Classics Zeus
Bernhard Linke
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 June 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 June 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0263


Being the most important Greek deity and the very embodiment of cosmic order, Zeus constitutes a complex part of the Greeks’ polytheistic conception of the world. The scholarly debate has concentrated on Zeus’s exclusive claim to power and his relation to the other deities in regard to the operability of the Greek pantheon. This dominant position has also served to stress the emergence of a complex political public sphere and sophisticated philosophical reflections that became independent of religious stipulations in the long-term. Moreover, the analyses of Zeus have also focused the debate on the compatibility of regional cult practices of individual poleis and the collective sacral conceptions of all Greeks. Thus, the corresponding interpretations also reflect the state of research on Greek religion.

General Overviews

Being the most important Greek deity and the very embodiment of cosmic order, Zeus constitutes a complex part of the Greeks’ polytheistic conception of the world. Thus, the corresponding interpretations also reflect the state of research on Greek religion. Though methodologically obsolete by now, the monograph Cook 1914–1940 remained a unique authority on the topic until Lloyd-Jones 1971, which provided a more balanced interpretation on the basis of Greek literature. This was further augmented by the interpretation of Arafat 1990. More recently, Dowden 2006 contributed another sophisticated introduction, while Kreutz 2007, Vonderstein 2006, and Zolotnikova 2013 provide very good overviews on the latest interpretations of the various aspects of Zeus. In regard to the often neglected role of Zeus in the domestic cult, Sjövall 1931 remains fundamental.

  • Arafat, Karim W. 1990. Classical Zeus: A study in art and literature. Oxford: Clarendon.

    Analysis of the development of Zeus images in vase painting, reliefs, and sculptures as well as selected literary texts. The author observes fluctuations in the popularity of motifs (e.g., the prominence of the gigantomachia before 480 and after 420 BCE). However, he also cautions against rigid schematics due to the limited extent of the evidence.

  • Cook, Arthur Bernard. 1914–1940. Zeus: A study in ancient religion. 3 vols. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    A substantial and extensive study on Zeus. The first volume analyzes the classic relation of Zeus with aspects of the heights, concerning the role as the god of the sky and thunder, the mountain cults, and especially the relation to the sun. In the second volume the author reconstructs the development of the Greek’s conception of Zeus. The third volume is dedicated to Zeus’s relation with the forces of nature. Many of Cook’s deliberations remain noteworthy contributions but lack sufficient reasoning in regard to the current state and discussion of research.

  • Dowden, Ken. 2006. Zeus. London: Routledge.

    Excellent introduction to the essential aspects of Zeus. The multilayered and competent analysis ranges from the development of his position within the Greek pantheon to his relationship with human society and its reception in Greek literature and medieval times.

  • Kreutz, Natascha. 2007. Zeus und die griechischen Poleis: Topographische und religionsgeschichtliche Untersuchungen von archaischer bis in hellenistische Zeit. Rhaden, Germany: Verlag Marie Leidorf.

    Kreutz offers a broad and proficient study on the known sanctuaries of Zeus (pp. 249–252) and their archaeological relics. She also analzses the role of the cult of Zeus in legitimating the monarchical power of the archaic tyrants and the Hellenistic kings (pp. 253–257) and provides a comparison with the cult of Jupiter Optimus Maximus.

  • Linke, Bernhard. 2006. Zeus als Gott der Ordnung: Religiöse Autorität im Spannungsfeld von überregionalen Überzeugungen und lokalen Kulten am Beispiel der Zeuskulte im archaischen Griechenland. In Kult – Politik – Ethnos: Überregionale Heiligtümer im Spannungsfeld von Kult und Politik: Kolloquium, Münster, Germany, 23–24 November 2001. Edited by Klaus Freitag, Peter Funke, and Matthias Haake, 89–120. Stuttgart: Steiner Verlag.

    The author proposes that cults for Zeus did not assume a central role in the cultic landscape of the political communities, because the massive importance of the god would have caused a dangerous concentration of power in the religious sphere, endangering the balance of power in the republics. Consequently, other gods became the patrons of the poleis, while Zeus was worshipped in various decentralized cults.

  • Lloyd-Jones, Hugh. 1971. The justice of Zeus. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

    Providing an extensive study on the portrayal of Zeus in Homer, Hesiod, and 5th century literature, the author attributes an exceptional status to Zeus, as he exercises a degree of dominance which is unusual for polytheistic belief systems. Overall his actions do not primarily concern justice in human society, but rather maintaining the cosmic order.

  • Sjövall, Harald. 1931. Zeus im altgriechischen Hauskult. Lund, Sweden: Hakan Ohlsson Buchdruckerei.

    A still recommendable investigation into the importance of the cult of Zeus for the social microcosm of the family.

  • Vonderstein, Mirko. 2006. Zeuskult bei den Westgriechen. Wiesbaden: Dr. Ludwig Reichert Verlag.

    This profound synopsis of the archaeological, literary, and numismatic material on the cult of Zeus in Magna Graecia is concluded by a persuasive chapter on the characterization and development of these cults.

  • Zolotnikova, Olga. 2013. Zeus in early Greek mythology and religion: From prehistoric times to Early Archaic period. Oxford: Archaeopress.

    A substantial compilation of the literary and archaeological evidence. Unfortunately, the work reveals considerable gaps in regard to research published after the year 2002. The main thesis claims a decline of cult activity for Zeus in the late Bronze Age, which is then reinvigorated by Homer’s epics.

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