If you’ve ever been disappointed in yourself for not being able to keep track of all those Greek gods and how they were related, let this interactive infographic be a source of some consolation. It shows every relationship Zeus ever had—many with sisters, daughters, and aunts!—as delineated in the texts of Homer, Ovid, and other historians of antiquity. It’s a great, gross family tree of godly proportions, and it’s about as hard for us mere mortals to follow as Ulysses trying to read Ulysses.
I came into this thinking that Zeus was happily hitched to Hera. How very wrong I was! Wikipedia barely gets a paragraph in before mentioning that this god of gods was “known for his erotic escapades,” and that’s one thing this inscrutable, interactive schema makes perfectly clear: the guy got around.
The graphic itself was created by three Italian students, Elisa Zamarian, Viviana Ferro, and Ilaria Pagin, after they’d wrapped up a week-long workshop with viz whiz Santiago Ortiz. Inspired by one of Ortiz’s projects that visualized text from sections of the Iliad—and emboldened, perhaps, by his success indistilling the convoluted plot lines of Lost into a series of graphics—the trio embarked on mapping Zeus’s every conquest.
The challenges quickly became evident. For one thing, different historians have different accounts of which deities slept with whom. And the icky incestuousness of it all precluded a simple, top-down family tree. It was impossible, Zamarian and Ferro explain, “to represent all the unions between Zeus and other women, with their offsprings, without repeating most of the names more than twice.”
The designers eventually decided on a radial arrangement for the data—easier for them to fill out, spatially, and easier for others to follow (though still far from easy). They divided the historians they relied on into three chronological categories, assigned each a color, and made the graphic interactive so viewers could see the whole tangled mess or single out which relationships were detailed by which particular sources. Give it a whirl here. In the final graphic, Zeus is represented by the thick black lines, with his lovers located on the inside and his offspring on the outside.
The goddess Hera was, indeed, one of Zeus’s partners (also: his sister), and their union produced five children. But Zeus was also particularly active with his aunt, Mnemosyne, with whom he had nine kids. His encounters with Leto brought Artemis and Apollo into the ancient world, and his affair with Thyone, a human, yielded the party god Dionysus. And here’s one more thing to keep in mind: According to myth, Dionysus was the first to produce wine, so Zeus can’t even point to the cask as his excuse.