Wednesday, July 27, 2016

TFBT: Zeus' Wives and Lovers, Part II

Recently Maya M and I were discussing the loves of Zeus.  To our surprise we cannot find papers on this topic, nor papers on his “official wives” per Hesiod.  Now it is time to discuss them.   Hesiod discusses Zeus’ queens in the Theogony 886-923

·      His first wife was the Oceanid Metis, later Zeus himself gave birth to Athena from his head.   
·      Zeus' second wife was his aunt the first-generation Titaness Themis, who bore the three Horae and the three Fates
·      Zeus then married his third wife, another Oceanid, Eurynome, who bore the three Graces.  
·      Zeus' fourth wife was his sister, Demeter, who bore Persephone
·      The fifth wife of Zeus was the first-generation Titaness Mnemosyne, from whom came the nine Muses:   
·      His sixth wife was a second generation  Titaness Leto,   who gave birth to Apollo and Artemis
·      Zeus' seventh and final wife was his sister Hera, who the mother by Zeus of HebeAresEnyo, and Eileithyia.

First, I am not buying this “list of official wives.”  There is no evidence within the Theogony and little without[i] that there was a big wedding ceremony with ritual and cake for any of these goddesses with the possible exception of Hera.  The only place where Hesiod supports his notion of Zeus’ “wives” is (886] “Now Zeus, king of the gods, made Metis his wife first,” and [921] “Lastly, he made Hera his blooming wife”.    Nowhere else in the Theogony is anyone but Hera, Zeus’ wife.  In my opinion Hesiod’s list is just a bowdlerization of Zeus’ bed-hopping trying to legitimize his Olympian children. 

Demeter along with Leto and Hera are the only of Zeus’ top   lovers who make the official wives list.  Tellingly, when Zeus talks about his lovers he makes no mention of their children.  I think that is because in fact the god was infatuated.  To quote Ronny Cammareri in the movie Moonstruck,   
“Everything seems like nothing to me now, 'cause I want you in my bed. I don't care if I burn in hell. I don't care if you burn in hell. The past and the future is a joke to me now. I see that they're nothing. I see they ain't here. The only thing that's here is you - and me.”

The list of wives seems a little bit more Machiavellian to me.  Before, I start on the analysis of the list of wives, I’d like to point out that the first 5 did not produce sons.  Whether Hesiod picked out the list or Zeus picked out his wives, the list shows some serious thought in the advantages gained in each marriage, the power to steal or co-opt, the mysteries or alternative theogonies to pull into Zeus realm of influence, the allies to make and the chance to reduce power hungry heirs and potential rivals. 

Metis seems like a really good wife to start with.  She is Wisdom itself and one of the older daughters of Oceanus.    Marrying a daughter of the Great River Ocean might be a way to make an ally of the Titan and his three thousand sons.  “ Styx, eldest daughter of Oceanus”  (Hesiod, Theogony 775) Might have been a better choice to insure there was an alliance  but there is that taboo on co-mingling with the Children of the Night and other occupants of Hades realm[ii]  so Styx and Zeus’ other early ally Hecate are not an opinion as brides .  Which brings us back to Metis.  Once again, she is Wisdom manifest.  Zeus co-opts her divine identity by swallowing her.  Good start on a power grab.

Zeus' second wife was Themis, who bore the Fatesto whom wise Zeus gave the greatest honor, Clotho, and Lachesis, and Atropos who give mortal men evil and good to have." (901)  Here Hesiod co-opts the power of destiny from the powers of darkness, because he’d already sang at 217 of Nyx; “Also she bare the Moirai (Morae, Fates) and the ruthless avenging Keres (Death-Fates), Clotho and Lachesis and Atropos, who give men at their birth both evil and good to have.”

Zeus then married his third wife, Eurynome, Apollonius Rhodius, in Argonautica 1.498 says "He [Orpheus] sang of . . . how, in the beginning, Ophion and Eurynome, daughter of Oceanus (Oceanus), governed the world from snow-clad Olympus.”   Wedding Eurynome connects Zeus with a primordial goddess and the Orphic mysteries.  

