Protogenoi — the primordial gods

The Olympians

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Janina Davison Forder gives a brief introduction to the early period of Greek myth

Part I

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Greek mythology is a vast collection of stories — most of them inconsistent — about the gods, demigods and monsters of the ancient World.  But what came before the gods ?  Well, the Titans did ;  but what came before the Titans ?

There are countless books and resources that tell us all about Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, Hades etc.  However, when it comes to the story of the Titans and their parentage, the information really is limited.

We shall start at the very beginning.  I did try to construct a family tree for you all but it quickly becomes so complicated that it would take forever — not to mention an extremely large piece of paper !  The following, then, is a simplified list of the principal characters of Greek myth.  As vast as the subject is, I thought it would be best to stay, for the time being, on the topic of the Titans and their parents (the primordial gods) and not stray too far into the Olympian gods.

Chaos God of the void ;  sometimes described as female but normally sexless
(Some say that before Gaia all that existed was Chaos ;  perhaps Chaos was just the first born of the primordial gods.)
Phanes God of appearance also known as Himeros, Eros elder – god of procreation or Protogonos – the first born
Phusis Also known as Thesis ;  goddess of nature and creation
Erebus God of darkness
Aether God of light
Thalassa Goddess of the sea
Hemera Goddess of the day
Nyx Goddess of the night
Ananke Goddess of compulsion
Chronus God of time (not to be confused with the Titan Cronus)
Gaia Goddess of the earth, sometimes Mother Earth

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It seems that, of all the primordial gods, Gaia was the only one to reproduce on her own ;  she brought forth —

Ouranos God of the sky
Ourea God of the hills

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Then with the god of light Aether she bore two children :

Pontus The sea god
Tartarus Both a place – the deepest abyss – and a god

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Gaia – goddess of the Earth, sometimes called Mother Nature – was inevitably prolific :  she bore Eurybia, a minor sea goddess, and Ouranos, the sky god (like Tartarus both a place and a god).  She lay with Ouranos and the union produced the first wave of Titans  :

Titans
Oceanus Titan of the ocean and also the ocean itself, considered a river that flowed around a flat Earth)
Hyperion Lord of light and Titan of the East
Coeus Father of Leto (upon whom Zeus would later father Aphrodite)
Cronus Patron of the Harvest (who would become father of Zeus)
Crius Having no significant rôle of his own
Iapetus Titan of Mortal Life
Titanesses
Mnemosyne Goddess of memory and inspiration
Tethys Sea goddess and mother of rivers
Theia Goddess of light
Phoebe Goddess of the moon
Rhea Mother of the Gods
Themis Goddess of law, order and custom

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Her next offspring were the Hundred-handed monsters (the ‘hecatoncheires’ Briareus, Gyges and Cottus) and the Cyclopes (Brontes, Steropes and Arges, whose descendants Odysseus would encounter on his protracted voyage home from the Trojan war).  Gaia and Ouranos were to rule until overthrown by their own children.

Gaia bore the Moirae or Fates :  Clotho, the spinner ;  Lachesis, the drawer of lots ;  and Atropos, the inevitable.  It is said that the Fates had a strong connexion with Zeus.

After Ouranos had banished the Cyclopes to Tartarus, Cronus, at his mother’s (sc. Gaia’s) request, led the Titans in an uprising against Ouranos and castrated him.  The blood of Ouranos fell upon Gaia (Mother Earth) and she bore more children :  the three Furies or Erinnyes (Alecto, Tisiphone and Megaera), born to avenge crimes of perjury and parricide ;  and the Meliae, nymphs of the ash tree (Adasteia and Io).

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The story will continue …

18 thoughts on “Protogenoi — the primordial gods”

  1. Great article
    I know nothing about ancient Greece
    but will save these articles
    in case I get desperate need to rush out and write a Greek tradgedy
    Colin

  2. Well done..thankyou and please continue..never studied Greek mythology..always intrigued though…how timely..spurs one on to investigate further…kind regards mk.

