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Chapter 5: The Twelve Olympians: Zeus, Hera, and Their Children


Read the Commentary for Chapter 5, with its identification of motifs in the life of a god or a hero, and its discussion of Zeus and Ganymede.


Investigate the images of Zeus in vases, sculpture, and coinage, from the Perseus Project.

Investigate the image of the sanctuary of Olympia and the Temple of Zeus in the Site and Architecture Catalogs from the Perseus Project and consult the Historical Overview for some background information on the Olympic Games.


You may find it interesting to read Pausanias’ account of the history of Olympia and the Olympic Games. Be sure to read Pausanias’ description of the Temple of Zeus and the cult image that was housed there.

Compare the interpretation of Zeus and the Olympians in Plato’s Phaedrus 246e-247d with the sources you have read thus far.

The story of Zeus and Ganymede can be told from a number of different perspectives. Read Xenophon’s Symposium 8.28–8.30 for a spiritual interpretation of that relationship.

Both the spirituality and the sensuality of the myth of Zeus and Ganymede emerge with sublimity in the following poem by Goëthe,“Ganymede”. The passionate moment is described by a yearning Ganymede. Amidst glowing light, beloved spring, and burning love, he ecstatically cries out as the descending clouds carry him aloft to his beloved father.

In your morning light
How you glowingly surround me,
Spring, my Beloved!
With the joy of love thousandfold
My heart is imbued
By the holy sensation
And infinite beauty
Of your everlasting radiance.

And so I yearn to clasp you
In these, my arms!

Ah, at your breast
I lie, in longing,
And your flowers, your grass
Press upon my heart.
You cool the burning thirst in my breast,
Sweet morning breeze!
While the nightingale calls to me
lovingly from the misty valley.

I am coming, I am coming!
To where, ah, to where?

Upward, up I am driven.
the clouds float
Downward, the clouds
Reach towards my yearning love.
To me, to me
In your lap,
Embracing, embraced.
Upwards to your breast,
All-loving father.

Listen to the beautiful musical settings by Schubert and Wolf of this inspired poem. Would you change its title to “The Rape of Ganymede”?

In Bolen’s book, Gods in Everyman: A New Psychology of Men’s Lives and Loves, assess the psychological characterizations of Zeus as the Father archetype, Ares as Warrior, Dancer, and Lover, and Hephaestus as Craftsman, Inventor, and Loner.

In her book Goddesses in Every Woman: A New Psychology of Women, assess the psychological characterizations of Hera, Commitment Maker and Wife, Hestia, Wise Woman and Maiden Aunt, and Aphrodite, Creative Woman and Lover.

Can you recognize yourself or anyone you know in these archetypal deities? As you study other gods and goddesses you may find it amusing to refer to Bolen's works to find the god or goddess in you.

Compact Discs and Videos

You may already be familiar with the orchestral work The Planets, by Holst; listen to “Mars, the Bringer of War” in connection with this chapter.

Now is as good a time as any to begin to know the delightful musical, Out of This World, by Cole Porter, with its opening picture of Olympus and amusing songs for Jupiter (“I Jupiter, I Rex”) and Hera (“I Got Beauty”).

Expand your knowledge of the Panhellenic festival of Zeus by viewing The Ancient Olympics. Athletes, Games and Heroes, an illustrated video lecture by David Gilman Romano.

Enjoy Rita Hayworth as the muse Terpsichore in the movie Down to Earth.

Listen to the overture that the Promethean Beethoven has written for a ballet, The Creatures of Prometheus.


Check the meaning of aegis in English. Why do we exclaim “By Jupiter!” and what is a jovial mood? What words are derived from Muse? What is a calliope, and what does terpsichorean mean? What is the meaning of Olympian, and Junoesque? March is the month of Mars; what does martial mean, and volcanic?

Essay Questions

  1. Discuss the different aspects of Zeus’ character.

  2. Compare and contrast the picture of Hephaestus as he shambles around as cupbearer (Iliad 1.577ff) and the story of his wife’s affair with the god of war (Odyssey 8. 266ff.).

  3. What do you make of the interpretations of the myth of Ganymede?

  4. How did the sculptures of the Temple of Zeus at Olympia celebrate the struggle between savagery and civilization, the ideal of Panhellenic unity, and the glory of Zeus?

  5. Though surrounded by little mythology, Hestia’s position is important to Greek religious, political, and social life. Why?

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