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Zeus and Cronos

They were both kings of the gods, but the story of Zeus and his father is one of violent succession and the end of a terrible cycle of conflict.

Cronos was more than Zeus’s father, he was also his predecessor as king of the gods.

The Titan ruler had won power by attacking his own father. Fearful that the same thing would happen to him, he tried to then prevent his six children from growing to adulthood.

He was not successful, however, and when Zeus grew to adulthood he continued the cycle by deposing his father with violence and banishing him as well.

Zeus, however, was able to do what his father and grandfather could not. He successfully ended the cycle of sons seizing power from their father.

By learning from his father’s mistakes, Zeus avoided his fate. He maintained power and became the first king of the gods who could live alongside his children without fearing them.

The Battle Between Zeus and His Father Cronos

Cronos was the ruler of the Titan gods.

He was the youngest son of Uranus and Gaia. There were twelve Titans, six male and six female, who were ruled over by their primordial father.

Uranus, however, angered Gaia when he locked six of her offspring, the Cyclopes and the Hecatonchieres, away in Tartarus as monsters. The furious mother earth asked her sons to help her seek vengeance against their father.

Cronos was the only one who was willing to openly challenge Uranus. He and Gaia set a trap to capture the sky god when he was vulnerable.

When Uranus descended toward Gaia, Cronos attacked him with a sickle. He castrated his father, depriving him of power and banishing him to the sky.

As the defeater of Uranus, Cronos took power as king over his siblings. The Titans flourished, marrying one another and bringing forth another generation of gods.

Cronos was uneasy in power, however. He had been warned by Gaia that one of his children would someday grow to overpower him and take his throne.

To keep this from happening, Cronos swallowed each of his children as soon as they were born. He swallowed five babies in total, three daughters and two sons.

His wife and sister, Rhea, was becoming increasingly distressed with the loss of each of her children. When she fell pregnant for a sixth time, she asked her mother for help.

Gaia, too, was unhappy with Cronos. Not only had he hurt Rhea by depriving her of her children, but he had also failed in his promise to free Gaia’s own imprisoned offspring.

The earth mother helped Rhea hide her pregnancy and give birth in secret. Zeus was raised in hiding by nymphs with a pair of giants to guard over him.

When he had grown, Zeus disguised himself as a simple cupbearer to get close to Cronos. With the help of a Titaness named Metis, he slipped his father a purgative that caused him to spit out his five older children.

Zeus and his siblings declared war on their father. Any gods who helped them overthrow Cronos would be rewarded with a place in the new hierarchy.

The Titanomachy, or war with the Titans, lasted for ten years. Zeus and his brothers won Gaia to their side by finally freeing her children, who proved to be valuable allies.

Cronos was eventually defeated by both strength in arms and the superior cunning of his children. He and his brothers were locked in Tartarus where they could not threaten the new gods of Mount Olympus.

Zeus was still not secure in his position, though. When he married Metis, Gaia gave him the same grim news his father had once heard – his new bride’s son would one day take his place as king of the gods.

Zeus knew from experience that Cronos had made a mistake by allowing his children to be born at all. Rather than swallow his child, Zeus turned his wife into a fly and swallowed her instead.

He did not realize, however, that Metis was already pregnant. The goddess Athena was born from her own father’s head several months after he swallowed Metis.

While Athena survived, she posed no threat to Zeus’s rule. Gaia had specifically said that he would be destroyed by his son, not his daughter, so Athena was welcomed among the gods as Zeus’s favored child.

The king of the gods courted another Titaness, Thetis, before learning that she too would have a son greater than his father. He abandoned the relationship before a child could be conceived, and instead arranged for Thetis to marry a human man.

Zeus finally married his own sister, Hera. Their only son, Ares, was no match for his father in power, popularity, or ambition.

With that, Zeus put an end to the cycle of succession that had plagued the Greek gods. After three generations, power was securely held by a god who would not be unseated by his own son.

My Modern Interpretation

The stories of how Cronos and Zeus came to power and tried to hold onto it are filled with similarities.

Both were the youngest children of the ruler of the gods. Both were pushed toward rebellion by the maternal anger of Gaia.

Upon defeating their fathers, each new king banished his father from the surface of the earth. They then established their seat of power on a mountaintop.

Cronos and Zeus each learned of a prophecy that said they would be usurped by their own child. Here, though, their stories begin to diverge.

Cronos had swallowed five children, and would have done the same to his sixth had Rhea and Gaia not conspired to save the baby. The fact that he had left open the possibility of one son going free was his undoing.

As the third king in the cycle of succession, Zeus could recognize the mistakes his father and grandfather had made. It was not enough to lock the children away, he knew, because both Gaia’s children and Zeus’s siblings had eventually been freed.

Zeus ended the cycle of succession by destroying his wife, ensuring that she would never be able to have a son that challenged him. He chose to marry his sister, just as Cronos did, but did so because the history of the gods had shown that the wrong choice of wife could lead to a king’s demise.

The cycle of succession in Greek religion showed that Zeus had earned the right to rule not only through birthright and strength, but also by displaying wisdom and foresight.

Cronos and Uranus had both ignored the warnings of Gaia or underplayed their significance. Zeus knew from his own experience that angering the primordial mother would lead to a loss of power.

Both previous kings had ruled in an authoritarian manner and denied power to the gods below them. Zeus welcomed the younger Titans to Olympus when they sided with him and divided rule over the realms of the world with his brothers.

The birth of Athena, the goddess of wisdom, marked the end of the succession cycle of the gods. She was a literal embodiment of the intelligence Zeus had shown in ensuring the end of the wars between the gods.

By destroying Metis and marrying Hera, Zeus had ensured that his rule would last forever. While he had many sons, Gaia’s prophecy had been nullified and none would ever be strong enough to challenge his place as king.

The six children of Cronos were eventually joined by their own offspring to bring the number of ruling gods to twelve. Unlike the Titans, the king of Olympus were able to live and rule alongside his children because he never had to worry about losing his throne to one of them.

In Summary

Cronos was the father of Zeus.

He had deposed his own father, Uranus, at the urging of Gaia. When he took power, however, he continued many of the practices that had drawn his mother’s anger in the past.

To avoid being overthrown by his own son, he swallowed each of his children on the day of their birth. His wife and mother, however, hid his last child and Zeus grew up in secret.

Zeus freed his siblings and waged war against his own father and the Titans. After he won it seemed as though the cycle of violent succession would continue among the gods.

The king of Mount Olympus had learned from his father’s mistakes, however. When told his first wife would bear a child stronger than him Zeus swallowed her instead of waiting for the baby to be born.

Zeus spent the early part of his reign ensuring that he would not suffer the same fate as his predecessors. By not repeating their mistakes or earning the ire of the other gods, the king of the Olympians was able to hold on to his power.

Zeus was the first king of the gods who could rule alongside his children instead of in opposition to them. His rule finally brought stability to the world and established a lasting pantheon.

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Mike Greenberg, PhD

My name is Mike and for as long as I can remember (too long!) I have been in love with all things related to Mythology. I am the owner and chief researcher at this site. My work has also been published on Buzzfeed and most recently in Time magazine. Please like and share this article if you found it useful.

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