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PBP: Fidelity and Zeus

March 26, 2012

"a year of exploring the Pagan world through blogging"

fi•del•i•ty    [fi-del-i-tee, fahy-] noun
1. strict observance of promises, duties, etc.: a servant’s fidelity.
2. loyalty: fidelity to one’s country.
3. conjugal faithfulness.
4. adherence to fact or detail.
5. accuracy; exactness: The speech was transcribed with great fidelity.
Origin: 1494, from M.Fr. fidélité, from L. fidelitatem (nom. fidelitas)”faithfulness, adherence,”
from fidelis “faithful,” from fides “faith”(see faith).

In Greek myths, the infidelities of Zeus are a very popular topic especially since Hera is the Goddess of Marriage and fidelity. Yet in learning about Zeus, I think these myths are more indicative of ancient Greek culture, titillation and the appeal of divine origins. They are not about who Zeus is but about who the Greek society saw him to be based upon their own actions.

Modern sensibilities are often offended by “adulterer” Zeus. Yet one needs to have an understanding of the views of the ancient Greeks to even begin to understand these myths. For men, marital fidelity was unnecessary. Married men who had sex with another, male or female, citizen or citizen’s female charge, slave or prostitute, did not constitute adultery. The main concern was with the woman and whether she was married or marriageable. Inheritance and citizenship laws made knowledge of the paternity of children a necessity. This meant the chastity of a woman was of the utmost importance. She was expected to maintain her and her family’s reputation by being sexually modest.

When a liason was discovered, typically the adulterer was only fined or publicly humiliated. Occasionally in a fit of angry passion, they may have been injured or killed or even subjected to extortion. The female was divorced if married and unable to participate in public religious life. A non married female was considered “soiled” and unmarriageable, consequently was thrown out of the household or sold into slavery. Conversely, an adulterer was seen as socially disruptive and a threat to family stability, yet his virility was also enhanced.

This was a very dishonorable matter for the citizen who was in charge of that female. It was a major loss of social recognition and a slur against his masculinity as it meant that he could not properly guard the females under his protection. Such seductions were considered worse than rape because they were done with the complicity of the female. This could result in the passing of an illegitimate child as belong to the husband therefore “polluting” the family line. If it was the citizen’s mother, then it put his own legitimacy in doubt. Yet such clandestine relationships were not unusual due to the prevalence of arranged marriages.

Zeus as King of the Gods had to be seen as virile to be a truly great divine king. Have him seduce women left and right to prove this virility. Again to further his reputation, have his wife be modest and protected, even jealous of her marital rights that he continually ignores. (The only avenue she or any mortal woman had was getting back at the children of these relationships.) Have Zeus show up in strange guises (a shower of gold, a snake, a swan, a bull, etc.) to even further his wily reputation. Even better, have his progeny infiltrate family lines. This not only makes a mockery of the human male but also gives succeeding generations divine origins and a sense of entitlement over their more “common” brethren.

Yet what about Zeus and fidelity? Fidelity is implicit in any good relationship whether it is between husband and wife, friends, business partners or even countries. Trust, faith, abiding your promises, etc. these are all important aspects of good working relationships. Zeus has many epithets that relate to fidelity, on both personal and political fronts: Asbamaios (Keeper of Oaths), Euxeinos (the Hospitable), Gamelios (of Marriage), Hetaireios (of Fellowship), Horkios (Protector of Oaths), Kolastes (Punisher of Hubris), Pater (Father), Philios (of Friendship), Pistios (of Faith and Fidelity), Xenios (Protector of Hospitality), Zugious (of Marriage), Zyius (Uniter), etc. Study any one of these epithets to see how Zeus and fidelity relate.
The myths that detail the extracurricular relationships of Zeus are more about the society in which the ancient Greeks lived and less about Zeus in reality. To truly begin to understand Zeus, one needs to remove the blinding image imposed by ancient Greek myths. One needs to remove the biases our own Christianized culture has placed upon him. Only then can you begin to see Zeus for the truly wonderful god he is.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. March 26, 2012 5:10 PM

    Loved every word. Thank you for the history lesson! My favorite by far has always been the “golden rain” sneaky Zeus.


    • March 26, 2012 5:58 PM

      I really don’t care for any of those myths. My favorite Zeus myth is probably the story of Baucis and Philemon.




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