Zeus From “The Religions of the Ancient World” by George Rawlinson, 1883″
At the head of all, occupying a position quite unique and unlike that of any other, stood the great Zeus. Zeus is
“the God, or, as he is called in later times, the Father of the gods, and the God of gods. When we ascend to the most distant heights of Greek history, the idea of God, as the Supreme Being, stands before us as a simple fact’. “Zeus,” said an ancient poet, “is the beginning ; Zeus the middle ; out of Zeus have all things been made.” Zeus was “the lord of the upper regions, who dwelt on the summits of the highest mountains, gathered the clouds about him, shook the air with his thunder, and wielded the lightning as the instrument of his wrath. From elements drawn from these different sources his character, a strange compound of strength and weakness, seems to have been formed by successive poets, who, if they in some degree deserved the censure of the philosophers, seem at least not to have been guilty of any arbitrary fictions; while, on the other hand, by establishing his supremacy they introduced a principle of unity into the Greek polytheism, which was not perhaps without influence on the speculations of the philosophers themselves, though it exerted little on the superstitions of the vulgar.
The Olympian deities are assembled round Zeus as his family, in which he maintains the mild dignity of a patriarchal king. He assigns their several provinces, and controls their authority. Their combined efforts cannot give the slightest shock to his power, nor retard the execution of his will ; and hence their waywardness, even when it incurs his rebuke, cannot ruffle the inward serenity of his soul. The tremendous nod, wherewith he confirms his decrees, can neither be revoked nor frustrated. As his might is irresistible, so is his wisdom unsearchable. He holds the golden balance in which are poised the destinies of nations and of men ; from the two vessels that stand at his threshold he draws the good and evil gifts that alternately sweeten and embitter mortal existence. The eternal order of things, the ground of the immutable succession of events, is his, and therefore he himself submits to it.
Human laws derive their sanction from his ordinance; earthly kings receive their sceptre from his hand ; he is the guardian of social rights; he watches over the fulfillment of contracts, the observance of oaths ; he punishes treachery, arrogance, and cruelty. The stranger and the suppliant are under his peculiar protection the fence that encloses the family dwelling is in his keeping ; he avenges the denial and the abuse of hospitality. Yet even this greatest and most glorious of beings, as he is called, is subject, like the other gods, to passion and frailty. For, though secure from dissolution, though surpassingly beautiful and strong, and warmed with a purer blood than fills the veins of men, their heavenly frames are not insensible to pleasure and pain; they need the refreshment of ambrosial food, and inhale a grateful savour from the sacrifices of their worshippers. Their other affections correspond to the grossness of these animal appetites. Capricious love and hatred, anger and jealousy, often disturb the calm of their bosoms ; the peace of the Olympian state might be broken by factions, and even by conspiracies formed against its chief. He himself cannot keep perfectly aloof from their quarrels ; he occasionally wavers in his purpose, is overruled by artifice, blinded by desires, and hurried by resentment into unseemly violence.
The relation in which he stands to Fate is not uniformly represented in the Homeric poems, and probably the poet had not formed a distinct notion of it. Fate is generally described as emanating from his will, but sometimes he appears to be no more than the minister of a stern necessity, which he wishes in vain to elude.” And Zeus bears to man the relation of “father.” Each mortal who has a supplication to make to him, may address him as Zeu nd-sp, “God (our) Father.” He bears, as one of his most usual titles, the designation of ” Father of gods and men.” As St. Paul says, quoting a Greek poet, “we are his offspring.” The entire passage where these words occur is remarkable, and very instructive on the Grecian idea of Zeus.
“With Zeus begin we — let no mortal voice Leave Zeus unpraised. Zeus fills the haunts of men, The streets, the marts—Zeus fills the sea, the shores, The harbours—everywhere we live in Zeus. We are his offspring too; friendly to man, He gives prognostics ; sets men to their toil By need of daily bread : tells when the land Must be upturned by ploughshare or by spade — What time to plant the olive or the vine — What time to fling on earth the golden grain. For He it was who scattered o’er the sky The shining stars, and fixed them where they are — Provided constellations through the year. To mark the seasons in their changeless course. Wherefore men worship Him—the First—the Last—Their Father— Wonderful—their Help and Shield.” A pantheistic tinge pervades this description ; but still in parts it approaches to some of the most beautiful and sublime expressions of Holy Writ. It presents Zeus to us as omnipresent, beneficent, worthy of perpetual praise, our father, our help and defence, our support and stay. It sets him forth as “wonderful,” or rather “a mighty wonder”— jtiya Oaufia, a being beyond our power to comprehend, whom we must be content to reverence and admire. It recognises him as having hung the stars in the blue vault of heaven, and having set them there “for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years.” It calls him “the First” and “the Last”—the Alpha and the Omega of being.
Such is the strength of Zeus, according to the Greek idea; but withal there is a weakness about him, which sinks him, not only below the “Almighty” of Scripture, but even below the Ormazd of the Persians. He has a material frame, albeit of an ethereal and subtle fibre; and requires material sustenance. According to some of the myths, he was born in time ; according to all, he was once a god of small power. Heaven had its revolutions in
the Greek system : and as the sovereignty of Olympus had passed from Uranus to Cronus, and from Cronus to Zeus in former times, so in the future it might pass, and according to some, was doomed to pass, from Zeus to another. Nor was he without moral defect. A rebellious son, a faithless husband, not always a kind father, he presented to the moral consciousness no perfect pattern for man’s imitation, but a strange and monstrous combination of wickedness with high qualities, of weakness with strength, of good with evil.
*Note from Phil – Zeus is the Greek counterpart of the Roman God Jupiter, which is associated with the planet of the same name. The largest planet in the solar system.