According to myth, Zeus used strength, diplomacy and a whole lot of lightning to topple the rule of the Titans and claimed primacy for the Olympian gods in the Greek spiritual world. Acknowledging the sky-god’s power, and his leading role in overthrowing the Titans, preexisting deities and Zeus’ siblings recognized the lightning-wielding god as the leader of the new Olympian regime. Besides gaining the respect of this first generation of Olympians, Zeus added to the numbers of his supporters and worshippers through another method—having lots and lots of children. An incredibly promiscuous and insatiable womanizer and rapist, Zeus (to the annoyance of his wife) had offspring with a great number of different women. Here is a list of the goddesses, women and otherwise creatures of the female persuasion, with whom Zeus was said to have spent intimate time. As Zeus had godly fertility, all of the partners listed below had children by the sky-god.
Metis was a Titan-age Oceanid goddess of wisdom and cunning who became an early ally of Zeus before his ascendance to power. According to Hesiod, Metis became Zeus’ first wife after he defeated the Titans. Metis, however, became pregnant, and Zeus, fearing that the child might overthrow him, decided to swallow Metis whole, unborn child and all. The child, a daughter, was born despite Zeus’ efforts. The baby was reportedly birthed from Zeus’ own head and her name was Athena—a goddess of wisdom, just like her mother.
Themis was a prophetic Titaness of law, propriety and order. Despite her being his aunt, Zeus hooked up with Themis to bring about the births of several divine beings, such as the Horai and Morai.
Demeter was the agricultural goddess of grains and a sister of Zeus. They had a kinky incestuous relationship, as, according to myth, they frolicked together after taking on the shapes of snakes. From the union of Zeus and Demeter came Persephone.
Mnemosyne was a Titaness with authority over memory and language. According to the ancient authoritative sources on mythology, Zeus and Mnemosyne coupled together, and out of their fusion came the Muses.
Leto was the daughter of the Titans, Koios and Phoebe. In early myths, Zeus sought Leto out as a wife, whereas later tales claimed he fancied her as a concubine or a woman-on-the-side, so to speak, having already found his ultimate and final wife. Whatever the case, in all myths, Zeus and Leto had a fateful and intimate encounter from which the deities Apollo and Artemis were born.
Hera was a goddess of the sky and a sister of Zeus. As with Demeter, the sibling relationship did not stop Zeus from pursuing her for non-brotherly reasons. Of all the women in Zeus’ life, Hera claimed the highest position and became Zeus’ final wife and main sexual partner. Through their union, they brought into existence Ares, Hephaestus, Eileithyia and Hebe. Much to Hera’s annoyance, her marriage to Zeus in no way slowed her husband’s legendary promiscuity.
Maia was one of the Pleiades nymphs. Although a shy goddess who preferred to live in seclusion, her isolation did not shield her from the carnal interest of Zeus. The ruler of Olympus indeed found the hermit nymph, and from their encounter was born Hermes.
According to myth, Semele was a princess of Thebes who caught the eye of Zeus, who, by this time, was already married to Hera. Despite his marriage, Zeus put on a disguise and seduced Semele, resulting in a pregnancy. Hera, as per usual, found out about her husband’s affair and began plotting revenge. To further this goal, she approached Semele and made the princess curious about Zeus’ unfiltered divine form. When the sky god next visited Semele, her curiosity was definitely piqued, just as Hera had wished. Semele subsequently demanded that Zeus show her his unrestrained godly radiance. Zeus unfortunately agreed, and in the resulting supernova of light and lightning, Semele died from the shock or was burnt to a crisp. From her remains, Zeus fished out Semele’s unborn fetus and stitched the child into his own leg until the baby matured. This child would become Dionysus.
A great beauty with a wise mind, Alcmene was Zeus’ type of woman. Unable to resist his lust, the sky-god disguised himself as Alcmene’s husband and spent a night with her. During that night, the famous hero Heracles was conceived.
Aegina was a nymph who caught the interest of Zeus. In the course of their tryst, Zeus brought her to an island—the Greek island of Aegina—which, according to myth, was named in her honor.
