Personification of the sky
|Children||The Titans, the Cyclopes, the Hekatonkheires, the Erinyes (Furies), the Giants, the Meliae, and Aphrodite|
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In Greek mythology, Uranus (/ /, (listen) YOOR-ə-nəs, yuu-RAY-nəs), sometimes written Ouranos (Ancient Greek: Οὐρανός, lit. 'sky', [uːranós]), is the personification of the sky and one of the Greek primordial deities. According to Hesiod, Uranus was the son and husband of Gaia (Earth), with whom he fathered the first generation of Titans. However, no cult addressed directly to Uranus survived into Classical times, and Uranus does not appear among the usual themes of Greek painted pottery. Elemental Earth, Sky, and Styx might be joined, however, in solemn invocation in Homeric epic. Uranus is associated with the Roman god Caelus.
Most linguists trace the etymology of the name Οὐρανός to a Proto-Greek form *Worsanós (Ϝορσανός), enlarged from *ṷorsó- (also found in Greek οὐρέω (ouréō) 'to urinate', Sanskrit varṣá 'rain', Hittite ṷarša- 'fog, mist'). The basic Indo-European root is *ṷérs- 'to rain, moisten' (also found in Greek eérsē 'dew', Sanskrit várṣati 'to rain', or Avestan aiβi.varəšta 'it rained on'), making Ouranos the "rain-maker", or the "lord of rain".
A less likely etymology is a derivative meaning 'the one standing on high' from PIE *ṷérso- (cf. Sanskrit várṣman 'height, top', Lithuanian viršùs 'upper, highest seat', Russian verx 'height, top'). Of some importance in the comparative study of Indo-European mythology is the identification by Georges Dumézil (1934) of Uranus with the Vedic deity Váruṇa (Mitanni Aruna), god of the sky and waters, but the etymological equation is now considered untenable.
In Hesiod's Theogony, which came to be accepted by the Greeks as the "standard" account, from Gaia (Earth), the first entity to come into existence after Chaos (Chasm), came Uranus, the Ourea (Mountains), and Pontus (Sea).
Then, according to the Theogony, Uranus mated with Gaia, and she gave birth to the twelve Titans: Oceanus, Coeus, Crius, Hyperion, Iapetus, Theia, Rhea, Themis, Mnemosyne, Phoebe, Tethys and Cronus; the Cyclopes: Brontes, Steropes and Arges; and the Hecatoncheires ("Hundred-Handed Ones"): Cottus, Briareus, and Gyges.
|Descendants of Gaia (Earth) and Uranus (Sky), according to Hesiod|
Further, according to the Theogony, when Cronus castrated Uranus, from Uranus' blood, which splattered onto the earth, came the Erinyes (Furies), the Giants, and the Meliae. Also, according to the Theogony, Cronus threw the severed genitals into the sea, around which "a white foam spread" and "grew" into the goddess Aphrodite, although according to Homer, Aphrodite was the daughter of Zeus and Dione.
|Descendants of Gaia and Uranus' blood, and Uranus' genitals, according to Hesiod|
Other sources give other genealogies. In the lost epic poem the Titanomachy, Uranus was apparently the son of Aether, while according to others Uranus was the son of one "Acmon". According to Orphic texts, Uranus (along with Gaia) was the offspring of Nyx (Night) and Phanes.
The mythographer Apollodorus, gives a slightly different genealogy from Hesiod's. Without mentioning any ancestors, he begins his account by saying simply that Uranus "was the first who ruled over the whole world." According to Apollodorus, the Titans (instead of being Uranus' firstborn as in Hesiod) were born after the three Hundred-Handers and the three Cyclopes, and there were thirteen original Titans, adding the Titanide Dione to Hesiod's list.
