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In Hesiod’s Theogony, there is a chronology presented in which there are many generations holding the position of “king of the universe”. Ouranos, his son Kronos, and his son Zeus are all at one time the holder of the coveted position to rule over all things. Ouranos and Kronos both met an untimely end at the hand of their sons, so why did Zeus not share the same fate? In The Theogony, there is a passage which shows why Zeus is the being in his line that remains the ruler. Lines 485 to 506 within The Theogony show how Zeus was favoured by Gaia, he was both the first and last born, and how he had the wisdom and guidance to free the cyclopses from their bondage, and that these events were what made Zeus the logical conclusion to the succession myth.
In the passage, it can be seen that Gaia has taken notice and favour of Zeus. She took him from his mother Rhea and guided him as he grew to trick his father.
Swiftly then the strength and noble limbs of the future lord grew; at the end of a year, tricked by the clever advice of Earth, great crooked-minded Cronus threw up his children. Zeus grew over the period of a year, and then returned to save his brothers and sisters, the other Olympians, from remaining in their father’s stomach, and over that year he was taken care of by Gaia, who acted as his guiding figure through that time.
His plan to trick and overtake his father was suggested by Gaia, the Earth, just as the plan Cronus had enacted in the past was Gaia’s as well. She helps who she favours and who she thinks is worthy of ruling the universe, using her prophetic timé to assist. The passage states that Cronus was “tricked by the clever advice of Earth”, and later states that Cronus is “defeated by the craft and force of his own son”, meaning that a combination of the necessary help of Gaia and the worthy strength of Zeus were combined to defeat Cronus.
Gaia’s will is the will of the Earth, as she is the Earth. In later passages of the same text, it is noted that the gods willed Zeus to rule over them forever by Gaia’s advice, which further strengthens her actions in this passage, as it is shown she has willed all along for Zeus to be the ruler of the universe and not be overtaken by a son, much like his precessors in the succession myth.
Within the succession myth, and in Greek culture and myth itself, the position of the first and last born sons are important. They are very powerful positions to hold within the birth order in a family. Kronos was the last born, and the only one of his Titan siblings willing to castrate his father and become the next ruler. Zeus is especially significant in this manner because he is both first and last born.
Zeus is the last-born from his mother, and the one that she hides away and replaces with a rock for Kronos to eat instead, “Rhea wrapped a huge stone in a baby’s robe, and fed it to Sky’s wide-ruling son, lord of the earlier gods”. He is also technically the first-born in the sense that the rock that his father ate instead of him was vomited from Cronus’ “womb” first before any of his siblings were regurgitated. “First he vomited up the stone he swallowed last”. Zeus holds a very important position among the Olympians because he is both born last from his mother and first from his father. He is able to take the importance of both of those roles himself.
Zeus’ position among his siblings is unique inside mythology, especially within the succession myth itself. While Cronus was the last born, and that is part of why he is the one to take over the throne, Zeus is also the firstborn, so he is able to take the throne and keep the throne after, because of that added power.
Zeus, in this passage, also displays a wisdom that his father and grandfather didn’t display with the freeing of his uncles; the cyclopes. The cyclopes were the children of Ouranos and Gaia after the Titans, and being disgusted by them, Ouranos forced them back into Gaia’s womb, which is the event that sparked the succession myth. Kronos after defeating his father did nothing to free or help his cyclops brothers and instead left them trapped. Zeus, on the other hand, had the wisdom to free them, which was a vital task when looking at the future.
The cyclopses were the craftsmen who made and gifted Zeus his lightning bolt, one of his most recognizable symbols and an instrument to his time of weather. “They did not forget gratitude for his help, / and gave him thunder and firey lightning-bolt / and lightning, which vast Earth earlier had hidden”. Without them being freed, Zeus may never have gotten this instrumental symbol that many people know him by, and by which he displays the lightning of his timai.
Zeus’ freeing of the cyclopses was also instrumental in his defeat of the Titans in the Titan o Machi as mentioned later in the Theogony. Without the help of the cyclopses, and the hundred handed ones whom Zeus also freed, the gods would not have succeeded in defeating their foes.
By freeing those that the other kings either imprisoned or were not forethinking enough to free, Zeus was able to win a major battle and have allies that gave him resources and weapons, including his lightning bolt.
When examining the passage from lines 485 to 506 in Hesiod’s Theogony, it can be seen that Zeus is the only logical conclusion to the succession myth. In explaining the details of Zeus’ upbringing, having him favoured by Gaia, as well as his important position of first and last born, and giving an example of his great wisdom and foresight as a leader, it is shown that he is the rightful leader among the gods, and thus the succession myth should, and does, end with him. He avoided the fate that his predecessors had succumbed to, and stayed forever the ruler of the universe.
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