The Government of Zeus and the Olympians

The Theogony was written by Hesiod toward the end of the eighth century BC, and it's

purpose was to serve as a genealogy of the Olympians for the Greeks, as well as offer an

explanation as to how the Olympians came to be their gods. The event of primary importance is

the overthrow of the First order of gods, called the Titans as lead by Kronos, by his youngest son

Zeus, who lead the Olympians. Zeus then delegated the power of the previous order of gods

among the new order of gods, the Olympians. These powers were distributed to the other gods by

Zeus because it was said that he was not a jealous god, but a god who was just and fair. This

aspect, along with several others distinguished the government of Zeus and the Olympians from

the reign of the previous order of gods, the Titans, under Kronos.

Kronos rose to power originally the same way that Zeus would follow later; he stood up

to his father and removed him from power. Ouranos, the god Heaven, was Kronos' father. He

married and had children with Gaia, the goddess Earth. Ouranos was an almost paranoid god,

who feared his children's insolence. Ouranos hid the most insolent of his children, namely the

three Cyclopes and the three hundred-armed ones. Gaia then approached her other children, and

asked them to revolt against their father. Kronos, who was Ouranos' enemy, said that he would

under take the deed, took the sickle which Gaia had made, cut off his father's genitals and threw

them into the ocean, which produced Aphrodite. Ouranos then named Kronos and his siblings the

Titans, and said that they would all be punished later for their insolence toward him.

Kronos then has Rhea, another child of Ouranos, bear him many children. However,

Ouranos had come to Kronos in a dream to warn him that he too shall suffer the same fate as his

father. That is, that Kronos too will be dethroned by one of his children. As a result, Kronos

swallows up each of his children as they are born to prevent this from happening; ". . . For he had

learned fro, Earth/ And starry Heaven, that his destiny/ Was to be overcome, great though he

was/ By one of his own sons, . . . ." Rhea however realized Kronos' wickedness, and concluded

that for him to be over taken, one of his children must be able to grow up to adulthood. She then,

with the help of Ouranos and Gaia, developed a plan to trick Kronos, which would let one of her

children grow up and conquer his father. Rhea went to the island of Crete, where she gave birth to

Zeus, and then returned to Kronos, where she gave him a rock to swallow, instead of her son,

which Kronos quickly swallowed.

As the years passed on, Zeus grew to become an adult, and through force, he defeated his

father, who regurgitated Zeus' siblings, as well as the stone which Kronos had swallowed, which

Zeus placed it at Pytho. Zeus than went about liberating his uncles, the Cyclopes, who gave Zeus

the powers of thunder, lightening, and flash, as well as the three hundred-armed ones. The

children of Rhea, along with their uncles became known as the Olympians. The Olympians battled

against the Titans for ten full years without rest. Zeus appealed to the three hundred-armed ones,

Kottos, Gyes, and Briareus, to join their fight against the Titans. Because the sons of Kronos had

brought these three sons of Ouranos back to light after being banished to the underside of the

earth as punishment from Ouranos, they felt an obligation to the Olympians and their cause.

The Olympians and their allies, the Cyclopes, and the three hundred-armed ones, all went

to battle against the Titans. Zeus began casting lightening bolts at the Titans, so many that the

earth became scorched. There were duststorms brought on, as well as earthquakes, while Zeus

continued to bombard the earth with his lightening bolts. At this moment, the tide of the war had

been turned in the Olympians favour. The three hundred-armed ones hurled stones at their

enemies, who defeated the Titans in the end, and who bound them up and banished them to the

underworld of Tartarus, where the hundred-armed ones had been rescued from by the Olympians.

Once the Titans had been defeated, the other god chose Zeus to become their king. Because Zeus

was a just and fair god, he delegated the power once held by only Kronos out among the other

gods according to their rank, so as the power was then shared.

These tales often display the differences between the old rule of Kronos and the Titans,

and the new order of Zeus and the Olympians. From their attitudes toward their place as kings, to

the structure of their divine government, there were several distinct differences between father

and son. Firstly, Zeus was able to gain allies to battle for the rule of the heavens. Zeus freed the

Cyclopes, as well as the hundred-armed ones, who in turn offered their support in Zeus' battle

against the Titans. Zeus also had his allies fighting along side of him as equals in the cause, rather

than as soldiers, with himself as their general. Kronos on the other hand, made no such allies, and

when he fought his father for the rule over the immortals, did so on his own. Ouranos, Kronos'

father, did not even have to battle for his power, as there were no other gods for him to battle.

However, he too, did not obtain allies to ensure his position of power would remain his.

This lack of a cooperative attitude was also evident in Kronos' reign over the other gods.

There was no division of powers among the other gods when the Titans ruled the heavens, as

Kronos centralized it entirely within himself. Ouranos also followed the same approach, entrusting

all of the power of the heavens solely with himself. In contrast, Zeus upon being chosen as the

Olympians king and leader, distributed the powers of the heavens out among the other gods

according to their rank; ". . . Zeus, Olympian, to rule/ And be the king of the immortals. Thus/ He

gave out rank and privilege to each" (Hesiod, 52). This statement also goes to prove the idea that

Zeus was not a an evil, or jealous god, but a god who was good and fair. He did not fear the other

gods trying to revolt against him, so he was comfortable distributing such power out among the

other gods.

Kronos was also very fearful of losing his power to his children, as Ouranos had foretold.

As a result, Kronos would swallow up his children, with the exception of Zeus. Ouranos, was also

much the same, only he did not swallow his children, but banish the insolent ones to the far

reaches of the earth, as was the case with the Cyclopes and the three hundred-armed ones. Zeus

on the other hand, was not as paranoid when it came to losing his power to his children, and when

one of his sons tried to dethrone Zeus, Zeus was able to defeat the rebellious one, instead of

falling to him as his predecessors had. Zeus did swallow one of his children, Athene, with the

intent of her offering her counsel on various plots that Zeus would develop, as she was his equal

in wisdom and spirit, however, he later released her. This instance however, was not the common

one with Zeus, as he trusted that his rule was just and fair, so there was no need for hm to fear his

children revolting against him.

The rule of the Olympians and Zeus was a great contrast to that of Kronos and the Titans.

The Olympians were considered to be a far more just and equitable order of gods when compared

to the previous Titans. Zeus was not viewed as a tyrant the way that Kronos and Ouranos were,

for he did not retain all of the power available solely for himself. Zeus was seen as just and fair, as

he willingly distributed the power of the heavens among the other Olympians. The idea of Zeus

being just and fair was also brought on by Zeus' ability to make allies with other gods during the

battle against the Titans. This established him as not being so egocentric as to attempt to battle

the Titans that he would not admit that he required help. The lack of fear of his offspring revolting

against him also showed that Zeus was a just god, for he knew that if he was acting as a tyrant,

then he would have to fear the onslaught from his children, the same as his predecessors had.

The Government of Zeus and the Olympians


The Rule of the Previous Gods

Chris Stone

ID. 97107692

Classical Mythology 1100R

Dr. J. P. Atherton

December 3, 1997


Starr, Chester G. A History of the Ancient World. 4th ed. New York: Oxford University Press,


Wender, Dorothea, trans. Hesiod and Theognis. Markham, Ont.: Penguin Books Ltd., 1973.

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