Saturday, July 23, 2016

TFBT: Zeus Wives and Lovers, Part 1

Recently Maya M and I were discussing the wives and loves of Zeus.  One of us suggested comparing the first list and the second.  Hesiod lists seven official wives for Zeus in the Theogony.  His list ends with Hera.  Homer has Zeus list his seven greatest passions prior to the moment on Mt. Ida with Hera (Iliad 14.312-328)  To my surprise I can find no papers on this topics. I will start my analysis with the Lovers.

Then in answer spake to her Zeus, the cloud-gatherer: "Hera, thither mayest thou go even hereafter. But for us twain, come, let us take our joy couched together in love; for never yet did desire for goddess or mortal woman so shed itself about me and overmaster the heart within my breast--nay, not when I was seized with love of;”  

  1. the wife of Ixion, who bare Peirithous, the peer of the gods in counsel” 
  2. Danaë of the fair ankles, daughter of Acmsius, who bare Perseus, pre-eminent above all warriors
  3. “(Europa) daughter of far-famed Phoenix, that bare me Minos and godlike Rhadamanthys.” 
  4. Semele bare Dionysus, the joy of mortals
  5. Alcmene in Thebes, and she brought forth Heracles, her son stout of heart,” 
  6. Demeter, the fair-tressed queen;   
  7. Glorious Leto

Universally, his recital of the names of his lovers at this moment is considered a poor way to seduce his wife.  Maybe he is trying to “seduce” himsef.   

Here is my first observation.  He lists his lovers in ascending scale of social status;

  1.  The first is an unnamed mortal woman with no family of conseuqence.  
  2. Danaë is a mortal woman and via her son Ancestress of most the royal families of Greece.
  3. Europa is a  mortal woman and descendant of the Nymph Telephassa, whose sons became daemons in the Underwold.  (More on this later but the descendants of Telephassa produced an unusually high number of gods and goddesses.  They were more than merely human.
  4. Semele was a moral woman and descendant of Telephassa and her son became an Olympian god.
  5. Alcmene a mortal woman, wed to a descendant of Telephassa and her son attained Olympus too.   
  6. Demeter, was a second-generation Titaness. 
  7. Leto was also a second generation Titaness. 

With the list actually ending with Hera a second generation Titaness and Queen of the Universe.  Apparently, Zeus while in the process of reliving his glory days wanted to prove to his wife that no one compared to here.

My second obervation is that lovers 2-5 are sort of chronological. 

  • Number two; Danae is the great-grandmother of Number 5 Alcema
  • Number three; Europa is the aunt of Number four Semele.
  • Number four: Semele is aunt to the fourth generation of the husband of number five Alceme

The bedding of Leto and Demeter (in that order I think based on Artemis witnessing of Persephone’s kidnapping the in the HH2 to Demeter.) naturally would have occurred long before Zeus mortal daillances and his passion for Dia, wife of Ixion would have occurred last on a chronological list

My third observation is about the reason why love and passion did “overmaster the heart within (his) breast”on these seven previous occasions.  Pure speculation of course. 


#1)The fact that Zeus refers to this mortal woman as Mrs Ixion, rather than Dia, daughter of Eioneus, makes me wonder if his passion is some how spurred by the fact Ixion was just as passionate for Zeus wife Hera (Pindar, Pythian Ode 2. 32)  To complicate the issue Pindar says Ixion had  murdered his own father-in-law “For this offence he could obtain purification from neither man nor any god, until Zeus, showing himself a “gracious avenger”   took compassion on his suppliant, cleansed him of bloodshed, and even raised him to Olympus”  (Aaron Atsma)  Zeus’ affection for Ixion reminds me of a similar affection and betrayal in Olympus of his son and boon-companion Tantalus. (Hyginus, Fabulae 82 ) I wonder if his affection for Ixion some how was transferred to Dia.


#2)  I can’t explain Zeus passion for Danaë daughter of Acmsius, unless it was her “fair ankles”.

#3-5)  Follow Maya’s Law that “Zeus never liked a true human woman!”  More accurately put;  Zeus has a marked preference for banging Ionians and barbarian babes.

#6)  We have no story about Zeus and Demeter mating and I have no idea why he finds his own sisters so hot.  Oh wait, maybe I just explained that. 

#7)  Leto like Dia might be another case of tranferance of affection.  We have no myth relating Zeus’ opinion of Leto’s “loveliness”, but we know what he thought about her sister Asteria.  Ovid describes the resisting “Asteria in the struggling eagle's clutch [Zeus' disguise]." (Metamorphoses 6. 108)  To escape his passion Asteria turns into a bird and eventually an island. 

