Zeus Lovers

As the sky god Zeus had easy access to the women of the world and took full advantage of it. Also, his power as a supreme god made him difficult to resist. Prior to his marriage to Hera he was married first to Metis, then Themis . He was interested in Demeter but she resisted him. His third wife was Mnemosyne. He was involved with Leto shortly before his marriage to Hera. The list of lovers after his final marriage, to Hera, is considerable:

Europa

Europa was the daughter of the King Agenor of Sidon. She had the continent of Europe named for her. Somewhat miraculously Hera was distracted during her affair with Zeus and never punished her for it.

One night Europa had a dream. In this dream two continents, which were in the forms of women were arguing over Europa. Asia maintained that since Europa had been born in Asia she belonged to it. The other continent, which was nameless, said that her birth was not important, that Zeus would give her to it.

It was early morning, disturbed by the dream Europa did not go back to sleep. She summoned her companions, who were all daughters of nobility and of her age. It was a beautiful day and they went off gathering flowers by the sea. Zeus noticed this charming group, particularly Europa, who was the prettiest of the maidens. Some say that Eros, induced him into action with one of his darts. Although, Zeus often made due with self motivation. In any case, Zeus appeared to the group as a white bull. A white bull more beautiful then any other. A bull that smelled of flowers, and lowed musically. A bull so obviously gentle that all the maidens rushed to stroke and pet it.

The bull laid down in front of Europa. She slid on to its back. Instantly, the bull charged off, plunging into the sea, and began to swim rapidly from the shore. Europa saw that a procession had joined them, Nereids riding dolphins, Triton blowing his horn, even Poseidon. From this she realized that the bull must be a god. She pleaded with him to pity her. Zeus spoke to her and explained his love. He took her to Create, where he had been raised. He promised that she would bear him many famous sons.

Her sons included Minos I and Rhadamanthus.

Io

Zeus fell in love with Io and seduced her. To try to keep Hera from noticing he covered the world with a thick blanket of clouds. This backfired, arousing Hera's suspicions. She came down from Mount Olympus and began dispersing the clouds. Zeus did some quick thinking and changed Io's form from being a lovely maiden. So as the clouds dispersed Hera found Zeus standing next to a white heifer. He then swore that he had never seen the cow before, it had just sprang right out of the earth. Seeing right through this Hera complemented the cow and asked to have it as a present. As turning such a reasonable request down would have given the whole thing away, Zeus presented her with the cow.

She sent the cow away and arranged Argus Panoptes to watch over it. Since Argus had a hundred eyes and could have some of them sleep while others were awake he made a fine watchman. Desperate, Zeus sent Hermes to fetch Io. Disguised as a Shepard, Hermes had to employ all his skill as a musician and story teller to gain Argus confidence and lull him to sleep. Once asleep Hermes killed Argus. As a memorial, Hera took his eyes and set them into the tail of her favorite bird, the peacock.

While Io was now free Hera sent the mother of all gad-flys to sting the still bovine Io. The ghost of Argus pursued her as well. This pushed her near madness, trying to escape she wandered the world. During her wanders she came across Prometheus while chained. He gave her hope. He predicted that she would have to wander for many years. But, she would eventually be changed back into human form and would bear a child. He predicted that a descendent of this child would be a great hero and set him free.

His predictions came true. During her wanderings many geographical features were named after her including the Ionian Sea, and the Bosphorus (which means ford of the cow). She eventually reached the Nile where Zeus did restore her to human form. She bore Epaphus and eleven generations later her descendant Heracles would set Prometheus free.

Semele

Semele was a Thebian princess. She is the only mortal to be the parent of a god. She was one of Zeus many lovers and like most came to an unfortunate end due to Hera's jealous hatred. She is best known as the mother of Dionysus. While she was killed shortly before giving birth the child was rescued by Zeus. Eventually Dionysus, who had never seen her, managed to rescue her from the underworld. and arrange for her to live on Mount Olympus.

Ganymede

A Trojan prince known for his beauty. It is uncertain which of the Trojan kings was his father, probably Tros or Laomedon. While still a youth, Zeus appeared in the form of an eagle and carried him off to Mount Olympus. Some accounts say he was carried to Olympus by a whirlwind. He served Zeus as cupbearer and lover. His role was commemorated in the constellation Aquarius, the water carrier.

Callisto

Daughter of Lycaon, King of Arcadia. She was one of Artemis hunting attendants. As a companion of Artemis, Callisto would have taken a vow of chastity. Zeus appeared to her in disguise, probably as Artemis, gained her confidence, then took advantage of her. As a result of this encounter she conceived a son, Arcas.

She was turned into a large bear, either by Zeus as part of an attempt to hide his philandering, or by Hera out of jealously, or by Artemis out of anger that she broke her vow of chastity. Not content with Callisto¹s fate as a bear, Hera continued to work against her to get Artemis to think she was a normal bear and slay her. Zeus came to the rescue turning her into the constellation Arctos, the Great Bear, also known as Ursa Major. At Zeus direction, Hermes saved Arcas from the womb and took him to be raised by Maia. She was joined by her son who became the nearby constellation Arctophylax, the Little Bear, also known as Ursa Minor.

Continuing to hold a grudge Hera persuaded Tethys and Oceanus not to allow Callisto to enter their realm, the Ocean. Due to this Callisto must circle the North Star and never set over the horizon.

Leto

Leto is the daughter of Coeus and Phoebe. She was an early and favorite lover of Zeus. Zeus married Hera while Leto was pregnant. While the pregnancy began before the marriage Hera was still jealous of Leto. For the duration of Leto's pregnancy Hera created problems. First Leto was pushed out of Olympus. As she wandered no place would allow her to stay for fear Hera would be offended. Hera had the dragon Python chase her. Zeus saved her by sending the North Wind Boreas to carry her out to sea.

Finally, the desolate rocky island of Delos, which had little to lose, accepted her. The other goddesses gathered to help Leto as she gave birth. Hera stayed away and managed to detain Eileithyia, goddess of childbirth, until Iris fetched her. Leto first gave birth to Artemis and then after another nine days of labor to Apollo.

Still fleeing Hera's wrath she went to Lycia. The peasants tried to prevent her from drinking from their well, so she turned them into frogs. Initially Leto's problems continued. But, now she had her two fast developing children, both of whom became powerful archers, to protect her. When four days old Apollo was able to slay Python. Then the Euboean giant Tityus tried to rape Leto only to be killed by the children. As they grew into their full power the twins become willing to avenge Leto's honor as well as to protect her safety. Niobe boasted that she was more deserving of adulation then Leto because she had borne seven sons and seven daughters. The twins replied to this by slaying all but one of Niobe's children.

As the mother of two powerful gods Leto returned to Zeus's favor despite Hera's disapproval. After Apollo killed the Cyclopes, Leto was able to persuade Zeus to lighten his punishment. She spent much of her time hunting with Artemis. She sided with the Trojans during the war and helped heal Aeneas from his battle wounds.

[Greek Myth]

J.M.Hunt