Theogony

by

Hesiod

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Zeus Character Analysis

The protagonist of the poem, Zeus is the king of the gods and the son of Kronos and Rhea. In the religious beliefs of Hesiod’s time, Zeus was the supreme deity, with power over every aspect of the human and divine worlds. In the poem, one his epithets is “loud-thundering,” emphasizing his extreme power and control over both realms of existence. Rhea gives birth to Zeus in secret and hides him in order to protect him from his father, Kronos, who is intent on swallowing all of his children so as to not have his power threatened. Zeus later tricks Kronos into regurgitating all of his children, and wages war against him, eventually triumphing with the help of Olympian and Titan allies alike. The poem also details many of Zeus’ other exploits; at one point, when Prometheus tricks Zeus into accepting a smaller portion of a meat sacrifice and also steals fire to give to humans, Zeus punishes Prometheus for both offenses by having him chained to a rock, his liver feasted upon by eagles. Zeus also gifts Pandora and her box of evils to humans as punishment for accepting Prometheus’ fire. Like his father before him, Zeus’ anxiety over his own reign manifests itself in control over his children. He swallows his first wife, Metis, when she is pregnant with Athena, giving birth to Athena from his head instead, in order to ensure his continued power, control, and dominance. Similarly, he preemptively destroys the god Typhoeus before he can become a legitimate threat to his rule. Zeus also fathers many important deities in Greek mythology, as well as various heroes and heroines.

Zeus Quotes in Theogony

The Theogony 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:
Cycles of Succession Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Oxford University Press edition of Theogony published in 2009.
Theogony Quotes

From the Muses of Helicon let us begin our singing, that haunt Helicon's great and holy mountain, and dance on their soft feet round the violet-dark spring and the altar of the mighty son of Kronos.

Related Characters: Zeus, Kronos, The Muses
Page Number: 3
Explanation and Analysis:

Whomsoever great Zeus' daughters favour among the kings that Zeus fosters, and turn their eyes upon him at his birth, upon his tongue they shed sweet dew, and out of his mouth the words flow honeyed; and the peoples all look to him as he decides what is to prevail with his straight judgments. His word is sure, and expertly he makes a quick end of even a great dispute. This is why there are prudent kings: when the peoples are wronged in their dealings, they make amends for them with ease, persuading them with gentle words. When he goes among a gathering, they seek his favour with conciliatory reverence, as if he were a god, and he stands out among the crowd.

Such is the Muses' holy gift to men.

Related Characters: Zeus, The Muses
Page Number: 5
Explanation and Analysis:

For he learned from Earth and starry Heaven that it was fated for him to be defeated by his own child, powerful though he was, through the designs of great Zeus. So he kept no blind man's watch, but observed and swallowed his children.

Related Characters: Zeus, Kronos, Heaven, Earth
Page Number: 17
Explanation and Analysis:

Then she wrapped a large stone in babycloth and delivered it to the son of Heaven, the great lord, king of the Former Gods. Seizing it in his hands, he put it away in his belly, the brute, not realizing that thereafter not a stone but his son remained, secure and invincible, who before long was to defeat him by physical strength and drive him from his high station, himself to be king among the immortals.

Related Characters: Zeus, Kronos, Rhea
Page Number: 17
Explanation and Analysis:

The Olympian Lightner called all the immortal gods to long Olympus, and said that whoever of the gods would fight the Titans with him, he would not smite any of them down from his privileges, but each one would keep the honour he had had before among the immortal gods. And he said that whoever was unhonoured by Kronos and unprivileged, he would set him in the path of honour and privileges, as is right and proper.

Related Characters: Zeus, Kronos
Related Symbols: Thunder and Lightning
Page Number: 14
Explanation and Analysis:

For from her is descended the female sex, a great affliction to mortals as they dwell with their husbands—no fit partners for accursed Poverty, but only for Plenty. As the bees in their sheltered nests feed the drones, those conspirators in badness, and while they busy themselves all day and every day till sundown making the white honeycomb, the drones stay inside in the sheltered cells and pile the toil of others into their own bellies, even so as a bane for mortal men has high-thundering Zeus created women, conspirators in causing difficulty.

Related Characters: Zeus, Prometheus
Page Number: 20
Explanation and Analysis:

Great Olympus quaked under the immortal feet of the lord as he went forth, and the earth groaned beneath him. A conflagration held the violet-dark sea in its grip, both from the thunder and lightning and from the fire of the monster, from the tornado winds and the flaming bolt. All the land was seething, and sky, and sea; long waves raged to and fro about the headlands from the onrush of the immortals, and an uncontrollable quaking arose. Hades was trembling, lord of the dead below, and so were the Titans down in Tartarus with Kronos in their midst, at the incessant clamour and the fearful fighting.

Related Characters: Zeus, Kronos, Tartarus
Related Symbols: Thunder and Lightning
Page Number: 28
Explanation and Analysis:

Farewell now, you dwellers in Olympus, and you islands, continents, and the salt sea between. But now, Olympian Muses, sweet of utterance, daughters of aegis­ bearing Zeus, sing of the company of goddesses, all those who were bedded with mortal men, immortal themselves, and bore children resembling the gods.

Related Characters: Zeus, The Muses
Page Number: 31
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire Theogony LitChart as a printable PDF.
Theogony PDF

Zeus Character Timeline in Theogony

The timeline below shows where the character Zeus appears in Theogony. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Theogony
Family and Genealogy Theme Icon
The Natural and Divine Worlds Theme Icon
...poetry. He then details the history of the Muses, who are the nine daughters of Zeus, the king of the divine world, and the goddess Memory. Zeus gives the Muses power... (full context)
The Natural and Divine Worlds Theme Icon
...honored among the gods because of this connection, and is held in high regard by Zeus himself. (full context)
Cycles of Succession Theme Icon
Family and Genealogy Theme Icon
Violence and Power Theme Icon
...of affairs, Rhea conspires with Earth and Heaven to trick Kronos and spare the baby Zeus, whom she is pregnant with, from being consumed. Instead, she gives birth to Zeus in... (full context)
Cycles of Succession Theme Icon
When Zeus matures, he begins to pose a significant threat to his father, Kronos. He even tricks... (full context)
Violence and Power Theme Icon
The Natural and Divine Worlds Theme Icon
The poem then details a conflict between Prometheus and Zeus. During a ritual sacrifice, Prometheus tricks Zeus into taking a lesser portion of meat. He... (full context)
Cycles of Succession Theme Icon
Violence and Power Theme Icon
Zeus and the other Olympian gods wage war against Kronos and the other Titans for control... (full context)
Family and Genealogy Theme Icon
...to Tartarus, including the river Styx, whose waters compel the drinker to speak the truth. Zeus relies on water from the Styx for other gods and goddesses to swear oaths upon. (full context)
Cycles of Succession Theme Icon
Violence and Power Theme Icon
After Zeus assumes power, Earth bears a final child, this time with Tartarus, who is named Typhoeus.... (full context)
Cycles of Succession Theme Icon
Family and Genealogy Theme Icon
Violence and Power Theme Icon
Zeus takes the goddess Metis as his first wife, but swallows her when she is pregnant... (full context)