The ancient Greeks worshiped and respected Zeus as a deity of law, order and justice. However, he was not revered and respected to the same extent among the other Olympians. Zeus’ arrogant nature and tendency to engage in favoritism meant that he would often offend many gods. And this resulted in 3 of the most powerful Olympians; Poseidon, Hera and Athena, plotting to overthrow Zeus and seize power as the rulers of the gods.
An Attempt to Capture Zeus
Poseidon had always been envious of Zeus as he was the sky god’s older brother and nearly Zeus’ equal in terms of power. Hera was often displeased with her husband’s tendency to lust after other women, both mortal and immortal. Athena did not have any grievances with Zeus but joined the rebellion believing that she would be better suited to lead the Olympians. Many sources also state that these 3 convinced Apollo to join the coup, but his motivations are unclear.
The gods had a simple plan to bound Zeus in unbreakable chains while he was put to sleep by Hypnos. However, the sea nymph Thetis caught wind of this plan, and fearing the consequences of a war among the gods, decided to prevent the coup from happening. But Thetis alone was not powerful enough to stand up to the 3 major Olympians. Thus, she sought help from Briaereus, a loyal ally of Zeus.
Briaereus was one of the Hecatoncheires, three giants who each had one hundred hands and fifty heads. They were sons of Uranus and aided the Olympians during the titanomachy. Briaereus was the most powerful of the Hecatoncheires and lived in the sea with his wife Cymopolea. When he learned of the plot to overthrow Zeus from Thetis, he went up to Olympus and stood guard by Zeus’ throne. The other gods were too afraid to take on both Zeus and Briaereus, and eventually their plot was foiled.
Punishment & Rewards
Zeus was furious when he learned of the potential rebellion and decided to punish all the conspirators. Athena alone escaped punishment as she was Zeus’ favorite child, and held no ill intentions towards her father.
Apollo and Poseidon were humiliated by being forced to work as builders for King Laomedon of Troy. The two Olympians built the massive unbreakable wall around the city of Troy, which protected it for over a decade during the Trojan war. Hera suffered the worst punishment, and was hung from her hands with Hephaestus’ anvils tied to her feet. She was only released after the other gods pleaded with Zeus and Hera swore never to rebel against Zeus again.
But just as the conspirators were punished, Zeus made sure that his savior was duly rewarded. Thetis was the mother of Achilles, the great hero of the Trojan war. Achilles had captured a woman named Briseis to make his wife during the Trojan war. But the Achaean commander Agamemnon also wanted Briseis for himself. Eventually, Achilles had to begrudgingly give up the woman he captured.
Thetis was deeply offended by this assault on her son’s honor. She went to Zeus and requested that he intervene in the war to make sure that Achilles regained his glory. Remembering the favor that Thetis did for him in the past, Zeus bowed his head and agreed.
Even though the manner in which Zeus intervened is unclear, Achilles went from strength to strength in the war from that point onwards. Most notably, he defeated Hector, the greatest warrior in Troy. However, not even Zeus’ favor could prevent Achilles from being killed in battle according to a prophecy told at the hero’s birth.
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