The Theogony (Greek: Θεογονία, Theogonía, pronounced [tʰeoɡonía], i.e. "the genealogy or birth of the gods") is a poem by Hesiod (8th – 7th century BC) describing the origins and genealogies of the Greek gods, composed circa 700 BC. It is written in the Epic dialect of Homeric Greek.
Hesiod's Theogony is a large-scale synthesis of a vast variety of local Greek traditions concerning the gods, organized as a narrative that tells how they came to be and how they established permanent control over the cosmos. It is the first Greek mythical cosmogony. The initial state of the universe is chaos, a dark indefinite void considered as a divine primordial condition from which everything else appeared. Theogony is a part of Greek mythology which embodies the desire to articulate reality as a whole; this universalizing impulse was fundamental for the first later projects of speculative theorizing.
In many cultures, narratives about the origin of the cosmos and about the gods that shaped it are a way for society to reaffirm its native cultural traditions. Specifically, theogonies tend to affirm kingship as the natural embodiment of society. What makes the Theogony of Hesiod unique is that it affirms no historical royal line. Such a gesture would have sited the Theogony in one time and one place. Rather, the Theogony affirms the kingship of the god Zeus himself over all the other gods and over the whole cosmos.
Further, in the "Kings and Singers" passage (80–103) Hesiod appropriates to himself the authority usually reserved to sacred kingship. The poet declares that it is he, where we might have expected some king instead, upon whom the Muses have bestowed the two gifts of a scepter and an authoritative voice (Hesiod, Theogony 30–3), which are the visible signs of kingship. It is not that this gesture is meant to make Hesiod a king. Rather, the point is that the authority of kingship now belongs to the poetic voice, the voice that is declaiming the Theogony.
Although it is often used as a sourcebook for Greek mythology, the Theogony is both more and less than that. In formal terms it is a hymn invoking Zeus and the Muses: parallel passages between it and the much shorter Homeric Hymn to the Muses make it clear that the Theogony developed out of a tradition of hymnic preludes with which an ancient Greek rhapsode would begin his performance at poetic competitions. It is necessary to see the Theogony not as the definitive source of Greek mythology, but rather as a snapshot of a dynamic tradition that happened to crystallize when Hesiod formulated the myths he knew—and to remember that the traditions have continued evolving since that time.
Hesiod was probably influenced by some Near-Eastern traditions, such as the Babylonian Dynasty of Dunnum, which were mixed with local traditions, but they are more likely to be lingering traces from the Mycenaean tradition than the result of oriental contacts in Hesiod's own time.
The decipherment of Hittite mythical texts, notably the Kingship in Heaven text first presented in 1946, with its castration mytheme, offers in the figure of Kumarbi an Anatolian parallel to Hesiod's Uranus-Cronus conflict.
Creation of the world-mythical cosmogonies
In the Theogony the initial state of the universe, or the origin (arche) is Chaos, a gaping void (abyss) considered as a divine primordial condition, from which appeared everything that exists. Then came Gaia (Earth), Tartarus (the cave-like space under the earth; the later-born Erebus is the darkness in this space), and Eros (Sexual Desire -the urge to reproduce, not the emotion of love as is the common misconception). Hesiod made an abstraction because his original chaos is something completely indefinite.
By contrast, in the Orphic cosmogony the unaging Chronos produced Aether and Chaos and made a silvery egg in divine Aether. From it appeared the bisexual god Phanes, identified by the Orphics as Eros, who becomes the creator of the world.
Some similar ideas appear in the Hindu cosmology which is similar to the Vedic. In the beginning there was nothing in the universe but only darkness and the divine essence who removed the darkness and created the primordial waters. His seed produced the universal germ (Hiranyagarbha), from which everything else appeared.
In the Babylonian creation story Enuma Elish the universe was in a formless state and is described as a watery chaos. From it emerged two primary gods, the male Apsu and female Tiamat, and a third deity who is the maker Mummu and his power for the progression of cosmogonic births to begin.
In Genesis the world in its early state after its creation is described as a watery chaos and the earth "without form and void". The spirit of Elohim moved upon the dark face of the waters and commanded there to be light.
