Online Encyclopedia

ZEUS

Online Encyclopedia
Originally appearing in Volume V28, Page 979 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
Spread the word: del.icio.us del.icio.us it!
ZEUS, the Greek counterpart of the Roman god, Jupiter (q.v.). In the recorded periods of Hellenic history, Zeus was accepted as the chief god of the pantheon of the Greeks; and the religious progress of the people from lower to higher ideas can be well illustrated by the study of his ritual and personality. His name is formed from a root div, meaning " bright," which appears in other Aryan languages as a formative part of divine names, such as the Sanskrit Dydus, " sky "; Latin Diovis, Jovis, Diespiter, divus; Old English Tiw; Norse Tyr. The conclusion that has been frequently drawn from these facts, that all the Indo-Germanic stocks before their dispersal worshipped a personal High God, the Sky-Father, has been now seen to be hazardous.' Nevertheless, it remains probable that Zeus had already been conceived as a personal and pre-eminent god by the ancestors of the leading Hellenic tribes before they entered the peninsula which became their historic home. In the first place, his pre-eminence is obviously pre-Homeric; for Homer was no preacher or innovator in religion, but gives us some at least of the primary facts of the contemporary religious beliefs prevailing about woo inc.: and he attests for us the supremacy of Zeus as a belief which was unquestioned by the average Hellene of the time; and appreciating how slow was the process of religious change in the earlier period, we shall believe that the god had won this position long before the Homeric age. In the next place, we cannot trace the origin of his worship ' See, however, Schrader, Prehistoric Antiquities of the Aryan Peoples (trans. Jevons), 416-419. 976 back to any special stock or particular locality; we cannot find a single community that did not possess his worship or that preserved any legend that suggests a late date for its introduction. Doubtless, it has very ancient and close associations with Thessaly; for most of the leading tribes must have entered Hellas by this route, and remembered the mountain Olympus that dominates this region as the earliest home of his cult, and took with them to their most distant settlements the cult-title 'OX nrws. Also, some of the prehistoric stocks in Thessaly, like the Achaean Aeacidae, may have regarded him as specially their ancestor. But to maintain therefore that he originated in Thessaly as the special deity of a single tribe, who were able to impose him upon the whole of Hellas, is against the analogies offered by the study of the special cults of Greek polytheism. But if we assume that he was the aboriginal Hellenic High God, we must be quite ready to admit that the separate communities were always liable to cherish other divinities with a more ardent and closer devotion, whether divinities that they brought with them or divinities that they found powerfully established in the conquered lands, Athena or Hera, for instance, in Attica or Argolis, or Poseidon in the Minyan settlements. This in fact is a frequent fate of a " High God " in polytheistic systems; he is vaguely praised and reverenced, but lower divine powers are nearer to the people's love or fear. The Cretan legend of his birth and origin, which gave rise to the Cretan cult of Zeus Kpnraryevhs,r " Zeus born in Crete," may appear evidence against the theory just set forth. But it is not likely that any birth-legend belongs to the earliest stratum of the Zeus-religion. The Aryan Hellenes found in many of the conquered lands the predominant cult of a mother-goddess, to whom they gradually had to affiliate their own High God: and in Crete they found her cult associated with the figure of a male divinity who was believed to be born and to die at certain periods; probably he was an early form of Dionysus, but owing to his prominence in the island the Hellenic settlers may have called him Zeus; and this would explain the markedly Dionysiac character of the later Zeus-religion in Crete. We can now consider the question how the god was imagined in the popular belief of the earliest and later periods. Homer is our earliest literary witness; and the portrait that he presents of Zeus is too well known to need minute description. To appreciate it, we must distinguish the lower mythologic aspect of him, in which he appears as an amorous and capricious deity lacking often in dignity and real power, and the higher religious aspect, in which he is conceived as the All-Father, the Father of Gods and men in a spiritual or moral sense, as a God omnipotent in heaven and earth, the sea and the