The king of the gods, the supreme Olympian guardian of law and justice, Zeus was called ‘the father of gods and men’ by the poet Homer. Zeus had many epithets that were used to express his powers to humans. He was Herkeios defender of the household, Ephestios the hearth, Ktesios property, Philios friendships, Horkios oaths, Xenios hospitality, Hikesios suppliants and Soter saviour.
Early epic poetry tells of the amazing feats of the gods. Zeus was the youngest son of Cronos and Rhea, who overthrew and succeeded his father in a legendary battle with the Giants. Fighting beside him were his older siblings whom he had earlier freed from their cannibalistic father. The hero Heracles helped the gods in this endeavour.
As god of the sky and master of the weather, the attributes or symbols of Zeus were the eagle, sceptre and thunderbolt. Several of his metamorphoses have been depicted in art through the ages, including the bull, the swan and the shower of gold.
The most widely worshipped of the Greek gods, he was known as Jupiter by the Romans and in Egypt as Ammon, the highest god in the Egyptian pantheon. He was the ruler of the world and the source of kingly power and, therefore, the patron of rulers. Both mythical and real heroes – such as Alexander the Great, who claimed to be his son – adopted him as an ancestor.