Zeus' fourth wife was his sister, Demeter, who bore Persephone. This gets Zeus involved with the Eleusian mysteries and the Orphic-Zagreus myth.

The fifth wife of Zeus is Mnemosyne, from whom came the nine Muses:   It is these daughters of Zeus who insure his own unfailing glory along with Hesiod’s.

His sixth wife was Leto, who gave birth to Apollo and Artemis  Thereby gaining control of the Oracle at Delphi when Apollo inherited it from this maternal grandmother Phoebe. 

Zeus' seventh and final wife was his sister Hera.   Marrying his sister reduces the possibility of nephews and brothers-in-laws trying to overthrow him.  Conveniently, his sister Hestia and daughters Artemis and Athena chose virginity as a life-style.  His daughter Persephone and ally Hecate seem sterilized by their environment.  And again his first five wives produced no sons.    All a little too convenient for a king worried about a god greater than his father. You’d think he would have married Thetis and co-opted the theogony of Alcman frag. 5[iii] that makes her a primordial creatrix, but obviously he couldn’t do that for the reason above. 

In summary, I think the list of lovers on Mt Ida in the Iliad, really did reflect Zeus lust and passion; these truly were his greatest hits, he might have rearranged the sequence in the arousing retelling.   The list of wives from Hesiod, is something that Hesiod came up with Machiavellian intent, out of context with his own poem and nothing but Ancient Greek bowdlerization.

[i] The Homeric Hymn to Apollo refers to Leto as queenly, but there is no mention of her being the wife of Zeus.  Plus the poet is clearly trying to kiss up to Apollo, so saying nice things about Leto helps his cause.  I just found this; "First did the Moirai (Fates) in their golden chariot bring heavenly Themis, wise in counsel, by a gleaming pathway from the springs of Oceanus to the sacred stair of Olympus, there to be the primal bride of the Saviour Zeus." Pindar, Fragment 30.  And during the passionate tryst on Mt Ida, Zeus refers to his sister Demeter as “the fair-tressed queen” (14.326).  But there is no suggestion that she was his wife and this could just be a flourish to add to the ascending scale of social status with Hera at the top.
[iii] The Power of Thetis, Laura M. Slatkin  footnote 32


  1. I think that your explanation is excellent and you should publish it at Hour25. I had never thought of female partners as bringing power over their domains to their male partners, though this was characteristic for monarchies, and Helen gave Menelaos the rule over Sparta.

  2. Maya,

    What a nice thing to say. Thank you


  3. Damn! I just ran across this in the Iliad 21.498-499,

    "Leto spake the messenger Argeiphontes: "Leto, it is not I that will anywise fight with thee; a hard thing were it to bandy blows with the wives of Zeus, the cloud-gatherer; nay, with a right ready heart boast thou among the immortal gods that thou didst vanquish me with thy great might."

    If Homer (in the Iliad) says Zeus had wives, I can't accuse Hesiod of making the whole list up. Hmm


  4. Of the list, I find three realistic candidates for the title "wife":

    (1)Hera - all sources agree.

    (2) Demeter - major earth goddess, can rival Zeus in power, in her Homeric Hymn Hera is not mentioned or hinted at; maybe Demeter was the (estranged) wife of Zeus in some regions?

    (3) Leto - maybe an important mother goddess of Anatolia integrated into the Greek pantheon together with her son, and "adopting" Artemis. In the Iliad, Leto is strong and dignified. I do not see any hint of the sentimental story described in the Hymn of the Delian Apollo, with Leto as a pregnant damsel in distress persecuted by the evil wife. On the contrary, some scholars see in the Iliad hints that Leto lent her son to Hera to participate in the attempted coup, though he is not mentioned among the conspirators.

    I suppose that the unions with Themis, Eurynome & Mnemosyne were invented by Hesiod; as for Metis, not only the union was invented but she as a personalization of intelligence was invented as well.

