Greek primordial deities

Greek primordial deities

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In Greek mythology, the primordial deities are the first gods and goddesses born from the void of Chaos. In Orphic tradition, they are born from Chronos and Ananke. Hesiod‘s first (after Chaos) are Gaia, Tartarus, Eros, Erebus and Nyx. The primordial deities Gaia and Uranus give birth to the Titans and Aphrodite. The Titans Cronus and Rhea give birth to Zeus, Poseidon, Hades, Hestia, Hera and Demeter who overthrow the Titans. The warring of the gods ends with the reign of Zeus.

Hesiod’s primordial genealogy

Hesiod‘s Theogony (c. 700 BC) tells the story of the genesis of the gods. After invoking the Muses (II.1-116), he tells of the generation of the first four primordial deities:

First Chaos came to be, but next… Earth… and dim Tartarus in the depth of the… Earth, and Eros…”[1]

According to Hesiod, the next primordial gods that come to be are:

Genealogical tree

Other sources

Non-Hesiodic theogonies

The ancient Greeks entertained different versions of the origin of primordial deities. Some of these stories were possibly inherited from the pre-Greek Aegean cultures.[2]

Homeric primordial theogony

The Iliad, an epic poem attributed to Homer about the Trojan War (an oral tradition of 700 or 600 BC), states that Oceanus (and possibly Tethys, too) is the parent of all the deities.[3]

Other Greek theogonies

  • Alcman (fl. 7th century BC) made the water-nymph Thetis the first goddess, producing poros (path), tekmor (marker) and skotos (darkness) on the pathless, featureless void.
  • Orphic poetry (c. 530 BC) made Nyx the first principle, Night, and her offspring were many. Also, in the Orphic tradition, Phanes (a mystic Orphic deity of light and procreation, sometimes identified with the Elder Eros) is the original ruler of the universe, who hatched from the cosmic egg.[4]
  • Aristophanes (c. 446 BC – c. 386 BC) wrote in his Birds, that Nyx is the first deity also, and that she produced Eros from an egg.

Philosophical theogonies

Philosophers of Classical Greece also constructed their own metaphysical cosmogonies, with their own primordial deities:

  • Pherecydes of Syros (c. 600 – c. 550 BC) made Chronos (time) the first deity in his Heptamychia.
  • Empedocles (c. 490 – 430 BC) wrote that Philotes (“Love”) and Neikos (“Hate”) were the first principles, who wove the universe out of the four elements with their powers of love and strife.
  • Plato (c. 428/427 – 348/347 BC) introduced (in Timaeus) the concept of the demiurge, who had modeled the universe on the Ideas.

Interpretation of primordial deities

Scholars dispute the meaning of the primordial deities in the poems of Homer and Hesiod.[5] Since the primordials give birth to the Titans, and the Titans give birth to the Olympians, one way of interpreting the primordial gods is as the deepest and most fundamental nature of the cosmos.

For example, Jenny Strauss Clay argues that Homer’s poetic vision centers on the reign of Zeus, but that Hesiod’s vision of the primordials put Zeus and the Olympians in context.[6] Likewise, Vernant argues that the Olympic pantheon is a “system of classification, a particular way of ordering and conceptualizing the universe by distinguishing within it various types of powers and forces.”[7] But even before the Olympic pantheon were the Titans and primordial gods. Homer alludes to a more tumultuous past before Zeus was the undisputed King and Father.[8]

Mitchell Miller argues that the first four primordial deities arise in a highly significant relationship. He argues that Chaos represents differentiation, since Chaos differentiates (separates, divides) Tartarus and Earth.[9] Even though Chaos is “first of all” for Hesiod, Miller argues that Tartarus represents the primacy of the undifferentiated, or the unlimited. Since undifferentiation is unthinkable, Chaos is the “first of all” in that he is the first thinkable being. In this way, Chaos (the principle of division) is the natural opposite of Eros (the principle of unification). Earth (light, day, waking, life) is the natural opposite of Tartarus (darkness, night, sleep, death). These four are the parents of all the other Titans.

See also

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