Greek mythology contains several accounts of the cosmogenesis or the creation of the universe. Such stories give us the key to understand how the Greeks explained the creation of our world as well as the start of life on the planet before the advent of philosophy and science. These tales also throw some light on the background to the birth of some of the gods, goddesses and fantastic creatures who abound in the Greek myths.
Hesiod tells us in his Theogony (circa 700 BCE) that right after Gaia (the earth) brought Uranus (the star-studded heaven) forth, they started making love and the earliest races of creatures that inhabited the Earth were born: the hecatonchires, monsters with 50 heads and 100 arms; the cyclopes, a race of one-eyed giants who were skilled in metalworking; the titans, who became the rulers of Earth and gave birth to a myriad of other gods and goddesses. The most important titan was by far Cronus (1), who defeated Uranus and fathered most of the deities of Mount Olympus, as we shall see.
In an apparent endless copula with Gaia (a dark male-fantasy impulse?), Uranus would impregnate her many times but make it impossible for his offspring to leave their mother’s interior (2). One day, Cronus was encouraged by his mother to put an end to that torment and he castrated Uranus with a scythe. In pain, Uranus disengages from Gaia and all their children were free at last. Time passes by and now an adult and married Cronus is told he would suffer a fate similar to that of his father. As a result, Cronus would swallow each and every child born to his sister/wife Rhea (another titan) as soon as they were delivered. Zeus would have been swallowed if Rhea hadn’t tricked Cronus by giving him a stone instead of her baby. Later, Zeus took revenge of his father and made him vomit all his children. After that, a full-scale war between Zeus and his siblings (Poseidon, Hades, Hera, Hestia and Demeter) against the titans began. The war came to an end only with the help of the cyclopes and the hecatonchires, who fought alongside Zeus and his siblings. Zeus’ mighty lightning was said to have been forged by the cyclopes.
What is interesting about this story is the fact that Uranus is depicted as fuelling an irrational hatred for his creations and kept them well-hidden. And this is a quality that makes him completely different from other sky deities. All other sky gods, in all other mythologies, are stricto sensu creators: they are responsible for the genesis of the universe: the earth, the stars, the animals, the trees, the human beings and even other gods and goddesses. Uranus is an exception and his mutilation brings his sterile and pointless fertility to an end. After him, life finally had a chance to express itself and fully develop.
But why is it that the Greek creator god would not allow its creations’ full expression?
Uranus has to be seen as Gaia’s consort only. She is the great deity holding all attributes related to procreation and fertility. Uranus is no more than an agent who plays a secondary role: that of fecundating a female deity so as to help her generate life. Hesiod tell us of Gaia creating Uranus, so she is the primal creator. Interestingly enough, the most probable etymology of the god’s name is the “rainmaker” or the “fertiliser”. Therefore, his attributes put him closer to other mythological gods such as the Sumerian Marduk, the Hindu Paryanya and the Norse Thor (all of them associated with lightning, thunder and storms) whose primary role is to fertilise a superior female deity.
For life to “emerge”, favourable conditions had to be established: Uranus’ disengagement from Gaia creates a physical space and the right conditions for life to develop. A hostile and oppressive atmosphere no longer exists and the earth can finally bear life. Psychology-wise, Gaia and Uranus are very representative of the differences in the roles played by the mother and the father in the raising of children. The mother is usually the one who is constantly present and close to her children, nurturing them and offering unconditional love and support. The father, on the other hand, assumes a more distant role in the upbringing most of the times, in most households. And often times, the male parent represents the overbearing power of authority which limits their offspring’s full expression.
Food for thought:
If the earth, the sky and the stars were together, doesn’t it mean that the universe was in a condensed and dense state and for life to be generated, the earth and the heavens had to be separated/expanded? The expansion of the universe! Any resemblance to any modern cosmological model to explain the origins of the universe may be mere coincidence.