Zeus is the Greek King of the Gods, and a god of storms, thunder, sky, and family. In Rome he was known as Jupiter. An Etruscan counterpart was Tinia.
Zeus, as a main god, has main attributes. As a man, he is shown as a middle-aged bearded man and tended to be painted or sculpted as preparing to throw a lightning bolt. When not shown like this, he is shown as being seated in majesty, as a king. Zeus takes on other forms as well, and in his stories he has taken on the forms of animals sacred to him and which were attributes of Zeus: the bull (rape of Europa), swan, (seduction of Leda), and the eagle (abduction of Ganymede). Oak trees, sometimes known as the king trees of the forests, were sacred to Zeus as well.
There are so many stories relating to Zeus that it would be impossible to list them all here in this one post. He is the son of Cronos and Rhea, the brother of Hades, Poseidon, Hera, Hestia, and Demeter, the husband of Hera, and the lover to many women (and some men). His children include: Aphrodite (this is debatable depending on the story), Athena, Apollo, Artemis, Hebe, Hephaestus (also debatable), Ares, Hermes, Persephone, Dionysus, Hercules, Perseus, Helen of Troy, Minos, and the Muses.
His more important stories are his birth and rise to power by defeating his father Cronos and the Titans. Cronos knew that he was destined to be overthrown by his son and his children would rise up and defeat him in the same way that he had defeated his own father, Ouranos. So Cronos swallowed all the children he had with Rhea as soon as they were born. But Rhea was tired and sick with grief by the time Cronos swallowed thir fifth child. She sought out Gaia and asked her aid. The two devised a scheme to keep the next child safe. Thea gave birth to the child in a cave in Crete, and there he was hidden and raised while Rhea gave Cronos a rock wrapped in swaddling clohes to swallow, which he did.
The stories vary at this point when Zeus is an infant. Some say that he was raised in the cave by Gaia; others say he was raised by a goat named Amalthea and guarded by lesser gods known as Kouretes, who danced and shouted and banged their shields so Cronos wouldn’t hear the baby. Still another version says Zeus was raised by nymphs. Regardless of the version, he survived his infancy and grew strong into a young god.
Once he was grown, Zeus confronted Cronos and forced him to regurgitate the children, in reverse order: first the stone, then the others. In another version, Zeus cut Cronos’ stomach open, but the first version is the most popular. Then Zeus raised an army by joining with his siblings and releasing Cronos’ siblings from Tartarus: the Cyclopes, the Hacatonchires (Hundred-Handed), and the Gigantes. In thanks, the Cyclopes gave Zeus the thunder and the lightning bolt. Zeus and his army defeated Cronos and the Titans and threw them into Tartarus. Zeus was then the king of the gods and father of men, and he shared the world with his brothers, Poseidon and Hades, by drawing lots to decide each brother’s domain.
Other popular myths include: condemnation of Tatalus to eternal thirst and hunger in Tartarus for tricking the gods into eating human flesh, which was the flesh of Tantalus’ own son; condemnation of Ixion to be strapped to a burning wheel for eternity for attempting to violate Hera; the seduction of Leda while in the shape of a swan and the birth of her four children Helen, Polydeuces, Castor, and Clytemnestra; the rape of Europa while he seduced and abducted her in the form of a white bull and carried her away over the seas; and his punishment of Prometheus, who was chained to a rock and had his liver eaten every day by an eagle until Hercules freed him, for giving fire to mortals.
Zeus is a multi-faceted god, but this is a good thing because he has such great personality. On the positive side, he helped to overthrow an unjust system–Cronos was hardly a wise or just ruler. Zeus maintained more of an even hand when faced with questions of justice or rulership, though not without his boughts of rashness and jealousy. An example is his treatment of Tantalus, who not only murdered and butchered his own son but then served up his son as dinner to the gods. Zeus granted Tantalus an eternal punishment for such a heinous crime not only by mortal standards but also divine standards of morality. To a certain extent he can be a protector–he has protected men from other gods or from other men, and he did protect and avenge his Wife when Ixion attempted to rape her. He can be a kind god, as he does give aid to a certain few, but his kindness is tempered by his role as King of god and Father of men.
Zeus is actually a very human god. He has a number of admirable traits, such as kindness, honor, justice, etc., but he also has a number of faults: lust, jealousy, trickery, anger/rage, and a desire to not be caught when he knows he does wrong. Also, a number of his mistresses were not treated well in the end–some were turned into constellations or animals or trees, and some even died because they became involved with a god (some against their will) with a jealous wife.