Passages in a section of the Iliad called the Deception of Zeus suggest the possibility that Homer knew a tradition in which Oceanus and Tethys (rather than Uranus and Gaia, as in Hesiod) were the parents of the Titans. Plato, in his Timaeus, provides a genealogy (probably Orphic) which perhaps reflected an attempt to reconcile this apparent divergence between Homer and Hesiod, with Uranus and Gaia as the parents of Oceanus and Tethys, and Oceanus and Tethys as the parents of Cronus and Rhea and the other Titans.
In Roman mythology, Uranus' counterpart was Caelus (Sky). Cicero says Caelus was the offspring of Aether and Dies (Day), and that Caelus and Dies were the parents of Mercury (Hermes). While, Hyginus says that, in addition to Caelus, Aether and Dies were also the parents of Terra (Earth), and Mare (Sea).
Castration and overthrow
As Hesiod tells the story, Gaia "first bore starry Heaven [Uranus], equal to herself, to cover her on every side, and to be an ever-sure abiding-place for the blessed gods." Then, with Gaia, Uranus produced eighteen children: the twelve Titans, the three Cyclopes, and the three Hecatoncheires (Hundred-Handers), but hating them, he hid them away somewhere inside Gaia. Angry and in distress, Gaia fashioned a sickle made of adamant and urged her children to punish their father. Only her son Cronus, the youngest Titan, was willing to do so. So Gaia hid Cronus in "ambush" gave him the adamantine sickle, and when Uranus came to lie with Gaia, Cronus reached out and castrated his father, casting the severed testicles into the sea. Uranus' castration allowed the Titans to be born and Cronus to assume supreme command of the cosmos.
For this "fearful deed", Uranus called his sons "Titans (Strainers) in reproach" and said that "vengeance for it would come afterwards." According to Hesiod, from the blood that spilled from Uranus onto the Earth came forth the Giants, the Erinyes (the avenging Furies), the Meliae (the ash-tree nymphs). From the genitals in the sea came forth Aphrodite. According to some accounts, the mythical Phaeacians, visited by Odysseus in the Odyssey, were also said to have sprung from the blood of Uranus' castration.
Various sites have been associated with Cronus' sickle, and Uranus' castration. Two of these were on the island of Sicily. According to the Alexandrian poet Callimachus (c. 270 BC), Cronus' sickle was buried at Zancle in Sicily, saying that it was "hidden in a hollow under the ground" there. The other Sicilian site is Drepanum (modern Trapani), whose name is derived from the Greek word for "sickle". Another Alexandrian poet, Lycophron (c. 270 BC), mentions "rounding the Cronos’ Sickle’s leap", an apparent reference to the "leap" of the sickle being thrown into the sea at Drepanum.
However other sites were also associated with the sickle. The geographer Pausanias, reports that the sickle was said to have been thrown into the sea from the cape near Bolina, not far from Argyra on the coast of Achaea, and says that "For this reason they call the cape Drepanum". The historian Timaeus located the sickle at Corcyra, which the islanders claimed to be Phaeacia the island home of the Phaeacians, who (as noted above) were said to have been born from the blood of Uranus' castration.
After his castration, Uranus recedes into the background. Apart from he and Gaia (now reconciled?) advising their daughter Rhea, Cronus' wife, to go to Lyctus on Crete to give birth to Zeus, so that Zeus would be saved from Cronus, and advising Zeus to swallow his first wife Metis, so that Zeus would not in turn be overthrown by his son, Uranus plays no further role in Greek mythology.
The sky (ouranos)
This section needs additional citations for verification. (November 2016)
After his castration, the Sky came no more to cover the Earth at night, but held to its place, and, according to Carl Kerényi, "the original begetting came to an end". Uranus was scarcely regarded as anthropomorphic, aside from the genitalia in the castration myth. He was simply the sky, which was conceived by the ancients as an overarching dome or roof of bronze, held in place (or turned on an axis) by the Titan Atlas. In formulaic expressions in the Homeric poems ouranos is sometimes an alternative to Olympus as the collective home of the gods; an obvious occurrence would be the moment in Iliad 1.495, when Thetis rises from the sea to plead with Zeus: "and early in the morning she rose up to greet Ouranos-and-Olympus and she found the son of Kronos ..."
