The Odyssey

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Zeus Character Analysis

King of all the gods, and the god of sky and lightning. He holds assembly on Mount Olympus and negotiates the desires and grievances of the gods. He punishes Odysseus when his crew eats the Cattle of the sun god Helios. He allows Athena to help Odysseus, and he allows Poseidon to hurt him.

Zeus Quotes in The Odyssey

The The Odyssey quotes below are all either spoken by Zeus or refer to Zeus. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Fate, the Gods, and Free Will Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Penguin Books edition of The Odyssey published in 1996.
Book 1 Quotes

Ah how shameless – the way these mortals blame the gods.
From us alone, they say, come all their miseries, yes,
but they themselves, with their own reckless ways,
compound their pains beyond their proper share.

Related Characters: Zeus (speaker)
Page Number: 1.37-40
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Zeus, the king of the gods, surveys the lives of Odysseus and his son, Telemachus. As Zeus prepares to meddle in the life of Odysseus--sending a messenger to free Odysseus from his captivity  on Calypso's island--he comments on the relationship between humans and gods. People, he notes, are fond of blaming the gods whenever anything bad happens to them. The truth, however, is that the gods are only partly responsible for human misery--humans themselves are capable of making choices (usually), and thus compounding their own suffering unnecessarily.

On one level, Zeus is being almost comically disingenuous here, as he complains about mortals denying free will while simultaneously Zeus is meddling in mortal affairs and affecting their fates. But Zeus's observations also complicate our understanding of free will and fate. While the gods of ancient Greece are extremely powerful, they leave humans space in which to exercise their freedom (but the exact amount of free will is very blurry and ambiguous). Although Zeus is complaining about the people who blame the gods for their own misfortune, his statement could be interpreted optimistically: humans do have the power to control their own destinies. In the poem, we'll see Odysseus exercising his own agency and using his ingenuity and courage to control his fate.

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Book 6 Quotes

But here's an unlucky wanderer strayed our way,
and we must tend him well. Every stranger and beggar
comes from Zeus.

Related Characters: Nausicaa (speaker), Odysseus, Zeus
Page Number: 6.226-228
Explanation and Analysis:

Nausicaa, a princess, stumbles upon the body of Odysseus, who's been washed ashore after a horrible storm. While Nausicaa's maids and serving girls run away from Odysseus, a male stranger, Nausicaa is not afraid. Indeed, she orders her attendants to take care of Odysseus. Nausicaa's explanation for her kindness is interesting: all wanderers come from Zeus.

Nausicaa embodies the morality of the ancient world: hospitality is a sacred law, and a good host must provide food and shelter for wanderer, recognizing that all human beings (and gods) deserve respect and welcome. Nausicaa alludes to her common humanity with Odysseus: while they may be very different, they're both human beings, and therefore the creations of Zeus. (Her statement may also be a reference to the myth of Baucis and Philemon, a poor old couple who took in Zeus himself when he was disguised as a beggar, and were richly rewarded for doing so.) Also notice that Nausicaa agrees to take care of Odysseus before she's aware that he's a king of Ithaca--her generosity is motivated by a selfless respect for other people, not a desire to please a king. (It's also possible that Nausicaa has a crush on Odysseus, as Athena has enchanted him to look beautiful.)

Book 9 Quotes

Since we've chanced on you, we're at your knees
in hopes of a warm welcome, even a guest-gift,
the sort that hosts give strangers. That's the custom.
Respect the gods, my friend. We're suppliants – at your mercy!
Zeus of the Strangers guards all guests and suppliants:
strangers are sacred – Zeus will avenge their rights!

Related Characters: Odysseus (speaker), Zeus, Polyphemus
Page Number: 9.300-305
Explanation and Analysis:

In this flashback scene, Odysseus and his crew of sailors land on the island of Polyphemus, a wicked cyclops. Odysseus asks Polyphemus to give his crew food and shelter--he even cites the unwritten laws of Zeus, which compel any host to take good care of his visitors and guests.

