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Love and Jealousy Between the Gods in Greek Mythology

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Greek mythology is full of stories of love and jealousy amongst the Greek gods. “Psyche revived by the kiss of Love,” Louvre Museum. Credit: Wikimedia Commons /gadgetdude CC BY-SA 3.0

Some of the most famous stories of love and jealousy come from tales of lust between the gods in Greek mythology.

Zeus, the king of the Olympian Gods, was not only known for being the most prominent deity in the ancient Greek pantheon. He also had a reputation for his endless affairs, which leaves us amazing tales of conflict and chaos.

His many children, not all of them from the same mother, had the most extraordinary origins one could imagine.

Zeus’ wife Hera was the mother of some of his offspring, and, as one might expect, her jealousy was legendary. It’s not uncommon to read about her acts of revenge, not only against Zeus and his lovers, but also against the children who came from these relationships.

Zeus and Hera

According to some myths, Ares, the god of war, was the only child Hera and Zeus had together.

However, other stories see them also as the parents of Hebe, the cupbearer of the Olympics, as well as of the goddess of childbirth, Eileithyia. Just like his parents, Ares was an Olympian god.

The birth of Athena, one of the most famous Greek myths

When Metis, the Oceanid, was pregnant with Zeus’ child, he heard of a prophecy predicting that his male son would be wiser than he, and eventually threaten his power and authority.

Therefore, as soon as Zeus learned Metis was pregnant, he swallowed Metis and the child.

However, Zeus began experiencing pains nine months later, and shortly thereafter, the goddess Athena was born from his head, already grown and wearing armor. Athena, the goddess of wisdom, became Zeus’ favorite child.

Semele, the mother of Greek god Dionysus

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Semele and Zeus by Francois Perrier. Credit: Public Domain

According to one version of the myth, Zeus fell in love with Semele and would visit her in secret. By the time Hera discovered the affair, Semele was already pregnant.

Changing her appearance, Hera befriended Semele who, trusting her, told Zeus’ wife about her secret lover. Hera, pretending she did not believe her story, made Semele doubtful about Zeus’ true attributes as a god.

Upon learning about Semele’s doubts, Zeus was eager to prove he actually was the Olympian god, and promised to grant her any wish she desired. She demanded that Zeus reveal himself in all his glory, not knowing that mortals cannot look upon the gods without being incinerated — and she perished.

Zeus rescued the fetal Dionysus from Semele’s dead body and sewed him into his thigh. The child was born several months later. When he grew up, Dionysus rescued his mother Semele from Hades. Later, she became a goddess on Mount Olympus, with the new name Thyone.

The Twins of Leto — The Greek gods Artemis and Apollo

The Titan goddess Leto had been one of Zeus’ lovers even before he married Hera. However, when Leto became pregnant with Zeus’ twins Artemis and Apollo, Hera and Zeus were already married. This understandably made Hera extremely jealous.

In revenge, Hera made it almost impossible for Leto to find a place where she could give birth. Leto wandered the world, but nobody wanted to upset Hera by offering her shelter. Leto finally found respite on a small floating island.

Her birth pains lasted a long time, and after nine full days she gave birth first to Artemis, and then to Apollo. From that time on, the island was known by the name of Delos, and it became attached permanently to the seabed underneath it.

Both Artemis and Apollo became Olympian gods. Artemis was the goddess of hunting and Apollo was the god of music and poetry.

The Greek God Zeus and Europa

Europa, who was the only daughter of King Aginor, was abducted by Zeus on the Greek island of Crete.

According to Greek mythology, Zeus was in love with Europa and decided to seduce her by turning himself into a tame white bull. He then mixed in with the herds belonging to her father.

When Europa saw the white bull she caressed it and eventually climbed onto its back. Zeus ran to the sea and swam, with her still on his back, to Crete, where he revealed his true identity.

It is highly suggested that Europa did not consent to Zeus’s advances.

Europa became the first queen of Crete, and she gave birth there to three sons by Zeus.  Her children were the future King Minos, Rhadamanthys and Sarpedon. She then married King Asterios.

Alcmene, mother of Heracles

Heracles, also a son of Zeus, had a mortal mother known as Alcmene. However, he was not an ordinary human in many ways. He was known for his unusual strength, and was extremely brave.

Hera, out of pure jealousy, always tried to make Heracles’ life miserable, even to the point of making him insane so that he would kill his own children. And even after going through his twelve labors, he never truly rid himself of his guilt.

Several other stories in Greek mythology discuss the origins of the additional offspring of Zeus.

Perseus, the son of Danae, was conceived when Zeus transformed into a shower of gold.

The twins Amphion and Zethus, sons of Antiope, were conceived when Zeus took the form of a satyr and raped Antiope.

Disguised as Artemis, Zeus conceived Arcas, son of Callisto. While disguised as a swan, he made Leda pregnant with Castor and Pollux.

Zeus also conceived Myrmidon, the son of Eurymedusa, after taking the form of an ant; Thyia gave birth to Magnes, the first king of Magnesia and Makednos, who was known as the ancestor of Macedonians.

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