Myths and Legends of Ancient Greece and Rome
Page: 15It will be seen on reflection that in a country like Greece, which contained so many petty states, often at variance with each other, these national gatherings must have been most valuable as a means of uniting the Greeks in one great bond of brotherhood. On these festive occasions the whole nation met together, forgetting for the moment all past differences, and uniting in the enjoyment of the same festivities.
It will doubtless have been remarked that in the representations of Zeus he is always accompanied by an eagle. This royal bird was sacred to him, probably from the fact of its being the only creature capable of gazing at the sun without being dazzled, which may have suggested the idea that it was able to contemplate the splendour of divine majesty unshrinkingly.
The oak-tree, and also the summits of mountains, were sacred to Zeus. His sacrifices consisted of white bulls, cows, and goats.
METIS, his first wife, was one of the Oceanides or sea-nymphs. She was the personification of prudence and wisdom, a convincing proof of which she displayed in her successful administration of the potion which caused Cronus to yield up his children. She was endowed with the gift of prophecy, and foretold to Zeus that one of their children would gain ascendency over him. In order, therefore, to avert the possibility of the prediction being fulfilled he swallowed her before any children were born to them. Feeling afterwards violent pains in his head, he sent for Hephæstus, and ordered him to open it with an axe. His command was obeyed, and out sprang, with a loud and martial shout, a beautiful being, clad in armour from head to foot. This was Athene (Minerva), goddess of Armed Resistance and Wisdom.
THEMIS was the goddess of Justice, Law, and Order.
LETO (Latona) was the daughter of Cœus and Phœbe. She was gifted with wonderful beauty, and was tenderly loved by Zeus, but her lot was far from being a happy one, for Hera, being extremely jealous of her, persecuted her with inveterate cruelty, and sent the dreadful serpent Python to terrify and torment her wherever she went. But Zeus, who had observed with the deepest compassion her weary wanderings and agonized fears, resolved to create for her some place of refuge, however humble, where she might feel herself safe from the venomous attacks of the serpent. He therefore brought her to Delos, a floating island in the Ægean Sea, which he made stationary by attaching it with chains of adamant to the bottom of the sea. Here she gave birth to her twin-children, Apollo and Artemis (Diana), two of the most beautiful of the immortals.
According to some versions of the story of Leto, Zeus transformed her into a quail, in order that she might thus elude the vigilance of Hera, and she is said to have resumed her true form when she arrived at the island of Delos.
In the union of Zeus with most of his immortal wives we shall find that an allegorical meaning is conveyed. His marriage with Metis, who is said to have surpassed both gods and men in knowledge, represents supreme power allied to wisdom and prudence. His union with Themis typifies the bond which exists between divine majesty and justice, law, and order. Eurynome, as the mother of the Charites or Graces, supplied the refining and harmonizing influences of grace and beauty, whilst the marriage of Zeus with Mnemosyne typifies the union of genius with memory.
In addition to the seven immortal wives of Zeus, he was also allied to a number of mortal maidens whom he visited under various disguises, as it was supposed that if he revealed himself in his true form as king of heaven the splendour of his glory would cause instant destruction to mortals. The mortal consorts of Zeus have been such a favourite theme with poets, painters, and sculptors, that it is necessary to give some account of their individual history. Those best known are Antiope, Leda, Europa, Callisto, Alcmene, Semele, Io, and Danae.