realms below, as a God of righteousness and justice and mercy, who regards the sanctity of the oath and hears the voice of the suppliant and sinner, and in whom the pious and the lowly trust. In fact the later Greek religion did not advance much above the high-water mark of the Homeric, although the poets and philosophers deepened certain of its nobler traits. But Homer we now know to be a relatively late witness in this matter. How much of his sketch is really primitive, and what can we learn or guess concerning the millennium that preceded him? His God is pronouncedly individual and personal, and probably Zeus had reached this stage of character at the dawn of Hellenic history. Yet traces of a pre-deistic and animistic period survived here and there; for instance, in Arcadia we find the thunder itself called Zeus ('Zeus Kepavvos) in a Mantinean inscription,' and the stone near Gythium in Laconia on which Orestes sat and was cured of his madness, evidently a thunder-stone, was named itself ZeJs Ka7r Boras, which must be interpreted as " Zeus that fell from heaven";3 we here observe that the personal God does not yet seem to have emerged from the divine thing or divine phenomenon. Yet the Arcadians, like the other Greeks, had probably long before Homer risen above this stage of thought; for Greek religion was so strongly 1 Corp. Inscr. Graec. 2551.. 2 Bull. Corr. Hell., x878, p. 515. Pausan. iii. 22, I.conservative that it preserved side by side the deposits of different ages of thought sundered perhaps by thousands of years. Again the Homeric Zeus is fully anthropomorphic; but in many domains of Greek religion we discover the traces of theriomorphism, when the deity was regarded as often incarnate in the form of an animal or the animal might itself be worshipped in its own right. We seem to find it latent in the Arcadian worship of Zeus Avrcaios and the legend of King Lycaon. 1 Le latter offers a cannibal-meal to the disguised God, who turns him into a wolf for his sins; and the later Arcadian ritual in honour of this God betrays a hint of lycanthropy; some one who partook of the sacrifice or who swam across a certain lake was supposed to be transformed into a wolf for a certain time.' Robertson Smith 5 was the first to propose that we have here the traces of an ancient totemistic sacrifice of a wolf-clan, who offered the " theanthropic " animal " the man-wolf " to the wolf-God. The totemistic theory in its application to Greek religion cannot be here discussed; but we may note that there is no hint in the story that the wolf was offered to Zeus and that the, name AuKaIOS could not originally have designated the " wolf "-God: for from the stem.XvKO- we should get the adjective XvKewS, not XvKaws; the latter is better derived from a word such as XuK1]= " light," and may allude to the God of the clear sky; in fact the wolf, which was a necessary animal in the ritual and legend of Apollo AiKews, may have strayed casually into association with Zeus A&Kaios, attracted by a false etymology. Another ritual, fascinating for the glimpse it affords of very old-world thought, is that of the Diipolia, the yearly sacrifice to Zeus Polieus on the Acropolis at Athens.s In this an ox was slaughtered with ceremonies unique in Greece; the priest who slew him fled and remained in exile for a period, and the axe that was used was tried, condemned and f ung into the sea; the hide of the slain ox was stuffed with hay, and this effigy of the ox was yoked to the plough and feigned to be alive. Again Robertson Smith saw here the " theanthropic" animal, the Ox-God-man, eaten sacramentally by an ox-tribe, and so sacred that his death is a murder that must be atoned for in other ways and by a feigned resurrection. We recognize indeed the sacramental meal and the sanctity of the ox; but the animal may have acquired this sanctity temporarily through contact with the altar; we need not suppose an ox-clan--the priest was merely (3oirrls " the herdsman "—nor assume the permanent sanctity of ,the ox, nor the belief that the deity was permanently incarnate in the ox: the main parts of the ceremony can be explained as cattle-magic intended to appease the rest of the oxen or to prevent them suffering sympathetically through the death of one. We may indeed with Mr Andrew Lang explain the many myths of the bestial transformations of Zeus on the theory that the God was the tribal ancestor and assumed the shape of the animal-totem in order to engender the tribal patriarch;? but on the actual cults of Zeus theriomorphism has left less trace than on those of many other Hellenic deities. The animal offered to him may become temporarily sacred; and its skin would have