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Literature / Theogony

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ή τοι μεν πρώτιστα Χάος γένετ' ...
é toi men prótista Cháos génet'...note 

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 circa 700 BCE 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 many children with her. This strange family had three main branches:

1) Chaos

  • Erebus (Darkness) and Nyx (Night)
    • Erebus and Nyx reproduced to make: Aether (Light) and Hemera (Day)
    • Nyx produced parthenogenetically: Moros (Doom), Oneiroi (Dreams), the Keres (Destinies), Eris (Discord), Momos (Blame), Philotes (Love), Geras (Old Age), Thanatos (Death), Moirai (Fates), Nemesis (Retribution), Hesperides (Daughters of Night), Hypnos (Sleep), Oizys (Hardship), Apate (Deceit)
      • Children of Eris: Ponos (Pain), Hysmine (Battles), the Neikea (Quarrels), the Phonoi (Murders), Lethe (Oblivion), Makhai (Fight), Pseudologos (Lies), Amphilogia (Disputes), Limos (Famine), Androktasia (Manslaughters), Ate (Ruin), Dysnomia (Anarchy and Disobedient Lawlessness), the Algea (Illness), Horkos (Oaths), Logoi (Stories)

2) Gaia (Olympians in Bold)

  • Ouranos (Sky); he and Gaia reproduced to make:
    • Titans: Cronus and Rhea
      • Hestia
      • Demeter
      • Hera
        Produced parthenogenetically: Hephaestus
      • Hades
      • Poseidon
        With Nereid Amphitrite: Triton
        With mortal Medusa: Chrysaor and Pegasus
      • Zeus
        With Oceanid Metis produced: Athena
        With Titan Themis produced: Horae (Hours): Eunomia (Order), Dikē (Justice), Eirene (Peace), the three Moirai (Fates)note , Tyche (Luck)
        With Oceanid Eurynome: Charites (Graces): Aglaea, Euphrosyne and Thalia
        With his sister Demeter produced: Persephone
        With Titan Mnemosyne produced: nine Muses
        With Leto produced: Apollo and Artemis
        With his sister Hera produced: Hebe, Ares, and Eileithyia
        With Pleiad nymph Maia produced: Hermes
        With mortal Semele produced: Dionysus
        With mortal Alcmene produced: Heracles
    • Titans: Oceanus and Tethys
      • Potamoi (Rivers)
        Naiad nymphs
      • Oceanid nymphs
    • Titans: Hyperion and Theia
      • Helios (Sun), Selene (Moon), Eos (Dawn)
    • Titans: Coeus and Phoebe
      • Leto and Asteria
    • Titan: Crius, with his mate produces
      • Astraios, Pallas, Perses
    • Titan: Iapetus, with an Oceanid nymph produced:
      • Atlas
        With an Oceanid nymph produced the Pleiad nymphs, Hyad nymphs, and Hyas
      • Menoetius
      • Prometheus
      • Epimetheus
    • Titan: Mnemosyne
    • Titan: Themis
    • Cyclopes (one-eyed giants): Brontes, Steropes, Arges
    • Hecatonchires (hundred-armed giants): Kottos, Briareos, Gyges
    • Ouranos upon his castration by Cronus produced: Erinyes (the Furies), Giants, Meliai (Dryad) nymphs, Aphrodite
  • The Ourea (Mountains)
  • Pontus (Sea), with Gaia produced
    • Nereus (Old Man of the Sea)
      • With Oceanid nymph Doris produces: the Nereid nymphs
    • Thaumas
      • With Oceanid nymph Electra produces: Iris (Rainbow) and two Harpies
    • Phorcys and Ceto, who reproduce to make
      • The Graiae, the Gorgons, Echidna, and Ophion

3) Tartarus

  • With Gaia produced: Typhon
    • With Echidna produced the monsters: Orthrus, Cerberus, Hydra, Chimera
      • With Chimera, Orthrus produced: Nemean Lion, Sphinx

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.

