Zeus was born on Crete
According to Greek mythology, Zeus was born on Crete. Two caves high in the Cretan mountains contest the honour of being known as the birthplace of the greatest god of ancient Greece: the Dikteon Cave in south-central Crete and the Ideon Cave on the highest mountain in Crete, Mount Ida or Psiloritis.
There is no information describing exactly where Zeus was born, and each cave has its own adherents.
The important thing, however, is that Crete is the birthplace of Zeus, in a way which has many points of similarity to the birth of Christ, many centuries later, in another cave in what is now the state of Israel.
Uranus, Gaia and Cronus
But let’s start at the beginning...
According to Hesiod’s Theogony, the first gods at the beginning of the world were Uranus (the Sky) and Gaia (the Earth).
Uranus, fearful of losing his power to his descendants, cast his children into the depths of the earth.
Gaia, who was not keen on her husband’s behaviour, hid her son Cronus in the marriage bed and later helped him to overthrow his father.
According to myth, on Gaia’s advice Cronus took a sickle and castrated Uranus, throwing his genitals into the sea. Thus was born the beautiful goddess of love Aphrodite.
Cronus and Rhea, the birth of Zeus on Crete
But Cronus was to share his father’s fate. Afraid of his father’s prophetic curse, he swallowed his children sothey would not be able to take his place.
Rhea gives to Cronus a fake baby
Cronus and Rhea had had five children before Zeus, who all ended up in their father’s stomach.
When Rhea became pregnant with Zeus, she did not want him to share their fate, so she asked for the help of her parents, Uranus and Gaia.
Following their advice, she went to Crete and hid in a cave inthe Cretan mountains to bring forth the child in secret, unknown to her child-eating husband. As she gave birth, Rhea tried to stifle her cries by sinking her fingers into the earth. From each finger arose one of the ten Dactyls, benevolent inhabitants of the Cretan mountains.
Throughout the birth, the entrance to the cave was guarded by the legendary Curetes, whom many myths identify with the Dactyls.
As soon as Rhea gave birth to Zeus, the healthy boy who was to become the Father of the Gods of Olympus, she gave him to the Curetes to look after. They danced and stamped, beat their drums and clashed their shields to cover the baby’s crying.
In order to deceive her husband Cronus, Rhea gave him a stone wrapped in swaddling clothes instead of the baby. He swallowed the supposed infant at once and relaxed once more in the certainty that his throne was not at risk from his children.
Zeus grows up hidden in the mountains of Crete
In the meantime, little Zeus was growing up in the cave where he remained hidden in the mountains of Crete. The goat Amalthea and the nymph Melissa played an important part in his upbringing.
- Amalthea, a goat or, according to others, a nymph, suckled the holy infant and from her horn, the cornucopia or horn of plenty, came all manner of good things.
- The nymph Melissa nursed Zeus and looked after him, while feeding him her nourishing honey so he would grow more quickly.
The War of the Titans - Zeus overthrows Cronus
Titanomachy, Painting by Cornelis van Haarlem, 1588
When Zeus eventually grew up and came of age, he overthrew Cronus and assumed his divine authority, either bloodlessly or after a terrible war, the Titanomachy, referred to in a different version of the myth.
According to the version of the Titanomachy or War of the Titans, when Zeus went to find his father and take over from him, he sliced open Cronus’s belly and out leapt all the children he had swallowed in the past: Hera, Poseidon, Hestia, Demeter and Pluto (Hades). With their help, Zeus fought the Titans who controlled the universe, led by Cronus.
The war was long and cruel but it was finally won by Zeus and his siblings, who, together with Zeus’s children, made up the Twelve Gods of Olympus.