In the Beginning.....
Part 1: Creation
As long as human have inhabited the earth, the quest to explain its origins has been foremost on their minds.
The Greeks were by no means any different.There are several variations of the Greek creation myth, but the most predominant version comes from the poet Hesiod and his Theogony, which details the history and genealogy of the gods. The poem starts with the arise of Chaos to the dethronement of Cronus by Zeus and the later gods.From Hesiod's work and other myths, one of the most respected classicists [well, at least he's respected by me, for whatever that's worth], Robert Graves, ascertains three creation stories:
the Pelasgian Creation Myth, the Homeric/Orphic Creation Myth, and the Olympian Creation Myth. Each one is briefly described below.
The Pelasgian Creation
There was nothing but the goddess of all things, called Eurynome, and she had arisen from solely Chaos. She divided the seas, and danced, and from her movement creation had initiated. From her delicate fingers she begot a snake god, Orphion, and her child, seeing this breath-taking goddess prance about, was filled with desire, and coiled himself around his mother. She was impregnated with the Universal Egg. From this egg all the universe sprang: the sun, moon, stars, earth, and all the world's creatures and critters. Eurynome then created seven planetary powers, and placed a Titan and Titaness to watch over each. The first man emerged from the dust of Arcadia; his name was Pelasgus [hence the title Pelasgian, in case that escaped you]. He taught the rest of mankind all it needed to know about surviving.
The Homeric/Orphic Creation
Slight debate between the Homeric version and Orphic explanation. Those who heed to the Homeric tale suggest that all gods, goddesses, and living creation originated within the waters of Oceanus, and Tethys, his wife, was the original mother of all things.
The Orphics, however, claim that it was Nyx [night] and Erebus [darkness] who gave birth to a silver egg in which Eros hatched and thus set the world in motion. This Eros was nothing like the mischievous cherub often associated with the Roman's Cupid, though; this Eros was double-sexed with four heads and had created the earth, sky, moon, and planets. Nyx was personified as a triad of Night, Order, and Justice, and was the ruler of all of this until her power was granted to Uranus.
The Olympian Creation
This is probably the most accepted version of the Greek creation myth. First there was Chaos, and from Chaos, Gaia, or mother earth, emerged. She soon had her son Uranus, who instantly showered her with fertility and impregnated her with the Hecatoncheires [hundred-handed giants], Cyclops, and Titans. Uranus and Gaia were also the parents off all the seas, mountains, and natural features of the world.
You'll notice that in all of these versions that it is a female mother figure that is responsible for creation. Unlike the Judeo-Christian tradition of an all-powerful father, most the pre-Hellenic and Hellenic cultures first entertained the notion of a female-dominated society. All feminine power is eventually lost to her male counterparts with the rise of patriarchal domination. There is no doubt, however, that ancient cultures were utterly fascinated with the fact that women gave birth, and this is apparent in the creation stories.
Part 2: Five Stages of Man
According to Robert Graves, most believed that man was spawned instantaneously and spontaneously from Mother Earth. From her offspring, there were five races of men:
The Golden Race were the subjects of Cronus. As their name suggests, they were a glorious bunch, with little labors and charmed lives. They ate the best fruits and drank the best wine, and laughed and danced continuously. They had no cares, and why should they? They never grew old and were unafraid of death, which they viewed as an infinite slumber. Because of their frivolous and lackadaisical nature, all of the golden race became extinct. However, their aura of happiness, good fortune, and justice still haunt us today.
The silver race were probably best described as "mama's boys" because of their obedience to law. However, they were also very belligerent and stupid. They ignored offerings to the gods, prompting Zeus to hurl a thunderbolt and destroy them.
The brazen race fell from ash trees, and were the first to carry weapons [brazen, of course, like duh!]. They ate bread, but also flesh, and probably were the most violent and savage. Because of their macabre demeanor, the Black Death eventually obliterated every last one.
