What he's all about
Some gods are Gods because they represent something - they're the anthropomorphic personification of a single specific concept. Other deities are Gods because they personally created the heavens and the Earth, and that kinda makes you special. Still others marrying into godhood, or are born as heroes or demi-gods and later ascend. Overall, there's a lot of different reasons why someone might be a God. In Zeus's case, I'm confident he'd tell you he became a God because it makes it easy to get into other peoples beds and pants. "I did it for the ladies", he'd say, downplaying the fact that he's also had sex with a few young men. Zeus is a player. He's had over 70 children, by no less than 40 mothers, all while married to his own sister. He even played consort to his own mother. Clearly, Zeus's lechery is his most important character trait.
But you figure, honestly, there's got to be more to the man than just his thunderbolt. And indeed, once you get past all that lechery, incest, and shape-shifting bestiality, you'll see that there's plenty more aspects to Zeus. In fact, he was known by a lot of names, had plenty of avatars, and was worshiped in different ways all across Greece and the Mediterranean. Here's a few of his other guises and titles:
- Astrapios- literally, "the lightninger"
- Brontios- the Thunderer
- Lykaios - Zeus as werewolf, revered in a ceremony on Mount Lykaion in Arcadia that involved cannibalism and was said to turn one worshiper into a wolf every 9 years.
- Zeus Aegiduchos or Aegiochos he was the bearer of the Aegis with which he strikes terror into the impious and his enemies. Others derive this epithet from αίξ ("goat") and οχή and take it as an allusion to the legend of Zeus' suckling at the breast of Amalthea.
- Zeus Agamemnon was worshipped at Sparta. Blending god and king into a single figure, despite being two different characters in the Iliad and Odyssey.
- Zeus Agoraeus, Zeus watched over business at the agora and punished dishonest traders.
- Zeus Horkios, he was the keeper of oaths. Exposed liars were made to dedicate a statue to Zeus, often at the sanctuary of Olympia.
- Zeus Hospites- as a protector of guests
- Zeus Meilichios, "Easy-to-be-entreated", he subsumed an archaic chthonic daimon from Athens
- Zeus Olympios emphasized Zeus's kingship over both the gods in addition to his specific presence at the Panhellenic festival at Olympia.
- Zeus Philoxenon- as a protector of foreigners
- Zeus Tallaios, or "Solar Zeus", he was worshiped in Crete.
- Zeus Velchanos, the long-haired child Zeus who had an incestuous relationship with his mother, and was guarded by the Korybantes
- Zeus Xenios, Zeus was the patron of hospitality and guests, ready to avenge any wrong done to a stranger.
Zeus had two oracular sites in the Ancient World, one at Dodona in Epirus (region), the other in the Oasis of Siwa in Egypt. It was also quite common for locations to choose Zeus as a patron, and come up with an avatar of him with a name derived from their place-name. One of the Seven Wonders of the World was the Gold and Ivory statue of "Zeus Enthroned" in Olympia, sculpted by Phidias.
Thanks to Interpretatio Graeca, Zeus has swallowed or melded with several other mythical figures. He's equated with Jupiter of Rome, Ammon of Egypt, the Etruscan god Tinia, and the Phrygian god Sabazios.
When Greece was a Kingdom, he was the patron and protector of kings. After Ancient Greece became a democracy, he was considered a peacemaker and a judge.
Powers of Zeus
Zeus is a pretty major bad-ass in the myths. He has a lot of power, and engineers the overthrow of the Titans to seize control of the planet. While he's not technically the physical embodiment of the sky (that'd be Ouranos), he still has plenty of weather control powers to throw at people. In the Illiad he creates storms to plague his enemies. He has those potent thunderbolts to hurl, and the Aegis (a magic shield with a Gorgoneion on it). Zeus overthrew the Titans, including his own father, Cronus, and locked them away in Tartarus. So he's pretty buff in combat.
Speaking of being pretty and in-the-buff, have I mentioned that Zeus sleeps around? So we can assume he's got some serious charisma, seduction skills, or epic good looks. If he focuses that on a character in your game, look out! They won't know what hit them. Speaking of which, Zeus is the unparalleled shape-shifter of Greek Myth. He can turn into a bull, a wolf, a swan, a sunbeam, and who knows what else. This gets him past Hera's watchful gaze on several occasions, so he's probably got some serious Stealth and Disguise skills. The guy is slippery, and the embodiment of Historical and Cultural Perspectives on Zoophilia.
His transformational powers are not limited to his own body. He turns enemies to stone (or into whole mountains!), and has no hesitation in condemning people to eternal torture. He chains Titans to rocks, and gets away with thumbing his nose at prophecy. He immortalizes people as constellations. In some of the myths, he makes monsters or entire species. In his rage, he's sunk islands, and has contemplated destroying all of humanity.
Game and Story Use
- Zeus makes a great parent for a PC. He shows up as some animal, knocks up your mom a few times, and then skips town. There's usually some jealous suitor or royal enemy to contend with, and the semi-divine child has to face huge challenges to prove themselves. No matter how hard you try, and how much you accomplish, you'll never be his favorite son (that title goes to Heracles). There's tons of dramatic potential there.
- Hide the women! Zeus is coming to town! His "lost weekend" could result in an entire city of destroyed marriages and violated innocence. Can the PCs get him to go back to Olympus before their hometown is forever disgraced?
- Lykaios and Zeus Meilichios are sides of Zeus that your players won't anticipate. Werewolves with lightning magic? A sky god who lives in a dark pit in the ground? Turn their expectations on end, and you'll make your game memorable.