In summary, when discussing the list of Zeus’ greatest hits as recited atop Mt. Ida to Hera during an intimate moment.  We can say the following.  They are listed in ascending scale of social status.  The mortal portion of the list is somewhat chronological. Some cases conform to Maya’s Law, he might have a thing for his sister, and he believes as the Rolling Stones did;  “if you can’t love the one you want, love the one you are with.”



  1. I also tried to find research on the two catalogs, but in vain.
    Danae seems to be the exception to Zeus' dislike of Greek women. According to M.P. Nilsson, The Mycenaean Origin of Greek Mythology:

    "...The name of Perseus' mother Danaë signifies nothing but "the Danaan maiden." In the beginning the Danaan maiden had of course no father, or if she had one he was evidently a Danaan man, a Danaüs, just as Chryses is the father of Chryseis, the maiden from Chryse. Acrisius was introduced later and made the father of Danaë in order to attach the genealogy of Perseus to Argos, the historical capital of Argolis. Danaoi is a tribal name, already obsolete in Homer..."

  2. Maya,

    I found a little commentary in Richard Caldwell about the wives. Nothing earthshaking. But Caldwell is the source of the Peleus quote

  3. Putting Leto before Hera in the lists makes Thetis exceptional as a goddess desired by Zeus at a late time, long after he married. Well, in some traditions at least, Maia was in a similar situation. Still, Hermes was born long before Achilles. The same goes for Maia's sister Electra. Zeus didn't desire goddesses other than Hera and Thetis for a fairly long time before Thetis' marriage and, as far as we know, for indefinite time after that. Hmmmm.

  4. Maya,

    Mentioning Leto before Hera just indicates Leto's lower social status. The list is not chronological for the goddesses listed. Plus, Zeus was just listed the top seven loves of his life in order to emphasis that what he felt for Hera at that moment was more than he'd ever felt for every woman, nymph or goddess that had every existed.


  5. Yes. I was more interested in the Theogony list. I've just checked the position of Maia - at the end, almost in an endnote, grouped together with mortal Alcmene and mortal-born Semele. I find it curious that Hermes, whose name is found on Mycenaean tablets, is according to his myth one of the youngest Olympians and (in his Homeric hymn) almost became mortal.

  6. Maya, I didn't see Maya on the wives list. If Hesiod was Anatolian and Homer Ionian. Maybe Hermes was not a big thing where they lived

  7. Asteria and Leto need not even have been particularly attractive. They were spoils of war, like Chryseis and Briseis, and costed Zeus nothing. Except maybe a scandal with Hera, if he was already married to her.

    1. Maya,

      If we are talking about Leto as wife, yes I agree.

  8. After reading more of Holway's "Becoming Achilles", I think you were right about Thetis. In the Iliad, she is never in opposition to Zeus. The sources in which she appreciates the care of Hera and resists his advances, as far as I see, are much later.

    While she was on Olympus as Zeus' foster daughter, he apparently paid her much attention, much more than he should. She could not recognize, let alone fight the abuse. So she naturally took his side during the botched revolution (you know, I wondered much about her motivation). It also seems to me now that the drama in the last part of the Iliad is superficial. Thetis is still under the aura of Zeus and will always be. As soon as he calls her and addresses her with kind words, she forgets her anger and is ready to do anything he wants. He must have been secretly smirking. He is right that he can pull up all gods and goddesses put together - but by his metis rather than bia. Or, as our idiom says, he spins them around his finger.

    I also think I know now why the first 9 years of the Trojan war are ritual warfare and Achilles does little of significance, except spending good time with female captives and collecting ransom for male captives. He is still hesitating between kleos and nostos. To fulfill his plan and make Achilles sacrifice himself for kleos, Zeus needs the request of Thetis and the death of Patroclus.

    Maybe, if Achilles had grown old (as Peleus did), wrinkles and all, and had had an insignificant life, this would be too much for Thetis and she would revolt. We'll never know. Zeus gets his way, as usual.

  9. Maya,

    You know that story about the frog and the scorpion? A scorpion ask a frog for a ride across the river. The frog says, "You are a scorpion. You will sting me." The scorpion says, "Don't be silly if I sting you, you will die and I will drown." So the frog said to the scorpion "Jump on my back." It swam for the far shore of the river, half way across the frog felt a sharp pain and the beginning of paralysis. "Why did you sting me? Now we will both die." To which the scorpion responded. "It's in my nature."

    It is the nature of Thetis, the very essence of Thetis to rescue divinities. She rescued Zeus, Dionysus and Hephaestus individually. She rescued the Olympians from the civil war that would have allowed the Titans to revolt. She rescued them from their apparently helplessness in question of Hector's body.

