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The Birth of Zeus
Many ancient myths are associated with Crete. According to one, Gaia
(Mother Earth)emerged from Chaos and bore Uranus as she slept. Uranus (the sky)
fathered several children, among them the seven Titans. The last of them, Kronos,
married his sister Rhea. It was prophesied by Mother Earth and Uranus that one
of Kronos’ sons would dethrone him. Kronos swallowed the children whole that Rhea
bore each year, among them were Estia, Dimitra, Hera, Hades and Poseidon. When
Rhea bore Zeus, Mother Earth hid him in the Spileo Dicteon Andron on Lassithi
Plateau of Crete. Kronos believed that he had swallowed Zeus, but, in fact, he
had swallowed a stone given to him by Rhea to trick him and spare this son.
Zeus was raised by the nymph Adrasteia, her sister Io, and the goat-nymph
Amalthia. The Kuretes clashed their spears against their shields to conceal the
noise of the wailing baby. Zeus was nursed by the shepherds of the Nida Plateau
in the Psiloritis (Idi) Mountains and lived in a cave, Spileo Ideon Andron on
the Nida Plateau. He then approached Rhea and with her help made Kronos drink
an emetic poison mixed with a honeyed drink. Kronos vomited up the brothers and
sisters of Zeus. Zeus led them in a war against the Titans, which they eventually
The above myths were widely accepted by the ancient world. A truly
Cretan variation presents Zeus as dying and being reborn every year. The head
of the dead Zeus is seen in the shape of a hill (Youktas) behind Iraklion and
it is visible from a long distance as one approaches the city. This myth about
Zeus’ death is a continuation and reflection of the beliefs of the ancient Minoans
concerning the fertility goddess, who died and was reborn every year.
This text is cited Sep 2002 from the Crete TOURnet URL below, which contains images.
(Zeus) wedded his sister Rhea; and since both Earth and Sky foretold
him that he would be dethroned by his own son, he used to swallow his offspring
at birth. His firstborn Hestia he swallowed, then Demeter and Hera, and after
them Pluto and Poseidon. (1.1.5)
Enraged at this, Rhea repaired to Crete, when she was big with Zeus,
and brought him forth in a cave of Dicte. She gave him to the Curetes and to
the nymphs Adrastia and Ida, daughters of Melisseus, to nurse. (1.1.6)
So these nymphs fed the child on the milk of Amalthea; and the Curetes
in arms guarded the babe in the cave, clashing their spears on their shields
in order that Cronus might not hear the child's voice. But Rhea wrapped a stone
in swaddling clothes and gave it to Cronus to swallow, as if it were the newborn
But when Zeus was full-grown, he took Metis, daughter of Ocean,
to help him, and she gave Cronus a drug to swallow, which forced him to disgorge
first the stone and then the children whom he had swallowed, and with their
aid Zeus waged the war against Cronus and the Titans (1.1.8)
According to Hesiod, Rhea gave birth to Zeus in Crete, and the
infant god was hidden in a cave of Mount Aegeum (Hes. Th. 468-480). Diod. 5.70
mentions the legend that Zeus was born at Dicte in Crete, and that the god afterwards
founded a city on the site. But according to Diodorus, or his authorities, the
child was brought up in a cave on Mount Ida. The ancients were not agreed as
to whether the infant god had been reared on Mount Ida or Mount Dicte. Apollodorus
declares for Dicte, and he is supported by Verg. G. 4.153, Serv. Verg. A. 3.104,
and the Vatican Mythographers (Scriptores rerum mythicarum Latini, ed. Bode,
i. pp. 34, 79, First Vatican Mythographer 104; Second Vatican Mythographer 16).