Norse mythology also describes Ginnungagap as the primordial abyss from which sprang the first living creatures, including the giant Ymir whose body eventually became the world, whose blood became the seas, and so on; another version describes the origin of the world as a result of the fiery and cold parts of Hel colliding.
After the speaker declares that he has received the blessings of the Muses and thanks them for giving him inspiration, he explains that Chaos arose spontaneously. Then came Gaia (Earth), the more orderly and safe foundation that would serve as a home for the gods and mortals, and Tartarus, in the depths of the Earth, and Eros, the fairest among the deathless gods. Eros serves an important role in sexual reproduction, before which children had to be produced asexually.
From Chaos came Erebus (place of darkness between the earth and the underworld) and Nyx (Night). Erebus and Nyx reproduced to make Aether (the outer atmosphere where the gods breathed) and Hemera (Day). From Gaia came Uranus (Sky), the Ourea (Mountains), and Pontus (Sea).
Uranus mated with Gaia to create twelve Titans: Oceanus, Coeus, Crius, Hyperion, Iapetos, Theia, Rhea, Themis, Mnemosyne, Phoebe, Tethys and Cronus; three cyclopes: Brontes, Steropes and Arges; and three Hecatonchires: Kottos, Briareos, and Gyges.
Uranus was disgusted with his children, the Hecatonchires, so he hid them away somewhere in Gaia. Angered by this, Gaia asked her children the Titans to punish their father. Only Cronus was willing to do so. Cronus castrated his father with a sickle from Gaia. The blood from Uranus splattered onto the earth producing Erinyes (the Furies), Giants, and Meliai. Cronus threw the severed testicles into the Sea (Thalassa), around which foam developed and transformed into the goddess of Love, Aphrodite (which is why in some myths, Aphrodite was daughter of Uranus and the goddess Thalassa).
Meanwhile, Nyx alone produced children parthenogenetically: Moros (Doom), Oneiroi (Dreams), Ker and the Keres (Destinies), Eris (Discord), Momos (Blame), Philotes (Love), Geras (Old Age), Thanatos (Death), Moirai (Fates), Nemesis (Retribution), Hesperides (Daughters of Night), Hypnos (Sleep), Oizys (Hardship), and Apate (Deceit).
From Eris, following in her mother's footsteps, came Ponos (Pain), Hysmine (Battles), the Neikea (Quarrels), the Phonoi (Murders), Lethe (Oblivion), Makhai (Fight), Pseudologos (Lies), Amphilogia (Disputes), Limos (Famine), Androktasia (Manslaughters), Ate (Ruin), Dysnomia (Anarchy and Disobedient Lawlessness), the Algea (Illness), Horkos (Oaths), and Logoi (Stories).
After Uranus's castration, Gaia married Pontus and they have a descendent line consisting of sea deities, sea nymphs, and hybrid monsters. One child of Gaia and Pontus is Nereus (Old Man of the Sea), who marries Doris, a daughter of Oceanus and Tethys, and has Nereids, the fifty nymphs of the sea, one of whom is Thetis. Another child of Gaia and Pontus is Thaumas, who marries Electra, a sister of Doris, and has Iris (Rainbow) and two Harpies.
Phorcys and Ceto, two siblings, marry each other and have the Graiae, the Gorgons, Echidna, and Ophion. Medusa, one of the Gorgons, has two children with Poseidon: the winged horse Pegasus and giant Chrysaor, at the instant of her decapitation by Perseus. Chrysaor marries Callirhoe, another daughter of Oceanus, and has the three-headed Geryon.
In the family of the Titans, Oceanus and Tethys marry and have three thousand rivers (including the Nile and Skamandar) and three thousand Okeanid Nymphs (including Electra, Calypso, and Styx). Theia and Hyperion marry and have Helios (Sun), Selene (Moon), and Eos (Dawn). Kreios and Eurybia marry to bear Astraios, Pallas, and Perses. Eos and Astraios will later marry and have Zephyros, Boreas, Notos, Eosphoros, Hesperos, Phosphoros and the Stars (foremost of which are Phaenon, Phaethon, Pyroeis, Stilbon, those of the Zodiac and those three acknowledged before).[clarification needed]
From Pallas and Styx (another Okeanid) came Zelus (Zeal), Nike (Victory), Cratos (Strength), and Bia (Force). Koios and Phoibe marry and have Leto, Asteria (who later marries Perses and has Hekate). Iapetos marries Klymene (an Okeanid Nymph) and had Atlas, Menoetius, Prometheus, and Epimetheus.