The passage spells out the "laws of the home" that dominate life in the ancient world. All people are religiously required to take care of their guests--doing so is a sacred duty among the Greeks, backed up by the power of almighty Zeus. Polyphemus, as we'll see, refuses to abide by Zeus's laws--and in the process, he confirms that he's not just a bad host but an evil person as well.

Book 24 Quotes

Now that royal Odysseus has taken his revenge,
let both sides seal their pacts that he shall reign for life,
and let us purge their memories of the bloody slaughter
of their brothers and their sons. Let them be friends,
devoted as in the old days. Let peace and wealth
come cresting through the land.

Related Characters: Zeus (speaker), Odysseus
Page Number: 24.533-538
Explanation and Analysis:

In the final pages of the poem, the gods tie up all the "loose ends" in Ithaca. While it's possible that civil war could break out with the return of Odysseus and the slaughter of the suitors (all young noblemen with influential families), Zeus ensures that both sides of the conflict make peace and unite around Odysseus's newly restored leadership. In this way, the gods intervene to ensure a happy ending to the story.

The passage is one final reminder of the relationship between free will and divine intervention. Zeus ties up the loose ends, but only because he's pleased with what Odysseus has accomplished all by himself: i.e., his defeat of the suitors and his reunion with his equally-admirable wife and child. In other words, Zeus chooses to intervene in the lives of the people who deserve his help. After years of war, jealousy, and betrayal, all caused by Helen's abduction from Greece, Zeus decides to shut the book on the whole affair and bring some happiness to the human race (at least in the case of this poem). He rewards Odysseus, out of all those involved in the Trojan War, because Odysseus has proven his own worth as a free human being beyond all doubt.

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Zeus Character Timeline in The Odyssey

