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Zeus (zs)
Greek Mythology
The principal god of the Greek pantheon, ruler of the heavens, and father of other gods and mortal heroes.

Word History: Homer's Iliad calls him "Zeus who thunders on high" and Milton's Paradise Lost, "the Thunderer," so it is surprising to learn that the Indo-European ancestor of Zeus was a god of the bright daytime sky. Zeus is a somewhat unusual noun in Greek, having both a stem Zēn- (as in the philosopher Zeno's name) and a stem Di- (earlier Diw-). In the Iliad, prayers to Zeus begin with the vocative form Zeu pater, "o father Zeus." Father Zeus was the head of the Greek pantheon; another ancient Indo-European society, the Romans, called the head of their pantheon Iūpiter or IuppiterJupiter. The -piter part of his name is just a reduced form of pater, "father," and Iū- corresponds to the Zeu in Greek: Iūpiter is therefore precisely equivalent to Zeu pater and could be translated "father Jove." Jove itself is from Latin Iov-, the stem form of Iūpiter, an older version of which in Latin was Diov-, showing that the word once had a d as in Greek Diw-. An exact parallel to Zeus and Jupiter is found in the Sanskrit god addressed as Dyau pitar: pitar is "father," and dyau means "sky." We can equate Greek Zeu pater, Latin Iū-piter, and Sanskrit dyau pitar and reconstruct an Indo-European deity, *Dyēus pəter, who was associated with the sky and addressed as "father." Comparative philology has revealed that the "sky" word refers specifically to the bright daytime sky, as it is derived from the root meaning "to shine." This root also shows up in Latin diēs "day," borrowed into English in words like diurnal. · Closely related to these words is Indo-European *deiwos "god," which shows up, among other places, in the name of the Old English god Tīw in Modern English Tuesday, "Tiw's day." *Deiwos is also the source of Latin dīvus "pertaining to the gods," whence English divine and the Italian operatic diva, and deus, "god," whence deity.
(click for a larger image)
detail of a 6th-century bc Greek black-figure amphora showing Athena emerging from the head of Zeus

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2022 by HarperCollins Publishers. All rights reserved.

Indo-European & Semitic Roots Appendices

    Thousands of entries in the dictionary include etymologies that trace their origins back to reconstructed proto-languages. You can obtain more information about these forms in our online appendices:

    Indo-European Roots

    Semitic Roots

    The Indo-European appendix covers nearly half of the Indo-European roots that have left their mark on English words. A more complete treatment of Indo-European roots and the English words derived from them is available in our Dictionary of Indo-European Roots.