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6-10-2015, 13:58

Zeus of the family

Because of his position as head of the divine family of Olympian deities, Zeus was the archetype of the patriarchal father. In myth, Zeus’ many amorous alliances with mortal women produced heroes, who gave rise to aristocratic lineages. Thus he was worshiped as Zeus Patroos (Ancestor) by Dorians, who traced their lineage to his son Herakles, and more generally as a god of familial bonds. At Athens, Zeus Phratrios and Athena Phratria presided over the enrollment of boys into the phratries, or brotherhoods, that guaranteed their status as legitimate offspring of citizens. Shrines of individual phratries sometimes had altars dedicated to the pair.12 But most widespread of all were Zeus’ many domestic cults. Zeus Herkeios (of the Courtyard) received sacrifices on behalf of the household at an open-air altar. An anecdote from Herodotus (6.67-68) illustrates the role that Zeus played as the guarantor of the male line. When confronted by his enemies with claims that he was illegitimate, the Spartan king Demaratos sacrificed to Zeus and brought his mother a portion of the entrails. Placing them in her hand, he beseeched her in the name of Zeus Herkeios to tell him the truth about his parentage, and she complied. Zeus Herkeios is attested as early as Homer (Od. 22.333-37), who mentions that Odysseus and his father sacrifice to the god outside their ancestral home. Zeus’ importance to fathers may also explain the unusual votive offerings uncovered in the hilltop sanctuary at Messapeai near Sparta. The sanctuary of Zeus Messapeus contained weapons, armor, and athletic gear, but these were far outnumbered by crude, handmade clay statuettes of males with huge, erect phalloi. The site was frequented mostly by men, who may have sought Zeus’ aid in becoming fathers.13

Zeus Ktesios (of Possessions) was a humbler deity. In Athens, it was customary for the head of the household to wreathe a two-handled jar with wool tufts around its “ears” and “from its right shoulder to its forehead,” and to empty into the jar a mixture of pure water, olive oil, and various fruits and grains, referred to as ambrosia. The finished jar stood in the storeroom as a “sign” of Zeus and acted as a charm to increase the household goods. That the ritual has many points of contact with funerary customs suggests a relationship to domestic ancestor cults. Though he had public altars in some cities, Zeus Ktesios was primarily an intimate, family god. The orator Isaeus (8.16) tells of an Athenian who admitted only family members to the sacrifice for this god, though his practice was not necessarily universal. Like certain other manifestations of Zeus discussed below, Ktesios could be represented as a snake.14