magic properties: this explains his use of the aegis, the goat-skin, as a battle-charm; but of a Goat-Zeus, a Ram-Zeus, or a Wolf-Zeus, there is no real trace. The peculiar characteristic of his earliest ritual was the human sacrifice; besides the legend of King Lycaon, we find it in the story of the house of Athamas and in the worship of Zeus Aa4 i rws of Thessaly,8 and other examples are recorded. The cruel rite had ceased in the Arcadian worship before Pliny wrote, but seems to have continued in Cyprus till the reign of Hadrian. It was found in the worship of many other divinities of Hellas in early times, and no single explanation can be given that would apply to them all. A hypothesis favoured by Dr Frazer, that the victim is usually a divine man, a priest-king ' Pliny, Nat. Hist. viii. 82; Pausan. viii. 2, § 3 and § 6. 5 Article on " Sacrifice " in Ency. Brit., 9th ed. 6 Cf. Porphyry, ii. 29, 30 (from Theophrastus) and Pausan. i. 24, 4. ' Myth, Ritual and Religion, ii. 176. 8 Herod. vii. 197. incarnating the God, may be well applied to the Athamantid sacrifice and to that of King Lycaon; for he derives his name from the divinity himself, and according to one version' he offers his own child; and the Lycaonid legend presents one almost unique feature, which is only found elsewhere in legendary Dionysiac sacrifice, the human flesh is eaten, and the sacrifice is a cannibalistic-sacrament, of which the old Mexican religion offers conspicuous example. Yet it is in this religion of Zeus that we see most clearly the achievement of progressive morality; Zeus himself punishes and abolishes the savage practice; the story related by Plutarch,'- how a kid was substituted miraculously for Helen when she was led to the altar to be offered, is a remarkably close parallel to the biblical legend of Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac. We can now consider the special attributes of the anthropomorphic God. His character and power as a deity of the sky, who ruled the phenomena of the air, so clearly expressed in Homer, explains the greater part of his cult and cult-titles. More personal than Ouranos and Helios—with whom he has only slight associations—he was worshipped and invoked as the deity of the bright day ('Agdpros, AeuKaios, AvKaIos), who sends the rain, the wind and dew ("O0pws, Naios, 'Tirws, Ovpwr, Euavep.os, 'IKµaios), and such a primitive adjective as &i7rer>7s, applied to things " that fall from heaven," attests the primeval significance of the name of Zeus. But the thunder was his most striking manifestation, and no doubt he was primevally a thunder-God, Kepanvws, Kepavvq0o11os, :Aorpa7raios. These cult-titles had originally the force of magic invocation, and much of his ritual was weather-magic: the priest of Zeus Almalos, in time of drought, was wont to ascend Mount Lycaeum and dip an oak-bough in a sacred fountain, and by this sympathetic means produce mist .° A god of this character would naturally be worshipped on the mountain-tops, and that these were very frequently consecrated to him is shown by the large number of appellatives derived from the names of mountains.' But probably in his earliest Hellenic period the power of Zeus in the natural world was not limited to the sky. A deity who sent the fertilizing rains would come to be regarded as a god of vegetation, who descended into the earth and whose power worked in the life that wells forth from the earth in plant and tree. Also the close special association of the European Thunder-God and the oak-tree has recently been exposed.' Homer calls the God of the lower world Zebs KarayOovws,° and the title of Zeus XOovros which was known to Hesiod, occurred in the worship of Corinth ;7 and there is reason to believe that Eubouleus of Eleusis and Trophonius of Lebadeia are faded forms of the nether Zeus; in the Phrygian religion of Zeus, which no doubt contains primitive Aryan elements, we find the Thunder-God associated also with the nether powers.' A glimpse into a very old stratum of Hellenic religion is afforded us by the records of Dodona. A Dodonean liturgy has been preserved which, though framed in the form of an invocation and a dogma, has the force of a spell-prayer--" Zeus was and is and will be, oh great Zeus: earth gives forth fruits, therefore call on Mother Earth." e Zeus the Sky-God is seen here allied to the Earth-Goddess, of whom his feminine counter-part, Dione, may have been the personal form. And it is at Dodona that his association with the oak is of the closest. His prophet-priests the Selloi " with unwashed feet, couching on the ground," 10 lived about the sacred oak, which may be regarded11 as the primeval shrine of the Aryan God, and interpreted its oracular voice, which spoke in the rustling of its leaves or the cooing of its doves. Achilles hails the Dodonean God as HeXaoyuci, either in the sense of " Thessalian " or ' Clemens, Protrept. p. 31 P. 2 Parallela, 35. Pausan. viii. 38, 3. Farnell, Cults of the Greek States, i. 154; ref. 66-89. ' See Chadwick in Anthropological Journ., moo, on " The Oak and the Thunder-God." 8 Il. ix. 457. 