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Creation in Greek Mythology

Updated on August 1, 2016
Colin Quartermain profile image

Having travelled through Italy, Greece and the Aegean in his youth, Colin quickly became interested in the ancient mythology of the region.

The Greek Creation Myth

The concept of creation is a core element of most of the world’s religions, both past and present, and the religious of Ancient Greece is no exception. Stories of Greek mythology tell of the creation of mankind, although in the ancient sources two distinct stories about the creation of man can be found.

The Creation of Man and Prometheus

Louvre Museum - Painted in 1802 by Jean-Simon Berthélemy, painted again by Jean-Baptste Mauzaisse in 1826. © Marie-Lan Nguyen / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY 2.5
Louvre Museum - Painted in 1802 by Jean-Simon Berthélemy, painted again by Jean-Baptste Mauzaisse in 1826. © Marie-Lan Nguyen / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY 2.5 | Source

Prometheus and the Creation of Man

The more famous of the two stories of creation in Greek mythology is to be found in sources such as the Bibliotheca (Pseudo-Apollodorus).

This famous story of creation revolves around the actions of the Titan Prometheus.

Prometheus and his brother Epimetheus were two second-generation Titans who went unpunished after the Titanomachy. Unlike their brother Atlas, Prometheus and Epimetheus did not fight with their kin against Zeus, as Prometheus had the gift of foresight.

In the time of the Olympians therefore Zeus gave the job of bringing forth life to Prometheus and Epimetheus. It was important to Zeus that the world was inhabited by man, in order that sacrifices and worship could be directed towards Mount Olympus.

Man and animals were therefore crafted from earth and water when clay was produced, and then Zeus breathed life into the creations. Prometheus and Epimetheus were then charged in naming and giving each creature the characteristics that had been made by the other gods.

Epimetheus distributed the gifts of the gods amongst the animals, but when it came to mankind there was nothing left to gift. Prometheus was unwilling to leave man unprotected and so went amongst the Olympian gods and stole the characteristics of wisdom and reason.

Prometheus then taught mankind to sacrifice as was the command of Zeus, but the Titan taught man to sacrifice the worthless parts of the animals, and keep the best meat for themselves. Zeus was not pleased with the trickery of man, and so the Greek god took away the gift of fire, ensuring man would be cold and in the dark. Prometheus though continued in his role of protector of man, and stole the secret of fire from Mount Olympus.

Man could now thrive on the earth.

It is in interesting to note that the belief that mankind was created from earth or clay is not only a Greek one, for similar stories appear in the Old Testament, in the Qur’an, and also in Chinese and Egyptian mythology.

Prometheus Brings Fire to Man

Heinrich Füger (1751–1818) PD-art-100
Heinrich Füger (1751–1818) PD-art-100 | Source

Hesiod and the Ages of Man

In Greek mythology there is also a second story that deals with creation of man; this story appears in the work of the famous Greek poet, Hesiod. Hesiod in Works and Days tells of five different ages of man.

First Age of Man

The first generation of man were created in the time of Cronus and the other Titans, a time in Greek mythology known as the Golden Age. This first Age of Man was the golden race, and man would walk amongst the gods, did not toil, nor were they troubled.

This golden race would live to a great age as well, without showing any signs of aging or old age. Eventually though, this generation of man, would be buried beneath the surface of the earth, creating the seams of earth occasionally uncovered afterwards.

Second Age of Man

The time of the Titans passed, and the gods of Mount Olympus, under the rule of Zeus, emerged. A new generation of man was born, and this second Age of Man became known as the silver race.

This silver race was another long-lived generation, but differed from the golden race, as much of their lives were spent as children, doing childish things. Their lives as adults was relatively short, and when they grew out of childish activity, they would start to sin.

Zeus would bring this second Age of Man to an end by burying it, after man refused to pay tribute to the gods. This would of course bring forth the underground pockets of silver to be mined.

Third Age of Man

The Third Age of Man in Greek mythology was also known as the Bronze Age. This third generation of man was known to be both argumentative and militaristic. Zeus would be so appalled by their ways and actions that he sent forth a great flood to bring an end to this Age of Man. Only Deucalion and Pyrrha would survive the Deluge, whilst all the others would pass into the realm of Hades.

Fourth Age of Man

Hesiod would write that the fourth generation of mankind was the best of all ages, and was the generation that would become known as the Heroic Age. This Age of Man was created when Deucalion would throw rocks onto Mother Earth.

The Heroic Age was the age of heroes and demi-gods and therefore the age of many of the best known stories of Greek mythology.

Even this heroic age was said to have died out, and they like the generation before would go into Hades, the Greek heroes though would spend eternity in Elysium, paradise.

Fifth Age of Man

The fifth and current generation of man then came forth; this is the generation that suffers all of the world’s ills following the opening of Pandora’s Box. Man would thereafter be forced to toil to live, and strife would cover the earth, but elements of goodness and hope would still be evident.

Deucalion and Pyrrha Create Man

Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640)  PD-art-100
Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640) PD-art-100 | Source

The Complete Works of Plato

Plato Reconciles the Stories of Creation

Plato would subsequently seek to reconcile the two different versions of creation in Greek mythology.

In Protagoras Plato would write that Prometheus and Epimetheus, rather than bringing forth life, simply equipped everything with the gifts and characteristics donated by the gods. This would probably be the Third Age of Man for Deucalion was a son of Prometheus, who the Titan warned of the impending flood.

Plato would also write in the Symposium about the appearance of mankind, although Plato attributes this story to Aristophanes.

When mankind was first created it was a single sex being, comprising of four arms and four legs, a head with two faces, and the genitalia of both men and women. Mankind at this point was also extremely strong, and this strength meant that they were a possible threat to the gods.

Zeus did not want to destroy mankind though at this point, for man was offering up the sacrifices beloved of the gods. Zeus therefore split mankind into two, creating man and woman, and there after, each sex would seek out the opposite so that they could become unified again.

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  • Colin Quartermain profile image
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    Colin Quartermain 3 years ago

    Many thanks for reading and commenting daydreamer

  • daydreamer13 profile image

    daydreamer13 3 years ago

    Another wonderful hub. Bravo!

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