    As to the nine years. Maybe it was Achilles who needed to make up his mind.


  10. Yes, Achilles hadn't made up his mind. This is why Homer starts at the 10th year. He had no audience for Hamlet-like monologues.

    Homer is indeed partly about how we remain who we are and our personalities drive our destinies. Hector will not attempt to evacuate the Trojans, Patroclus will not step back, Achilles will not sail home, and Amphinomus will not leave the party. I am trying to remember some character in a Greek epic or drama who changes during the plot; maybe Telemachus.

    1. Maya,

      The Telemachy is totally about the changes in his life. How about the Hmeric Hymn to Hermes? Trying to figure out if he is mortal or not, ugh! HH to Aphrodite where she fnally gets a dose of her own medicine. Prometheus finally accepting his role in life. Cltemnestra totally changed though mostly off stage. Persephone?

  11. Indeed, when someone changes, it is offstage. We rarely see the change.
    Does mortality affect the personality? The personality of Hermes is of a trickster, and he has it from the moment he first opens his eyes.
    In the Hymn to Demeter, I do not see Persephone changed. At the end, she presents the same picture of arrested development that we have seen in the beginning: "Oh mom, I am still your good 1600-yr-old girl picking flowers. I didn't want to go with Hades, he abducted me. I didn't want ever to return to him, he forced me to eat pomegranate." Of course, she may be pretending, but I see no indication of this in the text. I read somewhere that in Roman myth, Proserpine starts to love her husband and refuses to return to her mother.
    As for Prometheus, I'd of course wish we had the sequel, but from what we know, he also isn't changed. In the 1st play that we have, he says that he won't reveal who the dangerous woman is until Zeus frees him. In the 2nd play, Zeus frees him and he reveals the woman's identity. Some scholars try to make the ending of the Prometheia like the ending of the 1984, but they have no evidence. A fragment shows that even after Heracles shots the eagle, Prometheus still hates Zeus.

  12. Maya,

    You are right about HH Demeter, we dont see the changes in Perseophone, those are revealed in other myths and epigrams. Interesting idea that Hermes fear of mortality affected his personality. Apparently the lost Geryoneisis was all about Geryon's worry that he was mortal. (Battling Heracles was probably not the best way to test the theory).


  13. By the way, Io is absent from Homer's list, although the Iliad seems to allude to her story, calling Hermes "slayer of Argus". Isn't she remarkable enough to be mentioned? Or maybe in the version known to Homer, Io fled for good and never had an intercourse with Zeus.

    1. Maya,

      Io is absent from the list on Mt. Ida, because she was just not that hot. Zeus is reciting his hottest encounters and lovers he was most passionate about. Io just didn't make the list. Maybe it was the whole cow thing.

      Of course he was a bull when he abducted Europa. There is a woman missing from the official wives list. He and Demeter had one child; a daughter apparently based on a one night stand. He and Europa had two or three mortal sons, so he must have spent two or three year with her. Of course, there was no Machiavellian advantage to Hesiod wedding them.


  14. I read the Wikipedia article of Ask and Embla, the human founders in Norse mythology. The name "ask" means - guess what! - ash tree. More from the article:

    "In his study of the comparative evidence for an origin of mankind from trees in Indo-European society, Anders Hultgård observes that "myths of the origin of mankind from trees or wood seem to be particularly connected with ancient Europe and Indo-Europe and Indo-European-speaking peoples of Asia Minor and Iran. By contrast the cultures of the Near East show almost exclusively the type of anthropogonic stories that derive man's origin from clay, earth or blood by means of a divine creation act"."

    Others have also mentioned that the Theogony is the earliest Greek source where a human is made from clay, and the only source where Hephaestus works with this material. Moreover, many authors have paralleled Pandora to Eve, both as first woman made after the man and as original sinner. Let me draw some additional parallels: in the Theogony, the first woman is not named, like Eve before the Fall. (Poor Eve! Maybe she tasted the fruit in the hope to learn her own name. A modest yet severely punished quest for kleos.) In the W&D, Pandora receives as name an epithet of Gaea (Earth), and the work itself is devoted largely to agriculture. In the Genesis, Adam shortly after being given Eve for wife is sent away from the Paradise to start agriculture. Maybe some cultures of the Near East associated the Fall with agriculture, for the latter looked to them as punishment. Indo-Europeans initially hadn't this idea, because they regarded agriculture as other people's problem.

