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Chapter 03

Chapter 3: Myths of Creation


GENESIS FROM CHAOS

Hesiod in his epic poem the Theogony offers the earliest Greek version of genesis. CHAOS (“yawning void”) provides the beginning for creation. Out of Chaos the universe came into being. Later writers interpret Chaos as a mass of many elements (or only four: earth, air, fire, and water) from which the universe was created. From Hesiod’s Chaos came Ge, Tartarus, Eros, Erebus, and Night.

  • GAIA [geye'a], GAEA [jee'a], or GE [gay]. Most important and first, Gaia, the earth and fertility mother, came from Chaos. Contemporary feminist approaches to mythology lay great importance on the fact that many early societies first conceived of deity as a woman.
  • EROS [er'os] (CUPID). From Chaos came Eros, the potent concept of Love, which is fundamental.
  • TARTARUS [tar'ta-rus], or TARTAROS. Tartarus, which came out of Chaos, was an area  in the depths of the earth. It became a place of punishment in the Underworld; EREBUS [er'e-bus], or EREBOS, its darkness, became another name for Tartarus itself.

THE HOLY OR SACRED MARRIAGE OF EARTH AND SKY

URANUS [ou'ra-nus and you-ray'nus], or OURANOS. Of the elements that Gaia, earth, produced on her own, most significant is Uranus, the male sky or heavens, with his lightning and thunder. The deification of the feminine, mother earth, and masculine, god of the sky, is basic to mythological and religious thinking. Their marriage is designated as a HOLY, or SACRED MARRIAGE, a translation of the Greek HIEROS GAMOS [hi'er-os ga'mos], which has become the technical term.

THE CHILDREN OF URANUS AND GAIA

The holy marriage of sky and earth produced the following:

  • The three CYCLOPES [seye-klo'peez], or KYKLOPES: each CYCLOPS [seye'klops], o KYKLOPS, meaning “orb-eyed,” had only one eye in the middle of his forehead. The Cyclopes forged lightning and thunderbolts.
  • The three HECATONCHIRES [hek-a-ton-keye'reez], or HEKATONCHEIRES, “hundred-handed”: strong and monstrous creatures.
  • The twelve TITANS: six brothers and six sisters who mate with each other.

SOME TITANS AND THEIR OFFSPRING

Deities of Waters. The Titan OCEANUS [o-see'an-us], or OKEANOS was the stream of Ocean that encircles the disc of the earth in the early concept of geography. He is the father of the many spirits of waters (rivers, springs, etc.), the OCEANIDS [o-see'an-idz], three thousand daughters and three thousand sons.

Gods of the Sun. The titan HYPERION [heye-per'i-on], god of the sun, was father of HELIUS [hee'li-us], or HELIOS, also a god of the sun. Later the god APOLLO [a-pol'loh] became a god of the sun as well. The sun-god dwells in the East, crosses the dome of the sky in his chariot drawn by a team of four horses, descends in the West into the stream of Oceanus, which encircles the earth, and then sails back to the East to begin a new day.

The Son of a Sun-God. PHAËTHON [fay'e-thon], son of the sun-god, whether he be called Hyperion, Helius, or Apollo, wanted to be certain that the Sun was really his father and so he went to the splendid palace of the Sun to find out. The sun-god assured Phaëthon that he was his father, swearing a dread oath that the boy could have anything that he desired. Thus Phaëthon was granted his adamant request that he be allowed to drive the sun-chariot for one day. Too inexperienced to control the horses, Phaëthon created havoc, and in answer to the prayers of Earth was hurtled to his death by the lightning of the supreme god, Zeus or Jupiter. This tale illustrates the brave folly of youth, the conflict between parents and their children, and the search for identity.

Goddesses of the Moon. SELENE [se-lee'nee], goddess of the moon, is a daughter of the titan Hyperion, and she drives a two-horse chariot. Later the goddess ARTEMIS [ar'te-mis] (DIANA) becomes a moon-goddess. Selene (or Artemis) fell desperately in love with the hunter ENDYMION [en-di'mi-on] and used to abandon her duties in the heaven to visit the cave of her beloved. In the end, Endymion was granted perpetual sleep and eternal youth.

Goddess of the Dawn. EOS [ee'os] (AURORA), goddess of the dawn, was a third child of Hyperion. She, like Selene, drives a two-horse chariot. Eos fell in love with the mortal TITHONUS [ti-thoh'nus], or TITHONOS and carried him off. The supreme god Zeus granted her prayer that Tithonus be made immortal and live forever. Poor Eos forgot to ask for eternal youth for her beloved. Tithonus grew older and older, finally being turned into a shriveled grasshopper, while the passion of the eternally beautiful goddess cooled to become dutiful devotion. This tragic story illustrates how our ignorant wishes may be granted to our woe and illuminates the contrast between lovely and sensuous youth and ugly and debilitating old age.
Eos and Tithonus had a son named Memnon, who is killed by Achilles in the Trojan saga (see M/L, Chapter 19). The amorous Eos also carried off other lovers, including Cephalus, who became the husband of Procris in Athenian saga (see M/L, Chapter 23).

CASTRATION OF URANUS AND THE BIRTH OF APHRODITE

Uranus hated his children, and as they were about to be born he hid them in the depths of Gaia, the mother earth. The mythic image is Hesiod's poetic merging of vast sky and earth imagined, at the same time, as man and woman, husband and wife. Gaia's anguished appeals for revenge were answered by the last-born, the wily Cronus. He agreed to accept the jagged-toothed sickle that his mother had fashioned and, from his ambush, he castrated his father as he was about to make love to his mother. The severed genitals of Uranus were cast upon the sea and from them a maiden grew, APHRODITE [af-roh-deye'tee] (VENUS), the powerful goddess of beauty and love.


THE TITANS CRONUS AND RHEA AND THE BIRTH OF ZEUS
CRONUS [kro'nus], or KRONOS (SATURN), and RHEA [ray'a and ree'a], two important Titans, had several children who were devoured by their father as they were born. Cronus, who had castrated and overthrown his own father, Uranus, was   afraid that he too would be overcome by one of his children. Therefore, when his son ZEUS [zous] (JUPITER) was born, the mother, Rhea, contrived that the birth be hidden from Cronus. She bore Zeus on the island of Crete and gave her husband a stone wrapped in baby's clothes to devour. Zeus was hidden in a cave and grew up eventually to overthrow his unwitting father; he will marry his sister HERA [hee'ra] (JUNO) and they will become secure as king and queen of the gods.

Saturn Devouring One of his Children by Goya
Saturn Devouring One of His Children,
by Francisco Goya



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