7 Works and Days, 456; Pausan. ii. 2, 8. 8 Journ. Hellen. Stud. iii. 124; v. 257. ° Pausan. x. 12,10. 10 Horn. Il. xvi. 233. 11 Chadwick, op. cit.977 " primitive ";12 and Zeus, we may believe, long remained:- at Dodona such as he was when the Hellenic tribes first brought him down from the Balkans, a high God supreme in heaven and in earth. We may also believe that in the earliest stages of worship he had already acquired a moral and a social character. The Homeric view of him as the All-Father is a high spiritual concept, but one of which many savage religions of our own time are capable. The family, the tribe, the city, the simpler and more complex organisms of the Hellenic polity, were specially under his care and direction. In spite of the popular stories of his amours and infidelities, he is the patron-God of the mono-gamic marriage, and his union with Hera remained the divine type of human wedlock. " Reverence Zeus, the Father-God": " all fathers are sacred to Zeus, the Father-God, and all brothers to Zeus the God of the family ": these phrases of Aristophanes and Epictetus" express the ideas that engendered his titles II arpuios, Fals Xros, TeXeios, 'Oµbyvros. In the Eumenides of Aeschylus" the Erinyes are reproached in that by aiding Clytemnestra, who slew her husband, " they are dishonouring and bringing to naught the pledges of Zeus and Hera, the marriage-goddess "; and these were the divinities to whom sacrifice was offered before the wedding,15 and it may be that some kind of mimetic representation of the " Holy Marriage," the 'Iepos yd,rws, of Zeus and Hera formed a part of the Attic nuptial ceremonies.1' The " Holy Marriage " was celebrated in many parts of Greece, and certain details of the ritual suggest that it was of great antiquity: here and there it may have had the significance of vegetation-magic,", like the marriage of the Lord and Lady of May; but generally it seems to have been only regarded as a divine counterpart to the human ceremony. Society may have at one time been matrilinear in the communities that become the historic Hellenes; but of this there is no trace in the worship of Zeus and Hera is In fact, the whole of the family morality in Hellas centred in Zeus, whose altar in the courtyard was the bond of the kinsmen; and sins against the family, such as unnatural vice and the exposure of children, are sometimes spoken of as offences against the High God.1s He was also the tutelary deity of the larger organization of the phratria; and the altar of Zeus'Iparpros was the meeting-point of the plarateres, when they were assembled to consider the legitimacy of the new applicants for admission into their circle 20 His religion also came to assist the development of certain legal ideas, for instance, the rights of private or family property in land; he guarded the allotments as Zeus Klsdpros,21 and the Greek commandment " thou shalt not remove thy neighbour's landmark " was maintained by Zeus "Opws, the god of boundaries, a more personal power than the Latin Jupiter Terminus.22 His highest political functions were summed up in the title HoXt€bc, a cult-name of legendary antiquity in Athens, and frequent in the Hellenic world °° His consort in his political life was not Hera, but his daughter Athena Polias. He sat in her judgment court HaXXaSly where cases of involuntary homicide were tried.24 With her he shared the chapel in the Council-Hall of Athens dedicated to them under the titles of BoaXaIos and BovXaia, " the inspirers of counsel," by which they were worshipped in many parts of 12 Il. xvi. 233. 1a Arist. Nub. 1468; Epict. Diatrib. iii. ch. rr. 14 213-214. 1' Schol. Aristooh. Thesm. 973. 18 Photius, S.V. 'Iepos'yaµos. 17 See Frazer's Golden Bough, and ed. i. 226-227. 18 The attempts to discover the traces of matrilinear society in Greek religion may be regarded as mainly unsuccessful: vide A. B. Cook, Class. Rev. 1906 (October, November), " Who was the wife of Zeus?" 1A Dio. Chrys. Or. 7 (Dind. i. 139). Demosth. Contra Macartatum, 107 8, i. 21 Pausan. viii. 53, 9. 22 Plato's Laws, 842 E. 23 Vide Farnell, op. cit. i. 159; ref. 107-109. 