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Mythology (15)

Ancient myths

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 won.
   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 child. (1.1.7)
  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)
1.1.6. -
   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
1.1.7. -
   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, iii.472ff.
   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.

Editor's information
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 (Il. 16.233).

Historic figures


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.)

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.)



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. 26.3).

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


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 born.
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 beautiful nymphs.
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 children.
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 Ursa Major.
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 with it.

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)

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