On the other hand the claim of Mount Ida is favoured by Callimachus, Hymn i.51;
Ovid Fasti 4.207; and Lactantius Placidus on Statius, Theb. iv.784. The wavering
of tradition on this point is indicated by Apollodorus, who, while he calls
the mountain Dicte, names one of the god's nurses Ida
As to the nurture of Zeus by the nymphs, see Callimachus, Hymn
1.46ff.; Diod. 5.70.2ff.; Ovid, Fasti v.111ff.; Hyginus, Fab. 139; Hyginus,
Ast. ii.13; Serv. Verg. A. 3.104; Lactantius Placidus on Statius, Theb. iv.784;
Scriptores rerum mythicarum Latini, ed. Bode, i. pp. 34, 79 (First Vatican Mythographer
104; Second Vatican Mythographer 16). According to Callimachus, Amalthea was
a goat. Aratus also reported, if he did not believe, the story that the supreme
god had been suckled by a goat (Strab. 8.7.5), and this would seem to have been
the common opinion (Diod. 5.70.3; Hyginus, Ast. ii.13; Second Vatican Mythographer
16). According to one account, his nurse Amalthea hung him in his cradle on
a tree ?in order that he might be found neither in heaven nor on earth nor in
the sea? (Hyginus, Fab. 139). Melisseus, the father of his nurses Adrastia and
Ida, is said to have been a Cretan king (Hyginus, Ast. ii.13); but his name
is probably due to an attempt to rationalize the story that the infant Zeus
was fed by bees. See Virgil, Geo. 1.149ff. with the note of Serv. Verg. G. 1.153;
First Vatican Mythographer 104; Second Vatican Mythographer 16.
As to the Curetes in their capacity of guardians of the infant
Zeus, see Callimachus, Hymn i.52ff.; Strab. 10.3.11; Diod. 5.70, 2-4; Lucretius
ii.633-639; Verg. G. 3.150ff.; Ovid, Fasti iv.207ff.; Hyginus, Fab. 139; Serv.
Verg. A. 3.104; Lactantius Placidus on Statius, Theb. iv.784; Scriptores rerum
mythicarum Latini, ed. Bode, i. pp. 34, 79 (First Vatican Mythographer 104;
Second Vatican Mythographer 16). The story of the way in which they protected
the divine infant from his inhuman parent by clashing their weapons may reflect
a real custom, by the observance of which human parents endeavoured to guard
their infants against the assaults of demons. See Folk-Lore in the Old Testament,
As to the trick by which Rhea saved Zeus from the maw of his father
Cronus, see Hes. Th. 485ff.; Paus. 8.36.3; 9.2.7; 9.41.6; 10.24.6; Ovid, Fasti
iv.199-206; Hyginus, Fab. 139; Serv. Verg. A. 3.104; Lactantius Placidus on
Statius, Theb. iv.784; Scriptores rerum mythicarum Latini, ed. Bode, i. pp.
34, 79 (First Vatican Mythographer 104; Second Vatican Mythographer 16). The
very stone which Cronus swallowed and afterwards spewed out was shown at Delphi
down to the second century of our era; oil was daily poured on it, and on festival
days unspun wool was laid on it (Paus. 10.24.6). We read that, on the birth
of Zeus's elder brother Poseidon, his mother Rhea saved the baby in like manner
by giving his father Cronus a foal to swallow, which the deity seems to have
found more digestible than the stone, for he is not said to have spat it out
again (Paus. 8.8.2). Phalaris, the notorious tyrant of Agrigentum, dedicated
in the sanctuary of Lindian Athena in Rhodes a bowl which was enriched with
a relief representing Cronus in the act of receiving his children at the hand
of Rhea and swallowing them. An inscription on the bowl set forth that it was
a present from the famous artist Daedalus to the Sicilian king Cocalus. These
things we learn from a long inscription which was found in recent years at Lindus:
it contains an inventory of the treasures preserved in the temple of Athena,
together with historical notes upon them.
This extract is from: Apollodorus, Library and Epitome (ed. Sir James George Frazer, 1921). Cited Nov 2003 from The Perseus Project URL below, which contains comments & interesting hyperlinks.