24 Corp. Inscr. Attic. iii. 71 and 273. Greece.' The political assembly and the law-court were conse- account, a pupil of Damophilus of Himera in Sicily, the other crated to ZeJr 'Ayopaios,'' and being the eternal source of justice statement being that he was a pupil of Neseus of Thasos. After-he might be invoked as AtKal&ovvos " The Just." 3 As the god wards he appears to have resided in Ephesus. His known who brought the people under one government he might be works are worshipped as 1IavSrlµos;2 as the deity of the whole of Hellas, 'EXXavws,5 a title that belonged originally to Aegina and to the prehistoric tribe of the Aeacidae, and had once the narrower application to the " Thessalian Hellenes," but acquired the Pan-Hellenic sense, in fact expanded into the form IIaveXAi7v1os, perhaps about the time of the Persian wars, when thanks-giving for the victory took the form of dedications and sacrifice to " Zeus the Liberator "—'EXEvOiptos 6 Finally, in the formulae adopted for the public oath, where many deities were invoked, the name of Zeus was the masterword. There is reason for thinking that this political character of Zeus belongs to the earliest period of his religion, and it remained as long as that religion lasted. Yet in one respect Apollo was more dominant in the political life; for Apollo possessed the more powerful oracle of Delphi. Zeus spoke directly to his people at Dodona only,' and with authority only in ancient times; for owing to historical circumstances and the disadvantage of its position, Dodona paled before Delphi. It remains to consider briefly certain moral aspects of his cult. The morality attaching to the oath, so deeply rooted in the conscience of primitive peoples, was expressed in the cult of Zeus "OpK1os, the God who punished perjury.8 The whole history of Greek legal and moral conceptions attaching to the guilt of homicide can be studied in relation to the cult-appellatives of Zeus. The Greek consciousness of the sin of murder, only dimly awakened in the Homeric period, and only sensitive at first when a kinsman or a suppliant was slain, gradually expands till the sanctity of all human life becomes recognized by the higher morality of the people: and the names of Zevr Me1XLXws, the dread deity of the ghost-world whom the sinner must make " placable," of Zevr 'IK&rws and IIpoarpoiraios, to whom the conscience-striken outcast may turn for mercy and pardon, play a guiding-part in this momentous evolution .9 Even this summary reveals the deep indebtedness of early Greek civilization to this cult, which engendered ideas of importance for the higher religious thought of the race, and which might have developed into a monotheistic religion, had a prophet-philosopher arisen powerful enough to combat the polytheistic proclivities of Hellas. Yet the figure of Zeus had almost faded from the religious world of Hellas some time before the end of paganism; and Lucian makes him complain that even the Egyptian Anubis is more popular than he, and that men think they have done the outworn God sufficient honour if they sacrifice to him once in five years at Olympia. The history of religions supplies us with many examples of the High God losing his hold on the people's consciousness and love. In the case of this cult the cause may well have been a certain coldness, a lack of enthusiasm and mystic ardour, in the service. These stimulants were offered rather by Demeter and Dionysus, later by Cybele, Isis and Mithras. ZEU%IS, a Greek painter, who flourished about 420-390 B.C., and described himself as a native of Heraclea, meaning probably the town on the Black Sea. He was, according to one ' Antiphon vi. p. 789; Pausan. i. 3, 5: cf. Corp. Inscr. Attic iii. 683. 2 Farnell, op. cit. vol. i. p. 162. 3 Amer. Journ. Archaeol., 1905, p. 302. ' C. I. A. 3, 7. Head, Hist. Num. p. 569. ' Herod. ix. 7, 4; Pind. Hem. v. 15 (Schol.). Simonides, Frag. 140 (Bergk), Strab. 412. 7 There was a minor oracle of Zeus at Olympia. See ORACLE. ° Pausan. v. 24, 9. Farnell, op. cit. vol. i. pp. 64-69. r. Zeus surrounded by Deities. 8. Alcmena, possibly another 2. Eros crowned with Roses. name for 7. 3. Marsyas bound. 9. Helena at Croton. 4. Pan. 10. Penelope. 5. Centaur family. I I. Menelaus. 6. Boreas or Triton. I2. Athlete. 7. Infant Heracles strangling the 13. An old Woman. serpents in presence of his '4. Boy with grapes. parents, Alcmena and Am- 15. Grapes. phitryon. 