Zeus had numerous children by both mortal and immortal women. By the mortal Semele he had Dionysus, a god associated with wine and with other forms of intoxication and ecstasy.
By Leto, a Titan, Zeus fathered the twins Apollo and Artemis, who became two of the most important Olympian divinities. Artemis remained a virgin and took hunting as her special province. Apollo became associated with music and prophecy. People visited his oracle (shrine) at Delphi to seek his prophetic advice.
By the nymph Maia, Zeus became father of Hermes, the Olympian trickster god who had the power to cross all kinds of boundaries. Hermes guided the souls of the dead down to the underworld, carried messages between gods and mortals, and wafted a magical sleep upon the wakeful.
Two other Olympian divinities, Hephaestus and Athena, had unusual births. Hera conceived Hephaestus, the blacksmith god, without a male partner using clay. Subsequently he suffered the wrath of Zeus, who once hurled him from Olympus for coming to the aid of his mother during a fight between the couple; this fall down onto the island of Lemnos crippled Hephaestus. The birth of Athena was even stranger. Zeus and Metis, daughter of the Titan Oceanus, were the parents of Athena. But Gaea had warned Zeus that his child, after being born, will dethroned him. To avoid losing his throne to a son, Zeus transformed Metis into a fly and swallowed her. After some time, Zeus suffered from a very severe headache and bearing it no longer, he went to Hephaestus and ordered him to give him a blow with his axe on his head which split open. From the wound came Athena, already in her war clothes. Athena, another virgin goddess, embodied the power of practical intelligence in warfare and crafts work. She also served as the protector of the city of Athens.
Another of Zeus's children was Persephone; her mother was Demeter, goddess of grain, vegetation, and the harvest. Once when Persephone was gathering flowers in a meadow, Hades, god of the underworld, saw and abducted her, taking her down to the kingdom of the dead to be his bride. Her grief-stricken mother wandered the world in search of her; as a result, fertility left the earth. Zeus commanded Hades to release Persephone, but Hades had cunningly given her a pomegranate seed to eat. Having consumed food from the underworld, Hades had a right on her and Persephone was obliged to return below the earth for part of each year. Her return from the underworld each year meant the revival of nature and the beginning of spring. This myth was told especially in connection with the Eleusinian Mysteries, sacred rituals observed in the Greek town of Elevsís near Athens. The rituals offered initiates in the mysteries the hope of rebirth, just as Persephone had been reborn after her journey to the underworld.
There were also the Muses, nine daughters of Zeus and the goddess of memory, Mnemosyne, presided over song, dance, and music. The Fates, three goddesses who controlled human life and destiny, and the Horae, goddesses who controlled the seasons, were appropriately the children of Zeus and Themis, the goddess of divine justice and law.
Far different in temperament were the Erinyes (Furies), ancient and repellent goddesses who had sprung from the earth after it had been impregnated with the blood of Uranus's severed genitals. Terrible though they were, the Erinyes also had a legitimate role in the world: to pursue those who had murdered their own kin.