The ancient Greeks were the great myth-makers of Europe. They even gave us the name by which we refer today to the amazing stories told about gods, heroes, men and animals.
Around 400 BC, the Athenian philosopher Plato coined the word mythologia to distinguish between imaginative accounts of divine actions and factual descriptions of events, supernatural or otherwise.
Although he lived in an age that was increasingly scientific in outlook and no longer inclined to believe every detail related to the gods and goddesses, Plato recognised the power that resided in the myth and warned his followers to beware of its seductive charm.
The strength of Greek Mythology, like all active traditions, lay in its collective nature. Unlike a story composed by a particular author, a myth always stood on its own, with a plot and a set of characters readily understood by those who listened to the storyteller or dramatist making use of it.
Myths retain much of their power, even when told in summary, as they are on this website. Because Greek myths were fashioned and refashioned over so many generations, they acquired their essential form, a shape that had been collectively recognised for longer than anyone could remember.
The Romans were no less impressed by the range and interest of Greek mythology. Indeed, they adopted it wholesale and identified many of their own Italian deities with those in the Greek pantheon, even adopting others for whom they possessed no real equivalent.
The Creation of the Greek Gods and Goddesses
For someone trying to get into Greek mythology, it can be a very daunting process. Learning who is the god of what and who gave birth to whom can be a very confusing time.
If you’ve ever looked at a family tree of the Greek gods, then there’s a good chance you are more confused and before you began. Hopefully, after this article, you’ll have a better understanding of the gods in Greek mythology and their origins.
Generations of the Greek Gods and Goddesses
We can break down the gods and goddesses in Greek mythology into three generations, the Primordial deities, the Titans and the Olympians.
The Primordial Deities
Being the first generation, the primordial deities were often more symbolic of the creation of the world rather than literal beings.
In the very beginning, there was nothing, an empty void, first came Chaos, and from Chaos emerged Gaia—Gaia symbolised the earth and was considered the mother of all.
Beneath the earth was a primordial deity, Tartarus. Many compare his domain to Hades or the Underworld. Tartarus was where the most ferocious monsters and horrid criminals were banished, and on occasion, even gods were imprisoned in Tartarus.
From Chaos came Erebus, the darkness of a night that would cover the earth. When Erebus lay with the night, they gave birth to the Aether, the heavenly light, the early sunrise to contrast the darkness. From the night, we will also see such things as fate, doom, sleep and even death.
Gaia would give birth to Uranus, the Mountains and Pontus, the primordial deity of the sea. Uranus represented the sky in all its beauty and proved himself to be equal to Gaia, eventually becoming her mate. In some variations, Eros, the primordial deity of shining love, blessed their union, but in other depictions, Eros was born later, the son of Aphrodite.
Together Gaia and Uranus produced the twelve Titans, along with three giant Cyclops and three horrifying Hecatoncheires. Uranus despised his children, particularly the Hecatoncheires, because of how ugly he felt they were. He hated them so much that he pushed him back into Gaia’s womb and kept them there.
In enormous pain, Gaia fashioned a sickle for her children to avenge her with, but the only child brave enough to do so was Cronus, the last born of the Titans.
Later that evening, when Uranus lay asleep, Cronus ambushed his father. He took his father’s genitals and severed them with the sickle. The blood that began to pour from Uranus created a race of Giants, Nymphs and Furies.
Cronus then threw the severed genitals into the sea, and from those arose Aphrodite, the goddess of love who made her way to the shore.
Uranus, now mutilated, left the earth forever, but he promised that Cronus and the other Titans would be punished for their actions.
With Uranus gone, Cronus exiled the Cyclops and Hecatoncheires to Tartarus to establish his reign over the earth.
We haven’t discussed the Titans much thus far, but this is where their rule began.
There were two generations of Titans. The first 12 born from Gaia are as follows:
- Coeus, The Titan of Intelligence and Foresight
- Crius, The Titan of Heavenly Constellations
- Cronus, The Titan of Time and The Ages
- Iapetus, The Titan of The Mortal Lifespan
- Mnemosyne, The Titan of Memory and Remembrance
- Oceanus, The Titan of The Sea
- Hyperion, The Titan of Heavenly Light
- Phoebe, The Titaness of Radiance
- Rhea, The Titaness of Fertility and Motherhood
- Thetis, The Titaness of Fresh Water
- Theia, Titaness of Shining Light And,
- Themis, The Titaness of Divine Law and Order.
