Big History Project
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- ACTIVITY: Intro to Origin Stories
- READ: Introduction to Origin Stories
- READ: Origin Story — Modern Scientific
- READ: Origin Story — Chinese
- READ: Origin Story — Judeo-Christian
- READ: Origin Story — Iroquois
- READ: Origin Story — Mayan
- READ: Origin Story — Greek
- READ: Origin Story — Zulu
- READ: Origin Story —Efik
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- Quiz: Origin Stories
READ: Origin Story — Greek
Greek Origin Story: The Titans and the Gods of Olympus
Compiled by Cynthia Stokes Brown
This origin story comes from some of the earliest Greek writings that have survived.
We know the Greek origin story from some of the earliest Greek literary sources that have survived, namely The Theogony and Works and Days, by Hesiod. This oral poet is thought to have been active sometime between 750 and 650 BCE, within decades of when the Homeric epics, The Iliad and The Odyssey, took the form in which we know them.
Archeological findings support the creation story recorded in Hesiod’s work; pottery from the eighth century BCE depicts the gods and goddesses he describes. Before Hesiod told this patriarchal version, in which the first woman is the cause of much trouble, Pandora, whose name means “gift giver,” was known in oral tradition as a beneficent Earth goddess.
In the beginning there was Chaos, a yawning nothingness. Out of the void emerged Gaia (the Earth) and other divine beings — Eros (love), the Abyss (part of the underworld), and the Erebus (the unknowable place where death dwells). Without male assistance, Gaia gave birth to Uranus (the Sky), who then fertilized her.
From that union the first Titans were born — six males: Coeus, Crius, Cronus, Hyperion, Iapetus, and Oceanus, and six females: Mnemosyne, Phoebe, Rhea, Theia, Themis, and Tethys. After Cronus (time) was born, Gaia and Uranus decreed no more Titans were to be born.
Cronus castrated his father and threw the severed genitals into the sea, from which arose Aphrodite, goddess of love, beauty and sexuality. Cronus became the ruler of the gods with his sister-wife, Rhea, as his consort. The other Titans became his court. Because Cronus had betrayed his father, he feared that his offspring would do the same. So each time Rhea gave birth, Cronus snatched up the child and ate it. Rhea hated this and tricked him by hiding one child, Zeus, and wrapping a stone in a baby’s blanket so that Cronus ate the stone instead of the baby.
When Zeus was grown, he fed his father a drugged drink, which caused Cronus to vomit, throwing up Rhea’s other children and the stone. Zeus then challenged Cronus to war for the kingship of the gods. At last Zeus and his siblings, the Olympians, were victorious, and the Titans were hurled down to imprisonment in the Abyss.
Zeus was plagued by the same concern as his father had been and, after a prophecy that his first wife, Metis, would give birth to a god greater than he, he swallowed Metis. But she was already pregnant with Athena, and they both made him miserable until Athena, the goddess of wisdom, civilization and justice, burst from his head — fully grown and dressed for war. Zeus was able to fight off all challenges to his power and to remain the ruler of Mt. Olympus, the home of the gods.
One son of Titans, Prometheus, did not fight with fellow Titans against Zeus and was spared imprisonment; he was given the task of creating man. Prometheus shaped man out of mud, and Athena breathed life into the clay figure. Prometheus made man stand upright as the gods did and gave him fire. Prometheus tricked Zeus, and to punish him, Zeus created Pandora, the first woman, of stunning beauty, wealth, and a deceptive heart and lying tongue. He also gave Pandora a box she was commanded never to open, but eventually her curiosity got the best of her, and she opened the box to release all kinds of evil, plagues, sorrows, and misfortunes, and also hope, which lay at the bottom of the box.
For Further Discussion
Which two origin stories are the most similar and which are the most different? Explain your answer in the Questions Area below.
David Leeming and Margaret Leeming, A Dictionary of Creation Myths (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994), 221.
An illustration of Zeus crowned by Victory © Bettmann/CORBIS
Want to join the conversation?
- 3rd paragraph
I heard that Uranus was fleeing from Kronos and the Titans and was bleeding from his wounds, when a drop of his blood fell in the sea. It bubbled and foamed and Aphrodite was born from that foam. Please correct me if I am wrong.(12 votes)
- And the furies were created when the blood dropped onto the land(7 votes)
- THe greek and Mayan sort of seem the same b/c they both have multiple people who created the world. The modern scientific seems to be the least similar to all the others...it' has less of a story to me and no one in particular created anything.(8 votes)
- Isn't Eros/Cupid the son of Aphrodite/Venus. Because in the beginning of this article, it said that Eros was made in the beginning of time, out of the nothingness.(4 votes)
- There are different versions of Greek mythology. Some have Eros as a cild of Aphrodites, and some as a original primordial god.(1 vote)
- How did Zues posdien and hades split the earth(3 votes)
- they rolled dice highst roll got first pick (zues)2 highst got 2 pick(poisidon)last pick(hades)(0 votes)
- I went to the www.greekmythology.com and I started reading, I have noticed that there's a contradiction in Khan Academy they wrote Promithues didn't help in the war against Cronus but in the www.greekmythology.com it's written that Promithues did help Zeus.
Can anyone elaborate on what is right and what's wrong?(3 votes)
- he did by creating fire, but zeus didn't know it at the time, do he punished him(3 votes)
- What about the cyclopes' and the earthborn? Those were the driving points for Gaea wanting to destroy Uranus, right?(3 votes)
- Yeah, Uranus imprisoned Gaia's children (the cyclopes and the earthborn)in Tartarus since they were "hideous monsters" and a threat to his power. Infact, Uranus even tried to push the earthborn back into her womb!(2 votes)
- If Zeus ordered Prometheus to create man, then why did Zeus forbid Prometheus to give them fire later on? Also, why did Zeus want humans created?(1 vote)
- Because with fire, he feared that they would make buildings, houses, clothes, technology, civilizations etc.. because that would make them like the gods themselves(5 votes)
- Also, why did it not show the part where Gaia was mad that the titans were sealed at Tartarus, aka the abyys. It did not show the part where she gives birth to the monster Typhon.(2 votes)
- Dunno, but I think the cyclopes and the hundred handed ones were sealed in Tartarus, not the titans like Cronus.(3 votes)
- Does anyone know about the ancient Illiad and Oddyssey story?(2 votes)
- The Iliad and Oddyssey are like parts of a story, the Iliad is Part 1 and the Oddyssey is Part 2. Iliad : how the Trogian war began and how it was like. Oddysey : The journey back home from a soldiers perspective.(2 votes)
- so eros was already born?(2 votes)
- In some versions of the story. In others, Aphrodite born him, and in others Cupid/Eros the son of Aphrodite/ Venus and was named for the original Eros(2 votes)