Writing about Naxos in my last post reminded me of the story of the birth of Zeus. Most versions have him spending his youth in hiding on the island of Crete while some place his refuge on Naxos. As the mighty, thunderbolt wielding father of the Olympians, I suppose there’s enough of Zeus to go around and will not question the claims of either island. I will instead tell you why he was hiding; on that, there is wide consensus.
Zeus was the youngest child of the Titans, Cronus and Rhea. The Titans were a race of giant gods that preceded the Olympian gods in ancient Greek religion. They were conceived by mother earth Gaia and father sky Uranus. Cronus grew up to overthrow his father and assume the role of sky god. Thereafter riddled with guilt and paranoia, and haunted by a prophecy that he would in turn be toppled by one of his sons, Cronus swallowed all of his children as soon as they were born.
After watching her husband gobble her first five babies – Hestia, Demeter, Hera, Hades and Poseidon – Rhea hatched a plan to save her next
chick child. After delivering Zeus, she hid him away. When Cronus came to swallow the newborn, Rhea gave him a stone wrapped in blankets instead, which he promptly washed down with some ambrosia, none the wiser.
Zeus grew up somewhere safe, maybe Crete, maybe Naxos. He was raised by his grandmother Gaia or by a goat or by a nymph or… In any case, he was protected and nurtured and grew into a mighty young god. When he reached the age of majority, first on his agenda was to rescue his siblings from the gut of his father. The last in was the first out – the stone, which had taken Zeus’ place. That became the Omphalos, the stone marking the center of the world at Delphi. Next, one by one, Poseidon, Hades, Hera, Demeter and Hestia were coughed up. Then the children of Cronus, with sweet, fresh air in their lungs and vengeance in their hearts, pulled the throne out from under their monster of a father, and took all the other Titans down with him for good measure.
Zeus went on to lead the dysfunctional family of Olympian gods and preside over the weather and affairs of state among mortals. He was quite a decent ruler, by all accounts wise and just. He was, however, a shameful philanderer, much to the dismay of his wife Hera. He fathered children all over the place, but, unlike his own father Cronus, he never devoured any of them.