But Rhea was subject in love to Cronos and bore splendid children,
Hestia, Demeter, and gold-shod Hera and strong Hades, pitiless in heart, who dwells
under the earth, and the loud-crashing Earth-Shaker, and wise Zeus, father of
gods and men, by whose thunder the wide earth is shaken. These great Cronos swallowed
as each came forth from the womb to his mother's knees with this intent, that
no other of the proud sons of Heaven should hold the kingly office amongst the
deathless gods. For he learned from Earth and starry Heaven that he was destined
to be overcome by his own son, strong though he was, through the contriving of
great Zeus. Therefore he kept no blind outlook, but watched and swallowed down
his children: and unceasing grief seized Rhea. But when she was about to bear
Zeus, the father of gods and men, then she besought her own dear parents, Earth
and starry Heaven, to devise some plan with her that the birth of her dear child
might be concealed, and that retribution might overtake great, crafty Cronos for
his own father and also for the children whom he had swallowed down. And they
readily heard and obeyed their dear daughter, and told her all that was destined
to happen touching Cronos the king and his stout-hearted son. So they sent her
to Lyctus, to the rich land of Crete, when she was ready to bear great Zeus, the
youngest of her children. Him did vast Earth receive from Rhea in wide Crete to
nourish and to bring up. To that place came Earth carrying him swiftly through
the black night to Lyctus first, and took him in her arms and hid him in a remote
cave beneath the secret places of the holy earth on thick-wooded Mount Aegeum;
but to the mightily ruling son of Heaven, the earlier king of the gods, she gave
a great stone wrapped in swaddling clothes. Then he took it in his hands and thrust
it down into his belly: wretch! he knew not in his heart that in place of the
stone his son was left behind, unconquered and untroubled, and that he was soon
to overcome him by force and might and drive him from his honors, himself to reign
over the deathless gods.
After that, the strength and glorious limbs of the prince increased
quickly, and as the years rolled on, great Cronos the wily was beguiled by the
deep suggestions of Earth, and brought up again his offspring, vanquished by the
arts and might of his own son, and he vomited up first the stone which he had
swallowed last. And Zeus set it fast in the wide-pathed earth at goodly Pytho
under the glens of Parnassus, to be a sign thenceforth and a marvel to mortal
men. And he set free from their deadly bonds the brothers of his father, sons
of Heaven whom his father in his foolishness had bound. And they remembered to
be grateful to him for his kindness, and gave him thunder and the glowing thunderbolt
and lightning: for before that, huge Earth had hidden these. In them he trusts
and rules over mortals and immortals.
This extract is from: Hesiod, Theogony. Cited Nov 2003 from The Perseus Project URL below, which contains comments & interesting hyperlinks.
More information for Zeus at Ancient
Dodona, where the oldest sanctuary of the god. In Homer, besides Olympian
(Il. 2.309, 24.140, Od. 1.60 etc.), he is also called Dodonaean and Pelasgian
Dicte, (Dikte), a nymph from whom mount Dicte in Crete was said to have received its name. She was beloved and pursued by Minos, but she threw herself into the sea, where she was caught up and saved in the nets (diktuon) of fishermen. Minos then desisted from pursuing her, and ordered the district to be called the Dictaean. (Serv. ad Aen. iii. 171.)
- A dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology (ed. William Smith)
Gods & demigods
Dictaeus, (Diktaios), a surname of Zeus, derived from mount Dicte in the eastern part of Crete. Zeus Dictaeus had a temple at Prasus, on the banks of the river Pothereus. (Strab. x.)
- A dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology (ed. William Smith)
Amaltheia. The nurse of the infant Zeus after his birth in Crete. The ancients
themselves appear to have been as uncertain about the etymology of the name as
about the real nature of Amaltheia. Hesychius derives it from the verb amaltheuein,
to nourish or to enrich ; others from amalthaktos, i. c. firm or hard; and others
again from amale and theia, according to which it would signify the divine goat,
or the tender goddess. The common derivation is from amelgein, to milk or suck.
