek literature continues to attract readers and researchers alike, and acts as a source of immense inspiration for the thinker, artist, muse, and the believer.
This epic mythology is incomplete without Zeus, the progenitor of all Gods and men. Being the supreme ruler ensured that Zeus, fathered more than his share of gods and demigods. The Zeus family tree is extensive and needs to be read with scrutiny in order to understand Greek mythology better.
The Family Tree
The important generations belonging to the Zeus family tree have been color-coded, in order to make it easier for you to follow its sequence. The coding is as follows:
- Pink color for the 1st generation.
- Purple for the 2nd generation.
- Blue color for the 3rd generation.
- Green for the 4th generation.
- Orange for the 5th generation.
- Brown for the 6th generation.
Wherever Zeus has been marked in black, it indicates that he mated with the daughter of that generation and had children. Also, the (S) indicates ‘Son’, while (D) indicates ‘Daughter’.
Grandparents of Zeus
Uranus was the ruler of the skies and was the grandfather of Zeus. Uranus is also believed to be the son and consort of Gaia, the Earth-Mother, with whom he fathered hundreds of children. The most notable among them being Cronus, Rhea, Cyclopes, the Hecatonchires, the Furies, the Giants, and Meliae. Uranus was overthrown by his son Cronus as per a prophecy made by Gaia.
Gaia is a primordial goddess, one of the many who was born from Chaos, the beginning of all things on heaven and earth. Her abode was Earth and was known to all as Mother Earth. With her divine union with her son Uranus, she gave birth to all the heavenly gods. Similarly, with her son Pontus, she bore the gods of the sea.
Parents of Zeus
Rhea was one of the daughters of Uranus and Gaia. She is often associated as the mother of all Olympian gods. Her consort was Cronus with whom she gave birth to six children:
However, a prophecy made by Gaia threatened the rule of Cronus, and stated that one of his children would overthrow him, just as how Cronus had overthrown his own father. This fear of losing his rightful place among the gods, made Cronus swallow his children as soon as they were born.
The first five children were swallowed whole, and fearing the same fate for her sixth unborn child, Rhea sought the help of her parents to save her child and seek revenge from Cronus for his acts. Thereafter, Rhea presented Cronus with a stone wrapped in cloth, which he, believing to be the newborn child promptly gobbled down.
Cronus was the youngest and most ambitious son of Uranus. His lust for power led him to overthrow his father so that he could become the leader of the Titans. He castrated his father using his choice of weapon, ‘The Sickle’.
He swallowed all his children the moment they were born to protect his throne. Little did Cronus know that his sixth child, whom he had swallowed was actually a stone wrapped in cloth. His real son was alive, and bidding his time to seek revenge from his cruel father.
Children of Rhea and Cronus
Hestia was the goddess of hearth and fire. She is among the rare few who chose to remain celibate. It is believed that she chose to give up her throne in order to perform her duties on earth with utmost dedication.
Demeter was the goddess of harvest, life and death, marriage, and the sacred laws. Zeus was one of her consorts and together they had a child, who they named Persephone. When Persephone grew into a young woman, she was abducted by Hades the ruler of the underworld. It was Zeus who had advised Hades to abduct his daughter, because he knew that Demeter would never consider Hades as a suitable husband for Persephone.
Hera was the older sister of Zeus and became his wife, after the untimely death of Metis. Even though, she was the goddess of marriage and femininity, her own marriage to Zeus was rocky because of his incessant affairs. Hera is famous for her jealousy and wrath towards her husband’s lovers and the children who were born as a result of these affairs.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons (PD)
Hades was the god of the underworld and ensured that dead remained within their realm and did not try to escape. He was fatally attracted to Persephone, and thus abducted her and made her his queen. Even though he was the ruler of the dead, he himself was an immortal god who came upon this duty.
He was neither cruel nor retributive, and proved to be an efficient king. Among all the worlds, he was the only one who could look after the souls of the dead and keep them under control. The aforementioned illustration is a part of the Meyers Konversations-Lexikon of 1888 and depicts Hades with his loyal hound Cerberus.
Poseidon was the God of the Sea and is also associated with Neptune, his Roman equivalent. It is also believed that he, like his brother Zeus was not swallowed by his father Cronus, and was instead hidden by Rhea amidst lambs that were grazing on earth. Rhea pretended to have given birth to a lamb and handed the same to Cronus, who swallowed the animal.
