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The Golden Age: The First Greek Deities

Updated on June 2, 2014
The Golden Age
The Golden Age | Source

The Primordials

Before there was anything, there was Chaos. Unlike the Chaos that Egyptians knew as the beginning of all things which represented disorder, the Greek concept meant a state of nothingness.

From Chaos there came Gaea, also known as Earth, Tartarus, the deepest pit within the ground, Erebus who was darkness, and Nyx, or night. These four beings were called the primordial deities.

Nyx with twins Hypnos and Thanatos
Nyx with twins Hypnos and Thanatos | Source

Erebus and Nyx: Darkness and Night

Erebus and Nyx soon mated after all night and darkness go hand-in-hand. They brought forth several children whose count differs depending on who is telling the story. Their most notable children were their son Aether, brightness and air. Their daughter Hemera, day. Their twin boys, Hypnos and Thanatos, the gods of sleep and death. Sons Geras, old age; Moros, doom; and Momos, blame. Their other daughters included Philotes, love; Nemesis, retribution; Eris, strife; Apate, deceit; and Oizys, or pain. These children would play important roles in the future Greek stories.

Pontus - The Sea
Pontus - The Sea | Source
Gaea - Mother Earth
Gaea - Mother Earth | Source

Gaea, Ouranos and Pontus: Earth, Sky and Sea

Gaea then brought forth two equals in Ouranos, the sky and Pontus, the sea. Though Gaea mated with both of these sons, her children with Pontus; Nereus, Phorcys, Keto and Eurybia to name a few, were never as powerful as her children with Ouranos.

The Titans

As the sky covered the earth, Gaea and Ouranos mated. Their first set of children were the called the Titans. There were six sons, Oceanus, Koios, Krios, Hyperion, Iapetus, and Kronos and six daughters, Tethys, Phoebe, Theia, Themis, Mnemosyne, and Rhea.

Some of these children mated with each other. Koios, who personified questioning, and Phoebe, who represented prophecy, had two daughters Asteria, the starry night, and Leto, who took on the role of motherhood after giving birth to her twins Apollo and Artemis to Zeus. Asteria, with her husband Perses, became the mother of the magic goddess Hecate.

Helios and Selene, Atlas and Prometheus
Helios and Selene, Atlas and Prometheus

Hyperion, who represented light, mated with his sister Theia, who represented brightness, and had three children. Their son Helios was the sun. Their daughters were Selene, the moon, and Eos, the dawn.

Oceanus, Titan of the sea, married his sister Tethys. Together they became the parents of the Oceanids, or the rivers of the world. The Oceanids numbered three-thousand, but some of the most famous were Thetis, who became the mother of Trojan War hero Achilles; Metis, who became the first wife of Zeus and mother of Athena; Amphitrite, who became the wife of Poseidon and mother of Triton; Asia, who became the wife of Iapetus; and Pleione, who married Atlas and became the mother of the Hyrades, Hyas, and the Pleiades. The most famous of the Pleiades was Maia, the mother of Hermes by Zeus.

The most famous paring of siblings, of course, were Kronos, who originally represented the harvest, and Rhea, who was closely related to her mother Gaea, became the parents of six children. Hestia, who would become the goddess of family; Hades, god of the Underworld; Poseidon, god of the sea; Demeter, goddess of the harvest; Hera, goddess of marriage; and Zeus who would become god of the sky and King of the Gods.

Nike, Amphitrite and Zephyrus
Nike, Amphitrite and Zephyrus

Krios mated with Eurybia, daughter of Gaea and Pontus, and became the parents of Astraios, Pallas and Perses. Astraios, the god of dusk, became the father of the four winds, Boreas (north), Notus (south), Eurus (East) and Zephyrus (West). His mate was, of course, Eos goddess of dawn. Pallas was the Titan of warcraft. In his marriage to Styx, he became the father of Zelus (zeal), Kratos, strength, Bia (force) and, their more famous sister, Nike the goddess of victory. Perses was the god of destruction and father of Hecate by Asteria.

Other than Kronos, Iapetus's children were probably some of the most famous. The Titan of morality married Asia, one of the daughters of his brother and sister, Oceanus and Tethys. Together, they became the parents of Atlas, Prometheus, Epimetheus and Menoetius. Atlas was the father of not only the Hyades, Hyas and the Pleiades with Asia but also of Calypso; who held Odysseus on Ogygia; Dione, who married Tantalus and set off a series of tragic tales; and the Hesperides, who were the evening goddesses and keepers of Hera's golden apple tree. Prometheus and Epimetheus would go on to create mankind and all animals respectively, but Prometheus would run afoul of Zeus for stealing fire and giving it to man.

