Zeus's Love Affairs
As you've seen, Zeus had numerous love affairs before he married Hera, but marriage did nothing to end his philandering. This section lists some of Zeus's many adulterous affairs. Hera has a reputation as the most jealous and vengeful Olympian deity. Read on, and you'll see why.
Aegina was the daughter of the river-god Asopus. Zeus took a liking to this young girl and transformed himself into an eagle to steal her away. Asopus, furious, searched all over Greece for his daughter. Zeus, however, put an end to this hunt by striking at Asopus with bolts of lightning. Zeus took Aegina to an isolated island, where she conceived a son, Aeacus. After Aeacus was born, Aegina left the island, but asked Zeus to populate it. He granted her wish, and the island bore her name.
Aeacus followed in his father's footsteps. Although he was not a god, he ruled over the island of Aegina. A just and fair ruler, he took justice so seriously that he banished his own sons from the island when they murdered their brother.
Alcmene was a mortal woman — and married. But she refused to consummate the marriage until her husband, Amphitryon, completed an act of revenge for her. Zeus disguised himself as her husband, saying he'd returned successfully from his mission of revenge. Alcmene welcomed Zeus into her bed, believing he was her husband. One myth states that Zeus ordered the sun god to take a few days off so that their night of lovemaking would last longer.
The real Amphitryon wasn't happy to return to a wife who claimed she'd already slept with him. But because her lover had been Zeus, there wasn't anything a mortal man could do about it. Alcmene's union with Zeus led to the birth of the famed hero Heracles.
The myths vary about the identity of Callisto. Some say she was the daughter of the king of Arcadia; others say she was the daughter of the king of Thebes. Still others say she was a wood nymph. All of the myths agree, however, that she was an attendant of Artemis. Callisto took a vow of chastity, as all attendants of Artemis were required to do. However, Zeus fell in love with her — and you know how that goes.
Because Callisto had vowed to remain a virgin, avoiding the company of all men, Zeus had to disguise himself as Artemis to get close to her. The plan worked, and Zeus had his way with her. Callisto was pregnant with her son Arcas when Artemis discovered that her attendant had broken her vow. For this transgression, Artemis transformed Callisto into a bear and (according to some versions of the myth) later killed her.
Danae was the daughter of the king of Argos. According to a prophecy, Danae's son would rise up and kill his grandfather. Knowing this, the king decided to keep Danae away from all men, imprisoning her in a tower with bronze doors. Of course, Zeus wasn't a man; he was a god. Zeus transformed himself into a shower of golden rain and visited Danae. As always, Zeus got what he wanted, and the result was Perseus. He became a great hero, and his story appears in Chapter 19.
Several myths surround Electra, the daughter of Atlas. But none of these myths gives the details of how Zeus seduced her. Even though there isn't a juicy story to narrate their love affair, their union was an important one. Dardanus, son of Zeus and Electra, founded the royal house of Troy.
One day, Zeus looked down from the heavens and saw Europa, daughter of the king of Phoenicia, playing on the beach. He was immediately transfixed by her beauty. Zeus transformed into a glamorous white bull and presented himself to the maiden.
At first, Europa was afraid of the creature, but the bull gently lay down at her feet. Relaxing, Europa petted the creature and then climbed onto his back. Zeus ran off with her, carrying her to the ocean and swimming to the island of Crete. There, he changed back to his true form and made love to Europa beneath a tree. From that time on, the tree was always evergreen. Europa became the first queen of Crete and bore Zeus three sons: Minos, Sarpedon, and Rhadamanthys.
No one was safe from the lust of Zeus, not even young men. Ganymede was a prince of the royal Trojan family. Some myths say that he was the most beautiful of all mortals, men and women alike. When Zeus saw Ganymede, it was love at first sight. Zeus sent an eagle (or transformed himself into an eagle) to carry the youth to Mount Olympus. There, Ganymede became a cupbearer for the gods (particularly Zeus), replacing Hebe in this role.
Io, daughter of the river-god Inachus, was a virgin priestess of Hera. That role should have made her off-limits to Zeus, but he lusted after her anyway. Zeus knew he had to avoid Hera's anger, so he lured Io into the woods. He then covered the area with a large, thick cloud, which concealed their love-making. Afterward, he turned Io into a white heifer to hide her. But Hera saw through his ruse. You'll read about Hera's revenge later in this chapter.
Leda was the daughter of the king of Aetolia and the wife of Tyndareus, king of Sparta. Once again, Zeus transformed himself in order to get close to his target — this time, he changed into a swan. Pretending to be fleeing from an eagle, the swan threw itself into Leda's arms. Zeus seduced Leda, and she became pregnant. Leda didn't give birth in the normal way, however. She laid two eggs, from which hatched Polydeuces and Helen (later known as Helen of Troy). Leda had several children — some with Zeus, and some with her husband. Her children included Helen, Polydeuces, Castor, Clytemnestra, Phoebe, Timandra, and Philonoe.
Maia was the oldest and most beautiful daughter of Atlas. It was inevitable that Zeus would notice her. To avoid Hera, Zeus snuck away from his sleeping wife at night to visit Maia. She bore him Hermes, who became one of the great Olympians. Maia was lucky; if Hera took revenge on her, the myths don't record it.
Semele was a mortal woman with whom Zeus fell in love. He came to her disguised as a mortal man, but confided that he was indeed the ruler of the gods. Unlike some of Zeus's other lovers, Semele did not try to escape his advances. They enjoyed a brief love affair, which caused Semele to conceive a son, Dionysus. Zeus promised to give Semele anything she wanted. Taking advantage of this, Semele asked Zeus to show her his true form. But a god's splendor was too much for a mere mortal to bear. When he appeared to Semele in his true form, she burst into flames.
The nymph Taygete was yet another of Atlas's daughters and a companion of Artemis. When Zeus pursued Taygete, she asked Artemis for help, and Artemis turned her into a doe. Zeus had his way with her, anyway, making love to Taygete when she was unconscious. As a result, Taygete gave birth to Lacedaemon.
Atlas had seven daughters by the Oceanid Pleione: Taygete, Electra, Alcyone, Celaeno, Merope, Maia, and Asterope. These divine daughters are known collectively as the Pleiades.
And Many More …
As the preceding sections suggest, Zeus had many, many trysts during his marriage to Hera — and that's just scratching the surface. As the ruler of the gods and humanity, Zeus was hard to refuse.
But don't imagine that Hera simply stood by and watched her husband's exploits. Even though she was a goddess, she felt the same emotions mortals do — and she felt jealousy particularly strongly. When she was jealous, Hera demanded revenge. The next section gives you a taste of how Hera punished Zeus's lovers.