Have you ever wondered from where did the mythical creatures and gods you so hear about and see in movies and pictures come from? Greek mythology is one of the richest sources of imagination and entertainment for the modern society, and I can't help but be fascinated by all the myths and legends that originated from Greek mythology. In this article, I write about my study of the subject and how everything began, according to the myth.
It all started with inexplicable forces that were present even before the beginning of time and space. They were the first primordial gods: Chaos, Gaia, Tartarus and Eros. These four deities (deathless gods and forces of creation) are often depicted as a realm or a place. They are sometimes pictured or mentioned in their personified forms.
After Chaos, came Gaia (Earth), then Tartarus (Underworld) and finally Eros (Procreation). Gaia was the female personification of the Earth, which would later become the foundation for all the other gods and the mortals. Tartarus was the stormy space beneath the Earth, a bottomless abyss. And Eros represented the love of sexual reproduction and was the fairest of the four deathless gods.
These four primordial gods were only the beginning. Chaos gave birth to Erebus (Darkness)- the male personification of darkness and the space between Tartarus and Gaia, and Nyx (Night)- the goddess of the night. Erebus and Nyx procreated to give birth to Aether (Brightness)- the bright upper atmosphere of the gods, and Hemera (Day)- the goddess of the day.
The order in which the Primordial Gods were born is debatable. Some sources state that from the initial state of disorder that was Chaos, eventually Love (Eros) appeared. Chaos, being poetically female in this version, with Love, gives birth to Gaia and the following primordial deities.
These were the primordial forces before the generations. You can say they were always there, but that at some point materialized, started a chain of events that led to creation and gave form to the first generations of gods. Uranus, as the Heaven and protector of Gaia, was the ruler of the Cosmos at this point.
Primordial Greek gods:
-Erebus (Darkness), born from Chaos
-Nyx (Night), born from Chaos
-Aether (Brightness), son of Erebus and Nyx
-Hemere (Day), daughter of Erebus and Nyx
-Uranus (Heaven), born from Gaia
-The Ourea (Mountains), born from Gaia
-Pontus (Sea), born from Gaia
The First Generation
Every night Uranus would descend to Earth, covering her on all sides, and mate with Gaia. This led to the birth of many children, children that Uranus didn't want. They were the twelve Titans, the three Cyclops and the three Hekatonchires.
The first children, the twelve Titans, were immortal beings of incredible sizes, formidable strength and unmatchable endurance. They ruled during the Golden Age and were considered the first gods, the Titan Gods.
The three cyclops were giants similar to their elder siblings, but with a single eye in their forehead. They were known for their stubbornness, strength, might and craftmanship. The cyclops were responsible for the craft of many of the mythical weapons from Greek mythology, including Zeus' thunderbolts.
The three Hekatonchires were ferocious and dangerous powerful giants with one hundred arms and fifty heads each! Uranus hated them at the first sight and was fearful that these powerful creatures would grow up and eventually overthrow him as the only ruler of the Cosmos.
The Twelve Titans:
The Second Generation
Shaping the world
Hateful and disgusted with his children the three Hekatonchires, and fearful of the Cyclops, Uranus locks them deep beneath Gaia, in Tartarus. In anger, Gaia asks the Titans to punish their father for his actions. Only Cronus, the youngest and most wicked of the Titans, answers to her plead. With a stone sickle created from Gaia, Cronus awaits for the night, and as Uranus descends to Earth to mate with Gaia, Cronus castrates him and throws his genitals into the sea.
From the drops of Uranus blood on the Earth, the Erinyes (Furies or gods of vengeance), the Gigantes (Giants) and the Meliai (ash-tree nymphs) are born. And from the white foam that spread from the immortal flesh of Uranus' testicles, Aphrodite, the goddess of love, arises.
Uranus swore vengeance upon the Titans and retreats to become the mere sky above the Earth. As a consequence to these events, Nyx (Night) gives birth to Moros (Doom), Moirai (Fate), Thanatos (Death), Hypnos (Sleep), Oneiroi (Dreams), Momos (Blame), Oizys (Misery), Nemesis (Retribution), Apate (Deceit), Philotes (Affection), Geras (Ageing) and Eris (Strife). Among other dark spirits and nymphs.
Then it is Eris, Nyx's offspring, who gives birth to more dark personifications: Ponos (Toil), Lethe (Oblivion), Limos (Famine), the Algos (Sorrows), the Makhai (Fights), the Hysminai (Battles), the Phonoi (Murders), the Androktasia (Manslaughter), the Neikea (Quarrels), the Pseudologos (Lies), the Amphilogia (Disputes), Dysnomia (Lawlessness), Ate (Ruin) and Horkos, the curse of those who make false oaths.
