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READ: Origin Story — Greek

Greek Origin Story: The Titans and the Gods of Olympus

An illustration of Zeus crowned by Victory © Bettmann/CORBIS
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.

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An illustration of Zeus crowned by Victory © Bettmann/CORBIS

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