By the time of Homer he became most powerful deity in the Greek pantheon. As an overseer of cosmic justice, he protects property, receives prayers and sacrifices, and punishes transgressors.
Because he was so influential, he ironically had a relative few polis (city) festivals in his honor. Polis festivals were generally reserved for lesser deities, like Athena or Apollo, who presided over a particular city.
Zeus had many offspring with several different goddesses, his most famous partner being Aphrodite. Also, he apparently had amorous relations with his young male cup-bearer, Ganymedes.
The mythologer Robert Graves says
The Zeus-Ganymedes myth gained immense popularity in Greece and Rome because it afforded religious justification for grown man’s passionate love for a boy.¹
According to NeoPlatonist thought, Zeus doesn’t sit at the top of the all-time divinity charts. Instead, the NeoPlatonists lowered his rank from his previous status as King.
Zeus’ Roman equivalent is Jupiter. Many scholars agree that the name Zeus has deep roots extending back into Vedic India. But they rarely suggest that the Greek form could radically differ from the Vedic form. This Wikipedia entry, for example, says “The god is known,” which arguably implies equivalence instead of potential difference. And that’s a real problem with academic studies of religion. The possibility of experiential difference is often ruled out (or simply ignored) among different religions and/or religious developments.
The god’s name in the nominative is Ζεύς Zeús /zdeús/. It is inflected as follows: vocative: Ζεῦ / Zeû; accusative: Δία / Día; genitive: Διός / Diós; dative: Διί / Dií. Diogenes Laertius quotes Pherecydes of Syros as spelling the name, Ζάς.
Zeus is the Greek continuation of *Di̯ēus, the name of the Proto-Indo-European god of the daytime sky, also called *Dyeus ph2tēr (“Sky Father”). The god is known under this name in the Rigveda (Vedic Sanskrit Dyaus/Dyaus Pita), Latin (compare Jupiter, from Iuppiter, deriving from the Proto-Indo-European vocative *dyeu-ph2tēr), deriving from the root *dyeu– (“to shine”, and in its many derivatives, “sky, heaven, god”). Zeus is the only deity in the Olympic pantheon whose name has such a transparent Indo-European etymology.
¹ The Greek Myths, Combined edition, London: Penguin, 1992, p. 117.
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