Aphrodite, according to various myths, was either spontaneously born from sea foam or was a daughter of Zeus. The sky-god did not care whether she was his child or not—lusty god as he was, Zeus wanted to bed her regardless of their possible family relations. Aphrodite, however, did not fancy the Sky-god’s attention; nevertheless, Zeus did not desist. During one of his bouts of lust for Aphrodite, which presumably occurred on Cyprus, Zeus tried and failed to seduce the goddess of love. Rejected and still quite aroused, Zeus took matters into his own hands (quite literally) and released his pent-up lust upon the earth. Here, things get complicated, as the earth was also a living goddess. In spreading his seed upon the earth, Zeus impregnated the primordial earth goddess, Gaia, who was awkwardly Zeus’ own grandmother. As a result of this bizarre accident, Gaia gave birth to the Cyprian Centaurs.
Zeus’ sexual curiosity apparently knew no bounds. Aix (sometimes referred to as Boetis) was the nymph who was a companion or wife to the wild, goat-legged god, Pan. Like her partner, Aix also had goat-like features, or chose to take that form by choice. Whatever the case, Zeus was carnally curious about this nymph and stopped by for a visit. From their encounter was born Aegipan, another goat-like deity.
A demigoddess or nymph from Crete, Karme (or Carme) held some power over harvests. Zeus eventually learned about Karme’s existence and, as was his usual response, he wanted to sleep with her. The sky-god succeeded in his wishes and from their union was born Britomartis, a deity of hunting and fishing.
A goddess born from the Titans, Thea and Hyperion (or other Titans, depending on the source), the deity Selene was the personification of the Moon. Zeus picked her to be one of his many mates, and together they brought about the existence of several children, such as Ersa, Nemea and Pandeia.
Zeus was apparently a repeat caller to Electra (or Elektra), one of the Pleiades nymphs. They were the parents of Dardanus and Iasion. Additionally, in a less popular tradition, the goddess Harmonia was also suggested to be their daughter.
Calliope was one of the Muses, and reportedly the eldest of the group. Epic poetry was said to have been her specialization. As was mentioned earlier (in number 5), the Muses were said to have been the children of Mnemosyne and Zeus. Despite being Calliope’s father, Zeus later pursued his own daughter for unfatherly reasons. According to a myth referenced by the scholarly geographer Strabo, Zeus and Calliope had several demigod children, called the Corybantes. The parentage of this set of demigods was disputed among the ancients, yet, even so, Zeus had no qualm with bedding his children, as can be seen by further examples below.
Persephone was the daughter of Zeus and Demeter. She had a rough life, for, not only was she kidnapped by Hades and made queen of the underworld against her will, but she also had to deal with her lusty, shape-shifting father trying to sneak into her bed. In the Orphic myths about her, Zeus succeeded in his debauched quest at least twice, producing two mysterious divine children with Persephone: a son, Zagreus, and a daughter, Melinoe.
Thaleia was a nymph and was usually reported to have been the daughter of Hephaestus. As Hephaestus was often designated as a son of Zeus, Thaleia was the sky-god’s granddaughter. Yet, as Zeus had already impregnated various sisters, aunts, daughters, cousins, and even his grandmother, it was inevitable that he would start pursuing his grandchildren, too. Zeus and Thaleia got together and from their union was born the Palici, a pair of Sicilian demigods.
Thymbris was a prophetic nymph who, according to the writings of Apollodorus, mated with Zeus and gave birth to the god, Pan.
Styx was a chief Oceanid goddess who controlled (or personified) the underworld river that shared her name. Zeus apparently sought out her company and, according to one myth presented by Apollodorus, it may have been Styx, instead of Demeter, who was the mother of Persephone.
22. and 23. Protogeneia/Kalyke
Myth and folklore about the early monarchs of Elis can be quite complicated concerning genealogy. At question here are two kings of Elis (Aethlius and Endymion), as well as two women (Protogeneia and Kalyke (or Calyce)). Zeus, womanizer that he was, reportedly slept with both of the aforementioned women, and either of the two may have been the mother of Aethlius. Most myths, however, said it was Protogeneia who was Aethlius’ mother. Kalyke, in the myths where she was not the king’s mother, went on to marry Aethlius. After her marriage, she became the mother of Endymion. Although Aethlius was Kalyke’s husband, some myths claimed Zeus found his way to Kalyke’s bed to become the father of Endymion.