Theogony provides examples of:

  • 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 jailer/jail for the gods.
  • Ambiguous Gender: Chaos, although usually depicted as female, being an embodiment of primordial nothingness, may as well be the case of No Biological Sex.
  • 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 thrust 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 Bad: Three of them in quick succession, during the Theogony's Creation Myth:
    • Ouranos during the Cosmogony, being the Evil Overlord ruling over the universe and imprisoning the children he hates.
    • Kronos during the Titanomachy, first swallowing all his children so they don't overthrow him, then leading the Titans to keep a hold on his status as ruler of the world.
    • Typhon, he who spawned all of the worst monsters and ended up breezing up to Olympus in the hopes of overthrowing Zeus.
  • Big, Screwed-Up Family: An Ur-Example.
  • Born as an Adult: Athena and Aphrodite were both born fully formed and were never children. It's implied that this was also the case with the Erinyes, the Meliae and the Giants.
  • Brother–Sister Incest: Most notably, Zeus with Hera, but also Zeus with Demeter, Erebus with Nyx, Phorkys with Keto, four Titans (Cronos, Oceanus, Hyperion, Coeus) with four Titanesses (Rhea, Tethys, Theia, Phoebe) and even a pair of monsters, Orthrus and Chimera.
  • Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: After spontaneously creating Gaia, Tartarus, Eros, Erebos and Nyx, Chaos just seems to disappear from the story and is never heard from again.
  • Double In-Law Marriage: As hard as it is to believe it, combined with Brother–Sister Incest.
  • Eats Babies: Kronos eats his children to avoid being overthrown. It does not work.
  • Epic Catalog: Theogony comes close to being nothing but this trope, but the straightest examples would be the lists of the lovers of Zeus and the male gods their children (lines 886-964) and of the mortal lovers of goddesses and their children (965-1022).
  • 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 are many 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 incapacitating 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.
  • Multiple-Choice Past: The Theogony contradicts itself on some occasions (possibly because of textual corruption). Are the Moiria the daughters of Nyx alone or of Zeus and Themis? Is Athena the daughter of Zeus and Metis or is she born to Zeus without mother?
  • 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 didn't have a good paternal example to follow.
  • One-Steve Limit: There are a couple of aversions in the text.
    • There are two Thalia, both daughters of Zeus: one of the Muses and one of the Charites.
    • There are two Doris: one of the Oceanid and wife of Nereus and one of the Nereid and daughter of the first.
    • There are two Urania: one of the Muses and and one of the Oceanid.
    • Titaness Thetys and Nereid Thetis (better known as Achilles' mother) have similar names.
  • One-Word Title: "Theogony" means "The Origin of Gods", and it is Exactly What It Says on the Tin.
  • Parental Incest: Gaia and Ouranos, initiating the whole divine dynasty which shaped the imagination of the people who were the cradle of Western civilization. 'Nuff said.
  • Pater Familicide: Cronos swallowed alive as many as five of his children.
  • The Patriarch: Zeus.
  • Pun: An example in the original Greek; one of Aphrodite's titles in worship was Philommeidês (Φιλομμειδης), which means "Laughter-Loving" or "Smile-Loving". Hesiod refers to her as Philommêdês (Φιλομμηδης), which means "Genetal-Loving". Totally because she was born from Uranus' genetals and nothing else.
  • 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 to by the father, it inexplicably turned out to be a girl, and not a one particularly inclined to commit patricide.
  • Spontaneous Generation: The Erinyes, Meliae and Giants 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. Meanwhile, Aphrodite emerges fully formed without a mother after said genitals fall into the sea.
  • 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.
  • The Weird Sisters: There are three Moirai or goddesses of fate: Clotho ("spinner") spins the thread of life at the birth of a human being, Lachesis ("allotter") measures it, and Atropos ("inevitable"), also called Aisa ("destiny"), cuts it when life is at its end. The notion of three Moirai was codified by Theogony; in traditions predating Hesiod there are two Moirai or only one Moira.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Metis' son (the one meant to overthrow Zeus) never makes an appearance after Athena's birth. While avoiding being overthrown was kind of the point of Zeus swallowing Metis, the fact that Athena could be born at all kind of implies that it's still possible for her brother to get out too.
  • Youngest Child Wins: Though, if throwing his children up by Ouranos served as a second birth, Zeus was actually the eldest.