William Sale remarks that "... 'Olympus' is almost always used [as the home of the Olympian gods], but ouranos often refers to the natural sky above us without any suggestion that the gods, collectively live there". Sale concluded that the earlier seat of the gods was the actual Mount Olympus, from which the epic tradition by the time of Homer had transported them to the sky, ouranos. By the sixth century, when a "heavenly Aphrodite" (Aphrodite Urania) was to be distinguished from the "common Aphrodite of the people", ouranos signifies purely the celestial sphere itself.
The Greek creation myth is similar to the Hurrian creation myth. In Hurrian religion Anu is the sky god. His son Kumarbis bit off his genitals and spat out three deities, one of whom, Teshub, later deposed Kumarbis. In Sumerian mythology and later for Assyrians and Babylonians, Anu is the sky god and represented law and order.
It is possible that Uranus was originally an Indo-European god, to be identified with the Vedic Váruṇa, the supreme keeper of order who later became the god of oceans and rivers, as suggested by Georges Dumézil, following hints in Émile Durkheim, The Elementary Forms of Religious Life (1912). Another of Dumézil's theories is that the Iranian supreme God Ahura Mazda is a development of the Indo-Iranian *vouruna-*mitra. Therefore, this divinity has also the qualities of Mitra, which is the god of the falling rain.
Uranus is connected with the night sky, and Váruṇa is the god of the sky and the celestial ocean, which is connected with the Milky Way.
Georges Dumézil made a cautious case for the identity of Uranus and Vedic Váruṇa at the earliest Indo-European cultural level. Dumézil's identification of mythic elements shared by the two figures, relying to a great extent on linguistic interpretation, but not positing a common origin, was taken up by Robert Graves and others. The identification of the name Ouranos with the Hindu Váruṇa, based in part on a posited Proto-Indo-European language root *-ŭer with a sense of "binding"—ancient king god Váruṇa binds the wicked, ancient king god Uranus binds the Cyclops, who had tormented him. The most probable etymology is from Proto-Greek *(W)orsanόj (worsanos) from a Proto-Indo-European language root *ers "to moisten, to drip" (referring to the rain).
Cultural context of flint
The detail of the sickle's being flint rather than bronze or even iron was retained by Greek mythographers (though neglected by Roman ones). Knapped flints as cutting edges were set in wooden or bone sickles in the late Neolithic, before the onset of the Bronze Age. Such sickles may have survived latest in ritual contexts where metal was taboo, but the detail, which was retained by classical Greeks, suggests the antiquity of the mytheme.
This section needs additional citations for verification. (September 2021)
The ancient Greeks and Romans knew of only five "wandering stars" (Ancient Greek: πλανῆται [planɛːtai̯]): Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. Following the discovery of a sixth planet in 1781 using a telescope, there was long-term disagreement regarding its name. Its discoverer William Herschel named it Georgium Sidus (The Georgian Star) after his monarch George III. This was the name preferred by English astronomers, but others such as the French preferred "Herschel". Finally, the name Uranus became accepted in the mid-19th century, as suggested by astronomer Johann Bode as the logical addition to the existing planets' names, since Mars (Ares in Greek), Venus, and Mercury were the children of Jupiter, Jupiter (Zeus in Greek) the son of Saturn, and Saturn (Cronus in Greek) the son of Uranus. What is anomalous is that, while the others take Roman names, Uranus is a name derived from Greek in contrast to the Roman Caelus.
- According to Hesiod, Theogony 183–200, Aphrodite was born from Uranus' severed genitals, but according to Homer, Aphrodite was the daughter of Zeus (Iliad 3.374, 20.105; Odyssey 8.308, 320) and Dione (Iliad 5.370–71), see Gantz, pp. 99–100.