    So I conclude that Hesiod borrowed some part of Pandora's story from the Near East. In other sources, Epimetheus marries Ephyra, an Oceanid. Cf. Cadmus marries Harmonia, and Aeacus marries Endeis and has an affair with Psamathe. So it seems that every single human progenitor in Greek myth has a wife of semi-divine or divine origin.

  15. Maya,

    That whole thing about Pandora being the first woman isn't quit as clear as Hesiod makes it sound. We all assume that there were no women the Gold and Silver. Then;
    140] But when earth had covered this generation also -- they are called blessed spirits of the underworld by men, and, though they are of second order, yet honour attends them also -- Zeus the Father made a third generation of mortal men, a brazen race, sprung from ash-trees [meliai]; and it was in no way equal to the silver age"

    So Pandora must have been introduced to the gene pool during the bronze age. Meanwhile every founding father from the bronze and Heroic age wedded the local nymph. Plus as we know when we fleshed out Maya's Law, there were a dozen family born straight from the earth.

    What I am saying next does not make sense, historically. scientifically or mythically, but it might give us insight to all this. Imagine that Eve is the first Homo Sapien princess introduced into the Cro-magnon society. Imagine that Pandora is the first of many Indo-European princesses introduced into whatever indigenous group lived there before the IE's showed up. I think that concept more accurately reflects what happen, even admittedly, none of this actually happen. Ha ha!


  16. Actually, Cro-Magnons were already H. sapiens, getting the upper hand over the established Neanderthal populations of Europe. You are right that the leading groups of all invasions are predominantly male:
    (I suspect, however, that the H. sapiens must be drawn black.)

    Some indigenous females joined the "princess", but indigenous males were doomed. I've just read an article proving how incredibly stupid scientists can be:
    "Y chromosome genes from Neanderthals likely extinct in modern men"
    They discuss why those parts of Neanderthal "thread of life" that are transmitted only father-to-son are lost. They may be incompatible with other genes, bla-bla-bla. We all know the "normal" course of an invasion: vanquished males are slain, some females are spared. Briseis survived, but her husband and brothers did not. Same in the Old Testament.

  17. This year, we have a calendar depicting the Thracian treasure from the village of Letnitsa:

    Under the images, there are comments that the three-headed dragon is a common motif in Indo-European mythology and folklore. It guards the waters, depriving humans of them. The hero kills the dragon, releases the waters, marries the king's daughter and receives half of the kindgom.

    Bruce Lincoln thinks that the primordial Indo-European warrior kills a three-headed monster to retrieve stolen cattle or, more accurately (as in the Heracles & Geryon story), to steal the cattle in the first place. These myths justify the conquest of indigenous people, represented by the three-headed monster.

    What is the role of dragons and multi-headed monsters? They guard land, water sources, riches, cattle and women. The hero must kill them to take possession of these goods. Migrating humans never encountered dragons (the last real creatures looking like dragons passed away 65 millions of years ago.) They encountered indigenous defenders. It is a spectacular dehumanization to depict one's competitors as a monster, regardless of the head number. However, in Greek myth at least, the dragon's teeth can produce perfect humans.

    Andromeda and Hesione of Troy are threatened by monsters and foreign heroes rescue their lives. So we are told. The fact is that the foreign hero heads back with the princess against the will of her father or local fiancee.

    In the foundation myth of Athens, one of the few that do not involve conquest, a dragon-like founder is nurtured by Athena. In other stories, Athena instigates and/or helps the migrating hero to slay the local dragon.

    I have just read the Cadmus myth with my younger son and think that it can be completely rationalized. A band of invaders of Semitic origin led by Cadmus comes to a nice piece of land with cattle and a water source. The locals try to defend their land and water. In the initial battle, Cadmus loses some men but gains the upper hand. Then he manages to sow discord among the defenders. They finally acquiesce and accept him as their ruler. However, at an old age, Cadmus is attacked by new invaders, loses and is exiled - in a word, shares the fate of his victims. He is "the dragon" now.

  18. I don't know about "three-headed", but every spring seems to have a serpent that protects it. Considering what happens after Andromeda and Hesione are "rescued" it is pretty easy to imagine the "monster" as a guardian of the princess.

    Later the very heroes to kill the serpents become the "ocular serpents" themselves. Ocular serpents is Graves' phrases he is really big into that sort of thing. So, Cadmus and Harmonia become serpents. The dragon-like founder is Erichthonius. In the Parthenon he is represented as a snake coiled at Athena's feet.

    Plus their were no indigenous people at Delphi when Apollo took over, just a guardian serpent; the Python.

    So I would suggest that the serpents are just guardian spirits resisting the invader or worse yet innovator!