Zeus and Athena

A deeper glimpse into these protectors of Greece, their origins, their relationships, and their practices for worship.


An introduction to Zeus

The Ancient Greeks believed the world to be ruled and inhabited by gods and goddesses with authority over the natural world. The behaviors and whims of the deities could explain not only natural phenomena but the sequences of one’s own life or behaviors.

These beliefs placed the gods at the forefront of society through the many ritual practices associated with their worship and through the passing on of their complex mythology.

Chief amongst these deities is the Greek god, Zeus. Known as the God of the Sky, Zeus was seen as the king of the gods whose home was on Mount Olympus, a holy site of Ancient Greece.

Zeus was a chief deity along with his brothers, Hades and Poseidon. Each of these three gods held dominion over the most essential aspects of nature with Zeus being the sky and earth, Hades holding dominion over the underworld, and Poiseidon taking dominion over the sea.

The origin of a god

The Greek god Zeus’s origin and history is full of complex relationships and hard-earned victories that forms the basis for his power and justifies the reverence held for him.

Zeus’s father was a Titan, Cronus. The 12 Titans created by the primordial deities ruled before the rise of the Olympians. Zeus was born to the ruling Titan, Cronus, who upon being delivered a prophecy that his son would one day overthrow him, devoured each of his children.

Zeus was spared this dark fate when his mother, Rhea, wrapped a rock in a blanket for Cronus to consume and hid Zeus away in Crete. Zeus, spared from his father, was raised by nymphs and protected by the Curetes, warriors who banged their weapons to disguise the baby’s cries.

Growing strong in manhood, Zeus led the charge along with his siblings against their father, Cronus in a mighty war between the Titans and the Olympians referred to as the Titanomachy. Zeus’ victory demonstrates the might and power that the Ancient Greeks saw him holding and why they believed him to be worthy of the position as a ruler amongst the gods.

At the top of the mountain

The highest mountaintop in Ancient Greece was Mount Olympus. This high point was said to touch the heavens and was considered to be the home of the gods. It is at the highest point in Mount Olympus that Zeus sat and omnisciently looked down on humanity as well as the other gods.

From this exalted position, Zeus was considered all-powerful because of his knowledge. He was also considered the god of the sky and was known for sending down thunder, lighting, and rain. In fact, he is often depicted in art and statues with a lightning bolt as a show of his might and dominion over the heavens and earth.


Because of this power and knowledge, the Ancient Greeks referred to Zeus as the father of both gods and men.

Zeus was also known to prescribe divine justice amongst humanity and the gods alike. His omniscient vision and firm heroism seen in his many victories led the Ancient Greeks to regard Zeus as a fair distributor of justice, rewarding the good and obedient and punishing the evil and malicious.

Fatherhood and foundation

In many ancient polytheistic and even modern monotheistic religions the concept of the supreme god or deity is referred to as ‘father.’ This is often considered by scholars to be an expression of humanity’s need for purpose and direction.

For the ancient Greeks, to consider Zeus the father of both gods and men is to acknowledge this mythological history and the origin of the universe. This history provides man with a sense of foundation or position in the universe amongst the forces of nature and the gods.

Zeus’s position as father and as king of the gods places humanity in an organized hierarchy where their actions can bring favor or disfavor from the universe, and also provide an explanation for the often destructive forces of nature that ancient man had to face such as famine, drought, disease, and death.

Zeus’ many wives

According to Hesiod’s Theogony, the Ancient Greek god Zeus’ first wife was Metis, or ‘wisdom’, who he swallowed before she gave birth to their daughter, Athena. As part of consuming Metis, Zeus was endowed with wisdom which became a part of his being.

Zeus’ second wife was Themis, or ‘justice.’ They worked closely together on Mount Olympus and this union gave birth to the three Moirai, known as the Fates, and the Horai, known as the seasons.

His final, and more permanent, wife was said to be the goddess Hera. Zeus sought out Hera but she refused his advances until he took the form of a cuckoo bird, which Hera took pity on. However, this relationship was volatile as Zeus was not known for his loyalty and Hera proved to be jealous and possessive.


Since Hera could not punish the supreme and powerful Zeus, she took her revenge and anger out upon the many women and goddesses that Zeus pursued. Because of this, the Ancient Greeks viewed physical beauty as high achievement, worthy of Zeus’ attention and efforts, but oftentimes also bringing punishment and jealousy along with it.