  5. Maya,

    How about Europa? Originally the Cretan earth goddess? Marry her, take over Crete, have 2 or three powerful sons who become daemons? Her grand-daughter Ariadne even made it to Olympus. Of course there is not reference anywhere as to her being his "official" wife or how long they spent together. Zeus was raised there.


  6. Cretans should have had the decency to speak (and write) in Greek, Latin or English :-). With only images on walls, and stories orally transmitted and evolved by later cultures, I feel standing on quicksand.
    I had never thought of Europa as goddess, and found her story uninteresting and repulsive (I guess, much more so to a female than to a male reader). I hadn't even checked the etymology of her name. I did it now. I had to guess earlier that Europe means "broad-faced". The image of the Earth of the full moon? Maybe the opposite of the story of Io, the horned young moon? Food for thought.

    1. Maya,

      You are right Europa is listed as a moon-goddess, but that doesn't fit with the usual IE paradigm. Interesting thought; if the local goddess was a lunar diety rather than earth goddess. Hmm

  7. BTW, I have a gut feeling that originally Persephone was parthenogenetic. There is something very independent and misandric around the "two goddesses" (as they may have been called in the Mycenaean Greece) that reminds me the worst excesses of today's feminism. My search, however, produced no results.

    1. Maya,

      Persephone was parthenogenetic.. It does sound right. But the only parthenogens I recall are Pontus, Nereus and Uranus. All male and some what monstrous (non-theomorphic). As I recall Graves theorized that the children of the various Earth goddess and eponymous nymphs were parthenogenetic, until some IE god or bero came along and forced them into marriage. Not much proof for that theory either


    2. In some versions, Hera gives parthenogenetic birth to Hephaestus.
      My narrator's comment:

      "In many families, the birth of an abnormal child became a divisive moment for parents and made them trade accusations. For example, after the nature of Atlantius had become manifest, Hermes started to complain that Aphrodite "proved unable to give him a healthy child". In response, Aphrodite started calling their son Hermaphroditus to stress that he had not only a mother but also a father. Zeus was ashamed of Hephaestus and used every opportunity to hint that Hera had conceived the ugly weakling on her own, without her husband. Which, of course, was nonsense. For beasts and gods, it was not possible to conceive without fertilization. And even if it was, the resulting offspring would have been female."

  8. I've just found 1 author who supports us on this topic: Marguerite Rigoglioso. She has a book "Virgin Mother Goddesses of Antiquity", with a chapter "Demeter and Persephone: Double Goddesses of Parthenogenesis". Unfortunately, like Kerenyi whom she cites, Rigoglioso is one of the scholars who spin theories as they go, barely touching evidence. E.g. she accepts matriarchy as a historical fact. Anyway, we are not alone! We can cancel Demeter from the list of Zeus' wives until further evidence emerges. BTW, if I remember correctly, Homer never shows her on Olympus.

    I do not consider Demeter a 100% mother and fertility goddess. Her only important child is Persephone, who has delayed development that seems to become normal after separation from the (toxic) mother. In the Homeric Hymn, Demeter is so infertile that when she wants to organize a coup, unable to produce a son, she tries to use a mortal boy as a surrogate. (This desperation reminds of Prometheus, who tries to topple the supreme god using first troglodyte humans and then, in Aeschylus' version, barefoot Oceanids.)
    As for agriculture, there is a version in which the Two Goddesses give grain to Triptolemus to start it. However, in the Homeric Hymn, we do not know how humans acquire agriculture, we just see Demeter producing famine. To ruin something, you need not have created it. Ino brings famine without having ever produced any crops.
    So, in the Homeric Hymn, we do not see Demeter instituting agriculture and, as far as I remember, do not hear her to have done so in the past. We see her bringing famine and death and instituting the Eleusinian mysteries. So she looks more like a chthonic goddess who gives nothing but can take a lot and therefore needs propitiation.

  9. Maya M,

    The flipside of the Hephaestus coin is Typhoon; Father of all Monsters. M(Okay, not all). Still supports the all-male and something not quite right about them.