Another important function of myths is to maintain natural and social order. Although the creation myth begins with Chaos, the story works to provide a specific order to the universe. After order is created within the cosmos, order is then brought to the lesser beings — people and their societies. Establishing order is an orderly process in itself.
Most myths affirm that Zeus, ruler of the gods, was responsible for creating order in the natural world. By the time he came to power, however, some sense of order already existed. Earth, heaven, seas, sky, and space were already set in their respective places. So Zeus shouldn't get all the credit.
You will often see the ruler of the gods and men referred to as Zeus, the name used by the ancient Greeks. However, the Romans called the same god Jupiter. See a comparison of Greek and Roman names for the gods.
The affairs of the universe were within the domain of Zeus, who presided over the natural world. The ancients believed that Zeus placed the stars and planets in their individual places, but he didn't stop there. Also referred to as the weather god, Zeus gave rain, snow, thunder, and lightning to Earth.
Although Zeus held highest command, other gods also maintained order in the natural world. The universe was divided among the gods (the goddesses were left out of this part), each having jurisdiction over a particular domain. Zeus ruled the heavens, Poseidon the seas, and Hades the Underworld.
Other deities helped ensure the ultimate order of things. For example, Zeus had children who helped to establish the natural order. The three Horae were the goddesses of nature: Eunomia (Discipline), Dike (Justice), and Eirene (Peace). Zeus also fathered the three Moirai — Atropos, Clotho, and Lachesis — who represented destiny. These three sisters, sometimes called the Fates, determined the length of an individual's life by spinning a thread, then measuring it, and then finally cutting it.
These deities were aided by various lesser deities. River gods, nymphs, satyrs, sirens, and the various gods and goddesses of light, darkness, and dawn — whom you'll read about in Chapter 17 — all played a role in maintaining the natural world.
After bringing order to the universe and organizing the natural world, the gods had to make sure that lesser beings, such as humans, understood and kept their place. Myths worked to maintain order in society by showing what behavior was acceptable — and what was not.
In the ancient world, if you were going to swear by the gods, it was best to know what you were doing. Oaths were often sworn to Helios, the sun god, because he could see everything that happened on Earth. Very serious oaths were sworn to Styx. Breaking an oath to this river goddess carried dire consequences, even for the gods themselves. A god who broke an oath sworn to Styx would endure a death-like state for a year, followed by nine years of isolation from the gods' councils and feasts.
Again, the burden of creating order fell upon Zeus. To reign over immortals and mortals was a huge responsibility, and Zeus took this responsibility seriously. He came to be known as a god of justice, creating laws that were fair and sensible and maintained order. Zeus often used diplomacy to settle disputes through compromise, and he watched closely to ensure that his laws were not broken, especially those governing oaths and hospitality.
Because Zeus never really warmed to humankind, however, it was easy to lose his favor. Therefore, it was best to abide by his laws; no one wanted to experience the wrath of Zeus.
Zeus set the laws and often meted out harsh punishments against those who broke them, but he wasn't the only deity concerned with maintaining order. All of the gods and goddesses placed demands upon humankind, most of which concerned sacrificial rites and due respect. Crimes never went unpunished. The thought of escaping a deity's anger was almost laughable. The ancients had many rules to follow, but they did so willingly because they wanted to avoid the wrath of the gods.