According to myth, Lamia was a god-descended queen of Libya. Zeus struck up an affair with her and they had a son named Acheilus, and according to some myths, a daughter named Herophile, as well. Hera discovered the affair and took her revenge against Lamia by targeting the children born from the affair. In some myths, the children were kidnapped. In others, they were murdered. Whatever the case, the loss of her children caused Lamia to be forever changed by rage and loathing. In the end, Lamia transformed into a boogieman-type monstrous figure that ancient Greek mothers used as a means to frighten their children.
Olympia, a real historical woman, was the mother of Alexander the Great (c. 356-323 BCE)—the King of Macedonia who famously conquered the Achaemenid Persian Empire. Alexander, like many ancient rulers, was eager to claim divine ancestry. Olympia’s side of the family gave Alexander the ability to allege descendance from Achilles, and thereby also a link to Achilles’ sea-nymph mother, Thetis. In addition, Alexander’s own Argead Dynasty claimed to be linked to Heracles, which also connected them to Heracles’ father, Zeus. Yet, by 326 BCE, Alexander the Great was claiming a much closer connection to Zeus. He started minting coins depicting himself wielding lightning, and he embraced and spread stories that claimed his mother Olympia was not made pregnant by her husband Philip II, but by Zeus.
Antiope was an ancient Greek woman of myth whose beauty caught the eye of Zeus. The sky-god’s pursuit of her, unfortunately, became quite violent, and he assumed the shape of a satyr and took Antiope by force. After the attack, Antiope discovered she was pregnant. As the pregnancy became more apparent, Antiope’s father and community turned against her to such an extent that she had to flee. While on the road, two sons, Amphion and Zephus (or Zethos), were born. Antiope and her children would have lives filled with hardships.
Another mortal that Zeus pursued was Niobe. This Niobe, not to be confused with the more famous woman by that name in Thebes, was said to have been from an elite family in the Peloponnesus. Zeus spent time with this Niobe and from their connection were born Argus and Pelasgus.
Callisto (or Kallisto) was a female human or deity who sought the company of Artmeis. During her time in Artemis’ troupe, Callisto swore an oath of chastity—an oath that Zeus wished she would break with him. Using his skills of trickery and charm, Zeus achieved his desire, but this would have grave consequences. Zeus’ actions were discovered and, one thing leading to another, Callisto ultimately was transformed into a bear. Some myths claim this was done by Zeus to hide his affair, while other stories say Callisto was changed by Artemis or Hera. The transformation, however, was not the final punishment—Artemis shot and killed Callisto while she was in her bear form. Before or at the time of her final moments, Callisto gave birth to Arcas, a son of Zeus.
Zeus reportedly lay with a certain woman from Crete named Kassiopeia (or Cassiopeia), who should not be confused with Andromeda’s mother by the same name. With the Kassiopeia from Crete, Zeus had a son named Atymnius.
30. and 31. Leda and Nemesis
According to legend and myth, Leda was a queen of Sparta and one of the many women chosen by Zeus to bear his children. In one version, Zeus, in a rage of lust, began the series of events by chasing down the goddess, Nemesis. After both deities had transformed shapes many a time during the chase, Zeus (as a swan) finally caught and raped Nemesis (as a goose). The violated goddess birthed an egg which, in this tale, Zeus entrusted to Leda. In the other, more common, version of the tale, Zeus devoted all of his feathery attention to Leda, alone, and it was she who laid the egg. From the egg was born Helen (of Trojan War fame) and one or both of the Dioscuri.
A nymph and princess, Io was one of the many deities who fell victim to Zeus’ charm and persistence. The two began cavorting, but while they were in their intimate embrace, Hera walked onto the premises. Hoping that Hera was none the wiser, Zeus transformed Io into a cow in an attempt to keep the other woman’s presence a secret. Yet, Hera—as spouses always do—discovered that Zeus was hiding something, and, feeling suspicious about the random cow, Hera demanded that the animal be given to her as a gift. Zeus relinquished cow-shaped Io into Hera’s custody, but later had her covertly freed. Hera, with her suspicions confirmed, sent a gadfly to pester poor Io, who had still not been returned to her normal form. Trying to escape the pest, Io walked and swam to the other side of the Mediterranean, ultimately ending up in Egypt. As the story goes, Io gave birth to a daughter named Keroessa while she was on the way to Egypt. She was later impregnated a second time by Zeus, who rejoined her in Egypt to relieve her of her cow shape, and from that encounter Epaphus was born.