The two remaining daughters of Gaea and Ouranos both mated with Zeus. Themis, Titaness of law and order, bore three sets of daughters to Zeus. The Horai were born in two different sets. The older were goddesses of season who were Auxo (the grower), Carpo (the fruit-bringer) and Thallo (the plant-raiser). The second set were goddesses of order, Dike (justice), Eirene (peace) and Eunomia (order of law). The Moirai, also known as the Fates, were Clotho (the weaver), Lachesis (the lot caster) and Atropos (the inevitable). Her sister, Mnemosyne, became the mother of the Muses, goddesses of science and the arts. They were, Clio (history), Urania (astronomy), Calliope (epic poetry), Erato (lyric poetry), Melpomene (tragedy), Thalia (comdey), Polyhymnia (hymns) Euterpe (song) and Terpishore (dance).

The Muses
The Muses | Source
Cyclops | Source

The Cyclopes and Hecatonchires

Following the twelve Titans, were the Cyclopes. These giant men, Arges, Brontes and Steropes, were human in appearance, but each had one eye in the middle of their forehead. Next, Gaea brought forth three more sons the Hecatonchires, the hundred-handers. These three sons, Cottus, Briares and Gyges, were also giant in size and each had one hundred arms and fifty heads.

Both the Cyclopes and the Hecatonchires would prove to be extremely valuable allies, but it was not until the time of Zeus that the six of them would be given any chance at a real life.

The Downfall of the Sky

Ouranos feared all of his children. He enjoyed being ruler of the entire world and did not want to lose that position to one of his sons. Gaea, fearing what he would do, kept her Titan children hidden beneath her layers, but it was difficult to hide her larger children, the Cyclopes and Hecatonchires. When Ouranos saw them, he not only feared them but was disgusted by their appearance. He threw the six of them into Tartarus. Gaea was hurt in many ways by this act. Being their mother, she loved her sons and did not want to see them treated this way. As Tartarus was a pit deep in the Earth, she was also physically in pain by her huge children being kept deep within her. She realized that the only way to right the situation was to have her husband, Ouranos, removed from the picture. She whispered to her Titan sons a request to help her eliminate their father. It was her youngest son, Kronos that came forward and offered to do the deed.

The Castration of Uranus by Kronos
The Castration of Uranus by Kronos | Source

Gaea created a sickle made from flint, a form of rock from within her own being. She gave the sickle to her son and asked him to castrate his father, so that he would never again come to sleep with her. Kronos got four of his brothers to help him. As per Gaea's plan, Koios, Krios, Hyperion and Iapetus stationed themselves at the four corners of the Earth. When Ouranos came to lay with her that night, they pinned their father down. Kronos appeared from the place where his mother had hidden him and used the sickle to cut off his father's genitals.

The Furies
The Furies | Source
Birth of Aphrodite
Birth of Aphrodite | Source

As Ouranos was being castrated, he called out a curse against his sons and his wife. His blood fell to the Earth and from this arose the Furies, Alecto, Megaera and Tisiphone. These three goddesses of vengeance would served as tormentors of evil. Also from the blood mixed with Gaea's surface, came the Gigantes, a race of extremely powerful sons who would later rise up against the Olympians. The genitals from Ouranos were cast into the ocean by his son and from the sea foam a beautiful goddess rose to the surface. She would be named Aphrodite.

While Ouranos remained the sky, he never again came to lay with Gaea.

Because of his service to his mother, Kronos was named King of the Titans, but would not retain that title long, because he was much like his father in several of ways. He was a ruthless leader and his subjects disapproved of his power. He feared that one day his children would overthrow him just as he had done with his father, and although Kronos originally released the Cyclopes and Hekatoncheires in case he needed their assistance in the fight against their father, he threw them back into Tartarus once the deed was done. This last act upset his mother Gaea who started to devise a plan to overthrow him as well.

Kornos Devours His Children
Kornos Devours His Children | Source

With the help of Gaea, Zeus, would do battle against his father, but he would not be alone. The actions his father took to secure his throne would ensure that all of his children would side with Zeus once he rescued them, as his solution was to swallow each child when it was born. Zeus was the only child spared because his mother Rhea tricked Kronos into swallowing a stone instead. Zeus would find other allies among the children of the Titans, including Prometheus and Epimetheus, and with his father's brothers the Cyclopes and Hecatonchires.

The war between the Titans and the gods, known as the Titanomachy, would be a ten year ordeal that set the stage for the entire future of mythology. Few of the events that occurred during the reign of Kronos seem golden, but it was a time of procreation for both Titans and gods, which appeared to be their favorite past time.


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