ZEUS (zūs, Gr. Zeus). The chief of the Olympian gods, corresponding to the Roman Jupiter (see
ZEUS. Zeus was the chief god of all Indo-Europeans. Basically the word means “sky” or the “bright sky of day,” and its form appears visibly in many Indo-European languages. Compare, e.g., the Rom. Jupiter, the old form of which is Diespiter (i.e. diei pater, “father of day”) with the Sanskrit Dyaus pita at the other end of the wide area covered by the group of kindred languages. The oblique forms of the Gr. word (dia, dii, dios) reveal the same form and etymology. The Teuton Ziu (whence Tuesday) is visibly the same word.
As the god of the bright sky, Zeus was the lord of thunder, and the giver of weather, the “cloud-gatherer” of the Homeric phrase. Since mountain peaks give weather signs, Zeus was enthroned on heights, preeminently on Olympus, a word which appears to mean primitively, “mountain.” In the Mycenaean age, during the second millennium b.c., the society of heaven was pictured on the model of the regal courts of that era. Note the banquet scene on Olympus at the end of the first book of the Iliad. Zeus, at the same time, serving the needs of a royal and patriarchal age, became the protector and ruler of the family. As Zeus Herkeios he ruled the hearth, as Zeus Xenios he protected the guest. In short he acquired moral functions, related to the customs and laws which maintained and established the family and its life.
Since the state is the larger family, and requires a moral framework and foundation similar to that of the smaller unit, Zeus became the protector of law and justice, the supreme god, father of gods and men. Homer, whose epics became a sort of “Bible” in the earlier Gr. centuries, impressed this concept of Zeus on the Gr. mind, and it survived the passing of the forms of kingship which had provided its first imagery.
The myths and legends which grew up around Zeus, compounded of material from many quarters, became the material, variously used, of poet and dramatist, but better and more spiritually perceptive minds began to look upon Zeus as the supreme, if not the only God. In the theological dramas of Aeschylus there are concepts of Zeus almost Biblical in their loftiness. The hymn of the Stoic Cleanthes, one of the possible sources for Paul’s quotation in Athens (
A. B. Cook, Zeus; C. Seltman,Olympians and their Guests.
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)