The vast immeasurable abyss, Outrageous as a sea, dark, wasteful, wild

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First  there was Chaos, the vast immeasurable abyss, Outrageous as a sea, dark, wasteful, wild.
                           [Milton]




Myths and Legends of Greece

From the formless confusion of Chaos, brooded over by unbroken darkness came three children; into this shapeless nothing they were thrown. Erebus, which is the unfathomable depth where death dwells and his two sisters, Nyx, or night, and Gaea, the earth. In the whole universe there was nothing else; all was black, empty, silent, endless.

                    .... Black-winged Night
Into the bosom of Erebus dark and deep
Laid a wind-born egg, and as the seasons rolled
Forth sprang Love, the longed-for, shining, with
wings of gold.
                                [Aristophanes]

Love. This new found hope created from nothing, started to drive away all of the nothingness and confusion of Chaos. Love created Light and with Light came its friend Day, (Erebus and Nyx became the parents of a daughter Hemera (Day) and a son Aether (Air)).

The creation of Earth was never questioned it simply came into being as Love did.

                Earth, the beautiful, rose up,


Broad bosomed, she that is the steadfast base
Of all things. And fair Earth first bore
The starry Heaven, equal to herself,
To cover her on all sides and to be
A home forever for the blessed gods.

                                [Hesiod]

At this point in the procedings, no 'Earthly' thought had been given to the differentiation of people and places. The Earth was a very tangible thing, solid and imense, yet seemed to have a personality all of its own. The heavens were the blue vault above Earth, it too would behave as a human might, mindful and with purpose, and so Gaea gave birth to a son, Uranus, and thus Father Sky - the heavens - came in to being. Later Gaea and Uranus were to become husband and wife, and they stood at the head of the first dynasty of gods. Their earliest offspring were the Mountains and Pontus, the sea

Of course, out of a union of this magnitude, there has to be children. The first children to appear on the earth were monster creatures, the offspring of Gaea and Uranus. These first creatures were thought of as similar to humans but not quite. These creatures had shattering, overwhelming power of earthquake, hurricane and volcano. Three of these creatures had one hundred hands and fifty heads and they were incredibly strong - The Hecatoncheires. Three others had just one eye in the centre of their head and these creatures were given the name Cyclops (The Wheel-eyed). The Cyclops too were giant and strong. The last of the creatures were The Titans. The Titans formed the second dynasty of gods and were the later offspring of Uranus and Gaea, headed by Cronus and Rhea These creatures were also strong and giant but these creatures were not all bad. In fact it would be some of these creatures that would eventually lead to the creation of the gods.

It was the Greeks that decided that these creatures were to be of Father Sky and Mother Earth and not simply brought forth from Mother Earth's dark depths alone. However, the Greeks made father Sky out to be a very poor father indeed. He hated things with fifty heads and one hundred hands, even though they were his sons, and as each one was born he imprisioned it within a secret place within the earth. Mother Earth hearing of this, was very angry at Father Sky for the maltreatment of her children so she went to her children and begged for their help. Only one of her children was brave enough to help her, the Titan Cronus. Cronus laid in wait for his father, attacked him and wounded him massively, from his blood sprang the Giants the fourth race of monsters and the Erinyes (The Furies). After this, Cronus and his sister, Rhea, became the King and Queen of the universe.

Cronus and Rhea had six children who were to become the first Olympians, the fourth dynasty and were lead by Zeus the youngest of the six children. It is the Olympians that appear most often in the myths and legend of the Greeks. Some say, that during a great council meeting Zeus was granted supreme right to preside over the entire world, that is, heaven and earth, or the world itself and the over-world. Others say that Zeus rebelled against his father, Cronus, after Cronus had learned that one of his children was destined to dethrone him some day. On receiving this news every child that Rhea bore was swallowed by Cronus until the sixth one was born, Rhea could not bear to have Zeus swallowed too, instead she gave a rock wrapped in a blanket to Cronus who promptly swallowed it, and Rhea secreted Zeus in Crete. Later, when Zeus was grown up he, with the help of Gaea, his grandmother, forced Cronus to disgorge the rock and the children. Upon receipt of his lost siblings, Zeus gave rulership of the sea to his brother, Poseidon, and to another brother, Hades, he gave dominion and control of the lower regions, or the underworld.