Zeus was the youngest son of Cronus and became the god of the sky and thunder. Zeus used an emetic on his father, which caused him to vomit the contents of his stomach. The first came the stone, a sheep, and then his five older children, who come out alive and as adults.
Zeus also released all the monstrous brothers of Cronus, which included the Giants, Cyclopes and Hecatonchires, who had been imprisoned underground by Cronus for being ugly. Then with the help of his siblings and all those whom Cronus had imprisoned in Tartarus, Zeus was able to defeat his father and the Titans in a battle that lasted for nearly ten years.
After the victory, there was sharing of power among all the Gods and Zeus became the ruler of the universe. Thus began the Olympian era.
Children of Zeus
Credit: Marie-Lan Nguyen (photographer)/Wikimedia Commons (PD)
Ares was famously known as the ‘God of War’. He was the son of Hera and Zeus, and was both venerated and loathed for his violent and military nature. The Roman god Mars is regarded in the same stead as Ares. Aphrodite was one of Ares’ many consorts who gave birth to twins, Deimos (Terror) and Phobos (Fear).
Deimos and Phobos were their father’s constant companions in battle. Like Zeus, Ares had many consorts and children. The aforementioned sculpture ‘Ludovisi Ares’ was restored in 1622 by Gian Lorenzo Bernini. This work is a Roman replica of an older Greek sculpture from 320 BC and is currently placed at the Palazzo Altemps.
It is believed that Aphrodite, is either the daughter of Uranus or Zeus and Dione. Aphrodite was the goddess of beauty, sexuality, and lust. She was so fatally beautiful and desirable, that Zeus feared her beauty may cause wars among the gods, as they argued over who would set their claims on her.
He married Aphrodite to Hephaestus, but her lust for men made her cheat on her husband often. She was attracted to the volatile nature of Ares, and thus played an instrumental role in the Trojan War along with this dangerous consort of hers. Aphrodite was responsible for the lust that Paris felt for Helen of Troy and the abduction that ensued.
Athena was the goddess of wisdom, war strategy, and just governance. She was also the favorite daughter of Zeus. Athena’s mother was Metis, who was the first wife of Zeus and was known for her wisdom and cunning. However, Zeus feared the coming true of a prophesy which stated that his union with Metis would lead to the birth of gods who would overpower Zeus in due time.
This led to Zeus swallowing Metis, who by then had already conceived Athena. While in her husband’s belly, Metis forged an armor for her unborn child. Zeus began to experience an unbearable headache, which forced him to request one of his helpers to cleave his forehead with the labrys ax.
This resulted in Athena erupting from her father’s head, fully-grown, and clothed in the armor made by her mother. Athena soon became Zeus’ beloved daughter because of her defiant ways and wisdom.
Apollo was the son of Zeus and Leto, the daughter of Coeus and Phoebe. Apollo had a twin sister Artemis as well. He has been represented in Greek mythology as a god with many powers such as, the god of light, the bringer of plagues as well as the healer, the god of truth, and music to name a few.
It is said that when Apollo was merely four days old, he was forced to kill the earth dragon Python, who had been sent by the jealous Hera to kill Leto. Apollo in order to save his mother asked for a bow and arrow from Hephaestus, the God of weapons and shot the dragon straight in the eye.
Artemis was the goddess of hunting and animals. Since she was also a virgin deity, women prayed to her for ensuring a safe childbirth and for protecting their young daughters from lecherous men. The role of guarding over childbirth was given to Artemis by The Fates, because she was born a day before her twin brother Apollo and had acted as her mother’s mid-wife by helping in the birth.
When Artemis was only three years old she went weeping to her father Zeus after being trashed by Hera. She sat on his lap and asked for six wishes, those being to always remain a virgin, to be known by more names so that she could be told apart from her twin brother, to have the best bow and arrow, a short dress suitable for hunting, to have sixty daughters of the Ocean to be her choir and that they all be nine years of age, and to have twenty chaste nymphs to look after her bow and her dogs.
Dionysus was the God of wine, arts and fertility, and was the son of Semele, who was one of Zeus’ priestesses on earth. Hera had become aware of the affair and had made Semele vulnerable enough, to doubt the true identity of her child’s father.