- Hard, p. 34.
- "Uranus". Dictionary.com Unabridged. Random House.
- "We did not regard them as being in any way worthy of worship," Karl Kerenyi, speaking for the ancient Greeks, said of the Titans (Kerenyi, p. 20); "with the single exception, perhaps, of Cronos; and with the exception, also, of Helios."
- As at Homer, Iliad 15.36 ff., Odyssey 5.184 ff.
- Grimal, s.v. "Caelus" p. 38.
- Varro, De lingua Latina 5.58.
- Marion Lawrence, "The Velletri Sarcophagus", American Journal of Archaeology 69.3 (1965), p. 220.
- West 2007, p. 137. Originally reconstructed in: Johann Baptist Hofmann, Etymologisches Wörterbuch des Griechischen (Munich: R. Oldenbourg, 1950).
- Robert S. P. Beekes, Etymological Dictionary of Greek, vol. 2 (Leiden: Brill, 2009), 1128–1129.
- West 2007, p. 137.
- Georges Dumézil, Ouranos-Varuna – Essai de mythologie comparée indo-européenne (Paris: G.-P. Maisonneuve, 1934).
- Manfred Mayrhofer, Etymologisches Wörterbuch des Altindoarischen, vol. 2, s.v. “Váruṇa” (Heidelberg: Carl Winter, 1996), 515–6. Edgar C. Polomé, “Binder-god”, in Encyclopedia of Indo-European Culture (London–Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn, 1997), 65.
- Hard, p. 21; Fowler 2013, p. 5.
- Fowler 2013, p. 5; Hard, p. 24; Gantz, p. 10; Hesiod, Theogony 126–132.
- Hesiod, Theogony 132–153. Compare with Apollodorus, 1.1.1–3, which first mentions the Hecatoncheires, whom he names as Briareus, "Gyes" and Cottus, then the Cyclopes and the Titans.
- Hesiod, Theogony 132–153; Caldwell, p. 5, table 3.
- Hesiod, Theogony 173–206.
- Homer, Iliad 3.374, 5.370–71, 20.105, Odyssey 8.308, 320; see Gantz, pp. 99–100.
- Hesiod, Theogony 183–200; Caldwell, p. 6 table 4.
- Gantz, p. 12; Grimal, s.v. Uranus; Eumelus fr. 1 (West 2003, pp. 222–225).
- Brill's New Pauly, s.v. Acmon; Eumelus fr. 1 (West 2003, pp. 222–225); Callimachus fr. 498; Alcman fr. 61 Campbell [= Eustathius on Iliad 18.476].
- West 1983, pp. 70, 85; Gantz, p. 742; Meisner, pp. 37, 70, 197; Grimal, s.v. Uranus.
- Gantz, p. 3; Sappho fr. 198 Campbell [= 198 LP] [= 132 Bergk].
- Apollodorus, 1.1.1.
- Apollodorus, 1.1.1–1.1.2.
- Apollodorus, 1.1.3.
- Fowler 2013, pp. 8, 11; Hard, pp. 36–37, p. 40; West 1997, p. 147; Gantz, p. 11; Burkert 1995, pp. 91–92; West 1983, pp. 119–120; Homer, Iliad 14.201, 302 [= 201], 245.
- Gantz, pp. 11–12, 743; West 1983, pp. 117–118; Fowler 2013, p. 11; Plato, Timaeus 40d–e.
- Cicero, De Natura Deorum 3.44.
- Cicero, De Natura Deorum 3.56.
- Hyginus, Fabulae Theogony 1–2 (Smith and Trzaskoma, p. 95).
- Hard, p. 24; Gantz, p. 10; Hesiod Theogony 126–128.
- Hesiod, Theogony 132–153.
