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Zeus, Hades and Poseidon were three of the most powerful and important gods in Greek mythology, often referred to as the ‘Big Three’. Although they were brothers, they were very different gods in terms of characteristics and traits. Here’s a quick look at the similarities and differences between these three gods.
Who Were Zeus, Poseidon and Hades?
- Parents: Zeus, Poseidon and Hades were three major Olympian gods born to the primordial deities Cronus (the god of time) and Rhea (the Titaness of fertility, comfort and motherhood).
- Siblings: The brothers had several other siblings including Hera (marriage and birth), Demeter (agriculture), Dionysus (wine), Chiron (the superlative centaur) and Hestia (the virgin goddess of the hearth).
- Titanomachy: Zeus and Poseidon were Olympian deities but Hades wasn’t regarded as one because he seldom left his domain, the Underworld. The three Greek gods overthrew their father Cronus and the other Titans in a ten-year war known as the Titanomachy, one of the biggest events in Greek mythology. It ended in victory for the Olympians.
- Dividing the cosmos: Zeus, Hades and Poseidon decided to divide the cosmos amongst themselves by drawing lots. Zeus became the Supreme ruler of the heavens. Poseidon became the god of the sea. Hades became the god of the Underworld. The domain each brother ruled affected their abilities and personalities which in turn affected every other aspect of their lives including relationships, events and families.
Zeus vs. Hades vs. Poseidon – Personalities
- Zeus had a very ill temper and was easily angered. When he was angry, he would use his lightning bolt to create dangerous storms. All deities and mortals respected him and followed his word since they were afraid to face his wrath. However, even though he was known for his temper, he also known for his heroic actions such as saving his siblings from his tyrant of a father.
- Poseidon was a moodier character, with an unstable temperament. Like Zeus, he sometimes lost his temper which usually resulted in violence. He also enjoyed exerting power over women and liked flaunting his rugged masculinity.
- Hades, on the other hand, was quite different from his brothers. He was said to have been the eldest of the three (although in some accounts Zeus was the eldest) and was a stern, pitiless god who wasn’t easily moved by sacrifice or prayer. Since he mostly kept to himself, not much has been revealed about his personality, but it is said that he was known for being greedy and shrewd, traits that he had in common with his brothers.
Zeus vs. Hades vs. Poseidon – Domains
- As the Supreme ruler, Zeus was the King of the gods and ruler of the heavens. His domain was everything in the heavens including the clouds and mountain tops from where he could look down on all creation.
- Poseidon’s domain was the sea, where he spent most of his time. It was he who caused floods, sea storms and earthquakes with his trident, the weapon that he was most famous for. He was also responsible for all the sea creatures.
- Hades was King of the Underworld. He ruled the wealth of the Earth. He spent all of his time in the Underworld. Although he’s sometimes mistaken for Death, he wasn’t responsible for causing it. He was the caretaker of the dead, keeping their souls from returning to the land of the living.
Zeus vs. Hades vs. Poseidon – Family
The brothers Zeus, Poseidon and Hades all had the same parentage.
- Zeus married his sister Hera, the goddess of family and marriage but he had many other lovers, both mortal and divine. He also had an extremely large number of children, some by Hera and others by his many lovers.
- Poseidon was married to a nymph, a sea goddess, known as Amphitrite. They, too, had several children together. Poseidon wasn’t as promiscuous as his brother Zeus but he also had a number of extramarital affairs that led to the birth of more offspring: the Cyclops Polyphemus as well as the giants, Ephialtes and Otus. He also had a number of mortal sons.
- Hades married his niece Persephone, the goddess of spring growth. From the three brothers, he remained the most loyal and devoted to his spouse. There is no scandal connected to Hades and he had no extramarital affairs. There’s also no mention of Hades having children of his own. Some ancient sources state that Melinoe, the Underworld goddess, was his daughter but others say that she was actually the offspring of Persephone and Zeus, conceived when Zeus took on the form of Hades and seduced Persephone.
Zeus vs. Hades vs. Poseidon – Appearance
- In art, Zeus is typically depicted as a muscular man with a big, bushy beard, holding his bolt in hand. He’s also often seen with an eagle and a royal sceptre which are symbols closely associated with the god of the sky.
- Like Zeus, Poseidon is also depicted as a strong, sturdy and mature man with a bushy beard. He is often depicted brandishing his trident which was made for him by the Cyclops. He is typically surrounded by seahorses, tuna fish, dolphins and several other marine animals in art
- Hades is usually pictured wearing a helmet or a crown and holding a staff or pitchfork in his hand. He’s almost always seen with Cerberus, his three-headed dog that guarded the Underworld for him. He had a dark beard and had a more serious countenance than his brothers. Hades was rarely depicted in art and when he was, the god was commonly portrayed with a mournful look.
Zeus vs. Hades vs. Poseidon – Power
- When it came to power, Zeus was always one step above his brothers as the King of the gods. He was also the ruler of Mount Olympus, where the Olympian deities lived. It was him who doled out vengeance against the other deities as he saw fit. His word was the law and everyone followed it and trusted his judgements. He was easily the most powerful of the three. He had complete control over the weather and everything in the heavens and it seemed that it was his destiny to become the leader of the gods.
- Poseidon wasn’t as powerful as Zeus, but he was very close. With his trident, he had control over the seas and was considered to be extremely powerful. According to some sources, if Poseidon struck the earth with his trident, it would cause catastrophic earthquakes that could destroy the earth.
- Hades was the third most powerful when compared with his brothers, but he was even more powerful as King of his domain. His favored weapon was the bident, an implement much like Poseidon’s trident but with two prongs instead of three. It’s said that the bident was incredibly potent and could shatter anything that it struck into pieces.
The Relationship Between the Brothers
The brothers had very different personalities and it appears that they didn’t like each other very much.
Zeus and Poseidon never got along well because both of them were equally hungry for power. Like Hades, Poseidon didn’t like Zeus becoming the leader and he always wanted to be just as, or more, powerful than Zeus and even planned more than once to overthrow him. Knowing this, Zeus also disliked Poseidon because he felt threatened by him.
It’s said that Hades disliked Zeus as he became the Supreme ruler. Hades wasn’t very happy when they drew lots and it fell to him to rule the Underworld since that wasn’t his first choice. While he was powerful and respected in his own realm, it upset Hades that he couldn’t become the leader and King of the gods. He also found it very difficult to take orders from his brother.
Hades didn’t interact much with Poseidon since they rarely came into contact with one another. This might have been for the best because both of them were known for their bad tempers, trickery and greed, characteristics they’d inherited from their father, Cronus.
Zeus, Poseidon and Hades were the greatest and possibly the best known of all the deities of the Greek pantheon. Each of them had their own fascinating traits and characteristics and they all featured in many of the most famous and important myths in Greek mythology. From the three, Zeus was easily the most powerful god, but each was the most powerful in their own domains.