by: Edith Hamilton


Though Zeus (Jupiter or Jove) is the closest figure in mythology to an omnipotent ruler, he is far from all-powerful. He also lacks the perfection we might expect in a divine ruler. However, this imperfection is only a detriment if we view Zeus as a moral authority, which, according to his stories, he is not. Hamilton portrays Zeus as both an agent and victim of fate. As ruler of the gods, Zeus is destined to overthrow his father, Cronus, who himself became lord of the universe after overthrowing his own father, Heaven. Cronus’s inability to prevent his overthrow is the first example we see of the inevitability of fate—a recurring theme in mythological stories. Even Zeus himself is fated to be overthrown by one who is yet unborn.

Zeus attempts to learn the identity of his future overthrower from Prometheus but continues his daily habit of revelry, sometimes at the expense of innocent mortals and other gods. Always conscious of what he sees as an insurmountable difference between gods and humans, he has no pity for mortals. It is perhaps this essential lack of sympathy that enables Zeus to toy with humans heartlessly, raping and ruining the lives of many women, who seem to exist only for his pleasure. Yet this behavior only represents one side of Zeus’s character; the other, more evolved side is his role as the divine upholder of justice for both gods and humans.