Semele asked Zeus to show himself in his true form. Zeus was heartbroken by his beloved’s strange request and knew the consequences, however, by then he had naively given his word to Semele and was helpless.
Since, Semele was a mere mortal she died the moment she saw Zeus, and was turned to ash. Zeus was inconsolable, but was able to save his unborn child by creating a makeshift womb in his thigh, thereby hiding the baby from Hera.
Hermes was the son of the goddess Maia. Hermes was the messenger of the gods, he guided souls into the afterlife and was the god of commerce, poetry, literature, and sports. He was conceived and born within a night, after which the child grew at an astounding rate. Hermes made the string instrument called the Iyre, which he gave to Apollo as compensation for the cattle herd stolen by him.
He also freed Zeus’ lover Io, from Argus the hundred-eyed giant, who had made her captive under Hera’s instructions. Hera had once again been made aware of her husband’s affair and wanted to punish Io for her misdemeanor. However, Zeus requested Hermes to help free his lover from Argus.
When Hermes found Argus, he played his lute for the giant in order to appease him. Fortunately, the soothing music of the lute caused Argus to fall asleep, after which Hermes killed the giant in order to rescue Io. Hera overcome with grief, spread the giant’s hundred eyes all over the peacock bird’s tail for showing her gratitude for his unflinching service.
Hebe, the daughter of Hera and Zeus, was the Goddess of eternal youth and the cup-bearer for the gods. Her main responsibility was to serve ambrosia to the gods. She also prepared her mother’s chariot and was given the duty to prepare the purification bath for Ares. She married her paternal half-brother Heracles, the archenemy of Hera. Their marriage is believed to have eased the long-standing enmity between the Hera and Heracles.
Credit: Dante Gabriel Rossetti [artist]/via Wikimedia Commons (PD)
Helen of Troy
The aforementioned painting of Helen of Troy was made by Dante Gabriel Rossetti in 1863. Helen the divine beauty was the daughter of Leda and Zeus. Paris was a Trojan prince who had been chosen by Zeus to elect the most beautiful goddess among, Hera, Aphrodite, and Athena, so as to put an end to their bickering.
Aphrodite bribed Paris by promising to give him Helen, the most beautiful woman on earth. Paris accepted her offer and declared Aphrodite as the most desirable goddess, thereby gaining the wrath of Hera and Athena. Unfortunately, by then Helen was already married to Menelaus, the King of Sparta.
Undeterred by this fact, Paris befriended Helen’s husband with the excuse that he needed to be purified in Sparta, for accidentally murdering a friend during a contest. The moment Helen set her eyes of Paris, the spell was cast and she fell madly in love with him. While the unsuspecting Menelaus left for Crete to pay his homage to his deceased grandfather, Helen eloped with Paris.
They did not consummate their love until, Paris had erected a sanctuary in honor of Aphrodite’s everlasting beauty. Once this scandalous news was out, Menelaus returned to Sparta and along with his companions declared war on Troy, which led to the epic Trojan War!
Heracles was the son of Zeus and Alcmene. According to Greek mythology, he was the strongest and most virile demigod to have ever existed. Hera tried her best to prevent the birth of Heracles by persuading Eileithyia, the goddess of childbirth to cross her legs. However, Galanthis being the loyal helper of Alcmene, feigned happiness and rushed to Eileithyia in order to thank her for the birth of the child.
This news surprised the goddess, who in shock uncrossed her legs and stood up, thereby inadvertently allowing the birth to take place. Hera’s hatred for Heracles, caused his half-sister Athena to keep his identity secret. She told Hera, that the child was an orphan and she was merely looking after him. Hera took pity on the child and nursed him, however, her milk gifted the child with supernatural strength. Heracles also caused Hera’s milk to spill all over heaven which led to the creation of the Milky way.
Hephaestus was the son of Hera and Zeus, which made him a prince among the gods. He was the god of metallurgy, sculptors, fire, and volcanoes. He forged weapons for the gods of Olympus. He was exiled from heaven by his cruel mother for being crippled and was thrown onto earth.
Hephaestus sought revenge from Hera by forging a golden throne for her. Hera did not know who had made the throne for her, and greedily accepted it as a gift. Little did she know, that the throne was cursed and wouldn’t allow her to leave until the spell was broken by the caster himself.
