The history of the gods: The story of Zeus

The story of ZeusThe history of humans is an incredible one with seemingly impossible tasks achieved throughout it. Today, we face the seemingly impossible task of averting global warming and the associated climate change so can we learn from the past on how to do it?


Our current industrial civilization can trace its roots back to the ancient Greeks. It was they who first started to look for ‘proof’, to answer the question of why something was as it was, rather than simply seeking to describe it. They sought to develop concepts that would apply everywhere and in every case. The work of Pythagoras is as valid today as it was 2,500 years ago. The philosophies of Plato, Aristotle and Socrates are still read. The Greek myths are both stories and powerful tools for gaining insight into how things are or may be. They don’t provide answers to particular situations, but they do provide ways of starting to think about answers. They help us to get to grips with understanding how we may behave differently.

There is one myth that I believe is particularly relevant, that of Heracles, or more particularly, the Labours of Heracles (or Hercules as it is often spelt).

The Labours are particularly apt to help us when fighting global warming, not just because Hercules was reputed to have made Earth safe for mankind by completing them, but the situation before them has striking parallels to the situation we find ourselves in now.

Hercules was not born as a god, but as the offspring of an extended night of sexual activity between the god Zeus and a mortal, Alcmene. Somewhat surprisingly given that he was an all-powerful god, Zeus had thought it necessary to trick Alcmene into accepting him by impersonating her husband.

(Immediately, we can see something relevant: a deception in order to achieve one’s own way is a frequent occurrence in modern life, especially in business. In principle, trade is a transaction in which, after it is done, both parties feel better off for having done it. In reality, success in business is often at the expense of someone else. Creating a situation in which people believe that the benefit they are going to accrue from a transaction will be greater than what they will actually get is the primary job of advertising. Retaining the maximum amount of money the company receives is the job of accountants specialising in tax avoidance.)

Zeus was married to Hera, the Queen of the gods. Not content with simply cheating on her, Zeus declared that the boy was to be named in her honour. Maybe he really thought she would be pleased: after all, Zeus’s plan all along had been to beget a son powerful enough to protect both gods and men from destruction.

Hera wasn’t at all pleased about his infidelity and wanted revenge. Men have a long history of not understanding women particularly well. Hera did, however, realise that she could not win a straight fight against Zeus, so decided instead to make life a misery for the boy.

Before taking on his Labours, Hercules had led a pretty tumultuous life. By all accounts, he was a keen and active student of chariot driving, boxing and the arts of war, especially archery. He also learnt music but when a teacher called Linus stood in for his regular one and tried to get him to do things differently, Hercules lashed out at him and killed him. This prompted his earthly stepfather to send him away to the country to be a cowherd in an attempt to prevent further crimes.

The country life is seldom as idyllic as city dwellers often fantasise and here he found a family with fifty daughters with whom he proceeded to sleep. He was also presented with a choice.

One day, while watching the herd, Virtue, a tall slender woman in a simple white robe, approached Hercules from one side, whilst from the other side came Vice, a curvaceous young woman wearing makeup and a dress with a plunging neckline. Vice offered him sex, entertainment and lifelong ease, whilst Virtue offered him struggle and labour, but he would be rewarded by lifelong fame. Even in the days before reality television and The X Factor, the lure of lifelong fame proved too much.

When we compare this to the current choice facing industrialised society, we can see that to choose Virtue will also involve struggle, but it is simply a struggle to overcome 500 years of accumulated conditioning which tells us that the rational thing to do is to burn fossil fuels.

Vice wants us to keep burning the oil and gas and, when they run out, to turn to coal. They are convenient, cheap and a potent source of energy which is fairly easily transported to wherever it is needed. And they make life so much nicer. The cars, the warm houses, the bright lights of the cities, the graceful aeroplanes that cover enormous distances, the enormous ships that bring goods from far away but cheaper lands, the high yield farms, the shiny electronic games, phones and labour-saving devices. These are all dependent on energy and coincidentally that energy comes from fossil fuels. But the act of burning them creates enormous impact on the environment that will result in global warming and associated climate change that threatens both the basis of civilisation and that of life itself.

Virtue insists that we find a new fuel. Energy can come from renewable resources (sun, wind, tide, plants and trees), from nuclear or hydrogen. Enough energy from the sun hits the planet in one hour to power human activity for an entire year. At the moment, we find it difficult to capture that energy and turn it into something that is as convenient, storable or transportable as fossil fuel. Finding ways to do so are hampered by the accountancy method that ignores the Earth-cost of consumption when setting the price of production.