According to some traditions Amaltheia is the goat who suckled the infant Jove
(Hygin. Poet. Astr. ii. 13; Arat. Phaen. 163; Callim. Hymn. in Jov. 49), and who
was afterwards rewarded for this service by being placed among the stars (Comp.
Apollod. i. 1.6). According to another set of traditions Amaltheia was a nymph,
and daughter of Oceans, Helios, Haemonius, or of the Cretan king Melisseus (Schol.
ad Hom. II. xxi. 194; Eratosth. Catast. 13; Apollod. ii. 7.5; Lactant. Instit.
i. 22; Hygin. l. c., and Fab. 139, where he calls the nymph Adamanteia), and is
said to have fed Zeus with the milk of a goat. When this goat once broke off one
of her horns, the nymph Amaltheia filled it with fresh herbs and fruit and gave
it to Zeus, who transplaced it together with the goat among the stars (Ovid, Fast.
v. 115, &c.). According to other accounts Zeus himself broke off one of the horns
of the goat Amaltheia, gave it to the daughters of Melisseus, and endowed it with
such powers that whenever the possessor wished, it would instantaneously become
filled with whatever might be desired (Apollod. l. c.; Schol. ad Callim. l. c.).
This is the story about the origin of the celebrated horn of Amaltheia, commonly
called the horn of plenty or cornucopia, which plays such a prominent part in
the stories of Greece, and which was used in later times as the symbol of plenty
in general (Strab. x., iii.; Diod. iv. 35). Diodorus (iii. 68) gives an account
of Amaltheia, which differs from all the other traditions. According to him the
Libyan king Ammon married Amaltheia, a maiden of extraordinary beauty, and gave
her a very fertile tract of land which had the form of a bull's horn, and received
from its queen the name of the horn of Amaltheia. This account, however, is only
one of the many specimens of a rationalistic interpretation of the ancient mythus.
The horn appears to be one of the most ancient and simplest vessels for drinking,
and thus we find the story of Amaltheia giving Zeus to drink from a horn represented
in an ancient work of art still extant. The horn of plenty was frequently given
as an attribute to the representations of Tyche or Fortuna (Paus. iv. 30.4, vii.
This text is from: A dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology, 1873 (ed. William Smith). Cited Oct 2005 from The Perseus Project URL below, which contains interesting hyperlinks
- A dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology (ed. William Smith)
- Perseus Lookup Tool, text search
Ida & Adrasteia
- Adrasteia: Perseus Encyclopedia
Greater Bear, Ursa Major
Several ancient stories explain how the bear got in the sky. One is
the story of the nymph Adrasteia, who risked everything to save the life of the
infant Zeus, who would later grow up to be king of the gods. (Warning: This tale
may not be suitable for those who find child-eating and goat sucking offensive,
which come to think of it, is just about everybody.)
Cronus, the father of Zeus, was boss of the universe. He was
afraid that one of his offspring would eventually grow up to take
his place, so he swallowed his children whole as soon as they were
As you might imagine, Cronus' wife Rhea got fed up with his
disgusting table manners. When Zeus (or Jupiter, to use his Roman
name) was born, Rhea spirited the infant away to a cave on the
island of Crete, where Zeus was taken care of by a group of
One of the young sprites was Adrasteia, who placed the mighty
child in a golden cradle.
To feed her charge, she let Zeus drink the milk of the she-
goat Amaltheia right out of the goat, so to speak. Hey, it was
fresher that way, I guess.
To entertain him, she fashioned a golden ball. When he threw
the brilliant orb upward, it left a fiery trail across the sky.
Zeus grew up to overthrow his father, just as Cronus had
feared. If Father Time had not eaten his children, Zeus probably
wouldn't have been so anxious to dethrone the old man, so Cronus
was the instrument of his own undoing. Now there's an important
parenting tip you won't find in Doctor Spock. Don't eat your
We see Zeus to this day as the planet Jupiter, a brilliant
point of light high in the southern sky as darkness falls.