The most commonly known Titans from the second generation were,
- Atlas, The Titan of Endurance
- Eos, The Titaness of Dawn
- Epimetheus, The Titans of Afterthought and His Brother,
- Prometheus, The Titans of Forethought
- Helios, The Titan of The Sun And,
- Leto, The Titaness of Motherhood.
Having now established himself as the head of the Titans, Cronus took sister Rhea as his mate and together, they had many offspring. Cronus was terrified of a prophecy that Uranus and Gaia had foretold, that Cronus would be replaced by one of his sons.
Rhea gave birth to the first six Olympians,
- Hestia, the goddess of the Family Hearth and Sacrificial Flame
- Demeter, the goddess of Agriculture
- Hera, the goddess of Marriage and Family
- Hades, the god of the Underworld
- Poseidon, the god of the Sea and,
- Zeus, the god of the Sky.
However, there are eight more who were direct descendants of the original six Olympians or resided with the Olympians. They are,
- Athena, the goddess of War
- Ares, the god of Courage and War
- Aphrodite, the goddess of Beauty and Love
- Artemis, the goddess of the Hunt
- Apollo, the god of many things, including Healing, Medicine, Archery, Music, Poetry, and the Sun
- Hermes, the god of Trade, Wealth, Luck, Fertility, Animal Husbandry, Sleep, Language, Thieves, and Travel
- Hephaestus, the god of Fire, Metalworking, Stone Masonry, Forges, and the Art of Sculpture and,
- Dionysus, the god of Wine and Parties
See also: 13 Greek Gods and Goddesses Explained
Upon seeing his children, Cronus swallowed them whole in an attempt to stop the prophecy from coming true.
Rhea was distraught that her children were devoured and decided that she would hide her last born, Zeus. She gave Cronus a stone disguised as Zeus to swallow instead. Zeus was then sent to Crete, where the nymphs would raise him until he was strong enough to rebel against his father.
As time passed, Cronus grew old and weak, and Zeus only grew stronger. To aid him in his fight against his father, Zeus was given a potion, and when Cronus drank this potion, he vomited up all of Zeus’s brothers and sisters, who were unharmed.
Together with the other Olympians, they were able to overpower Cronus and banished him to Tartarus.
Despite their victory, the war with the Titans had only just begun as all, except Prometheus and Oceanus, rebelled against the Olympians. For ten years, the war raged on, with neither side able to secure a decisive victory. That was until Zeus travelled to Tartarus and released the Cyclops and the Hecatoncheires.
The three Cyclopes rewarded Zeus with the power of thunder and lightning, and the Hecatoncheires pelted the Titans with large boulders. With this additional help, the Titans were eventually defeated, and Zeus imprisons them in Tartarus.
The Titan Atlas was condemned to stand forever with the weight of the earth and heavens on his shoulders.
Attempt to Overthrow the Olympians
Having watched the downfall of their children, Gaia and Uranus gave birth to one last monster, Typhon, the father of all monsters.
The gods, terrified, began to flee, but Zeus would not let his kingdom crumble, hurling lightning at the Beast over and over until it was defeated.
There was one final attempt to overthrow the Olympians. The Giants made from Uranus’s blood were unhappy with how they were treated and began to lay siege to Olympus, scaling the mountain to reach the gods.
With the aid of Heracles, they were able to subdue and kill the Giants. With all their enemies defeated or banished, no one could dispute the rule of the Olympians, and Zeus took his place on the throne.
In Summary to the Creations of the Greek Gods
There are many variations of the god’s creation in Greek mythology, and some are most definitely cruder than others.
This version does have some recurring features, such as the mothers aiding their children in dethroning their husbands, with Uranus and Cronus both being defeated by their children, almost as if history was doomed to repeat itself.
The desire for power and dominance is shared through all three generations of the gods and goddesses and most likely reflects mankind’s desire for power.
Another important thing to note when referring to most primordial deities and even some of the Titans is that they are more of a personification or a symbol of concepts than physical beings.
The last generation, the Olympians, have more defined appearances and traits that we can easily identify with, from Zeus’s lightning to Poseidon’s trident.
Image Sources: Pinterest.