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