Occasionally, he still throws his golden ball. That's why we see
shooting stars flash across the sky.
Even so, living in the sky is a lonely business, so Zeus
brought his old nursemaid to live with him as the constellation
I'm not certain why he turned poor Adrasteia into an ugly,
old bear, but I'm pretty sure that the goat had something to do
The Small Bear, Ursa Minor
The Birth of Zeus
The Small Bear has to do with the birth of Zeus.
Zeus was an immortal god, but he was born, nevertheless. His mother
was Rhea, whom the Romans knew as Ops or Cybele. His father was Cronus, who was
Saturn to the Romans. Cronus was the youngest of the elder gods known as the Titans.
Because of a prophecy that one of his children would dethrone him, Cronus disposed
of his children as they were born. He swallowed them! Cronus had already disposed
of several children this way by the time that Zeus was born.
Fooling the Old Man
Rhea fooled Cronus by wrapping a stone in the swaddling clothes of
the baby Zeus. So Cronus swallowed the stone, thinking that he had disposed of
the baby. Rhea had Zeus smuggled to the island of Crete, where the nymphs Adrasteia
and Ida looked after him in the cave known as Dicte. The cave was protected by
the Cretan warriors known as Curetes, who stood outside the cave making a racket
to prevent the cries of the baby from being heard by Cronus.
Barfing Up the Kids
The baby Zeus remained in the cave for a year. Eventually he overthrew
Cronus and forced him to regurgitate the children that he had swallowed. These
children became the leaders of the younger gods, who in a ten year war overturned
the rule of the Titans to take command of the cosmos.
The Nurses May Be the Bears
The Lesser Bear is identified in classical mythology with the nymph
Ida. Some say that the Greater Bear is sometimes identified as Adrasteia. It is
not explained how the nymphs got changed into bears.
Callisto, The Greater Bear
The Greater Bear, Ursa Major, is more often identified as Callisto,
one of the nymphs who formed the retinue of Artemis (Diana to the Romans). Callisto
is one of the many conquests of Zeus.
Prof. Arnold V. Lesikar, ed.
Dept. of Physics, Astronomy, and Engineering Science,
St. Cloud State University, St. Cloud, MN
According to Aratus, the constellation represents one of the two nymphs who raised the new-born Zeus: in particular it is Ida, while the other, Adrastea, is identified in Ursa Maior.
The goat Capra, On the constellation Charioteer
Zeus transformed her horn into the legendary Kornukopia (Horn of Plenty) and placed Amaltheia amongst the stars as the constellation Capra.
"On his [the constellation Charioteer] the goat Capra stands, and in his left
hand the Kids seem to be placed. They tell this story about him ... Parmeniscus
say that a certain Melisseus was king in Crete, and to his daughters Jove [Zeus]
was brought to nurse. Since they did not have milk, they furnished him a she-goat,
Amalthea by name, who is said to have reared him. She often bore twin kids, and
at the very time that Jove was brought to her to nurse, had borne a pair. And
so because of the kindness of the mother, the kids, too were placed among the
constellations. Cleostratus of Tenedos is said to have first pointed out these
kids among the stars. But Musaeus says Jove was nursed by Themis and the nympha
Amalthea, to whom he was given by Ops [Rhea], his mother. Now Amalthea had as
a pet a certain goat which is said to have nursed Jove ... But when Jupiter [Zeus],
confident in his youth, was preparing for war against the Titanes, oracular reply
was given to him that if he wished to win, he should carry on the war protected
with the skin of a goat, aigos, and the head of the Gorgon. The Greeks call this
the aegis. When this was done, as we have shown above, Jupiter, overcoming the
Titanes, gained possession of the kingdom. Covering the remaining bones of the
goat with a skin, he gave life to them and memorialised them, picturing them with
stars. Afterwards he gave to Minerva [Athena] the aegis with which he had been
protected". (Hyginus Astronomica 2.13)
- Perseus: Harry Thurston Peck, Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities (1898)