Zeus was the son of Cronus and Rhea, members of an earlier race of ruling gods called the Titans. Zeus and the other children of Cronus defeated the Titans. Zeus then took Cronus’ place and ruled from his home on Mount Olympus. He headed a family of 12 major gods and goddesses called the Olympians. Some lesser gods also lived on Olympus. Zeus’ brothers were the gods Hades and Poseidon. Hades ruled the underworld, and Poseidon ruled the seas. The goddesses Demeter, Hera and Hestia were Zeus’s sisters.
At the time Zeus was introduced in Greece the religion of that area was based on fertility. Each community had a major fertility goddess and a male god associated with her. Zeus eventually took the place of many of these male gods, and became the husband or lover of the goddesses. Later, Hera became Zeus’s wife and other goddesses took a lesser status. Zeus had many love affairs with the goddesses and mortal women and fathered many children. His and children included the goddess Aphrodite; the gods Apollo, Dionysus and Hermes; and the mortal heroes Perseus and Heracles. Zeus alone gave birth to the goddess Athena.
In art, Zeus is depicted as bearded and majestic, often holding a thunderbolt. The eagle and the oak tree were symbols associated with Zeus.