The timeline below shows where the character Zeus appears in The Odyssey. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Book 1
Fate, the Gods, and Free Will Theme Icon
Piety, Customs, and Justice Theme Icon
...the sea god Poseidon, who has been hindering Odysseus's return to his home in Ithaca. Zeus declares that Poseidon must forget his grievance and agrees to send the messenger god Hermes... (full context)
Fate, the Gods, and Free Will Theme Icon
Piety, Customs, and Justice Theme Icon
Memory and Grief Theme Icon
...because the song brings her too much grief. Telemachus reproaches her; he reminds her that Zeus, not the bard, is responsible for Odysseus's suffering. He tells her to have courage, to... (full context)
Fate, the Gods, and Free Will Theme Icon
Piety, Customs, and Justice Theme Icon
Cunning, Disguise, and Self-Restraint Theme Icon
...away, Telemachus addresses the suitors. He tells them to leave his household at once, or Zeus, the god of hospitality, will punish them for their wrongdoings. He declares his intentions to... (full context)
Book 2
Fate, the Gods, and Free Will Theme Icon
Piety, Customs, and Justice Theme Icon
Glory and Honor Theme Icon
...his household, and threatens again that the gods will revenge their crimes. At that moment, Zeus sends an omen of the revenge Telemachus describes: two eagles that come down from the... (full context)
Book 3
Fate, the Gods, and Free Will Theme Icon
Piety, Customs, and Justice Theme Icon
Memory and Grief Theme Icon
Glory and Honor Theme Icon
...yielded to Aegisthus, who made many grateful sacrifices to thank the gods. In the meantime Zeus swept Menelaus to Egypt, where he spent seven years amassing a great treasure. Agamemnon returned... (full context)
Book 4
Piety, Customs, and Justice Theme Icon
Glory and Honor Theme Icon
...Menelaus's mansion must resemble Olympus, but Menelaus notes that no mortal man could compare with Zeus. He describes his eight years of travels, the wealth he amassed, and his bitterness about... (full context)
Book 5
Fate, the Gods, and Free Will Theme Icon
Piety, Customs, and Justice Theme Icon
The gods assemble on mount Olympus. Athena implores Zeus to help Odysseus, who was such a kind and just ruler, and is now trapped... (full context)
Fate, the Gods, and Free Will Theme Icon
Piety, Customs, and Justice Theme Icon
...cavern in the woods. Odysseus sits on the beach and cries. Hermes tells Calypso that Zeus commands her to release Odysseus. In response, Calypso angrily shouts that the gods become jealous... (full context)
Book 6
Fate, the Gods, and Free Will Theme Icon
Piety, Customs, and Justice Theme Icon
...a respectful distance, compliments her beauty, and begs her for help. The princess responds that Zeus must have destined Odysseus for pain, but agrees to lead him to town, because it... (full context)
Book 9
Piety, Customs, and Justice Theme Icon
Cunning, Disguise, and Self-Restraint Theme Icon
Glory and Honor Theme Icon
...their neighbors for backup, and the expanded army killed many Achaeans before the rest escaped. Zeus sent down a hurricane, the men rested for two days, and then a North wind... (full context)
Piety, Customs, and Justice Theme Icon
Cunning, Disguise, and Self-Restraint Theme Icon
Glory and Honor Theme Icon
...receive them generously. Polyphemus scoffed at Odysseus's warnings and said that his kind doesn't fear Zeus or any other god. He promptly bashed two men dead against the ground and ate... (full context)
Fate, the Gods, and Free Will Theme Icon
Piety, Customs, and Justice Theme Icon
Cunning, Disguise, and Self-Restraint Theme Icon
Glory and Honor Theme Icon
...the ships. When they were out on the water, Odysseus yelled back to Polyphemus that Zeus has punished him for his crimes. In response, the furious Polyphemus broke off the top... (full context)
Fate, the Gods, and Free Will Theme Icon
Piety, Customs, and Justice Theme Icon
Glory and Honor Theme Icon
...sat waiting. Odysseus divided up the stolen sheep, but he slaughtered the old ram in Zeus's honor. However, the sacrifice did not appease the god. The men slept and departed at... (full context)
Book 12
Piety, Customs, and Justice Theme Icon
Glory and Honor Theme Icon
The sun god Helios angrily asked Zeus and the other gods to punish Odysseus's crew for killing his cattle, and Zeus complied.... (full context)
Book 13
Piety, Customs, and Justice Theme Icon
...angered that the Phaeacians helped Odysseus and gave him so much treasure, despite Poseidon's grudge. Zeus considers Poseidon's complaint a bit trivial, but he encourages him to take whatever action will... (full context)
Book 14
Piety, Customs, and Justice Theme Icon
Memory and Grief Theme Icon
...and tell his story. Odysseus thanks the swineherd for his hospitality, and Eumaeus answers that Zeus decrees that everyone be kind to beggars and strangers. He serves Odysseus two pigs, barley,... (full context)
Cunning, Disguise, and Self-Restraint Theme Icon
...left Egypt with a Phoenician con man, who convinced him to go to Libya. But Zeus struck their ship with lightning and he alone survived. He floated on the mast of... (full context)
Book 16
Fate, the Gods, and Free Will Theme Icon
Piety, Customs, and Justice Theme Icon
Cunning, Disguise, and Self-Restraint Theme Icon
...suitors – over a hundred in total – but Odysseus reminds him that Athena and Zeus will stand by them as well. Odysseus tells him to go to the palace and... (full context)
Book 20
Fate, the Gods, and Free Will Theme Icon
...the infidelity she fears will be forced upon her. Her crying rouses Odysseus, who asks Zeus for a good omen. Right away, Zeus sends a clap of thunder. (full context)
Book 21
Cunning, Disguise, and Self-Restraint Theme Icon
Glory and Honor Theme Icon
...of the suitors. Odysseus strings the bow as gracefully as a bard tuning his lyre; Zeus sends down a bolt of lightning. Then the king shoots the arrow cleanly through the... (full context)
Book 24
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Cunning, Disguise, and Self-Restraint Theme Icon
Athena appears at Zeus's side and asks him if he wants the fighting to continue; he tells her that... (full context)