1286 BCE — Zeus seduces Alcmene

Alcmene was the grand-daughter of Perseus, one of the earliest Greek heroes, and himself a son of Zeus. Perhaps this is why Zeus, in seducing his great grand-daughter, chose to do do by assuming the form of her husband, although it’s likely that Alcmene’s famed fidelity had something to do with that.

Be that as it may, Zeus (in the form of Amphitryon, Alcmene’s husband) lay with her for three nights (in contrast to his usual “wham-bam-thank-me-ma’am” style), and the product of their union was the mighty Herakles (or Hercules, to use the better known Latin spelling), greatest and most-famed of all the heroes of Greece.

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circa 1428 BCE — Zeus seduces Semele

Semele was, according to some versions of the story, a priestess of Zeus. As per usual, Zeus’s wife Hera was mad at him for cheating, and took it out on the woman. In Semele’s case, she planted doubt in Semele’s mind that her lover truly was Zeus, which led to Semele demanding that Zeus show himself to her in all his divine glory. Unfortunately, mortals cannot survive such a display of godly power, and Semele was incinerated by Zeus’s radiance.

But the child she bore was saved by Zeus, who sewed the fetus into his thigh and carried it to term. The infant would become the god Dionysus, who would rescue his mother’s shade from Hades when he grew up, and bring her to Olympus, where she too would become a god.

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circa 1232 BCE — Zeus seduces Leda

One can’t help thinking that Leda knew more than she was telling. Legendarily one of the most beautiful women in ancient Greece, this queen of Sparta dallied with a swan (who, it turned out, was actually Zeus in disguise), and gave birth to perhaps the only woman to be more beautiful than her: Helen (later of Troy).

In fact, she gave birth to four children, two sets of twins. Half of them were mortal, the children of Tyndareus (her human husband), and half were half-divine, the children of Zeus. Which children are descended from which father is inconsistent across the various tellings of the myth, although a majority of versions record that Helen was half-divine (accounting for her legendary beauty).

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circa 1667 BCE — Zeus seduces Io

One of the less lucky of Zeus’s conquests, Io was a nymph, daughter of the river god Inachus and the tree nymph Melia. One of the reasons for Io’s unluckiness was that she was a priestess of Hera – wife of Zeus and known to take a dim view of her husband’s philandering. When the two were surprised in the act of love by Hera’s approach, Zeus transformed Io into a cow (although she was later transformed back).

Her son by Zeus was Ephapus, a king of Egypt whose daughter in turn was Libya, who later slept with her grand-uncle Posiedon (brother of Zeus), and whose grand-daughter Europa, great-grand-daughter Semele and great-great-great-grand-daughter Danae would also, in their turns, be loved by Zeus and produce children by him.

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circa 1677 BCE — Zeus seduces Maia

The eldest and most beautiful of the seven Pleiades (also known as the Atlantides), Maia had a tryst with Zeus in a cave of Cyllene (where Maia herself had been born) in the middle of the night – Zeus was trying to avoid the jealous attentions of Hera, and the protectiveness of Maia’s father, the Titan Atlas.

Maia gave birth to Hermes, who would become one of the twelve great Olympians. She also cared for another of Zeus’ offspring, Arcas, the son of Callisto – Callisto herself had been transformed into a bear by Hera and could not raise her own child.

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circa 1368 BCE — Zeus seduces Danae

Zeus, king of the gods, came to Danae, princess of Argos, in the form of a shower of gold. They shagged, and she became pregnant with the fetus that in due course would become Perseus, slayer of the Medusa and one of the earliest heroes of Mythic Greece.

This caused problems for Danae’s father, King Acrisius, since it had been prophesised that he would be slain by the son of his daughter, not least of which was that the prophecy eventually came true. But who was Acrisius to set his will against that of the Fates or of Zeus Panhellenios? To be fair to Perseus, he didn’t mean to kill the old man – he accidentally struck him in the head with a thrown discus in an athletics contest. From this tale, we can draw two morals: never try to thwart the will of the gods, and always stay in the marked spectator area at sporting events.

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circa 1677 BCE — Zeus seduces Leto

Leto was a cousin of Zeus – the daughter of his uncle Coeus and aunt Phoebe, Titans like his own parents. Not that this – or indeed, anything else – would have stopped the god of sleeping with anyone, anytime. Unusually, he didn’t take the form of anything on this occasion – he was just his godly self.

Hera, as usual, was unimpressed, and also as usual, took it out on the woman rather than her husband. She proclaimed that Leto would not be allowed to give birth on “terra firma”, the mainland, any island at sea, or any place under the sun. She eventually gave birth to the twins Artemis and Apollo on the isle of Delos.

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circa 1677 BCE — Zeus seduces Metis

Apparently determined to prove that he would sleep with anyone or anything, the Greek God Zeus seduced the Titan Metis in his youth, prior to his marriage to Hera. In fact, he went so far as to marry her, even though she was his aunt. Metis was a patron of wisdom, and it was known that her gifts in this area would be inherited by her offspring. In fact, it was prophesised that the union of Metis and Zeus would produce a son even more powerful than Zeus himself, and to forestall this, Zeus swallowed Metis whole.

Demonstrating the importance of chewing one’s food, Metis carried her child to term inside Zeus, which caused him a terrible headache. When his head was split open to relieve the pressure, the child of Zeus and Metic, grey-eyed Athena, new patron of wisdom, burst forth fully grown and fully armoured.

It’s best not to think about the mechanics of all this too much.

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1628 BCE — Zeus seduces Niobe

There are two Niobes in Greek Myth: one was the daughter of Tantalus, and a prideful mother whose children were slain by Apollo and Artemis. The other, less well-known, was the daughter of Phorenus, and the mother, by Zeus of Argus – for whom the city of Argos was named.

It should be noted also, that thus Argus was not any of the other figures in Greek Myth named either Argos or Argus – he was not the shipwright who built the Argo, nor the son of Jason and Medea named for that shipwright. Neither was he a legendarily faithful dog whose master was Odysseus, nor the hundred-eyed giant known as Argus Panoptes. He was just this guy, who happened to be the third king of Argos, and the first child Zeus had by a mortal woman. He would have lots of half-siblings, mostly posthumously.

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1438 BCE — Zeus seduces Europa

Europa was the daughter of the Phoenician King and Queen, Aegnor and Telephassa. But one day, she was kidnapped by Zeus, who had taken the form of a white bull, and carried off to Crete. Here, Zeus seduced her (accounts differ as to whether he was still in the form of a bull at the time). Europa became the first Queen of Crete, and bore three sons: Minos (her heir), Sarpedon and Rhadamanthis.

So myth tells us. The truth of the matter may never be known, but from what we know of Minoan culture (named for Europa’s son), the bull was an important part of it, featuring in their religious and cultural ceremonies. The myth seems than an attempt to rationalise curious aspects of Cretan culture by mainland Greeks.

Europa’s three sons, in the myth, all became kings, Minos in Crete, Sarpedon in Lycia and Rhadamanthus in Boetia. Europa herself gave her name to the entire continent of Europe. Myth is with us, always.

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