The Beginning: Gaia and Ouranos

Ouranos’ little fella flew into the sea and produced a white foam from which sprang Aphrodite – the goddess of love

If you feel like you have family problems then read on, because they will soon pale into insignificance.

Let’s start at the beginning, shall we?

There was chaos.  And then there was Gaia (Mother Earth) and her husband Ouranos (Father Sky); they were the Greek primordial deities.  There were other primordial deities (including Tartarus, of whom we shall hear more about later), but we don’t need to get too bogged down with them now.  By some accounts Ouranos was conceived by Gaia alone (a virgin birth), which would make Ouranos both Gaia’s husband and son (it’s a minor taboo in comparison to what’s about to come).  Together they ruled over the world, and every night Ouranos would…attend to Gaia.

Gaia gave birth to twelve Titans (other than Cronus and Rhea we don’t need to know their names right now) as well as three Cyclopes (giant one-eyed creatures) and three Hecatoncheires (creatures with one hundred hands).  Quite what Cronus and Rhea were doing the nights they conceived the Cyclopes and Hecatoncheires we can only speculate.

Ouranos didn’t like his children.  In fact you could go as far as to say he hated his children and so he took the drastic step of imprisoning them in Tartarus – a fiery pit of torment and sorrow – deep in the centre of the earth.  Gaia wasn’t particularly impressed at having her children returned to her womb (it was causing her awful aches and pains) and she wanted to put a stop to it, so she reached out to her children to overthrow their tyrannical father.  Despite the fact that he had imposed on them the worst possible punishment, only Cronus (the youngest Titan) rose to the challenge.

Armed with an adamantine sickle provided to him by his mother (and somehow freed from Tartarus without Ouranos’ knowledge), Cronus hid behind a bush waiting for his father to make his daily conjugal visit.  Ouranos eventually arrived with a skip in his step and told Gaia to get herself ready for two minutes in heaven.  At the crucial point (and I like to think wearing a Scream mask and shouting ‘wazaaaap’) Cronus jumped out and brought his sickle down on his father.  His aim was a little off.  Rather than kill Ouranos, Cronus succeeded in castrating him.  Ouranos’ little fella flew into the sea and produced a white foam from which sprang Aphrodite – the goddess of love.  From his blood the Furies (goddesses of vengeance), the Giants and the Meliai (ash tree nymphs) were born.

Ouranos lost a bit of confidence after the incident and went into exile.  Cronus freed his siblings from Tartarus and ruled over the Golden Age with his sister Rhea as his queen (to be fair to him, he didn’t have a great deal of choice).  It didn’t take too long, though, for his dark side to come out.  The first sign of it was when he locked the Cyclopes and Hecatoncheires in Tartarus and (perhaps based on his experience of how easy it was for him to escape) employed a dragon to guard them.

Gaia then pushed her son over the edge; she told him that one of his own children would one day overthrow him just as he had overthrown his father.  The thought niggled away at Cronus, and he came up with a solution: he would eat his children!  They couldn’t overthrow him if they were locked away in his stomach.  True.  It was certainly “blue sky thinking”.

As soon as Rhea gave birth, Cronus would appear and devour his offspring, and so it came to pass that Hestia, Demeter, Hades, Poseidon and Hera all found themselves swimming around in Cronus’ stomach before they had even had chance to let out their first wails.  By this point Rhea was growing quite fed up with her husband’s antics and so, when she was pregnant with her sixth child, she devised a cunning plan; she would secretly give birth and when Cronus came a-calling, she would swap their child for a swaddled stone and sneak the child away.

It worked (Cronus wasn’t the sharpest tool in the shed).  Cronus swallowed the stone and, satisfied that he had snuffed out the risk, he disappeared to continue with his duties.  The child (called Zeus) went off to be raised in a cave on Mount Ida, Crete by a goat called Amaltheia.  Zeus grew up to be a strong and bright individual and the time eventually came for him to fulfil his destiny.

After infiltrating Cronus’ inner circle (quite possibly wearing a fake moustache and comedy glasses as a disguise), Zeus took up the position of Cronus’ cup bearer.  Making the most of his position, Zeus (with Gaia’s help – she’s always meddling isn’t she!) produced an emetic, which he presented to Cronus who willingly downed it in one (let’s not forget that this is the same Cronus who ate a stone thinking it was his child – he clearly had little regard for what went into his mouth).  Soon Cronus fell ill and started violently vomiting out his children (as well as the stone), who were all miraculously in one piece.

It was the start of the end for the Titans.  What would follow would be a family war of hellish proportions called the Titanomachy…but we can hear more about that in the next blog.

So, patricide, filicide (at least attempted), incest, blood crimes, torture, castration, war…the Greek deities make the Manson family look like the Von Trapps.  Next time you’re bemoaning your ‘strange’ family, just be thankful you’re not related to a Greek God!

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