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  • Ella Feeley

Revealing Zeus’s Disguise: The Media’s Silencing of Women

Zeus has to be one of the most well-known Greek gods of our time, but what exactly is he famous for? While his godly affairs are no secret and widely accessible, it seems that his legacy has been twisted and shaped by our media in a way that disguises his true nature. Zeus’s uncontrollable love for deceit, trickery and, most importantly, women, is not widely discussed. It seems his disguises have manifested outside of their myths as the media continues to portray him as an incredibly powerful, highly respected, and knowledgeable king. Simply put, Zeus is a rapist. Why, then, has the media hidden this from us?

Artwork by Daisy Whittle (IG: @Daisydrawn).

Carelessly hidden under a blanket of false media portrayals, the truth can be uncovered through the surviving myths of Greek women. From Europa and Callisto, to Io and Alcmene, it’s no secret that Zeus has assaulted many (and I mean many) women. In truth, there aren’t many children in Greek mythology that aren’t Zeus’s. Just to touch the surface, Europa was deceived by Zeus after he disguised himself as a beautiful white bull and carried her across the sea to the island of Crete. It was here, isolated from her friends and her home, that he assaulted her. Another, Callisto, was tricked by Zeus when he disguised himself as her most trusted mistress, Artemis, and began to seduce her. After gaining Callisto’s trust as Artemis, he revealed his true self and raped her, despite her distress and confusion. This mere drop in the ocean already demonstrates Zeus’s disregard for female consent and their lives as human beings.

When consulting modern interpretations of Zeus, we can investigate films like Disney’s Hercules. It’s a film that a lot of us know well, and for many, it’s a childhood favourite. Hercules presents Zeus as a kind, loving father who was faithful to his wife Hera. In fact, in the film, Hercules’ parents are said to be Zeus and Hera, but when consulting the classical myths, we can identify that his mother was in fact believed to be Alcmene. She was another woman who was deceived by Zeus when he disguised himself as her husband, Amphitryon, and impregnated her with Heracles. While completely erasing Alcmene from the picture in Hercules is highly problematic, we can understand why such events were avoided in a children’s animation. Regardless, by removing Alcmene entirely, it aids in painting this false image of Zeus in pop culture and the media. He is presented as the “good guy”, and Alcmene’s voice is silenced.

The film Clash of the Titans by Louis Leterrier is another example, presenting Zeus as a power-hungry ruler who is led astray by his evil brother Hades. Magically, by the end of the film, he returns to good through his compassion for his demigod son Perseus. Again, we see fatherly devotion and, in the end, kindness, which distracts us from the problematic sequences in the film. While Clash of the Titans does touch on the disguised side of Zeus very briefly, it is just that: brief. We are shown that Zeus had slept with the King of Argos’s wife, Danaë, disguised as the king. While this is better in exposing this side of Zeus, unfortunately it is emphasised that this assault on Danaë was to avoid punishing all the mortals for the king's rebellion. This reasoning paints Zeus as a merciful god in the film as he chooses to punish the few instead of the many. Ultimately though, this acts as an excuse for his actions. Danaë’s consent is not brought up once. By using her to punish the king, it establishes her as an object that is owned by her husband, rather than presenting her as her own person.

Time and time again we see the horrific stories of Zeus’s actions pushed aside. It’s not only present in modern media representations, but also in old artistic representations. Take, for example, Renaissance paintings that are still hugely respected and studied today. Peter Paul Rubens’ 16th century painting Leda and the Swan is an admired painting that is based heavily off of a lost Michelangelo painting. At first glance we can identify a beautifully painted piece with a rich and romantic atmosphere. The woman, Leda, appears to be interlocked with the swan with no indication of a struggle. In fact, looking closely she appears to be calm and accepting of the swan’s advances. Digging deeper into this piece, though, we discover that this swan is Zeus in disguise (surprise surprise!), and Leda is yet another of his conquests. This painting is a depiction of the rape of Leda by Zeus, and by holding it in such high regard in the art world when the story behind the piece is rarely emphasised is highly problematic. This romanticised interpretation yet again aids in watering down and disguising the truth from us.

Knowing all of this, it is difficult to see how Zeus is still respected today. Unfortunately, though, this is still widely the case. Some examples include:

  • The Olympic games that we know today - it was revived in 1896, inspired by the ancient Greek Olympic games that were organised every four years in honour of Zeus. Athletes would pray to the almighty Zeus for success and provide gifts for him.

  • The planet Jupiter - it is actually named after Zeus in his honour (his Roman name is Jupiter). Its four largest moons are named after Zeus’s “lovers”: Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto. The fact that still to this day the women are referred to as his “lovers” feeds into the media's silencing and completely dismisses the women’s experiences as victims of sexual assault.

  • Zeus tattoos - more and more people continue to get tattoos of the Greek god, and a quick google search of the meaning of a Zeus tattoo tells us all we need to know: “incredible strength and power”. This shows that people still hold him up on a pedestal as the powerful King of the Gods, but they do not see under his disguise.

It was not always like this, as when we consult Ovid’s interpretation of Zeus in his 8 AD publication of Metamorphoses, he hides very little from the reader. A Roman text, Zeus is referred to by his other name, Jove (sometimes Jupiter). In the text, Ovid exposes many of Zeus’s disguises through a tapestry made by Arachne, a mortal woman, depicting the ugly side of the gods:

Arachne’s picture presented Európa seduced by Jove

in the guise of a bull; the bull and the sea were convincingly


The girl appeared to be looking back to the shore behind


calling out to the friends she was leaving, afraid of the


waves which threatened to touch her and nervously lifting

​her feet.

Astérië also was shown, in the grip of a struggling eagle;

Leda, meekly reclining under the wings of the swan.

And there was Jove once again, but now in the form of a


taking the lovely Antíope, sowing seeds of her twins.

You could see how he caught Alcména disguised as her

husband Amphítryon,

then how he stole fair Dánaë’s love in a shower of gold;

how he cheated Aegína as fire; Mnemósyne, dressed as a


Prosérpina, Ceres’ child and his own, as a speckled


Ovid, Metamorphoses (England: Penguin Books Ltd, 2004), book 6, lines 101-113.

It seems that this 1st century passage of a mortal woman exposing Zeus’s wrongdoings has more female power in it than any of the pop culture stories told of him in the modern day. So, time and time again, why is a serial rapist allowed such power and fatherly compassion in modern interpretations? Well, the patriarchy and misogyny have a huge influence on this. Men who hold power and “take” many women are still respected, even to this day. It is ingrained into our society that women are not as powerful as men, and while we have come so far in deconstructing this in recent years, we are far from finished. It is rarely a priority to expose how problematic Zeus is and tell the women’s stories.

The truth is, our media is still biased towards women. In fact, in 2019 in the UK, only 29% of quoted individuals in the news (either as experts, sources, or protagonists) were women. It was even lower in other countries: 25% in America, and 14% in India. These twisted interpretations of Zeus that the media prioritise conceal a truth that ultimately silences women and maintains his disguise. The powerful and fatherly Zeus that we all know should have been destroyed a long, long time ago, and the villain beneath the disguise revealed.


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