Having gone through many of the other Greek gods, we’ve come around to the idea that they’re pretty childish and static. They have petty squabbles and their punishments are often blown way out of proportion. So now we have to apply the same evaluation to Zeus. Is he childish and static?
It would be easy to say that because he raped his mother and sister and that he’s such a hornball and pretty much raped everyone he ever slept with, yes, he’s childish. He’s got daddy issues and never learned how to have a proper relationship.
(Yeah, you just knew there would be an exception.)
Except for forging alliances with the Cyclopes and Hundred Handed ones. Except for forgiving the gods after their attempted coup. Except for the order he brought to the word by siring so many of the other gods and spirits. Except for putting hope in the jar. Except for giving humanity the perfect woman. Except for siring so many of the Greek heroes. Except for quitting his adulterous affairs cold turkey after the birth of Hercules.
That’s a lot of exceptions.
When we put them all together, we come up with a bigger pattern to Zeus. Did he have sex and rape lots of women? Yes. Are we okay with that? As a modern culture, definitely not. The Ancient Greeks, though, were simply looking to explain the world around them, which was a harsh world full of, well, rape and sex.
In the process of all of this rape and sex, though, Zeus brought law even to the gods, fostered order through the universe, allowed experience and wisdom to temper the fire of knowledge, and gave humanity heroes to aspire to be. Zeus has had a plan this entire time, subtly moving pieces on the board to complete his strategy. This goes beyond cunning. He changes, freely.
He didn’t know beforehand that the gods would attempt a coup. He didn’t know Prometheus would steal fire. He didn’t know which woman he needed to sleep with to bring about Hercules. But he was able to adjust and respond to the situations as they presented themselves. He tempered his anger—which was legendary—with mercy, something the other gods and goddesses never did.
Zeus is anything but static, and he clearly changes. This is a very big deal in a pantheon where the norm is childish behavior, but something we would expect from a king, who has to mediate and rule over the kingdom. He is doing this even though it appears as if he’s not, which is also a remarkable feat.