Zeus can be described as an enigmatic, uncompromising and, to many, a very controversial deity. But whether you like him or hate him, there’s no denying that he’s a driving force behind many of the stories to emerge from Greek mythology.
It’s understandable to dislike someone who causes so many conflicts and issues, but we have no stories or at least none that aren’t linear and boring without these conflicts. Today’s article will cover a story that we don’t know much about other than a few speculative accounts—the story of what happened when the Olympians attempted to rebel against Zeus and take his throne.
Before discussing the events themselves, we first need to understand how the power structure and hierarchy worked in Greek mythology. There’s no doubt that the majority of deities were mighty, but we don’t know how powerful we compared to one another because that wasn’t something that was measured back then—at least, not to the extent that it is today.
We need to know who is the strongest and who would defeat who in any given scenario. To establish rulership and become king of the gods, it boiled down to ‘who was brave enough and confident enough to step forward and take the throne.’ Which doesn’t necessarily mean the king, or the ruler was the most powerful.
We first see this when Uranus’ dethroned by his children and Cronus assumes the mantle of king. This began the cycle and the prophecy that stated,
Despite his best efforts, Cronus would eventually suffer defeat to Zeus and his siblings, meaning the established power dynamic was shattered, and a new ruler would have to step forward.
You can argue or debate as to which of Zeus, Poseidon, or Hades was the most powerful deity, in which one of them should have been the ruler. Still, it was Zeus who freed his siblings and ultimately defeated his father, and it was Zeus once again, through his trickery, ensure that he would rule the skies and claim the throne at the top of Mount Olympus.
The First Attempt to Dethrone Zeus
There were several attempts to overthrow Zeus, long before the Olympians tried to do so themselves, with the majority of these coming from Gaia, the primordial goddess of the earth and the mother of the Titans.
But firstly, when along with Tartarus, she created Typhon with the sole intention of destroying the Olympians, and this was Zeus’s first real test as a leader.
There are numerous accounts of this story, but in most of them, the gods chose to flee to Egypt when faced with Typhon’s daunting presence. However, Zeus decided to stay, when after a rumbling battle where victory seemed almost impossible, Zeus was finally able to overcome Typhon and crush the first rebellion against his rule.
The Second Attempt to Dethrone Zeus
Similar to the first rebellion, the second came from the Giants, who were being encouraged by Gaia seeking revenge for her children. Their attack on Olympus was reasonably easy to be repelled by the Olympians, who also had help from Heracles.
This rebellion was nowhere near the previous level when it wouldn’t be into the Olympians’ coup that the rule of Zeus would be threatened once again.
The Rebellion of Olympus to Dethrone Zeus
So, as we now move on to the Olympian rebellion, we should look at Zeus as a leader.
It’s relatively tricky to describe Zeus as an authoritarian leader because the gods and goddesses were free to do as they please, for the most part. Zeus certainly didn’t care about maintaining total control of everything, as essential areas such as law and justice were governed by other deities—those whose word would still be final.
This type of loose leadership could be seen as a way of avoiding the prophecy that stated: “his children would overthrow him.” If you give your children and fellow gods the freedom to do as they please, then assess likely they have a reason to rebel, and this most likely would have worked, but Zeus didn’t anticipate the driving factor behind the rebellion, his wife, Hera.
What Exactly Would Cause Hera to Rebel Against Zeus?
Hera was primarily regarded as the queen of Olympus and the wife of Zeus. You could argue that she was the second in power. However, being married to Zeus was no easy task as he took several other wives, and we know his sexual appetite led to him having many affairs.
Hera would deal with loose as many infidelities mostly consisted of lashing out and punishing his many wives and many children. Eventually, she must have reached the point where the only solution was to remove Zeus, and thus, the coup began.
To overthrow Zeus, Hera would need assistance, and that came in the form of Apollo, Poseidon, and Athena—who themselves desired the throne.
Homer briefly mentions that he thought Poseidon was capable of overthrowing Zeus by himself, but he chose not to because he did not care for the throne. So, it’s clear that he believes that Poseidon is more powerful than Zeus.
In some versions of the story, Hera would drug Zeus to induce a night of deep sleep, and in other versions, the sleep was much more natural. The other gods then chained him to where he slept and began arguing about who would take his place. Each one believed that they were best suited to rule.
The only deity not to take part was Hestia, who did not care for things such as power. The mother of Achilles, Thetis, had made it previously known that Zeus was the rightful leader of Olympus, and if anyone else were to take the throne, then chaos would ensue.
While the bickering between the Olympians continued, Thetis did the only thing she could. She sent a message to Briareus, the biggest and most potent of the Hecatoncheires, asking for his assistance.
The Hecatoncheires had long remained friends and allies of Zeus, for it was us who freed them from Tartarus and allowed them to obtain their revenge upon their Titan brothers and sisters. The cause from Thetis would not go unanswered, as Briareus climbed Olympus and destroyed the chains that bound Zeus.
Now at full strength and with the most potent Hecatoncheires by his side, the other gods and goddesses had no option but to kneel before Zeus and accept their coup was a failure.
The Punishments of the Rebels of Zeus
Being Zeus his favourite, Athena managed to escape punishment, but the others did not share this fortune. Apollo and Poseidon were sentenced to hard labour, where they were forced to help build Troy’s walls, and the punishment of Hera involved her being thrown into the void and suspended in the sky, with chains hanging from her ankles. Where she would remain to stare into chaos until she took a vow sworn allegiance to Zeus once again; needless to say, after this failed coup, Zeus’s leadership would never be questioned again.
Over the years, there were several attempts to overthrow Zeus. Some of these came from outside Olympus, and the event we’ve just discussed came from those that Zeus trusted the most. But all of them unsuccessful, and it appears that Zeus was able to break the cycle of surrender and power and been overthrown by your children.
I think Zeus was the rightful leader of Olympus, and I know many people may disagree with me, but without Zeus and he’s many shenanigans, Greek mythology would be a far less exciting place.
Questions Frequently Asked Around Zeus’ Topic
Who Killed Zeus? And How Did Zeus Die?
Zeus was not killed in the whole of Greek mythology tales. This is simply because Zeus was said to be immortal, and maybe, the most powerful Greek god in the Greek Pantheon. Even though other deities in the Greek myths challenged Zeus, Zeus came out victorious by still being the king of the gods.
Is Zeus Alive Today?
As Zeus is said to be immortal in the Greek Pantheon, it is most likely to say that Zeus is alive today. You may ask, ‘were the Greek gods real?‘ Your different beliefs may determine the answer to that. If you are interested in this question, then read this article on What Happened to The Greek Gods of Old?
Who is the Most Powerful, Zeus or Poseidon?
Even though there was no official test of strength between Zeus and Poseidon, from the Olympians’ plan to dethrone Zeus and didn’t prevail, Zeus showed his power over Poseidon by sentencing him to hard labour, where he was forced to help build the walls of Troy. If Poseidon was indeed the most powerful, he could have launched a coup against Zeus all by himself to show he wasn’t under any command or rulership of Zeus.