33. and 34. Pyrrha and Thyia
Zeus, like God of the Abrahamic religions, one day decided to give up on, and destroy, ancient Greece’s imperfect mortal civilizations. With his mind made up, he sent the so-called Great Deluge to annihilate the sinful creatures—as if he were one to judge sin. Among the mortals that Zeus wished to destroy were many children of his fellow deities. Prometheus, always a rebel, tipped off his own son, Deucalion, about the flood—other myths, however, claim Deucalion’s family was given warning because they were a rare virtuous family. Whatever the case, Deucalion and his wife, Pyrrha, escaped the flood on a wooden craft and survived to repopulate the world. One of their daughters was Thyia. Now, with all the mortal women of the world wiped out except for the ladies in Deucalion’s family, Pyrrha and Thyia found themselves to be a rare breed that inevitably attracted Zeus. After the flood waters subsided, Zeus hooked up with Pyrrha, resulting in a son named Hellen (namesake of the Hellenes), and also seduced Thyia, bringing about two more sons, Magnes and Makedon.
In Greek mythology, Pandora was the first true mortal human woman. All of the Olympian gods joined to contribute to her creation. Zeus drew up the blueprints of her design, while the craftsman-god, Hephaestus, brought the blueprints into reality. The gods shaped Pandora’s personality; Athena taught her life skills; Aphrodite explained to her the basics of charm and grace; Hermes showed her how to be cunning. The Graces and other aesthetically-oriented goddesses dressed her well, and covered her with jewelry and flowers. This newly-minted Pandora, in a way, was Zeus’ dream woman. Now that the ideal feminine blueprint from his mind was suddenly a flesh and blood woman, Zeus—lecherous deity that he was—likely would have inevitably become attracted to her. Whether or not he pursued this first human female, however, was left unclear. Nevertheless, Pandora became the mother of the previously mentioned Pyrrha, the wife of Deucalion. Besides Thyia, Pyrrha had another daughter, Pandora, whom Pyrrha named after her mother. Zeus, as he had done with the other women of Deucalion’s family, slept with this younger Pandora and from their encounter was born a son named Latinus.
36. Hora the Viper-Maiden
In Scythia, there allegedly lived a nymph of sorts whose head and torso were that of a woman, but at about the hips her body transitioned to the shape of a snake. She could be variously called a viper-maiden, a dracaena, or simply referred to as Hora, although she was not one of the Horae known elsewhere from myth. Not put off by the viper-maiden’s slithery appearance, Zeus spent a night with this deity, and from that encounter was born Colaxes, who was said to have gone on to be a ruler of Tauric Chersonese.
Zeus came across Himalia due to a chance encounter. According to legend, the sky-god arrived in the vicinity of Rhodes to destroy or subjugate a group of mythological magician craftsmen, known as the Telchines. While in the region, Zeus happened to see Himalia, a nymph of Rhodes, and—always one for a little pleasure—Zeus seduced her and nature took its course. How long he spent with her was not said, but they reportedly had three children: Cronius, Cytus and Spartaeus.
Taygete was one of the Pleiades nymphs. Having already bedded Maia and Electra, Taygete was the third member of the Pleiades that Zeus seduced. After her encounter with the sky-god, Taygete gave birth to a son named Lacedaemon. The goddess, Artemis, was said to have helped Taygete avoid Zeus when the Pleiad nymph no longer wanted the persistent god’s attention.
Lysithea (or Lysithoe) was an Oceanid nymph who, after being seduced by Zeus, gave birth to a son named Heracles. This Heracles, however, was not the real Heracles, but a different, more obscure, and less impressive half-brother of the famous Alcmene-born hero by the same name.
