Zeus holds his place at the pinnacle of the Greek pantheon for a number of reasons. First and foremost, he earned it by right of might, overthrowing his own titanic father, “crooked Cronus” after a war between the Titans and Cronus’ Olympian progeny. This victory was not without the help of Zeus’ mother Rhea. Hearing a prophecy from his own father Uranus (whom he castrated and himself overthrew) that his offspring would dethrone him, Cronus devoured each of his children one by one as Rhea gave birth. When Zeus was born, Rhea had enough of this infanticidal cannibalism: she wrapped a stone in swaddling clothes and Cronus unwittingly swallowed it. The baby Zeus was then entrusted to a goat-goddess Amalthea, who nursed him in a cave on the island of Crete. The priesthood of the Corybantes led a cacophony of ritual noise outside the cave to muffle the infant’s cries, lest Cronus hear. When Zeus came of age he confronted his father, and forced him to vomit up his devoured children who, being immortal, came out whole and very much alive, ready to stand by Zeus’ side to take revenge. Thus, though born last, Zeus could claim to be the eldest Olympian on the technicality that his siblings were born a second time from Cronus’ stomach!
Homer often assigns Zeus the epithet “father of gods and men.” This can be interpreted in various ways. First, it denotes his role as king of the gods and the universe. Greece was a thoroughly patriarchal society, and every household was a monarchy ruled by the father’s absolute power. The universe was all the family of Zeus, whom he ruled. Calling a king “father” also prescribes the duties of a ruler, who treats his subjects with paternal care and blessings. Zeus accomplishes this by safeguarding justice and bringing rain to the crops, among other things.
Second, he is indeed the father of a plurality of gods with various divine mothers, such as his sisters Hera and Demeter but also titanic aunts such as Mnemosyne. He also sired scores of heroes and heroines through his (not usually consensual) liaisons with mortal women. From these demigods, in turn, many nations claim descent: the Spartans from Heracles, and even the Persians from Perseus.
Third, Zeus can be philosophically interpreted as a transcendent supreme deity who guides the workings of the cosmos in a rational manner, as a principle of order and reason that pervades all things. He can even be identified with the very essence of cosmic existence. He gives everything its being.
The Greek pagan/folk black metal band Kawir revive and revivify the ancient Hellenic religion in their music. In this hymn to Zeus from their 1999 album Epoptia, Kawir adopt a traditional hymnic formula. They invoke the deity and ask for his blessing and guidance, then they enumerate the powers and functions of the god. The hymn can also include a narrative from the mythology of the god. It then closes with a prayer that the god grant the celebrant something. In that order, Kawir invoke Zeus, identify his essence as a universal principle, relate his childhood on Crete, and, finally, express a wish that he take revenge on those who have tried to eliminate his worship. As Zeus came to power through a war of vengeance, so he should restore his glory through yet another.
We call upon Zeus.
King of the gods.
Oh! Father guides us.
Zeus is the sun and the moon.
Zeus is the winds and the storms.
Zeus is the earth and the stars.
Zeus is the unbending flame.
Zeus is the night and the day.
Zeus was born men and a nymph.
We remember the time.
When your mother hides you.
From the wrath of your father Kronos.
In a cave of Crete.
And Amalthia feeds you with the horns.
Of wisdom and Korivantes dancing.
The dance of men.
The dance of war.
Oh! You are the archon of ligthning!
The years has passed away and then
The christians have arrived.
They killed your priests, destroy the temples.
Oh! Zeus now guide us in a justify war.
This filthy sickness, must eclipse.
They tried many times to kill your children.
This divine hellenic race.
And now the only vision that we have is…
Revenge, revenge, revenge.
Strike with lightning.