After this there was a great war between Cronus and The Titans, and Zeus and his five brothers and sisters - a war that almost wrecked the universe. The Titans were conquered, partly because Zeus had been helped by the Hecatoncheires that he had released from the depths of the earth, and their use of thunder, lightning and earthquake - and also because of the help of one of the sons of the titan Iapetus, Prometheus, who was very wise and took sides with Zeus. After the war was won all of the monsters were banished to Tartarus. They were,


Bound in bitter chains beneath the wide-weyed earth,
As far below the earth as over earth
Is heaven, for even so far down lies Tartarus.
Nine days and nights would a bronze anvil fall
And on the tenth reach earth from heaven.
And again falling nine days and nights,
Would come to Tartarus, the brazen-fenced.

Prometheus' brother Atlas, suffered a still worse fate. He was condemned,



To bear on his back forever
The cruel strength of the crushing world
And the vault of the sky.
Upon his shoulders the great pillar
That holds apart the earth and heaven,
A load not easily borne.

Bearing his burdon he stands forever before the place that is wrapped in clouds and darkness, where Night and Day draw near and greet one another. Even after the conquering and crushing of the Titans, Zeus was not completely victorious. Gaea gave birth to her last and most frightful offspring, a creature more terrible than any that had gone before. His name way Typhon.



A flaming monster with a hundred heads,
Who rose up against all the gods.
Death whistled from his fearful jaws,
His eyes flashed glaring fire.

But Zeus had now got the thunder and lightning under his own control. They had become his weapons, used by no-one else. He struck Typhon down with,



The bolt that never sleeps,
Thunder with breath of flame.
Into his very heart the fire burned.
His strength was turned  into ashes.
And now he lies a useless thing
By Aetna (Etna), where sometime there burst
Rivers red-hot, consuming with fierce jaws
The level fields of Sicily,
Lovely with fruits.
And that is Typhon's anger boiling up,

His fire breathing darts.

Still later, one more attempt was made to unseat Zeus: the Giants rebelled. But by this time the gods were very strong and they were helped, too, by the mighty Herecles, a son of Zeus. The Giants were defeated and hurled down to Tartarus; and the victory of the radiant powers of Heaven over the brutal forces of Gaea was complete. From this point on, Zeus and his brothers and sisters ruled, undisputed lords of all. The new world was now ready for the creation of mankind....



The Creation of Man

Several theories of how mankind came into existence are on offer. The question is as puzzling as the beginning of the world, and of the gods themselves. One theory suggests that human beings were as old as the gods, that they appeared at, or around about the same time. Another view is that mankind was produced from objects, and fashioned by the forces and elements of nature, in other words they grew from stones and trees, and were issued from oceans and rivers. Finally, of course, there is the god that may have brought mankind into the world, Prometheus, the fire-bringer who made mankind from earth and water.

However, Hesiod tells us that the new world was a place where people could live in some comfort and security, without having to fear the sudden appearance of a Titan or a Giant. The earth was believed to be a round disk, divided into two equal parts by the Sea, as the Greeks called it, - what we now know as the Mediterranean, - and by what we call the Black Sea. Around the earth, flowed the great river, Ocean, never troubled by wind or storm. On the farther bank of Ocean lived a mysterious people, whom few on earth ever found their way to. The Cimmerians lived there, but in the North, East, South or West, nobody knew. It was a land  cloud-wrapped and misty, where the light of day was never seen; upon which the shining sun never fell, endless night was spread over the land and its melancholy people.

Except for this one country, all those who lived across Ocean were exceedingly fortunate. In the remotest North, so far away it was at the back of the North Wind, was a blissful land where the Hyperboreans lived. Only a few stranger, great heroes, had ever visited it. Not by ship, nor yet of foot might this land be found. But The Muses lived not far from them, such were their ways On Ocean's bank, too, was the abode of the blessed dead. In that land, there was no snowfall nor much winter nor any storm of rain; but from Ocean the West Wind sang soft and thrillingly to refresh the souls of men. This place was the place that all men who kept themselves pure from all wrong cam after leaving the mortal earth.

One account of the creation of mankind follows the thoughts that it was Zeus (the gods themselves) that created mankind in five stages - The Five Ages of Man, the other account of the creation of mankind follows that of Prometheus and Epimetheus.

The two stories may differ in their accounts, but they do agree on one single point. For a long time, certainly throughout the happy Golden Age, only men were upon the earth; no women. Zeus created these later (Pandora), in his anger at Prometheus caring so much for men.