A god and his affairs

Along with might and victory, the Ancient Greek god Zeus is known for his many affairs and relationships. From his high position atop Mount Olympus, Zeus was said to look down on humanity and this constant watch allowed him unfettered viewing of the women, nymphs, and goddesses.

As king of the gods, it’s not often that women were able to resist Zeus’ advances.


The many accounts of Zeus’ trickery and subsequent conquests not only show off his power but also explain the birth of his offspring which represented the birth of ideas or natural forces.

For example, from Zeus’ union with Themis, or ‘divine justice’ comes the birth of the three Fates, or Moirai. This is a way to understand how the union of omniscient power and knowledge along with divine justice gives rise to the fate of each individual.

This concept helps the ancient man solidify a sense of purpose or direction in that the relationships of the deities have a direct influence on their lives. It also further emphasizes the importance of worship to honor the gods in order to live in a manner that acquired divine justice.

The birth of Athena

According to Hesiod’s Theogony, Zeus’ first wife was Metis meaning ‘wisdom.’ The union between Metis and Zeus ended when Metis, pregnant with their child, was eaten by Zeus. This consumption meant that Metis’ wisdom was passed on and embodied in Zeus, it also produced their daughter, Athena.

According to Greek mythology, after eating Metis, Zeus was not only endowed with her wisdom but also developed severe headaches. The god Hermes realized what his headaches meant and ordered Hephaestus to take an ax to Zeus’ head.


From Zeus’ forehead, Athena was born fully formed and armed. The goddess Athena was known as one of the strongest gods representing wisdom, battle strategy, and war and is the namesake for the Greek city of Athens.

This unique birth demonstrates that from a combination of wisdom and power springs forth intelligence, battle strategy and military might.

The goddess of war

With the city of Athens named in her honor, Athena holds a highly respected place among the gods in Greek mythology. This daughter of Zeus was known to represent wisdom and intelligence, battle strategy, and war. However, in times of peace, she was known for her handicraft and skilled labor.


This goddess was always accompanied by her familiar, an owl. This is commonly thought to be why owls are commonly used as symbols of wisdom to this day. Athena is also often depicted wearing a goatskin breastplate called the Aegis.

Athena was revered in Greek society not only because of her unique origin and reputation for fighting alongside other heroes, but because she came to represent the more civilized side of war concerned with justice and virtue. Unlike the god Ares or the goddess Artemis that also have bloodthirsty associations with war, Athena’s association with war was considered just and wise, a war with noble causes that creates heroes.

To name a city after her

The goddess Athena is the namesake for the city of Athens in Greece. This name was hard-earned, according to Greek mythology, when both she and her uncle, Poseidon fell in love with the city by the sea.


Both claimed ownership of the city which caused strife. To solve this, the two deities decided that whoever presented the best present to the city could take ownership of it. Poseidon presented the city with a spring of water. However, this spring was salt water which was not well received by the city.

Athena presented the city with a simple olive tree that gave the inhabitants of the city food, oil, and wood. Because of this gift, the city was named after Athena. Every spring, she was worshiped with a cleaning and fertility festival called Plynteria in which altars were erected and sacrifices and incense were brought to honor the goddess.

Understanding the goddess

The Greek goddess Athena holds an important place in Greek mythology and society. Unlike her other goddess counterparts, Athena is known for her virtue and wisdom as opposed to more negative traits seen in goddesses such as jealousy, possessiveness, or maliciousness.

The psychological importance of Athena is present even at her birth. She springs fully formed and fully armed from her father’s forehead showing that wisdom and virtue are traits that come from others, but are fully formed and can stand on their own.

Overall, Athena represents an enlightened form of society and civilization. Things that should be destructive, such as war, are seen in Athena as heroic and noble. She assists the noble heroes in their battles and ultimately leads the just to victory. In times of peace, her role as a skilled laborer and patroness of handicrafts shows the elevating nature of craft and art and how it can enlighten.

She represents the victory of virtue and nobility over the more base instincts of nature such as vengeance, bitterness, or bloodthirstiness. In the goddess Athena, we see the domestication and shaping of the unrefined and unbridled base instincts of humanity into a more elevated and wise form of being.

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