Third and final generation
Cronus, having taken control of the Cosmos, wanted to ensure that he maintained power. Uranus and Gaia prophesied to him that one of his children would overthrow him, so when he married Rhea, he made sure to swallow each of the children she birthed: Hestia, Demeter, Hera, Hades, Poseidon, Zeus (in that order). However, Rhea asked Gaia and Uranus for help in saving Zeus by sending Rhea to Crete to bear Zeus and giving Cronus a huge stone to swallow thinking that it was another of Rhea's children. Gaia then took Zeus and hid him deep in a cave beneath the Aegean Mountains.
Tricked by Gaia (the Theogony does not detail how), Cronus regurgitated his other five children. Joining with Zeus, they waged a great war on the Titans for control of the Cosmos. The war lasted ten years, with the Olympian gods, Cyclopes, Prometheus and Epimetheus, the children of Klymene, on one side, and the Titans and the Giants on the other (with only Oceanos as a neutral force). Eventually Zeus released the Hundred-Handed ones to shake the earth, allowing him to gain the upper hand, and cast the fury of his thunderbolts at the Titans, throwing them into Tartarus. Zeus later battled Typhon, a son of Gaia and Tartarus, created because Gaia was angry that the Titans were defeated, and was victorious again.
Because Prometheus helped Zeus, he was not sent to Tartarus like the other Titans. However, Prometheus sought to trick Zeus. Slaughtering a cow, he took the valuable fat and meat, and sewed it inside the cow's stomach. Prometheus then took the bones and hid them with a thin layer of fat. Prometheus asked Zeus' opinion on which offering pile he found more desirable, hoping to trick the god into selecting the less desirable portion. However, Hesiod relates that Zeus saw through the trick and responded in a fury. Zeus declared that the ash tree would never hold fire, in effect denying the benefit of fire to man. In response, Prometheus sneaked into the gods' chambers and stole a glowing ember with a piece of reed. Prometheus then defies the gods and gives fire to humanity (theft of fire).
For this theft, Zeus punished Prometheus by chaining him to a cliff, where an eagle fed on his ever-regenerating liver every day. Prometheus would not be freed until Heracles, a son of Zeus, came to free him. Since man had access to fire, Zeus devised woman as a general punishment, in trade. Hephaistos and Athena built woman with exquisite detail, and she was considered beautiful by all men and gods. (It is generally agreed in academic translations that this woman was Pandora.) Hesiod writes that, despite her beauty, woman is a bane for mankind, attributing women with laziness and a waste of resources. Hesiod notes that Zeus' curse, womankind, can only bring man suffering, whether by taking a woman as his wife, or by trying to avoid marriage.
Zeus married seven wives. The first was the Oceanid Metis, whom he swallowed to avoid begetting a son who, as had happened with Cronus and Uranus, would overthrow him, as well as to absorb her wisdom so that she could advise him in the future. He would later "give birth" to Athena from his head, which would anger Hera enough for her to produce her own son parthenogenetically, Typhaon, the part snake, part dragon sea monster, or in other versions Hephaistos, god of fire and blacksmiths. The second wife was Themis, who bore the three Horae (Hours): Eunomia (Order), Dikē (Justice), Eirene (Peace); and the three Moirai (Fates): Clotho (Spinner), Lachesis (Alotter), Atropos (Unturned), as well as Tyche (Luck). Zeus then married his third wife Eurynome, who bore the three Charites (Graces): Aglaia, Euphrosyne, and Thalia.
The fourth wife was his sister, Demeter, who bore Persephone. The fifth wife of Zeus was another aunt, Mnemosyne, from whom came the nine Muses: Clio, Euterpe, Thalia, Melpomene, Terpsikhore, Erato, Polymnia, Urania, and Calliope. The sixth wife was Leto, who gave birth to Apollo and Artemis. The seventh and final wife is Hera, who gave birth to Hebe, Ares, Enyo, Hephaistos, and Eileithyia. Of course, though Zeus no longer marries, he still has affairs with many other women, such as Semele, mother of Dionysus, Danae, mother of Perseus, Leda, mother of Castor and Polydeuces and Helen, and Alkmene, the mother of Heracles, who married Hebe.
