In the beginning there was Chaos, and then it only got worse.
ή τοι μεν πρώτιστα Χάος γένετ' ...
As the Muses taught Hesiod
, in the beginning there was Chaos - and indeed, this is one of the most chaotic
texts in the world's literary canon. Written most probably in the 7th century in classical epic dactylic hexameter, it is mainly a genealogical treatise with not a few elements of theological gossip about which god slept with whom and who was born as a result. 'Theogony' means 'The Origin of Gods', and it is Exactly What It Says on the Tin
. Presenting the whole divine family on one genealogical tree is almost
impossible, but the Greeks apparently had little problems with memorizing all the details, as numerous stories from Greek mythology are perfectly consistent with the version of events described in Theogony
(though, to complicate things even more, there is also a rival version written by Pseudo-Apollodorus, known as The Library
To cut a long story short, in the beginning there was not only Chaos but also Gaia (Mother Earth), Tartarus (Ineffably Deep Abyss), and Eros (who in those times resembled rather Will To Procreate than Romantic Love). Then, Gaia gave birth, among other creatures, to Ouranos (Heaven) and Pontus (Sea), both of whom later fathered on her
many children. This strange family had three main branches:1)
Descendants of Erebus (Darkness) and Nyx (Night). Those are a mixed bunch: Erebus and Nyx produced Aither (Light) and Hemera (Day). Nyx also had a few children all by herself. They were mainly personifications of depressing concepts like Madness or Strife, but among them were also the Fates, Death, Sleep, Dreams and Sex.2)
Children of Pontus (with or without Gaia as a mother). Mainly monsters (with Cerberus, Chimaira and Sphinx among them) and indistinguishable water nymphs, but also Iris
. The latter was probably the family's White Sheep
, her own sisters being Harpies.3)
Children of Ouranos and Gaia. Cyclopes, who had each only one eye, Hekatoncheires, who had each as many as one hundred hands, and twelve Titans, whose children were later to win the great divine battle for power. Among the descendants of the Titans were the Olympians
, rivers, celestial bodies, some personifications, three Fates, and, again, a bunch of indistinguishable water nymphs.
Yes, the Fates appear there twice, and yes, they are the same Fates, because their names are identical in both cases. Two identical sets of Fates look so uncanny that scholars usually believe one of them to be an interpolation.
There is also another poem
by this author, but it is considerably less mythological and much more didactic.
- Action Girl: Athena and Artemis. The former was not only a Lady of War but also a Genius Bruiser, and both had particularly impressive Virgin Power.
- Almighty Janitor: Tartarus. Apparently powerful enough to hold the titans, cyclopes, and hekatoncheires prisoner for eternity, the only thing he ever actually does is sleep with Gaia to father Typhon. Even then, it's Gaia who sets Typhon on Zeus, not Tartarus. Tartarus is apparently content to sit back and enjoy his role as jailor/jail for the gods.
- Anthropomorphic Personification: Loads of them. Virtually all the primordial divinities were this.
- Apron Matron: Gaia. She even gave birth to one of her children (Typhoeus) only to revenge the previous ones on their father, who thrusted them down into Tartarus. Tartarus himself was the father of Typhoeus, which makes it even more weird.
- Badass Family: It doesn't come much more Badass then Divine.
- Because Destiny Says So: That is why Cronos had to be overthrown by Zeus.
- Big Screwed-Up Family: An Ur example.
- Brother-Sister Incest: Most notably, Zeus with Hera, but also Zeus with Demeter, Erebus with Nyx, Phorkys with Keto, and four Titans (Cronos, Oceanus, Hyperion, Coeus) with four Titanesses (Rhea, Tethys, Theia, Phoebe).
- Double In Law Marriage: as hard as it is to believe it, combined with Brother-Sister Incest.
- Faceless Goons: The children of Erebus and Nyx. We do not know much about them except that they are mostly unfriendly and there are many of them.
- Gender Rarity Value: There is much more females than males in the text - mainly because of the water nymphs and wood nymphs, but the tendency to group goddesses and even monsters into sets of three is also a relevant factor.
- Happily Ever After: Heracles and Hebe.
- Harem Seeker: Zeus. The list of the gods' descendants gives as many as ten names of his bed companions, all of whom were his relatives. Hera was so angry about it that it is no wonder that their son was nicknamed 'the sacker of towns'.
- Healing Factor: Prometheus.
- Hero Killer: Typhon makes his first appearance here.
- In the Blood: The tradition of killing one's father before seizing the rule over the world was very prominent in the family of Zeus. Also, the children of Phorkys and Keto were all monsters, whereas water was more than essential for all the descendants of Oceanus and Tethys.
- Kissing Cousins: Too many to count.
- Living Forever Is Awesome: For Heracles, especially that he also seems to have been given Eternal Love.
- The Long List: The children of Oceanus and the daughters of Nereus.
- Mythical Motifs: Three Gorgons, Hydra, Pegasus, and a Dragon (only one, but not a few of his relatives were also more or less dragon-like).
- Narrative Poem: And one which is Older Than Feudalism.
- Nominal Importance: Strongly averted. Everyone here has a name, even if he or she doesn't appear anywhere else.
- Offing the Offspring: The only possible justification for Cronos' actions is that he really hadn't a good paternal example to follow.
- Parental Incest: Gaia and Ouranos, initiating the whole divine dynasty which shaped the imagination of the people who were the cradle of our civilization. 'Nuff said.
- The Patriarch: Zeus.
- Pater Familiphagia: Cronos swallowed alive as many as five of his children.
- Rage Against the Heavens: Prometheus, with surprisingly effective result.
- Rule of Three: The story mentions three cases of dethronement of the father by his son, the last of which was prophesied sufficiently early to avert it by swallowing the pregnant mother of a dangerous child. When the child was eventually given birth by the father, it inexplicably turned out to be a girl, and not a one particularly inclined to commit patricide.
- Spontaneous Generation: Erinyes, Meliae, Giants, and Aphrodite were born from Earth impregnated by the cut-off genitals of her son and husband, Heaven, who was castrated by the son whom he himself had begotten on Earth.
- Tangled Family Tree: And how.
- Truly Single Parent: Chaos, Gaia, Nyx, Hera, and probably Zeus were this. The case of Athena was probably the only one in history when it was uncertain whether or not the child had a mother even though the father was well known.
- Youngest Child Wins: Though, if throwing his children up by Ouranos served as a second birth, Zeus was actually the eldest.