The Destruction of Mankind. Gradually man became so brazen and wicked, that Zeus decided to destroy the whole of mankind, and start again. This destruction was to take the form of a vast immeasurabe flood, all but a few of mankind would be spared....

The only child of Prometheus, Deucalion and his wife Pyrrha, the daughter of Epimetheus, were told by Prometheus to build themselves an ark and to stock it well with provisions. The Zeus sent down a tremendous rain that flooded the land to the heights of the mountains, leaving only the top of Mount Parnassus dry. For nine days and nine nights the ark of Deucalion drifted until it landed on Parnassus. When the rain ceased Deucalion stepped forth on the mountain and mad sacrifice to Zeus for the safe delivery of his wife and the ark to dry land. Zeus sent Hermes to ask Deucalion what his desire was. Deucalion replied that he wished the earth to be replenished with men. Zeus then directed the pair to cast stones behind them; the stones which Deucalion cast became men, and those that his wife cast became women.

Deucalion and Pyrrah were the parents of Hellen, one of the primitive ancestors of all of the Greeks, after whom they were known as the Hellenes, and from whom the word Hellenic comes. Hellen was the father of Dorus, Aeolus and Xuthus; Xuthus had two sons, Achaeus and Ion. From these names we derive some of the familliar names for the Greeks, such as as Dorians and Achaeans, as well as such adjectives as Doric and Ionic. It will readily be seen that these primitive heroic figures are of geographic significance. Among their descendants are the famous heroes of Greek legend.


The Five Ages of Man

The Golden Age

According to Hesiod, this was the age when Cronus was in power. It was an age of perfection, of innocence and happiness, in which truth and justice prevailed, not through, force, or power, but through man’s natural goodness. Labour was not necessary, because the earth freely gave its wealth and riches without labour; warlike instruments did not exist, because peace was in the hearts of men. It was always spring – the only season – and men were always young; fruit and flowers bloomed without being planted, and milk and wine came from the rivers, the honey flowed from the oak. Death, when it came, was a pleasant sleep, and men were transformed in to good spirits or demons, and were then appointed to watch over men on earth and to guard and guide them.

The Silver Age

An age, despite its name, of suffering hardship, and decay. Zeus introduced the seasons of the year, which meant the displeasure and discomfort of summer heat and winter cold, and he reduced the spring. Houses – not necessary in the golden age had to be built, and labour became necessary for man and animal because nature no longer gave its treasures for the asking. The silver age men were strong and powerful, but they were impious, defiant, and mentally weak. When they died, they lived under the earth as spirits, but Zeus did not confer on them immortality, which was one of the gifts of the age of gold.

The Brazen Age

The work of Zeus, when all things were made of brass (or bronze), was a period of war, violence, savagery, and strife, in which strong men – stronger than those in the silver age – destroyed each other. In this era, when men died, they stayed dead.

The Heroic Age

The age of demi-gods and heroes. Superior to both the silver and the brazen ages, it is the period associated with the Theban and Trojan Wars.

The Iron Age

The last age and the worst. This followed the heroic age, which is suspiciously modern in its resemblance to later and present-day society. It was not merely a period of struggle and hard labour, but of labour degraded into toil. Crime was common, and all the qualities that we hold up as ideals, truth, modesty, virtue, honour, decency – were stifled. Day and night were made miserable by care and worry. Mean and selfish purposes dominated men, who used the earth’s wealth in mean and selfish ways. The qualities that we are supposed to be ashamed of were the ones that were uppermost: fraud, deceit, violence, and hatred. The world was red with blood, and civil and foreign wars were as common as crime. With the world in such a state, one can hardly blame Zeus for his descision to drown the world and its inhabitants – only the fear of setting heaven itself ablaze kept him from starting a fire – and to create a new world and race.


The Gods – the Titans

The Titans, or "the strivers", were the 2nd dynasty of gods, and the children of Uranus and Gaea. The name Titans applies to both male and female gods alike.



