In the ancient Aegean Sea stood the island of Dodona, 'the land of the oak trees', that was home to the oldest oracle in Greek civilization. No pillars of architectural wonder surrounded it, nor were statues erected to commemorate its location. A black dove from Egyptian Thebes nestled in a huge oak tree that was hung with brass wind chimes. When the wind began to blow, the movement of the leaves sounded off the myriad chimes, emitting a sacred sound that beckoned the Priests of the Selli tribe, those mysterious inhabitants of Dodona who could make their bread from acorns, to gather and listen. The language of these chimes was none other than the oracle of Zeus himself, the Supreme Deity. Astrologers know him by his Roman name Jupiter, or Jove, but his Greek counterpart was more inclined to walk on the wild side than almost any other entity in mythology, astrological or otherwise.
Astrology, as we know it today, was formulated in the ancient pagan cultures of the Mediterranean. Then a curious thing happened to our sacred discipline; its philosophical overlay underwent several reformations. Once by the Romans, who took the Greek gods and gave them Roman names, then by the Arabs who became first-class stargazers, and then by Medieval Christian scholars who selectively edited the pagan sources and put the planet-ruling gods through a Morality Play. Venus was no longer associated with prostitutes, Mercury was neither a thief nor a cattle rustler, Saturn forgot all about his merry-making Saturnalia, and Jupiter began chanting as opposed to chasing.
Much of the symbolism of Jupiter/Zeus got lost in the translations. The very name Zeus and Jupiter stemmed from the Indo European root 'djeu' or 'div,' from which words derive 'Dieu' and 'divine.' Thus the connection of Jupiter/Zeus to religion has its origin in the most ancient etymology.
Zeus was the god of the sky, bringer of rain clouds, which fertilizes the seeds that in turn become crops. He also ruled thunder and its lightning bolts to instill fear through destruction. It's worthy of note that the oak tree, sacred to Zeus, is the very tree which is most susceptible to be struck by lightning. As ruler of the winds, the blessings of Zeus were vital to the sailboats of sea-faring trade. His bird was the eagle, capable of flying higher than any other bird and thus closer in touch with the infinite. The name of Caesar Augustus' specialized soldiers were called The Eagles, much like modern day American Navy Seals or the Green Berets, and an eagle was the emblem on the Roman flag in battle. Zeus' word was law. In the Iliad, he tells his family "I am the mightiest of all. Make trial that you may know. Fasten a rope of gold to heaven and lay hold, every god and goddess. You could not drag down Zeus. But if I wished to drag you down, then I would. The rope I would bind to a pinnacle of Olympus and all would hang in air, yes, the very earth and the sea, too." Yet this power-monger demanded honesty from mere mortals. At the siege of Troy, the Greek army is told "Father Zeus never helps liars or those who break their oaths". One can almost see Zeus clad in a black robe standing in the Christian pulpit preaching to a Sunday School class.
But not quite. Zeus, master of camouflage, could have never successfully masqueraded as a Christian cleric, for he was a virtual stranger to monogamy. He moved about as freely as his beloved wind, fertilizing goddess and mortals alike. No soap opera series in captivity could match Mercury's gossip column on Mt. Olympus. To say that Zeus had a roving eye is like saying James Bond had a secret. His amorous exploits read like a sexual Disney World and, as the master of camouflage, he came and went as uninvited as you please, replete with disguise; abducting Europa on a bull, appearing to Danae as a shower of gold, to Io as a cloud, to Leda as a swan and to Nemesis as a beaver. The mortal Semele, finding disguises unacceptable, insisted Zeus appear to her in all his splendour as Sky god and Lord of the Thunderbolt. When he granted her wish, the rays of his brilliant light were so hot she burned to death. She played with fire. Zeus never spent quality time with any of his lovers or their resultant offspring, often bypassing introductions altogether, as it was never the actual coupling that enticed him to philandering, but the love of the chase itself.
While enjoying time on Olympus, twin ravens named Thought and Memory were constantly perched on each of Zeus' shoulders. These personal advisers were the alleged well-spring of Olympian justice, as Zeus meted out punishment with the same reckless abandon that he exercised in chasing his paramours. Lycurgus, King of Thrace, was struck blind by Zeus because he refused to worship Dionysus. Lycaon was turned into a wolf because he fed Zeus human flesh when he was a guest at his table. Ixion, the father of Chiron, made the mistake of insulting Hera, Zeus' long suffering wife. Zeus had him bound to a burning wheel that would never cease turning. The mortal Salmoneus, however, committed the most grievous offence of hubris, by pretending to be a god. He rode his chariot through the villages on Zeus' feast day and exulted to all that he was Zeus himself and deserved to be worshipped. He was struck by a thunderbolt and killed instantly. Sisyphus was doomed to push a boulder forever up hill, only to have it roll back down on him when it reached the top. The reason? He was a tattletale. While in conversation with the river god Asopus, Sisyphus learned that Asopus's daughter had been missing, and Asopus asked if Sisyphus had seen or heard anything concerning her whereabouts. Sisyphus mentioned that he had just recently seen an eagle carrying a maiden on its wings towards the heavens. The jig was up. Zeus would not have his fun spoiled without consequences.
