9 Most Famous Sons of Zeus: From Ares to Perseus

Zeus, the all-father god in Greek mythology, was infamous for having numerous extramarital affairs with many goddesses and mortal women. A sky deity, Zeus’ preeminence in the Greek pantheon allowed him to defy his wife, Hera, queen of the gods. Those illicit relationships of his explains why he had so many children. It’s been estimated that he had upwards of 80 children with many women.

Zeus’ extramarital affairs result in the birth of many divine and heroic children, including Athena, Artemis, Hermes, Dionysus, Persephone, Heracles, King Minos, and the Muses.

In the article below, World History Edu presents the 9 most famous sons of Zeus, the king of Mount Olympus.

Apollo

Coming in at number one on the list of famous sons of Zeus is Apollo, the Greek god of the sun, music, poetry, prophecy, and among other things. Apollo, along with his twin sister Artemis, the goddess of the hunt and the moon, was the product of Zeus’ extramarital affair with the second generation Titan Leto, the daughter of Phoebe and Coeus. That will make Zeus and Leto cousins.

Following Zeus’ impregnation of Leto, Zeus’s jealous wife, Hera, forbade her from giving birth on any land where the sun’s face touched. Therefore, Leto had a hard time finding a place that would take her in. Luck shined on her when she was accepted by the isle of Delos, where she eventually gave birth to Apollo and Artemis.

Apollo would grow up strong and viciously eliminate anyone who tried to harm or dishonor his mother and sister.

In the Greek pantheon, Apollo is seen as the epitome of grace and male beauty. He also possesses an immense amount of strength to complement his athletic form. He was gifted in many things, including poetry, music, and medicine. And like his father, Zeus, Apollo had many love affairs with women as well as young, handsome men.

Hermes

Not only was Hermes the youngest of the Olympian gods, but he was also one of the most beloved. Known as the messenger of the gods, Hermes has the ability to run at incredible speeds. He is also one of the few Greek deities who could move in and out of the Underworld (Hades). As a result of this ability of his, the Greeks believed that Hermes was the one who carried the dead to the Underworld.

Born to Zeus and a mountain nymph called Maia, Hermes grew up to have very sharp acumen. He was sometimes seen as the god of trade and commerce. He is credited with fashioning out the lyre from a tortoise shell. Being the messenger of the gods, Hermes was seen by mortals as the patron god of travelers. He developed very immaculate public speaking abilities in order to effectively carry the messages of the gods.

The typical depiction of Hermes sees him wearing a winged sandals, which allows him to fly at unbelievable speeds. He also carries a staff.

Dionysus

Sons of Zeus

Dionysus is regarded as one of the most famous children of Zeus. Perhaps this is due to his association with religious festivities, winemaking, theatre and fertility. His mother is Semele, a princes of Cadmus, the King of Thebes, Harmonia. And since Cadmus was the offspring of Poseidon, Dionysus’ great-grandfather is therefore Poseidon. Through Semele’s mother Harmonia, Dionysus is the great-granddaughter of Ares. This will mean that Zeus had an affair with his great-granddaughter.

Sensing that Zeus had taken interest in Semele, Hera is said to have planted doubts in Semele’s mind. Semele was able to convince Zeus to reveal himself in his true form. Semele believed that this was a way to test Zeus’s love for her. Therefore, Zeus obliged and revealed himself in his glorious form. Unfortunately, Semele, who at the time was pregnant with Dionysus, could not handle the sheer amount of light that emanated from Zeus. The young mortal instantly burst into flames. A quick thinking Zeus then took the unborn child and attached him to his thigh. After some few months, the child was born, a full-fledged.

In a different version of the story, Dionysus was born a mortal, just like his mother. However, the young man was gifted in the art of making wine. It was said that he even invented wine. For such a lofty feat, Zeus decided to bestow immortality on Dionysus.

Ares

Sons of Zeus

Ares, the Greek god of war and wanton destruction, was a fierce deity, the kind that you would not want to trifle with. Ares was one of the few legitimate children of Zeus. His mother was Hera, the queen of the gods.

A quick-tempered and extremely violent god, Ares had been wild right from his infancy. He absolutely loved causing chaos and upheaval. Often times, he did so in a reckless and needless manner. As a result of uncontrollable rage, no deity liked him, except Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty.

Heracles

There can be no list of Zeus’s sons without mentioning Heracles, the famous demigod and hero in Greek mythology. The ancient Greeks revered Heracles as the epitome of strength and masculinity. He was born to Zeus and a mortal woman named Alcmene. It’s said that as a toddler, Heracles strangled two vicious snakes with his bare hands. The snakes had been sent to the baby’s cradle by Hera. From then onward, Heracles went through life dealing with obstacles after obstacle that had been erected by Hera. He famously embarked on twelve arduous labors in order to atone for his killing of his wife and children. In those adventures, he slayed many creatures and beasts, including the Neamean Lion and Hydra.

Perseus

Perseus with the head of the Gorgon Medusa

Most known in Greek mythology for slaying the Gorgon Medusa, Perseus was the son of Zeus and a mortal princess called Danae. Having been told by an oracle that his daughter would kill him, King Acrisius of Argos locked his daughter, Danae, in a room for much of her childhood. Unbeknownst to the king, Danae had caught the attention of Zeus. So every night Zeus would enter Danae’s room undetected. The sky god disguised himself as a shower of golden rain. Zeus’s encounter with Danae produced a child known as Perseus.

