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Gaia in Greek Mythology

Updated on May 3, 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.

Gaia Mother Earth in Greek Mythology

Gaia was historically one of the most important goddesses of Ancient Greece; although her importance was lessened with the spread of the Hellenic people. Even today though, Gaia, as mother earth, is still revered in some circles, especially neo-paganism.

Gaia, in Greek mythology, was the goddess of the earth, and also revered as the mother god; Gaia was after all mother to many other deities.

Gaia comes into Existence

In Greek mythology, Gaia was not thought of as being born, but the emergence of the goddess was used to explain the creation of the universe as the Ancient Greeks saw it.

Hesiod, in the Theogony, provides a genealogy for the gods; the name Theogony meaning genealogy. Today, the Theogony, is the most often used source for the family tree of the gods, although in antiquity, there were many differing views about the genealogy of the Greek gods.

Hesiod though, would write that Gaia came into existence at the very start of time, emerging from Chaos. Chaos, Gaia, Tartarus and Eros were therefore named as the first four Protogneoi, the first born of the Greek pantheon.

Gaia Mother Goddess

Anselm Feuerbach (1829–1880) PD-art-100
Anselm Feuerbach (1829–1880) PD-art-100 | Source

The First Period of Motherhood

Gaia was devoid of features in the beginning, but mother earth started to shape herself, bringing forth children; although at that time Gaia had no mate. These first children of Gaia were the ten Ourea, the mountains, Pontus, the sea, and Ouranus, the sky. Hesiod would state that Ouranus was brought forth specifically to bring cover to Gaia, although he would be the first mate of Gaia.

Gaia then started to bring forth life, mating with Ouranos, to give birth to the three original Cyclopes, the three Hecatonchires and the twelve Titans.

Gaia would also mate with Pontus, bringing forth other sea deities including, Ceto, Eurybia, Nereus, Phorcys and Thaumas; and Mother Earth would also give birth to a child of Tartarus, the monstrous Typhon.

Ouranus and the Titans

Giorgio Vasari (1511–1574) PD-art-100
Giorgio Vasari (1511–1574) PD-art-100 | Source

The Second Period of Motherhood

Ouranus would take up the mantle of first supreme god, but was insecure of his position, and so imprisoned the powerful Cyclopes and Hecatonchires in Tartarus, deep within the bowels of Gaia. This imprisonment would cause Gaia physical pain, and so Mother Earth would conspire with the Titans, and in particular Kronos, to overthrow their father.

Gaia would fashion an adamantine sickle, which Kronos used to castrate Ouranus. The blood of Ouranus would fall onto Gaia, and so more children were born to Mother Earth, these being the Gigantes, the Erinyes, and the Meliae nymphs.

Kronos was now supreme deity, but he was no more secure than his father had been, and so the Hecatonchires and Cyclopes remained imprisoned, leaving Gaia in pain. Gaia then made a prophecy about Kronos being overthrown by his offspring, just as Kronos had overthrown his own father.

To avoid the prophecy Kronos would swallow his own children, born to Rhea, imprisoning them in his stomach when they were born. Thus, Poseidon, Hades, Hestia, Demeter and Hera, were all born and imprisoned. Zeus would have followed his siblings, but Gaia aided Rhea in hiding the last born son on Crete.

Gaia was already planning the overthrow of Kronos and the Titans, and so when Zeus came of age, it was Gaia who convinced him to rise up against his father. The Titanomachy would be the result, and Gaia managed to ease her own pain, by having Zeus release the Cyclopes and Hecatonchires from within her.

Zeus had rid Gaia of her pain, but then immediately brought about new pain by imprisoning most of the defeated Titans within Tartarus at the end of the Titanomachy. As a result Gaia would conspire once again, this time with the Gigantes, although in the Gigantomachy, Zeus was once again ultimately successful.

The Titanomachy

Joachim Wtewael (1566–1638) PD-art-100
Joachim Wtewael (1566–1638) PD-art-100 | Source

A Third Generation of Offspring

Zeus did not punish Gaia for conspiring against him though, and Mother Earth would mate with a number of Olympian gods to bring forth a third generation of offspring. With Zeus, Gaia would become mother to King Manes, with Poseidon, Gaia mothered the giant Antaeus and the monstrous Charybdis, and with Hephaestus, Gaia gave birth to the Athenian king Erichthonius.

The Role of Gaia in Greek Mythology

Gaia had already made a prophecy about Kronos being overthrown, and the earliest Oracles of Ancient Greece had been dedicated to the goddess. Gaia was, as a result, widely celebrated and worshipped across Greece.

Her relative importance though would dwindle, and the arena of prophecy would be taken over by Apollo; the Hellenic gods of Mount Olympus having usurped all those that had gone before. It was though not forgotten that ultimately all of life in Ancient Greece came from Gaia.

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