Zeus was king of the gods. Wielder of the all-powerful thunderbolt, his particular realm was the skies, which he ruled from the summit of Mount Olympus. His sign as king of heaven was the eagle. Zeus was the guaranteer of oaths and sanctuaries. Given his infinite power, he could do whatever he wanted to do, though his actions were sometimes undermined by his ever-watchful and often-jealous wife, Hera. Zeus was a famous philanderer. He was particularly fond of mortal women. In an attempt to hide his infidelities from his wife, he often took the form of an animal in his extramarital escapades. When he kidnapped the beautiful Europa and swam away with her, he was a bull. When he assaulted Leda, the queen of Sparta, as she strolled by a lake, he was a swan. Almost all of Zeus’s sexual relations with mortals resulted in famous children. Europa gave birth to Minos of Crete, Leda to Helen of Troy and to Agamemnon’s treacherous wife, Clytemnestra. Sometimes Zeus took other forms to satisfy his lust. He broke through the prison walls of the beautiful Danaë as a shower of gold and she conceived the hero Perseus, slayer of the Gorgon Medusa.
A 1597 copper engraving of Zeus, king of the gods in the Greek pantheon.