- Hesiod, Theogony 154–155. Exactly which of these eighteen children Hesiod meant that Uranus hated is not entirely clear, all eighteen, or perhaps just the Cyclopes and the Hundred-Handers. Hard, p. 67; West 1988, p. 7, and Caldwell, p. 37 on lines 154–160, make it all eighteen; while Gantz, p. 10, says "likely all eighteen"; and Most, p. 15 n. 8, says "apparently only the ... Cyclopes and Hundred-Handers are meant" and not the twelve Titans. See also West 1966, p. 206 on lines 139–53, p. 213 line 154 γὰρ. Why Uranus hated his children is also not clear. Gantz, p. 10 says: "The reason for [Uranus'] hatred may be [his children's] horrible appearance, though Hesiod does not quite say this"; while Hard, p. 67 says: "Although Hesiod is vague about the cause of his hatred, it would seem that he took a dislike to them because they were terrible to behold". However, West 1966, p. 213 on line 155, says that Uranus hated his children because of their "fearsome nature".
- Hesiod, Theogony 156–158. The hiding place inside Gaia is presumably her womb, see West 1966, p. 214 on line 158; Caldwell, p. 37 on lines 154–160; Gantz, p. 10. This place seems also to be the same place as Tartarus, see West 1966, p. 338 on line 618, and Caldwell, p. 37 on lines 154–160.
- Hesiod, Theogony 159–172.
- Hesiod, Theogony 173–182; according to Gantz, p. 10, Cronus waited in ambush, and reached out to castrate Uranus, from "inside [Gaia's] body, we will understand, if he too is a prisoner".
- Hard, p. 67; West 1966, p. 19.
- Hesiod, Theogony 207–210.
- Hesiod, Theogony 183–199.
- Lane Fox, p. 274 with n. 37; Acusilas fr. 4 Fowler [= FGrHist 2 F4]; Alcaeus fr. 441 Campbell; Apollonius of Rhodes, Argonautica 4.981–992.
- Grimal, s.v. Uranus.
- Lane Fox, p. 270; Callimachus, Aetia (On Origins) 2, fr. 43.68–72. For a discussion of this sickle of Zancle see Lane Fox, pp. 270–273.
- Lane Fox, pp. 270–271; Lycophron, Alexandra 869.
- Lane Fox, p. 273; Pausanias, 7.23.4.
- Lane Fox, p. 274 with n. 36, citing the scholiast on Apollonius of Rhodes' Argonautica, 4.984 ff. Compare with Apollonius of Rhodes, Argonautica 4.981–992.
- Gantz, p. 41.
- Grimal, s.v. Uranus; Hesiod, Theogony 463–464, 886–900. For a discussion of Uranus' prophesying see West 1966, p. 295, on line 463.
- Kerényi, p. 22.
- Sale, p. 3.
- Guterbock, Hans Gustav. "Hittite Religion" in Forgotten Religions including some Primitive Religions" ed. Vergilius Firm. NY Philadelphia Library 1950: 88f,103f; See Hard, p. 34; Gantz, p. 743.
- The Durkheim connection was noted by Arnoldo Momigliano, "Georges Dumezil and the Trifunctional Approach to Roman Civilization", History and Theory, 1984; a link between Uranus and Varuna was suggested as early as 1824 by Albrecht Weber, Modern investigations on ancient India: A lecture delivered in Berlin March 4, 1824, 1857.
- Georges Dumézil, Mitra Varuna: Essai sur deux représentations indo-européenes de la souveraineté (Paris: Gallimard, 1948). English translation: Mitra-Varuna: an Essay on Two Indo-European Representations of Sovereignty, trans. Derek Coltman (New York: Zone Books, 1988).
- According to Dumézil, Varuna is the god of "masses of water", while falling rain is rather related to Mitra.
- Gingerich, Owen (October 1958). "The Naming of Uranus and Neptune". Astronomical Society of the Pacific. Volume 8 Leaflet no. 352 (352): 9–15. Bibcode:1958ASPL....8....9G – via NASA Astrophysics Data System.
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