Asteria

Mother of Hecate

Atlas  

Bearer of the Earth and the Heavens on his Shoulders

Coeus

Mother of Leto (Mother of Artemis)

Cronus

Ruler of the universe during the golden age

Epimetheus

Brother of Prometheus

Hyperion

Father of the sun the moon and the dawn

Iapetus

Father of Prometheus

Lapetus

Father of Atlas

Mnemosyne

Goddess of memory

Oceanus

Ruler of the Ocean

Pallas

Father of Nike

Perses

Father of Hecate

Phoebe

Father of Leto (Mother of Artemis)

Prometheus


Friend and Benefactor of Humanity and brother of Epimetheus

Rhea

Mother of the Gods

Tethys

Wife of Oceanus

Thea

Wife of Hyperion

Themis

Goddess of divine justice and law

Thaumas

Father of Iris








The Gods- The Olympians

The twelve Olympians were the 3rd dynasty of gods that succeeded The Titans, and were so called because it was believed that they inhabited the top of a mountain called Olympus. The twelve Olympians comprised the following deities:



Zeus   

The supreme god

Hera   

Goddess of marriage, and married women

Poseidon   

God of the sea

Demeter   

Goddess of corn, fruit and agriculture in general

Apollo

God of the sun, music and poetry

Artemis   

Goddess of the moon, hunting and chastity


Athene   

Goddess of wisdom

Aphrodite   

Goddess of love and beauty

Hermes   

God of eloquence and speech

Ares

God of war

Hephaestus   

God of fire and the chief workman of the gods

Dionysus   

God of wine and merrymaking

There were two other Olympian gods, though they are not usually included as part of the twelve:

Hebe   

Goddess of youth

Hades   

God of the underworld


Lesser gods of Earth

Earth herself was called the All-Mother, but she was not really a divinity. She was never separated from the actual earth and personified. The Goddess of the Corn, Demeter (CERES), a daughter of Cronus and Rhea, and the God of the Vine, Dionysus, also called Bacchus, were the supreme deities of the earth and of great importance in Greek mythology.

Pan was the chief. He was the son of Hermes; a noisy merry god, and part animal too, with a goat's horns, and goat's hoofs instead of feet. He was the goatherds' god, and the shepherd' god, and also the merry companion of the woodland Nymphs when they danced. All wild places were his home, thickets and forests and mountains, but best of all he loved Arcady, where he was born. He was a wonderful musician. Upon his pipes of reed he played melodies as sweet as the nightingale's song. He was always in love with one nymph or another, but always rejected because of his ugliness. Sounds heard in a wilderness at night by the trembling traveller were supposed to be made by him, so that it is easy to see how the expression "panic" fear arose.


Silenus was sometimes said to be Pan's son; sometimes his brother, a son of Hermes. He was a jovial fat old man who usually rode an ass because he was too drunk to walk. He is associated with Dionysus as well as with Pan; he taught him when the wine-god was young, and, as is shown by his perpetual drunkenness, after being his tutor he became his devoted follower.



Besides these gods of the earth there was a very famous and very popular pair of brothers, Castor and Pollux (Polydeuces), who in most of the accounts were said to live half of their time on earth and half in heaven. Castor and Pollux were the sons of Leda, and are usually represented as being gods, the special protectors of sailors, and were also powerful to save in battle, the accounts of them are very contradictory. Sometimes Pollux alone is held to be divine, and Castor a mortal who won a kind of half-and-half immortality merely because of his brother's love.

 


Leda was the wife of King Tyndareus of Sparta, and the usual story is that she bore two mortal children to him, Castor and Clytemnestra, Agamemnon's wife; and to Zeus, who visited her in the form of a swan, two others, Pollux and Helen, the heroine of Troy. Nevertheless, both brothers Castor and Pollux were often called the sons of Zeus; indeed, the Greek name that they are both known by, the Dioscouri means "the striplings of Zeus". On the other hand, they were also known as "the Tyndaridae" or the "sons of Tyndareus"



 

Aeolus, King of the winds, also lived on the earth. An island, Aeolia, was his home. Accurately he was only regent of the Winds, viceroy of the gods. The four chief winds were Boreas, the North Wind; Zephyr, the West Wind; Notus the South Wind; and the East Wind, Eurus.



There were also some other beings who lived on the earth, neither human, nor divine. Prominent among them were:

The Centaurs

Beings that were half man and half horse

The Gorgons

Three dragon like beings with wings, two immortal and one immortal

The Graiae

Three gray sisters of the Gorgons, who shared a single eye

The Sirens

Beings with enchanting voices who lured sailors to their deaths on the rocks of their island

The Fates

Who gave to men at birth, the good and evil that they have

 

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