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June 13, 2013

Gaia is the personification of Earth in Ancient Greek Mythology and first gave birth (by herself) to Uranus (sky), Pontus (sea) and Ourea (mountains). Gaia was one of the primordial deities from whom everything in existence was born. Through the union with her son Uranus Gaia gave birth to the Cyclopes, Hecatonchires, Titans and many others. Gaia also had unions with some of her other children and grandchildren bringing forth many offspring.

The most detailed account of Gaia is recounted in Hesiod’s Theogony. The following section details how she came into being and the birth of several of her children:

In truth at first Chaos came to be, but  next wide-bosomed Earth, the ever-sure foundation of all the deathless ones who hold the peaks of snowy Olympus, and dim Tartarus in the depth of the wide-pathed Earth…And Earth first bore starry Heaven, equal to herself, to cover her on every side, and to be an ever-sure abiding-place for the blessed gods. ..But afterwards she lay with Heaven and bore deep-swirling Oceanus, Coeus and Crius and Hyperion and Iapetus, Theia and Rhea, Themis and Mnemosyne and gold-crowned Phoebe and lovely Tethys. After them was born Cronos the wily, youngest and most terrible of her children, and he hated his lusty sire.

(Hesiod Theogony 116 – 138)

In this excerpt from Hesiod Gaia is clearly the creator goddess. However, Gaia’s power to bring forth life is no longer required following the creation of the Earth. Hesiod transfers the creator authority through a series of myths to Zeus who ultimately becomes king of the gods. The transference of power from Gaia is similar to the themes of domination of women in the myths of Athena and Pandora. Pomeroy proposes that ‘Hesiod details the divine progression from female-dominated generations…to the superior and rational monarchy of Olympian Zeus’ (1994:2). The assessment goes onto consider that the myth could represent a change from female to male domination of religious worship or, alternatively, Hesiod’s interpretation suited his own misogynistic agenda (Pomeroy, 1994:2). On the other hand, Lefkowitz (2007:14) proposes that Gaia came first in the mythology as the Greeks likely believed it was natural that a female goddesses would have given birth to the world. It is difficult to disagree with either viewpoint. However, I would go so far as to suggest that Gaia’s loss of authority in myth is a reflection of the predominant male attitude towards women that was likely prevalent in the 8th century when Hesiod wrote.


Primary Sources

Hesiod Theogony The Homeric Hymns and Homerica Translated by H. G. Evelyn-White London:William Heinemann Ltd, 1914.

Secondary Sources

Lefkowitz,  M. Women in Greek Myth London: Duckworth, 2007.

Pomeroy, S. Goddesses, Whores, Wives and Slaves Women in Classical Antiquity London: Pimlico, 1994.


From → Mythical Figures

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