He did have his benevolent streak, as an arbiter of justice has to see both sides. Zeus freed Odysseus from the nymph Calypso, who held him prisoner on her island, by sending Mercury with an order to Calypso herself. Being more fond of the Trojan soldiers than the Greeks during the Trojan War, (Hera favoured the Greeks), he sent Greek General Agamemnon a false dream promising victory if he would attack Troy leaving Achilles, his finest soldier, behind in his tent. The resultant battle was a disaster for the Greeks and thus the Trojan line held. The seven Pleiades, weeping from the fear of being ravaged by Orion, were changed into doves and placed in the sky by the hand of Zeus himself, thereby escaping danger. And lest we forget poor Persephone, she was permitted to leave the Underworld and visit her mother Demeter six months per year thanks to the kindness of The Sky God.
Zeus' early environment would send any modern day social worker reeling. He was the product of incest, as his father, Saturn (Chronos), married his sister Rhea. Saturn had just recently completed the murder of his own father Ouranos, whose dying words left Saturn with a flea in his ear. "Murder me now and steal my throne-but one of your Sons will dethrone you, for crime begets crime." Saturn then covered his tracks by swallowing each of his children as they were born, Hestia, Demeter, Hera, Hades and Poseidon. Rhea was having no more of this, and, determined that her next child would be a son, devised a plan. She bore Zeus in secret and hung him in a golden cradle suspended from the branches of an olive tree. Wrapping a Stone in swaddling clothes, she duped Saturn by watching him devour his new 'son'. Rhea then gave the baby Zeus to a family of shepherds, where she knew he would be safe, their reward being that none of their sheep would ever fall ill or be eaten by wolves. Rhea's plan was successful and Saturn never learned of his rescued son. Thus Zeus enjoyed a happy childhood, romping with his first friend who was none other than the centaur Pan himself, who introduced the new kid in town to all the other centaurs. They took Zeus under their wing and he ran with the in-crowd. That Jupiter-ruled Sagittarius is symbolized by a centaur is a testament to how the Roman Jupiter was borrowed from the Greek mythology.
As the years passed, Rhea longed to have Zeus with her again and devised another trick. She brought Zeus up to Mount Olympus and introduced him to Saturn as the new cupbearer, and Saturn was very pleased with his handsome new servant. Soon afterwards Rhea played her trump card. She and Zeus mixed mustard and salt with Saturn's nectar, causing nausea and vomiting. Up came the stone followed by five undigested gods and goddesses who were still alive and healthy due to their immortality. The regurgitated siblings rejoiced in the victory of their new brother and named him their leader in the royal battle which was about to begin between Zeus and Chronos.
In this corner we have Saturn joined by the giant Titans. And in this corner we have Zeus, his five siblings, and his newly discovered cousins, the Cyclopes' and the Hundred-handed Ones. A vicious battle raged; mountains split open followed by thunderbolts, earthquakes and tidal waves. The people on earth watched in horror, but the centaurs were cheering their pal Zeus, whose victory was inevitable. Pan lead his colleagues in a war cry, which was so loud and frightening that it caused the Titans to "panic" and retreat from the battle. Thus Zeus fulfilled his grandfather's prophecy by dethroning his father and taking his place as the Supreme Deity on Mt. Olympus.
Zeus was lucky in battle, romance, and maintaining law and order. He unconsciously assumed all of this 'luck' to be his birthright. In short, he always had his way and he could not be wrong. He simply took what he wanted and ran with it, always having his own definition of fair play. He did not have to be accountable for his actions and his gullibility and hedonism found him in many uncompromising situations, from which he always made a clean escape. His only punishments were the traps Hera continuously laid for him, as he was quite susceptible to deception. Above all, he had to remain free to come and go from Mt. Olympus, cavorting and carousing to his heart's content and, ultimately, paying the price for the chains of responsibility he so steadfastly refused.
The Christian Morality Play cast Jupiter as the pious Judge, who was close to a monotheistic God, a Judge whose pagan ancestor spoke through the wind of the oak tree. It is ironic to note that Jupiter is connected to morals and ethics, but Lilly tells us that the ninth house, co-signified by Jupiter, also rules dreams and visions. One could stretch the truth (Jupiter's domain) and say that law, ethics and morals could be altered according to one's dreams and vision, a concept with which Zeus would have heartily agreed.
And the moral of the story is this: freedom without responsibility is not freedom, it's license. That is Jupiter/Zeus' epitaph, but the Sky God doesn't need epitaphs, only oak trees.
M.A., C.A. NCGR, has acted as Co-Director of Education of The National Council for Geocosmic Research (NCGR), being the Dean and Founder of the University of Geocosmic Studies
. A professional teacher, lecturer and consultant for 19 years, she is currently writing her first book on astrology whilst her articles on astrology have been published internationally. A graduate of the course in Classical Studies in Horary, Jackie served as the NCGR representative for the UAC 2002 Education Committee. She lives in Montclair, New Jersey with her husband Patrick and their three sons.
Jackie is available for natal and horary readings and may be contacted by email at: email@example.com
© Jackie Slevin.
This article first appeared in The Traditional Astrologer Magazine
, (Ascella Publications, London), Issue 17, Sept. 1998, pp.12-13