Greek MythologyMythology

5 Mortals Zeus “Seduced”

Zeus’ promiscuity and lust might be the most famous thing about Greek mythology for a modern, western reader. You almost need a spreadsheet to keep track of the people, mortal and immortal alike, that he slept with. This list is far from exhaustive, even if only counting the mortals. “Lover” isn’t really the appropriate word, though that’s how it has been passed into pop culture. The simple fact is that he was a rapist, and they were his victims. He usually abducted them or took someone else’s form. At least as far as mortals were concerned. It tended to be mutual with goddesses, at least more so than with a mortal and the second most powerful deity in the pantheon. As often happens in Greek mythology, when normal humans interact directly with gods, the encounters rarely end well for the humans. Here are 5 mortals Zeus “seduced”.

Table of Contents

1. Alcmene

Alcmene giving birth to Hercules; Juno, jealous of the child Wellcome V0014906

See page for author, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Probably not the most famous of Zeus’ “lovers,” the offspring of the incident (let’s be clear, rape by deception) is definitely the most well-known of Zeus’ children. Alcmene was the mortal mother of Herakles and conceived him when Zeus took the form of her husband Amphitryon and slept with her. Hera, Zeus’ wife, was understandably a bit miffed by this. So much so that she did everything she could to stop the birth, even sending the goddess of childbirth to Alceme during labor to prevent Herakles’ birth. She failed, and Herakles and his maternal twin brother Iphicles were born. 

2. Io

Figino

Giovanni Ambrogio Figino, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Io has a tortured story (but really, none of these people had a happy experience). She was a priestess of Hera in Argos when Zeus first noticed her. She rejected him until her father tossed her out on oracles’ advice. Zeus then turned her into a cow to hide her from Hera. Hera found out and sent the giant Argus to guard her, to prevent Zeus from getting close. Zeus sent Hermes to defeat Argus and Hera responded by sending a gadfly after her, which stung her continuously. She wandered the world and eventually ended up in Egypt, where Zeus turned her back into a human, and she gave birth to two children.

3. Semele

Dosso Dossi - Jupiter and Semele, 1520s

Dosso Dossi, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Semele is one of the few mortals with Zeus consensually, though she still faced a tragic ending. She was a priestess of Zeus and Zeus fell for her. Eventually, she became pregnant, and Hera, as always, intervened. She visited Semele as a seer and told her that Zeus wasn’t really a god. When Semele confronted Zeus, he promised to do anything she asked, swearing an unbreakable vow on the river Styx. Semele asked to see him, to really see what he looked like as a god. Zeus couldn’t break the promise and showed himself to her in all his godliness. The sight destroyed her, incinerating her alive. Their child, however, survived, sewn to Zeus’ thigh, where he was carried to term and grew in Dionysus.

4. Ganymede

Ganymede Louvre

Louvre Museum, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Ganymede was a Trojan prince (or shepherd. stories vary) who Zeus abducted in the form of a massive eagle because of his beauty. Zeus took him to Mount Olympus, where he was given eternal youth and made cup-bearer for the gods. Yeah…Hera wasn’t thrilled. In some stories, he simply remains as the cup-bearer. In others, to protect him from Hera, Zeus turns him into the constellation Aquarius and places him in the sky.

5. Europa

Pompeiii.Europa.iFresco

Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

This one almost has a happy ending, in that nobody died. Still a kidnapping, though. Europa was a Phoenician princess that Zeus abducted in the form of a pure white bull. He merged with her father’s herd, and when she came to him and got on his back, and ran to the sea, swimming to the island of Crete. Once there, Zeus revealed his identity to her and gave her several gifts. She became queen of Crete.

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