The gods knew that Hephaestus was responsible for this act and begged him to set Hera free. However, Hephaestus stubbornly refused to do so, until Dionysus himself went to earth to persuade him to return to Olympus. Dionysus got Hephaestus drunk and abducted him on a mule, after which he was given back his rightful place in Olympus and was made to set his mother free.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons (PD)
Minos was the son of Europa and Zeus. He prayed to Poseidon, and asked the God of the Sea to give him a gift that would prove his rightful claim on the throne of Crete. Poseidon, sent forth a white bull which was to be sacrificed in honor of Poseidon by Minos. However, Minos, wanted to keep the bull for himself, and dared to replace the divine bull with an ordinary one in order to deceive Poseidon.
Infuriated, the god cursed Minos’ wife Pasiphae, which caused her to fall in love with the bull. She sought the help of Daedalus, the best craftsman in Crete to make a hallow wooden cow for her. Pasiphae hid inside the cow and mated with the bull, which resulted in the birth of the monster Minotaur.
It was Theseus, the son of Poseidon who finally slaughtered Minotaur and put an end to his tyranny. The aforementioned illustration of Minos sitting in judgment, was drawn by Gustave Dore and is a part of the Inferno Canto by Dante Alighieri.
Perseus was the son of Zeus and Danae. Perseus disapproved of Polydectes, who was trying to court Danae. Polydectes schemed a plan, to get the boy killed so that he no longer remained an obstacle. He held a party wherein all the guests were asked to bring a horse as a gift. This piece of information was hidden from Perseus in order to trap him.
Polydectes made Perseus promise him that he would make amends by returning with the monster Medusa’s head. Perseus being young and egoistic accepted the challenge. The gods decided to help Perseus attain success, by guiding him throughout his journey. His father Zeus gifted him a divine sword, while Athena gave him a shield and guided him towards the Hesperides.
The Hesperides gave him a bag that would safely hold the head of the monster, who had live snakes on her head instead of hair. Hermes gave Perseus his winged sandals which helped the demigod fly close enough to Medusa and decapitate her.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons (PD)
Persephone was the daughter of Demeter and Zeus. Even though she was born as the goddess of vegetation, she eventually became the queen of the underworld as well. Hades, the king of the underworld, abducted her and took her deep into his world. While Persephone stayed hidden, Demeter fell into despair and caused the earth to starve from lack of vegetation and harvest.
The mortals and the gods alike, begged Zeus to help resolve the issue, because of which he was forced to ask Hades to return Persephone. Hermes was sent to bring Persephone back to her mother, however, by then Hades had tricked her into eating a pomegranate yielded from the underworld. Since, she had innocently done so, she now was required to return to the underworld and spend four months in a year with Hades as his wife and queen.
The famous painting of 1891 by artist Frederic Leighton, ‘The Return of Perspephone’ depicts how Hermes returns Persephone to Demeter.
Credit: Jastrow (photographer)/Wikimedia Commons (PD)
The Nine Muses
The Nine Muses are believed to be the daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne, the goddess of memory. They were the goddesses of poetry, literature, music, history, and astronomy. Each muse had a distinct role to play, and were the personification of knowledge, creativity, and prosperity.
They were raised by Apollo, and learned a great deal from him about art. These goddesses were fascinated by the arts and requested Apollo, that they be taken to a secluded land where they could focus on their work and help mankind flourish. Apollo made a home for the muses at Mount Elikonos, where they sharpened their skills and invented new things. The nine muses were:
- Urania – Peace and Astronomy
- Calliope – Poetry
- Clio – history
- Erato – Romantic poetry
- Euterpe – Music
- Melpomene – Plays and theater
- Polyhymnia – Spiritual poems and agriculture
- Terpsichore – Dancing and singing
- Thalia – Comedy
The aforementioned images of the muses is carved on a sarcophagus that dates back to the 2nd century AD and was found in Via Ostiense. It is currently placed at the Louvre museum in France.
Since Zeus was considered as the father of Gods and men, it should hardly come as a surprise that, several characters in Greek mythology claim to be his descendants and a part of the Zeus family tree. Nonetheless, for the enthusiast and believer, Greek literature and its everlasting tales shall prove to be a lifelong passion and companion.