The brazen race II [as I like to call them—and I do cuz I can] were descendants of the first brazen race, but these men were far nobler and wiser than their predecessors. Born to gods and mortal both, they also displayed a generosity that was apparent in their warfare. Appropriately, many of them were heros who sailed with the Argonauts, fought the Trojan War, and battled at the seize of Thebes.
The iron race were the present descendants of the brazen race II, but very unworthy of their ancestory. Most were cruel, crafty, mischievous, sly, malicious, treacherous, and libidinous —exactly like most men are now, huh?
Part 3: Clash of the Titans?
Titans were, of course, the children of Uranus and Gaia. They are a part of mythology that is so remote that there is no record of them being worshipped; they were probably "created" for the sheer history of the gods.
As previously mentioned, Hesiod's Theogony chronicles the story of the gods from Chaos to Zeus. The Titans fall somewhere in the middle. Uranus was extremely jealous of his offspring and confined them in the body of his wife. Of course, Gaia was a tad miffed at such a burden, and she found the load to be quite unbearable. She encouraged her bravest son, Cronus, to help her end her suffering. She gave him a sickle and—that sly woman!—told him exactly what to do the next time her husband approached her. He obediently castrated his father and tossed Uranus's genitals into the sea. In some versions of myth, the goddess Aphrodite arose from the foam where the private parts landed. The Furies and Giants emerged from the blood that dripped.
A defeated—so to speak, indeed!—Uranus left his kingdom to Cronus and his brothers and sisters. Cronus took his sister Rhea as a bride, and together they became king and queen of the universe. But Uranus wasn't so weakened that he could not warn his son that the same fate awaited him: Cronus was soon to be usurped by one of his own sons.
[Did you notice that the path to dethronement meant castration—almost demasculization? Perhaps a symbol of the fall of the goddess?]
Part 4: Revolt of the Olympians
Cronus was warned that a son of his would eventually overthrow him, just as he did his own father. In order to divert such an occurrance, Cronus immediately swallowed each of his children after they were born from Rhea.
Rhea, of course, was horrified—and pretty angry, to say the least! All of her children—Hestia, Demeter, Hera, Poseidon, and Hades—were lost to Cronus's paranoia. Rhea asked her mother Gaia to help, and Gaia advised that for the birth of the next child, wrap a stone in swadling clothes. Cronus swallowed a rock instead of Zeus, the next born.
By the time Zeus was fully matured, Rhea slyly gave Cronus a tainted drink that caused him to regurgitate his children. First the stone was vomited, then the others. A battled immediately ensued. Most of the Titans sided with Cronus, afraid to lose their statute to the younger gods. But Zeus and the Olympian gods, as they were to become known, allied themselves with the Cyclopes and Hecatoncheires [hundred-handed], whom the Titans had confined to Tartarus. Both proved valuable asset, and eventually the Titans were defeated. Cronus and his cronies were banished themselves to Tartarus, with some receiving special punishments [for example, Atlas most support the earth on his shoulders—yikes!].
The Olympians were not completely triumphant, however, because the Giants took over where the Titans left off. The Giants proved to be fierce foes; for they were prophesized not to lose as long as only gods fought them. Zeus solved this by summoning his son Heracles, who was mortal at the time. Zeus, Poseidon, Athena, Ares, Artemis and Apollo slew most of the giants, and all looked clear for the Olympians.
Wait! By now, Gaia had a change of heart, and she was somewhat perturbed that her children, the Titans and Giants, had either been either punished or killed by the new generation of gods. As a final attempt for vengence, she summoned her terrible son Typhon to challenge the newly-acquired power of Zeus and the Olympians. Typhon was so horrid, with his thunderous voice, serpentile body, and one-to-hundred heads, that the rest of the Olympians fled. With some hardship, Zeus crushed the monster under Mount Etna, which still heaves with his convulsions.
Part 5: Man and Wife