The gods Zeus and Apollo (father and son) both favored the nymph, Othris (or Othreis). With Apollo, Othris had a son named Phagros. Zeus, it appears, did not have any issue being in a love triangle with his own son, and he, too, got Othris pregnant. This, as per usual, infuriated Hera, and in her wrath she lashed out at the nymph instead of the cheating husband. When the child was born, Hera pressured Othris to leave the baby in the wild to die. Nevertheless, the infant was said to have been kept alive by a caring hive of bees, which may or may not have been placed there by Zeus. Eventually, in a charming display of brotherly love, Phagros (Othris’ son by Apollo) found the child and raised it. The youth was given the name, Meliteus, and was said to have been the founder of Melite.
Featuring in one of the more bizarre episodes of Zeus’ erotic exploits, Europa was said to have been a Phoenician princess of great beauty. Zeus, who was apparently exploring the Phoenician coast, happened to spot her during his wanderings and immediately was smitten. Disregarding his usual seduce/rape and run tactics, Zeus decided he wanted to bring her to a more scenic and controlled environment. In plotting his masterplan, the sky-god came to an odd solution—he transformed into a white bull and simply sauntered on over to the princess. The tactic worked to great success. Europa, it seems, thought bulls were cute and noble beasts, and she immediately warmed to the random bovine, going so far as to adorn it with flowers. She made a mistake, however, when she decided to hop on top of the bull’s back. With his prey’s feet off the ground, Zeus immediately bolted out to sea in an awkward mix of swimming and flying. He eventually brought her to Crete, where he got what he wanted, one way or the other. Out of the encounter between Zeus and Europa came King Minos, Rhadamanthys, and Sarpedon.
A man always looking for a new kink, Zeus one day decided to try out love-making in the shape of an ant. Eurymedousa, a princess of northern Greece, was the unfortunate woman chosen by Zeus for this experimentation. As the story goes, the sky-god transformed her into an ant, and then he himself took on an ant shape. Now that they were both insects, Zeus sought what he desired. Afterward, Eurymedousa was presumably transformed back into a human and she gave birth to a son, Myrmidon—a name that fittingly translates to Ant-man.
Dia was the daughter of Deioneus and the wife of Ixion. Father and son-in-law did not get along at all, for Deioneus tried to extort Dia’s husband, resulting in Ixion retaliating by ultimately murdering Deioneus. While Ixion was dealing with divine retribution over this murder, Dia was not lacking in company. As the story goes, Zeus (always an oddball) approached her in the shape of a horse and, one way or the other, he had relations with her. From their union was born Pirithous.
Reportedly the daughter of King Acrisius of Argos, Danaë was a princess in the Peloponnesus whose life was upturned by a prophecy that her son would kill her father, Acrisius. As Danaë had no children at the time that the prophecy was released, Acrisius attempted to thwart the prophecy from coming to fruition by imprisoning Danaë in a room of bronze, safely locked away from all male company. A defenseless jailed damsel, however, was too much for Zeus to resist. The sky-god appeared to Danaë as a gold-colored rain, and from this golden shower (sorry for the imagery), Danaë became pregnant. Zeus, horrible lover and father that he was, left Danaë in her prison to face the pains of childbirth alone. The child was the famous hero, Perseus.
Laodameia, reportedly a daughter of Bellerophon, was another woman with whom Zeus spent intimate time. Together, they had a son named Sarpedon, who became a Lycian leader and an ally of Troy.
46. Pluto the Nymph
There were several nymphs by the name of Pluto among the Greek divinities. Zeus, with one of these nymphs, fathered the ancient Greek king, Tantalus.
Elara was a woman linked to Orchomenus, Greece. She was one of the many women that faced consequences for being caught in Zeus and Hera’s marital problems. Zeus, after getting Elara pregnant, tried to hide the affair from Hera by locking Elara in the earth. There, with the help of the primordial earth goddess, Gaia, Elara gave birth to a giant named Tityus.
As Greek myth could vary from storyteller to storyteller and from region to region, in addition to the nature of myth and folklore to change over time, it is probable that this is an incomplete list. One can only imagine the possible untold numbers of goddesses, nymphs, and female beings of all sorts whose interactions with the ever-lusting god of the sky were overlooked by the selective poets, artists and scholars who preserved the tales for posterity.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribution: (Olympus, by Felice Giani (c. 1758–1823), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons and the Smithsonian).
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- The Odyssey by Homer, translated by E. V. Rieu and edited by D. C. H. Rieu. New York: Penguin Classics, 2009.