  3. I think this is a great article, I only wish more people would think of this type of thing instead of the drugs,knives and aggressive behaviour that goes on now days. It is so interesting to be able to read about the ancient world as this world today is constant bad news.

    thanks again lorry.

  4. Janina, thanks for your illuminating and entertaining article. I’d heard of some of these proto-gods and goddesses, though I wasn’t very clear on what they did.

    Now that I am enlightened, I have to say, I have some concerns. Gaia does seem to fall into many stereoptypes, having very many children by more than one father, and indeed, unknown fathers, and, if I read this correctly, by her own son. Then urging these children to castrate the said father-son. One is left asking, as so often, just what were the Social Services doing at the time?

    A picture emerges of this unfortunate, perhaps obese goddess, wearing leggings and trainers, with hair-extensions and a furry-collared snorkel jacket, lurking on street corners, cigartette in hand, watching for any passing innocent god to seduce.

    Anachronistic squeamishness apart, I look forward to the next installment of Janina’s fascinating and gripping tale of the ancients.

  5. @Ed Gibb

    Hmmm…. Concerning Gaia, i suppose your comment is adding insult to incest and injury 🙂 lol

    Yes i agree the family tree here is very much complicated.

    What amazes me is the fact that after Gaia had made Cronus castrate his father for banishing the cyclopses to tartarus…

    Cronous and Rhea then took power and low and behold they also banished the cyclopses to tarturus.
    Took the throne of power and banished their mother into tarturus along with the other primordial gods….

    It certainly is a family affair, blood may be thicker than water however, it does not seem to stick that well. lol

  6. @Ed Gibb

    I was thinking actually that the greek mythology is rather easier to believe than the story of adam and eve is it not?

    At least there were more than two people to begin with.

    Oh and I believe social services did not get involved because of all the paperwork (or tablet work in this case) they would have to do – can you imagine it? It would have taken them years!

  7. Another of these fascinating proto-gods you have introduced me to, and whom I shall investigate further, Janina, is Crius, The God of No Significant Role.

    I can see his place in today’s world – as the inspiration of political commentators, football pundits, UN officials and many, many more.

  8. @Ed Gibb In that case wasn’t Crius the inspiration for the European union … oh no sorry i think i am mistaken, definitely Chaos! 🙂

    @Colleen hmmm…. yes well, if we go by Greek mythology then there was nothing but Darkness before chaos however, i do see your point.

  9. Janina, isn’t it amazing that whatever the subject being discussed may be, we almost always end up chatting about how much we all loathe the EU?

    I remember being told at school about a Roman senator, who regardless of the topic of debate, would rise in the Senate and announce, “Carthage must be destroyed!” Whether it was invasion of Britain, war with Hannibal, fuel taxes or rising immigration, up he’d pop, and, “Carthage must be destroyed!”

    Perhaps Pericles can tell us more about this chap, and his admirable tenacity?

  10. @Ed Gibb

    Well, may have beaten Pericles to this one…

    Carthago delenda est or Carthage must be destroyed.

    Was spoken by Cato the Elder. He would recite this or various versions such as Furthermore carthage should be destroyed at the end of each of his speeches to the senate regardless of topic.

    This actually became Cato the elders personal motto in the end.

    In Fact even Cicero agreed with him in an essay ‘De Senectute’ or On old age.

    Well thats about all i have on that, i suppose we best get pericles in here after all.

    🙂

    Perhaps we should adopt a new motto for the country then…

    In latin

    european iugum must pereo

    Or greek

    the Ευρώπη union μουστάκι να είμαι κατέστρεψα

    Or just plain English

    The European Union must be destroyed

  11. It was utter tosh, wasn’t it? No wonder that the Greeks abandoned it as soon as they learnt to think.

  12. I know…seven years spent as a woman…and my strophion kept slipping down. At least I didn’t have to wear those bloody awful shoes modren European women have to cram their feet into.

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