Like Heracles, Perseus was a demigod with immense strength and fighting abilities. He went on many adventures, most famous among them was when King Polydectes tasked him to bring the head of the terrifying creature, Medusa. And with the head of Medusa, Perseus turned the Titan Atlas into the Atlas Mountain. He also exacted revenge on Polydectes by turning the king and his courtiers into stone. In addition to slaying Medusa, Perseus killed the fierce sea creature Cetus.

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Orion

An engraving of Orion from Johann Bayer’s Uranometria, 1603 (US Naval Observatory Library)

Famed for his close relationship with the Greek goddess Artemis, Orion was a giant huntsman and the son of Zeus. In the myths, Orion is described as the most skilled hunter in his hometown of Boeotia (a region in central Greece). It was the shared love that he and Artemis had for hunting that made their friendship one of the strongest in Greek mythology. The two would spend their summers challenging each other to a foot race and archery competition.

Sadly, Apollo, Artemis’ twin brother, disapproved of the friendship between Artemis and Orion. One day, Apollo sent a scorpion to attack Orion. Apollo then made haste to his sister and fabricated a story of how the mortal Candaon was attacking Opos, one of the priestesses of Artemis. An enraged Artemis rushed to the scene, and without looking, she fired her arrows straight at what she thought was Candaon. Unbeknownst to the goddess, the figure she had fired at was her dear friend Orion. Artemis frantically tried to resuscitate the dying hunter, but to no avail. Not even Asclepius, Greek god of medicine, could save the life Orion.

Shattered by Orion’s death, Artemis begged her father to immortalize him by placing the fallen hunter among the stars as a constellation. In the heavens, Orion is seen chasing the Pleiades. Orion himself is then pursued by the constellation Scorpius. This is a symbolic reference to the lethal scorpion that Apollo had sent to attack Orion.

Minos

King Minos of Crete. Image: Gustave Doré’s illustration of King Minos for Dante Alighieri’s Inferno

Minos is the son son of Zeus and Europa. Inebriated by Europa’s beauty, Zeus pursued the Phoenician princess for a while. As a last resort, the sky god shapeshifted into a tame white bull and abducted Europa while she was gathering flowers with her ladies in waiting. Zeus took her to the island of Crete, where she became the first queen of Crete. From the affair between Europa and Zeus came forth Minos, king of Crete.

Minos was described as a very powerful king of Crete who ordered a vassal Athenian king by the name of Aegeus to send seven young boys and seven young girls every nine years to Crete. These was Minos’ way of exacting revenge on the Athenians for the death of his son Androgeus in Athens. Minos sent the fourteen youths to the Labyrinth, where they were devoured by the Minotaur.

In a different version, however, it’s said that there were two Minos – good King Minos and bad King Minos. According to ancient Greek-Roman scholars Plutarch (46-119 AD) and Diodorus Siculus (c. 90 BC – 30 BC), the good king Minos was the grandfather of the bad king Minos, i.e. the Cretan king who fed 14 young girls and boys to the Minotaur. The good Minos was even held in very high esteem by the Olympian gods for his just and fair nature. After his death, the gods honored him by making him one of the three judges of the Underworld. He served in that capacity together with his other sibling Rhadamanthus and his half-brother Aeacus of Aegina.

The bad king Minos, i.e. Minos II, was the son of Lycastus and his wife, Ida. Lycastus was the son of the good king Minos.

Sarpedon

From his hometown in Lycia, Sarpedon, the son of Zeus and Laodamia, headed to Troy and fought on the side of the Trojans during the Trojan War. Sarpedon’s mother, Laodamia, was the daughter of Corinthian hero Bellerophon, the hero who killed the Chimera lion. Therefore, Sarpedon was no stranger to heroism.

In Troy, Sarpedon led the Lycian forces, who were supported by forces under the command of his cousin Captain Glaucus. It’s said that both Sarpedon and Glaucus distinguished themselves brilliantly in the war. Sarpedon defining moment came when he gave morale boasting speech to the Trojan nobility. He called on them to pick up their swords and join in the fight to defend Troy from the Greeks. With the troops’ spirits lifted, Sarpedon led his forces to support Trojan hero and prince Hector breach the Greek’s encampment.

Sadly, Sarpedon fell in battle at time when the Greeks had regained some bit of momentum due to Patroclus’ introduction. Patroclus, a close confidant of the Greek hero Achilles, is believed to have killed so many brave Trojan warriors and allies, including Sarpedon.

In the myths, it’s understood that Zeus contemplated saving the life of Sarpedon; however, his wife, Hera, dissuaded him from doing so. By saving his son’s life, Zeus would have set a bad precedent that would have caused many gods and goddesses to save their children’s lives in the Trojan War.

Following Sarpedon’s death, his body was taken by the Greeks, only for Zeus to summon Thanatos (Death) and Apollo to retrieve Sarpedon’s body so that it could be sent to the land of Lycia, where it was accorded the proper hero’s burial rites.

Sons of Zeus

Sarpedon carried away by Sleep and Death, by Henry Fuseli, 1803.

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