Poseidon married Amphitrite and produced Triton. Aphrodite, who married Hephaistos, nevertheless had an affair with Ares to have Eros (Love), Phobos (Fear), Deimos (Cowardice), and Harmonia (Harmony), who would later marry Cadmus to sire Ino (who with her son, Melicertes would become a sea deity), Semele (Mother of Dionysos), Autonoë (Mother of Actaeon), Polydorus, and Agave (Mother of Pentheus). Helios and Perseis birthed Circe. Circe, with Poseidon, in turn, begat Phaunos, god of the forest, and, with Dionysos, mothered Comos, god of revelry and festivity. After coupling with Odysseus, Circe would later give birth to Agrius, Latinus, and Telegonos. Atlas' daughter Calypso would also bear Odysseus two sons, Nausithoos and Nausinous.
Influence on earliest Greek Philosophy
The heritage of Greek mythology already embodied the desire to articulate reality as a whole and this universalizing impulse was fundamental for the first projects of speculative theorizing. It appears that the order of being was first imaginatively visualized before it was abstractly thought. Hesiod, impressed by necessity governing the ordering of things, discloses a definite pattern in the Genesis and appearance of the Gods. These ideas made something like cosmological speculation possible. The earliest rhetoric of reflection all gravitates about two interrelated things, the experience of wonder as a living involvement with the divine order of things and the absolute conviction that, beyond the totality of things, reality forms a beautiful and harmonious Whole.
In the Theogony the origin (arche) is Chaos, a divine primordial condition and there are the roots and the ends of the earth, sky, sea and Tartarus. Pherecydes of Syros (6th century BC), believed that there were three pre-existent divine principles and called the water also Chaos. In the language of the archaic period (8th – 6th century BC), arche (or archai), designates the source, origin or root of things that exist. If a thing is to be well established or founded, its arche or static point must be secure, and the most secure foundations are those provided by the gods: the indestructible, immutable and eternal ordering of things.
In ancient Greek philosophy, arche is the element or first principle of all things, a permanent nature or substance which is conserved in the generation of the rest of it. From this all things come to be and into it they are resolved in a final state. (Aristotle, Metaph. A983,b6ff). It is the divine horizon of substance that encompasses and rules all things. Thales (7th – 6th century BC), the first Greek philosopher, claimed that the first principle of all things is water. Anaximander (6th century BC) was the first philosopher who used the term arche for that which writers from Aristotle on call the "substratum" (Hippolitus I,6,I DK B2). Anaximander claimed that the beginning or first principle is an endless mass (Apeiron) subject to neither age nor decay, from which all things are being born and then they are destroyed there. A fragment from Xenophanes (6th century BC) shows the transition from Chaos to Apeiron: "The upper limit of earth borders on air. The lower limit of earth reaches down to the unlimited (i.e the Apeiron)."
- θεογονία. Liddell, Henry George; Scott, Robert; A Greek–English Lexicon at the Perseus Project
- Barry Sandwell (1996). Presocratic Philosophy vol.3. Rootledge New York. ISBN 9780415101707. p28
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- Herodotus (II.53) cited it simply as an authoritative list of divine names, attributes and functions.
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- Barry Sandywell (1996). Presocratic Philosophy vol.3. Rootledge New York. p.28,42
- <DK B1a>
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- Karl.L.Popper (1998). The world of Parmenides. Rootledge New York. ISBN 9780415173018. p.39
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- Bulfinch's Age of Fable or Beauties of Mythology by Thomas Bulfinch Publisher: S W Tilton (1894)ASIN: B000JWAT00
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- Tandy, David W., and Neale, Walter C. [translators], Works and Days: a translation and commentary for the social sciences, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996. ISBN 0-520-20383-6
- Verdenius, Willem Jacob, A Commentary on Hesiod Works and Days vv 1-382 (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1985). ISBN 90-04-07465-1
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- Hesiod, Theogony: text in English translation.
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