Greeks were unanimous in recognising the birthplace of Zeus as Crete. He  was worshipped at a number of caves, at Knossos, Ida and Palaikastro. In the Hellenistic period a small sanctuary dedicated to Zeus was founded at Ayia Triada site of a long-ruined Minoan palace.


Zeus was born of the Titans Kronus and Rhea. The titan Kronus was father to several children but was notorious for being a very jealous and greedy deity, and swallowed them all as soon as they were born, since he had learned that he was destined to be overcome by his own son, as he had overthrown his own father. He swallowed every child Rhea gave birth to, five in total, out of the fear one of his children could take his throne. However, when Rhea's third son Zeus was ready to be born, she took refuge on the island in the Diktean cave on Mount Dikti which soars above the Lasithi plateau in the centre of Crete. She managed to trick Kronus with the help of the titans Uranus and Gaea, giving her husband a rock wrapped in blankets to swallow as a substitution to her infant. 


Zeus was raised secretly by the Nymphs of the cave and was fed by the goat nurse Amaltheia with milk and honey with the help of her broken-off horn (the horn of plenty or cornucopia). His cries were drowned by the Kouretes, who kept a noise with their continuous clashing of shields and spears. The Kouretes or Curetes were five brothers who danced outside the cave keeping time to a drum and the rhythmic stamping of their feet. Tradition has it that the Curetes were the first inhabitants of Crete and even, that the words Crete and Cretan are derived from the word 'Curetes' (C-u-retes). The Curetes are said to have been the first inhabitants of Crete and the founders of the first civilisation on the island. 


They were revered by the Cretans as inventors of metal work and that metallurgy was considered an almost magical art they were also primitive magicians and seers. They helped in the organisation of social life in Crete. They were experts at everything even down to beekeeping and producers of honey, an inscription found at Palaikastro suggests that they may well have been Minoan in origin. 


He grew strong on Crete every day through is teens, where he remained hidden in the mountains of Crete. The goat Amalthea and the nymph Melissa played an important part in his upbringing. When Zeus was mature enough to claim the Kingdom of the World he started a battle against his father and the Titans, also known as 'Titanomachy' War of the Titans, which lasted for ten years. First he managed to liberate his five elder brothers and sisters from his father's stomach by giving him a special herb, making him regurgitate his brothers and sisters. With the help of his siblings, Zeus then overthrew the Titans in the depths of the Underworld, the Tartarus.


After overthrowing his father Kronus, Zeus was confronted with the Giants and the monster Typhoon, which he both battled successfully. Finally, the Kingdom of the World was in the hands of Zeus and his siblings. Justly, he drew lots with his brothers Poseidon and Hades  to let luck determine who would become the new king of the gods. Zeus won the draw and officially became ruler of the earth, the sky and thunder. His symbols are the thunderbolt which he hurled at whoever displeased him, the eagle, the bull and the oak and not forgetting he was the Lord of Mount Olympus, the highest mountain of Greece.  


Mount Olympus housed the pantheon and was home to the gods. Itís sheer massiveness was the fate of many.  Many thought that the castles at the top were made of crystal Kronus was banished to the underworld. His brothers and sisters together with Zeusís children, made up the Twelve Gods of Olympus. Albeit, Zeus had no control over the fates and destiny. Like all Greek divinities, Zeus was subject to pleasure, pain, grief and anger, but he was most susceptible to the power of love, which often got the objects of his desire in a lot of trouble with his wife, Hera.


Zeus was mighty, glorious, awesome and wise, although he did show a certain degree of surprising foolishness and naivety when it came to hiding his love affairs. Aside from the endless affairs Zeus was different from other gods in that he did not participate in the arguments and the resulting petty scheming that made up the daily activities of other gods. Being this wise ruler, he also demanded just and righteous action from men. Zeus was however vengeful.



The tale of Europa and Zeus is one many stories told of Zeus' relationships with a mortal. Europa was the beautiful daughter of the Phoenician king Agenor of Sidon (sometimes called Tyre, Lebanon) . Zeus, the King of the gods according to Greek mythology, saw Europa as she was gathering flowers by the sea and immediately fell in love with her.

Overwhelmed by love for Europa, Zeus transformed himself into the form of a magnificent tame white bull and appeared on the sea shore where Europa was playing with her maidens. The great bull walked gently over to where Europa stood and knelt at her feet. The appearance and movements of the bull were so gentle that Europa spread flowers about his neck and dared to climb upon his back overcoming her natural fear of the great animal. But suddenly, the bull rushed out to sea abducting Europa. Only then the bull revealed its true identity and took Europa to the Mediterranean island of Crete. They landed at Matala there, Zeus cast off the shape of the white bull, and back into his human form, the pair then travelled to Gortys.


Zeus made Europa his lover beneath a simple plane tree that to this day is said to have never lost its leaves. Europa became the first queen of Crete and had by Zeus three sons, King Minos became the powerful king of Crete, who established a strong navy and an empire in the Aegean Sea. King Rhadamanthus of the Cyclades Islands, and, according to some legends, Prince Sarpedon of Lycia. 


Europa was left on Crete by Zeus, although she was not abandoned as she was provided with gifts to aid her. The first of these gifts was a decorative necklace as created by Hephaestus, the Olympian gods' goldsmith. There were also three other gifts that were more useful.


One was Talos, a gigantic man made of bronze who would offer protection to the island of Crete by circling it three times every day. He would hurl rocks at any hostile ship that approached. Talos had one vein that ran the length of his body culminating in a plug at his ankle, which was his only vulnerable point. When Jason and the Argonauts were greeted by the customary hail of rocks they brought about the downfall of Talos. With the aid of the sorceress Medea, they removed the plug in his ankle, allowing the 'ichor', the divine fluid that gave him life, to drain away. 


The second gift was that of a dog known as Laelaps. Laelaps was a enchanted dog that would always catch what ever he was chasing the hound was passed down to King Minos. The third and final gift from Zeus to Europa was that of a javelin, that when thrown would also never miss its target. King Minos had been cursed by his wife Pasiphae, the curse was a clever one at that it meant that he ejaculated scorpions and spiders so that if he slept with anyone, the spiders and scorpions would devour their genitals. Because of this, he called on Prokris of Athens to his aid. When she cured him of the dreadful curse, he gave her his mother's faithful companion Laelaps and the javelin that never missed its target.

Prokris with Laelaps


Prokris's husband decided to use the hound to hunt the Teumessian fox, a fox that could never be caught. This was a paradox -  a dog who always caught his prey and a fox that could never be caught. The chase went on until Zeus, perplexed by their contradictory fates, turned both to stone. 


The name of Europa survives today, as the name of the continent of Europe is derived from her. Additionally the tales of Greek mythology also tell of how Zeus went on to create the constellation Taurus in remembrance of the original white bull. The white bull also appears in the adventures of Greek heroes, especially that of Theseus and Heracles, this though is not surprising with the Cretans worshipping bulls for hundreds of years.






Copyright © 2009 Only Crete