Saturday, July 9, 2016

The Greek Creation Myths And The Primordial Gods

Part 1

It is important to understand that the Greeks did not view the myths in the same light as members of other religions view their sacred literature. For the Greeks, mythology was the opinions of their respective authors.  As a result, there was never a unified or universal myth of the Greek creation story. Multiple creation stories circulated in the ancient world and people had the choice of accepting a certain story or rejecting it.

Hesiod's Theogony, was one of the more popular versions of the Greek creation myth. According to Hesiod, in the beginning there was nothing. Out of nothing came Chaos (chasm, void). From Chaos arose the Protogenio (first born) Primordial Gods, those ancient gods who embody the very fabric of the Universe. The Primordial Gods were ancient, powerful, and impersonal. The Primordial gods mated with one another and gave rise to the Universe we know today. The Primordial gods include:

-Chaos, chasm, void

- The Elder Eros, the first desire, not to be confused with the younger Eros/Cupid, winged son of Aphrodite/Venus.

-Gaia, the earth

-Ouranos (Uranus), the sky

-Nyx, night

-Hemera, day

-Aether,  light and air or atmosphere, specifically the upper atmosphere, Aeither is the brightness and the blueness of the sky

-Erebus, darkness

-Tartarus, the Greek version of hell, the lowest part of the Underworld

-Oceanus, the great freshwater river that was believed to circle the earth, the source of all freshwater, the father of the rivers

-Tethys, the great underground aquifer of freshwater that was believed to be the source of water for all freshwater springs

-Pontus, the sea

-Thalassa, the surface of the sea, the mother of all ocean life

-The Ourea, the mountains

In art the Primordial Gods are rarely fully anthropomorphized. If they are portrayed in art at all it is usually only with part of a humanoid being, such as a head or upper body, rising from the element which they represent. So for example, Gaia is usually portrayed as a female upper body rising out of the earth. Nyx and Hemera were portrayed as fully anthropomorphized but they have little to no presence in myth.

Of the Primordial Gods, Gaia was born pregnant, so she was "mother earth" from the very beginning. Gaia and Uranus would go on to mate and ultimately give rise to the two bloodlines of gods, the Titans and the Olympians, who would battle for dominion over the Universe. Nyx and Erebus, and later Tartarus, would go on to produce the multiple gods and daemons that play a significant, if not negative, role in human life, such as the twins sleep and death, old age, the Fates, and Nemesis. Additionally, Nyx is the mother of all the evil daemons that inflict and pain humanity. Oceanus and Tethys would mate and give rise to all of the gods of rivers and springs as well as the nymphs of freshwater, rain and clouds. Thalassa became the mother of all ocean and sea life.

Another short and simple creation story was told by Apollonius Rhodius. In his version, the Universe suddenly hatched, exploded or issued forth out of a cosmic egg and was ruled over by the goddess Eurynome and the god Ophion. These two deities were then overthrown and cast out of the heavens and into Tartarus by the Titans, Cronus and Rhea. The poet/author Robert Graves would use this short creation myth to invent a very imaginative account which he claimed was a recreation of the Pelasgian creation story. According to Graves, Eurynome was an all-powerful goddess who created or gave birth to her serpent lover, Ophion. The pair mated and in the form of a dove, Eurynome gave birth to the cosmic egg which then hatched the Universe. This account, though beautiful, is a creation of the mind of Robert Graves and does not represent any actual belief of the Pelasgians.

There are other Greek versions of the creation myth that should be mentioned. The Spartan poet Alcman believed that out of Chaos came Thetis, who was viewed by him as a great goddess of creation. Aristophanes believed that Nyx was the first goddess who then laid an egg and hatched the elder Eros. Pherecydes of Syros believed that Chronus (Time) was the creator god. Empedocles believed that love and hate were the first powers that came into being and that together they created the Universe from mixing and matching earth, air, fire, water, and aether. Plato conceived of a philosophical creation myth in which a being known as the Demiurge molded creation on what he called the Ideals, or abstract constructs or mental representational images, believed to be the basic building blocks of understanding and being.

The Orphic Mysteries had it's own creation myth. In this version, out of nothingness came the Primordial gods Hydros (water) and Gaia (earth). From these two arose Chronus, a.k.a. Aion/Aeon (Time) and Ananke (Necessity). Together they mated and produced the cosmic egg. In the form of serpents the pair twisted about it until it hatched, giving rise to Phanes, the hermaphroditic god off light and creation. Phanes was an all-powerful deity who ruled the Universe he created until he gave control over to his daughter and/or mate, Nyx. After several more successions, Zeus rose to power and swallowed Phanes in order to entirely absorb all of the god's power.

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