Among the Titans, more couples are formed and more children are born. Oceanus and Tethys have three thousand rivers and three thousand Oceanid nymphs. Theia and Hyperion have Helios (Sun), Selene (Moon) and Eos (Dawn). Pallas and the Oceanid Styx have Zelus (Zeal), Nike (Victory), Cratos (Strength) and Bia (Force). Iapetos and Klymene, another Oceanid nymph, have Atlas, Menoetius, Prometheus, and Epimetheus (all important names in Greek mythology).
The purpose of the second generation seems to be one of completing the Earth with all the essential elements and concepts that are part of it. From the deathless gods and their descendants, many more deities and minor gods were born. Some lineages are not entirely clear and can get pretty confusing. I feel that these are the more important names to feel the actual set up and creation of the world and comprehend the next events.
The Third Generation
Eventually Zeus grows up, and with the help of Gaia, comes up with a plan to make Cronus regurgitate his brothers and sisters. Zeus then rebels against the Titans to overthrow Cronus, an act that leads to a 10-year war! The Titans were many and powerful, but cunning Zeus goes deep into Tartarus and releases the Cyclops and the Hekatonchires, forming an alliance with them. The Cyclops provide Zeus with his famous thunderbolts and the Hekatonchires use their power to ambush the Titans. Together with his siblings and their new-found allies, Zeus ends up victorious, locks most of The Titans in Tartarus, and becomes the new omnipotent god, ruler of the Cosmos.
During his reign, Zeus has many wives, sons and daughters, through a long and confusing lineage, not at all times clear. Eventually it all leads to the Twelve Olympians, which are the twelve gods of the main Greek pantheon. From the original six brothers and sisters, Hades becomes the god of the underworld in Tartaturs and is excluded from Mount Olympus. Hestia also gives up her place to a younger god of a later generation, Dionysus.
- Hera (Goddess of Marriage)
- Poseidon (God of the Sea)
- Demeter (Goddess of Agriculture)
- Dionysus (God of Wine)
- Apollo (God of Light)
- Artemis (Goddess of the Hunt)
- Hermes (Messenger of the gods)
- Athena (Goddess of Wisdom)
- Ares (God of War)
- Aphrodite (Goddess of Love)
- Hephaestus (God of Blacksmithing)
Prometheus and the creation of Man
It is during Zeus' reign that the mortals are created as a means to amuse the gods. This task is given to Prometheus and Epimetheus, two lesser titans that sided with Zeus during the war for control of the Cosmos. Prometheus shapes men and the other animals out of mud, while Athena, goddess of Wisdom and daughter of Zeus and one of his many wives, breathes life onto them. Epimetheus was handed a set of gifts and the task of distributing them through the various mortal creatures, like strength, agility, fur, flight and many others. When he got to man, he had no more good gifts to give, though!
Prometheus, who was particularly fond of man, promptly arranged new gifts in order to protect them in this new kingdom. He stole Athena's reason and Hephaestus' fire (another son of Zeus and the blacksmith of the gods), and gave them to man. Zeus has also decreed that man had to gift the gods a portion of every animal that they sacrificed. Prometheus, as the protector of man, gives Zeus the choice of his part of men's sacrifices: the hide of an animal, whose good meat was concealed inside; or its bones, that ware carefully wrapped in juicy fat. Zeus, chooses the latter, and furious of the trick, takes fire away from man.
Prometheus, who loved the race of man above everything else, contradicts Zeus, and once again gives man fire by litting a torch from the sun and bringing it back to them. Zeus, deciding that Prometheus had gone too far, decides to punish man. Zeus has Hephaestus create a mortal of stunning beauty and curious nature. This creation was Pandora, the first woman. With Pandora he creates a gift as well, a box which Pandora was forbidden to open no matter what! Completed, Zeus sends Pandora down to Epimetheus, who was staying amongst the men.
Prometheus, knowing of Zeus' schemes, warns Epimetheus not to accept gifts from Zeus, but Pandora's beauty was too mesmerizing and Epimetheus allowed her to stay. Eventually, Pandora's curiosity about the forbidden box becomes too great. She opens it, and from the box, all manner of evils, misfortunes and sorrows fly through the realm of man! However, there was still one good thing in the bottom of the box. Hope.
Prometheus was eventually punished for his love for the mortals above the gods, and was chained to a rock, where an eagle would feast on his regenerating liver, every day, for all eternity.
And basically that was it. From the creation of the world and the first gods to the birth of humanity, these are the generally accepted events. The many names and intertwining story lines can become confusing, there are literally dozens of narratives and versions. With some careful attention, though, you can trace the chronology of Greek mythology to its very beginnings.
I hope you enjoyed the injection of information, as I hope more of these to come out in the future!