We have reached a point of evolutionary choice. We can follow our animal instincts of greed and sloth and burn the remaining fossil fuel in the knowledge that it will fry the planet. Or we can choose to change our ways of accounting, so that the cost of developing alternatives is no longer weighed as a disadvantage when set against the easy option. Vice or Virtue? Life-shortening ease or everlasting fame?

Hercules made his choice: will we?

Mythology has truly fascinated men and women for hundreds and hundreds of years. Generally the stories conclude in tragedy, or the divinities that are showcased appear to be cruel and cold. There seems to be a blurring regarding what truly is a god and what really is human, however the divinities want piety from their human underlings. So why were mythological tales shared and what was their meaning?

It was once believed that mythological stories really had no factual groundwork and were completely imaginary. It’s now acknowledged that several of the stories do use a factual origin. The facts are changed over time and the people of the past are made to be better and more powerful than the people of today. Mythological tales were told in oral traditions, that’s they weren’t written down for many centuries. Over hundreds of years story lines would certainly be modified to suit the audience of the time. Herodotus, a Ancient Greek historian of the fifth century B.C., who has a really interesting curriculum vitae, noticed that the stories of the great mythological heroes may differ based on which location or also country he was in.

Homer shows the shade of Heracles in hell and confesses that his immortal godly self is at the same time feasting in the heavens. Homer was combining different variations of the death of Heracles directly into his own tale telling. In earlier versions of the fable, Herakles would pass away and go to hell and a witless shade, the same as other human men and women did. In later versions of the fable, Herakles actually became immortal as he perished. His shade didn’t need to go into the underworld, but it still does in Homer’s version of the tale, most likely because the audience expected that well known part of the story to be included along with the new immortal Heracles, even if it makes no sense.

The gods are generally an important part of ancient mythology, especially in Greek mythology. They’re truly immortal powerful individuals with all the failings of humans. Quite a few stories have a poor conclusion for the mortals within in mostly because they have not proven the deference towards the gods, that they demanded of common men and women. Baucis and Philemon were actually the only individuals in their small village who weren’t killed by Zeus and Hermes. Their neighbours had turned the divinities (who were all disguised as beggars) from their houses. This was an offence toward the divinities because of very bad hospitality. Xenios was a location ruled over by Zeus (king of the divinities) and his boy Hermes. No mercy is shown for the town and everybody is killed. Philemon and Baucis escaped the misfortune of their neighbours simply because they allowed the gods in to their house, even though they were very poor themselves and offered them hospitality.

The ancient Greek temple dedicated to Zeus was constructed at Olympia in the sacred sanctuary of Altis. Zeus was the king of all gods in ancient Greece. He lived on Mt. Olympus and was also the god of thunder and sky.

In ancient Greece, Olympics were held every 4 years for athletes. The athletes used to travel Mount Olympus to take part in the games. During this period, the wars would stop and the kings of different territories would call a truce to allow safe passage to the athletes. The Olympics were dedicated to Zeus, and were held at the temple in a stadium under a statue of Zeus.

In the initial stages of the stadium was simple and makeshift. However, soon the ancient Greeks wanted something grander and more majestic. This was to show their reverence to the king of all gods. So, the started building a bigger and more magnificent temple in 470 AD. The architect of the temple was Libon, who was Elis.

The history of the gods

It is believed that many ideas for the temple were taken from the Parthenon and the temple of Artemis, which was located at Ephesus. The temple was built on a raised platform that was rectangular in shape. It had a huge roof that was supported with the help of 13 carved pillars on the long sides of the rectangle and 6 pillars on the shorter sides. The roof had an incline, and the pillars were carved to show the 12 tasks performed by Hercules.

The ancient Greek temple of Zeus was constructed in the Doric style architecture which was prevalent during those times. Limestones from the local quarry were used for the construction, but the appearance was dull and not very attractive. So, the outer part of the temple was covered with Scutto. The sculptures housed in the temple were made using Parian marble and the inner sanctum housed a 40-foot statue of Zeus. The statue was shown sitting on a golden throne.

Although in the subsequent years, the temple was ruined due to floods and wars, the temple and its magnificent beauty remained etched in people’s mind and the description was passed down from one generation to another. The magnificent statue of Zeus was destroyed in 462 AD due to a fire.

The ruins of the temple were discovered in 1829 AD by French archaeologists and it took 5 whole years to excavate. The task was further taken up a team of German archaeologists in 1875 AD.