16. Monochromes. In ancient records we are 17. Plastic works in clay. the told that Zeuxis, following initiative of Apollodorus, had introduced into the art of painting a method of representing his figures in light and shadow, as opposed to the older method of outline, with large flat masses of colour for draperies, and other details, such as had been practised by Polygnotus and others of the great fresco painters. The new method led to smaller compositions, and often to pictures consisting of only a single figure, on which it was more easy for the painter to demonstrate the combined effect of the various means by which he obtained perfect roundness of form. The effect would appear strongly realistic, as compared with the older method, and to this was probably due the origin of such stories as the contest in which Zeuxis painted a bunch of grapes so like reality that birds flew towards it, while Parrhasius painted a curtain which even Zeuxis mistook for real. It is perhaps a variation of this story when we are told (Pliny) that Zeuxis also painted a boy holding grapes towards which birds flew, the artist remarking that if the boy had been as well painted as the grapes the birds would have kept at a distance. But, if the method of Zeuxis led him to real roundness of form, to natural colouring, and to pictures consisting of single figures or nearly so, it was likely to lead him also to search for striking attitudes or motives, which by the obviousness of their meaning should emulate the plain intelligibility of the larger compositions of older times. Lucian, in his Zeuxis, speaks of him as carrying this search to a novel and strange degree, as illustrated in the group of a female Centaur with her young. When the picture was exhibited, the spectators admired its novelty and overlooked the skill of the painter, to the vexation of Zeuxis. The pictures of Heracles strangling the serpents to the astonishment of his father and mother (7), Penelope (1o), and Menelaus Weeping (II) are quoted as instances in which strong motives naturally presented themselves to him. But, in spite of the tendency towards realism inherent in the new method of Zeuxis, he is said to have retained the ideality which had characterized his predecessors. Of all his known works it would be expected that this quality would have appeared best in his famous picture of Helena, for this reason, that we cannot conceive any striking or effective incident for him in her career. In addition to this, however, Quintilian states (Inst. Oral. xii. to, 4) that in respect of robustness of types Zeuxis had followed Homer, while there is the fact that he had inscribed two verses of the Iliad (iii 156 seq.) under his figure of Helena. As models for the picture he was allowed the presence of five of the most beautiful maidens of Croton at his own request, in order that he might be able to " transfer the truth of life to a mute image." Cicero (De Invent. ii. r, 1) assumed that Zeuxis had found distributed among these five the various elements that went to make up a figure of ideal beauty. It should not, however, be understood that the painter had made up his figure by the process of combining the good points of various models, but rather that he found among those models the points that answered to the ideal Helena in his own mind, and that he merely required the models to guide and correct himself by during the process of transferring his ideal to form and colour. This picture also is said to have been exhibited publicly, with the result that Zeuxis made much profit out of it. By this and other means, we are told, he became so rich as rather to give away his pictures than to sell them. He presented his Alcmena to the Agrigentines, his Pan to King Archelaus of Macedonia, whose palace he is also said to have decorated with paintings. According to Pliny (N.H. xxxv. 62), he made an ostentatious display of his wealth at Olympia in having his name woven in letters of gold on his dress. Under his picture of an athlete (ic) he wrote that " It is easier to revile than to rival " (il4W.d)vErai. TLS p. XXov 3 µcµrlverac). A contemporary, Isocrates (De Permut. 2), remarks that no one would say that Zeuxis and Parrhasius had the same profession as those persons who paint pinakia, or tablets of terra-cotta. We possess many examples of the vase-painting of the period circa 400 B.C., and it is noticeable on them that there is great freedom and facility in drawing the human form, besides great carelessness. In the absence of fresco paintings of that date we have only these vases to fall back upon. Yet, with their limited resources of colour and perspective, they in a measure show the influence of Zeuxis, while, as would be expected, they retain perhaps more of the simplicity of older times.
End of Article: ZEUS
[back]
ZEULENRODA
[next]
ZHELESNOVODSK

Additional information and Comments

There are no comments yet for this article.
» Add information or comments to this article.
Please link directly to this article:
Highlight the code below, right click and select "copy." Paste it into a website, email, or other HTML document.