Greek Gods’ Epic Tales of Love and Jealousy

Sons of Zeus
A depiction of Zeus, king of all the Olympian gods.

Zeus, the king of the Olympian Gods, was not only known for being the most prominent deity in the ancient Greek pantheon. He also had a reputation for his endless affairs, which leaves us amazing tales of conflict and chaos.

His many children, not all of them from the same mother, had the most extraordinary origins one could imagine.

Zeus’ wife Hera was the mother of some of his offspring, and, as one might expect, her jealousy was legendary. It’s not uncommon to read about her acts of revenge, not only against Zeus and his lovers, but also against the children who came from these relationships.

Here are several of the best-known offspring of the Greek deity and some of their misadventures.

Zeus and Hera

Sons of Zeus
Statues of Zeus and Hera, in front of Austrian Parliament building (Courtesy of Austria Forum).

According to some myths, Ares, the god of war, was the only child Hera and Zeus had together.

However, other stories see them also as the parents of Hebe, the cupbearer of the Olympics, as well as of the goddess of childbirth, Eileithyia. Just like his parents, Ares was an Olympian god.

Birth of Athena

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Vase depicting the birth of Athena (Courtesy of Creston Hall).

When Metis, the Oceanid, was pregnant with Zeus’ child, he heard of a prophecy predicting that his male son would be wiser than he, and eventually threaten his power and authority. Therefore, as soon as Zeus learned Metis was pregnant, he swallowed Metis and the child.

However, Zeus began experiencing pains nine months later, and shortly thereafter, the goddess Athena was born from his head, already grown and wearing armor. Athena, the goddess of wisdom, became Zeus’ favorite child.

Semele and Dionysus

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Dionysus (Photo courtesy of Tripsavvy).

According to one version of the myth, Zeus fell in love with Semele and would visit her in secret. By the time Hera discovered the affair, Semele was already pregnant.

Changing her appearance, Hera befriended Semele who, trusting her, told Zeus’ wife about her secret lover. Hera, pretending she did not believe her story, made Semele doubtful about Zeus’ true attributes as a god.

Upon learning about Semele’s doubts, Zeus was eager to prove he actually was the Olympian god, and promised to grant her any wish she desired. She demanded that Zeus reveal himself in all his glory, not knowing that mortals cannot look upon the gods without being incinerated — and she perished.

Zeus rescued the fetal Dionysus from Semele’s dead body and sewed him into his thigh. The child was born several months later. When he grew up, Dionysus rescued his mother Semele from Hades. Later, she became a goddess on Mount Olympus, with the new name Thyone.

The Twins of Leto

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Leto and her twins (Courtesy of Greek Mythology Wiki)

The Titan goddess Leto (or Latona) had been one of Zeus’ lovers even before he married Hera. However, when Leto became pregnant with Zeus’ twins Artemis and Apollo, Hera and Zeus were already married. This understandably made Hera extremely jealous indeed.

In revenge, Hera made it almost impossible for Leto to find a place where she could give birth. Leto wandered the world, but nobody wanted to upset Hera by offering her shelter. Leto finally found respite on a small floating island.

Her birth pains lasted a long time, and after nine full days she gave birth first to Artemis, and then to Apollo. From that time on, the island was known by the name of Delos, and it became attached permanently to the seabed underneath it.

Both Artemis and Apollo became Olympian gods. Artemis was the goddess of hunting and Apollo was the god of music and poetry.

Zeus and Europa

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Zeus abducting Europa (Courtesy of Shmoop).

Europa, who was the only daughter of King Aginor, was abducted by Zeus on the Greek island of Crete.

According to mythology, Zeus was in love with Europa and decided to seduce her by turning himself into a tame white bull. He then mixed in with the herds belonging to her father. When Europa saw the white bull she caressed it and eventually climbed onto its back. Zeus ran to the sea and swam, with her still on his back, to Crete, where he revealed his true identity.

Europa became the first queen of Crete, and she gave birth there to three sons by Zeus.  Her children were the future King Minos, Rhadamanthys and Sarpedon. She then married King Asterios.

Alcmene, mother of Heracles

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Sculpture of Heracles.

Heracles, also a son of Zeus, had a mortal mother known as Alcmene. However, he was not an ordinary human in many ways. He was known for his unusual strength, and was extremely brave.

Hera, out of pure jealousy, always tried to make Heracles’s life miserable, even to the point of making him insane so that he would kill his own children. And even after going through his twelve labors, he never truly rid himself of his guilt.

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Castor and Pollux (Courtesy of Summit Post).

Several other myths discuss the origins of the additional offspring of Zeus.

Perseus, the son of Danae, was conceived when Zeus transformed into a shower of gold. The twins Amphion and Zethus, sons of Antiope, were conceived when Zeus took the form of a satyr and raped Antiope.

Disguised as Artemis, Zeus conceived Arcas, son of Callisto. While disguised as a swan, he made Leda pregnant with Castor and Pollux.

Zeus also conceived Myrmidon, the son of Eurymedusa, after taking the form of an ant; Thyia gave birth to Magnes, the first king of Magnesia and Makednos, who was known as the ancestor of Macedonians.