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Birth and Death of Otherworldly Immortals & Monsters
By Josephine Stone
Hesiod's Theogony is an epic poem that describes the creation story of Greek mythology, covering the birth of early and later gods, goddesses and monsters, with narration of tales of deceit, revenge and love. The different levels of creation in the Theogony range from the existence of Chaos (the Abyss), Gaia (the Earth), Tartaros (the underground), and Eros (desire), to the rapid, and sometimes spontaneous birth of the immortal and mortal population that will set the stage for the majority of the poem. The coupling of the first and early gods, their offspring, and the way they are treated, thrive, or die all represent various societal anxieties. The birth of certain gods and creatures stem from incest, a fear of the unknown, as a form of model behavior, good and bad relationships and as representation of levels of civilization. In direct relation to the negative or positive aspect involved in the creation of an immortal or otherworldly being is their outcome, some suppressed or killed as an example of the fear of patriarchal succession. There is a trial and error method to any creation, and in Hesiod's Theogony a range of gods, goddesses and monsters exist along the branches of the family tree first sprouted from Chaos.
Myth is no stranger to incest, and when detailing the process of populating an empty Earth and Heaven it can be assumed that family members may reproduce until the practice of selection can be put to use. However, in the Theogony Hesiod writes that most incestuous couples give birth to children that are monsters, with great deformities that, in turn, birth more abnormal immortals. After Gaia births Ouranos and then has sex with him she gives birth to Brontes, Steropes and Arges, who are all Cyclopes that only have one eye in their foreheads. Besides this fact, they are just like the gods. The incestuous relation between Gaia and Ouranos also brings about the existence of Cottos, Briareos and Gyges, who all have 100 hands on their shoulders and 50 heads. The Cyclopes and 100-handers are all very strong but are not considered equals to those born outside of incest or with physical perfection.
Gaia later has sex with her son Pontos, the Sea, and gives birth to Ceto, a sea monster who can be assumed is a perfect creature of earth and sea. Ceto begins a lineage of monsters, birthing Echidna who is half nymph, half serpent, "an iridescent monster eating raw flesh in sacred earth's dark crypts" (Hesiod 140.299-301). Echidna "mated" with Typhaon, who is the son of Gaia and Tartaros. Both are combinations split between elements and worlds, with Echidna being half immortal half animal and Typhaon being half earth half underworld, and is perhaps why their sexual relationship takes a more animalistic description. Echidna gives birth to Orthos, who is Geryones' hound, Cerberos, Hades' hound with 50 heads, Hydra, and Chimaira, who breathes fire, and has three heads- one of a lion, a goat, and a serpent (Hesiod 140-1.307-324). This lineage of monsters can be credited to the abnormal, incestuous pairing from the start, and perhaps the inner-chaos that can be felt by those created by two opposing elements or animals. Ceto, who is earth and water, has a daughter who is half beautiful woman, half serpent and takes on a visual duality to her mother's elemental. Echidna's mating with Typhaon, who is a creature born between two lands, Earth and a place below the underworld, creates hounds that inhabit the earth and the underworld, as well as a daughter who has heads that can be assumed to always be at war against each other, with Chimaira's goat head positioned between the lion and the serpent- an outer-war for the inner-war playing within each of these monsters born out of incest.
Another form of creation outside of the repeated coupling of the few beings in existence is parthenogenesis, or birth without sexual love. This explanation of reproduction is mostly given to gods and goddesses that are not given much personification, and represent unknown or misunderstood objects and fear. The parthenogenesis in the Theogony is also performed by gods and goddesses that invoke dark images, such as Night who bears Doom, Black Fate, Death, Sleep, Brood of Dreams, Blame, Grief and Nemesis, who is called more misery for mortals. Night also births Eris, or Strife, who in turn births Toil, Famine, Pain, Battles, Fights and Murder (Hesiod 138.211-228). It seems as though nothing good can come from Night, a perfect construction of darkness representing evil to society.
Not all of the creations in the Theogony are born as a warning or from fear, but also as a form of moral esteem that outlines a code of good behavior or personality traits. Those monsters and immortals are born deformed or as misery for mortals and are written in a negative light despite their lack of responsibility in their own creation as comparisons to the personalities of those born to different combinations of gods and goddesses. Monsters are created after the mating of relatives and incompatible elements, making it clear that in doing the opposite, model offspring will be born. Pontos, the Sea, gives birth to Nereus who is described as true, and is called Old Man by others because "he is unerring and mild, remembers what is right, and his mind is gentle and just" (Hesiod 138.233-6). Nereus has admirable qualities and therein has sex with Doris, "Daughter of the perfect river, Ocean," and has children that are "Divinely beautiful," with positive commentary sprinkling their long list of offspring, such as "fine-sculpted ankles" and "features perfectly formed" (Hesiod 138.240-3, 139.254-60). The combination of similar elements, an unconfused line of parentage and their publically commendable qualities allow for this pair to create beautiful offspring, with Hesiod completing Nereus' family tree with a couplet that stands alone: "Fifty girls born to faultless Nereus, / And faultless all of their skills and crafts" (Hesiod 139.264-5). This is a stark contrast to the chain of monsters birthing monsters out of lands of darkness and incest.
Another role model among immortals and mortals alike is Hecate, who despite also serving as a form of duality of earth and sea, is "esteemed above all and given splendid gifts," by gods and men alike (Hesiod 143.414). She is a powerful only-child that aids kings, wars and horsemen if she is prayed to, and awards men for having desirable qualities. In sporting events the goddess gives the winner a prize, "For his prowess and strength, and praise for his parents" (Hesiod 144.441). Not only is Hesiod making a commentary with the gods and goddesses about good traits, but also about who the gods reward for having them. A lack of model behavior can also lead to death and negative action, such as Cronos' plot to castrate his father Ouranos because of his behavior in stuffing his children in a hole in the Earth. When Cronos answers his mother to let her know he is willing to do what it takes to get even as she has requested, he says "I think I might be able to bring it off, Mother. / I can't stand Father; he doesn't even deserve the name" (Hesiod 136.171-2). This statement makes it clear that good, responsible parenting is something that is not a modern ideal. The act of castrating his father shows that Cronos believes that the act of bad parenting is rightfully punished by the act of taking away Ouranos' complete manhood, something that extends beyond the role of father, but also to his role as leader, creator, and male figure in society. It seems one cannot exist without the other, and when one role is neglected all roles can become invalidated.
A spiteful tale of creation as an example against bad relationships is the construction of Pandora by Zeus as revenge toward Prometheus' thievery of fire, an example of strife between the immortal and mortal worlds. Zeus gets the help of Hephaistos and Athena to build a woman out of clay and to dress her in beautiful clothes, to be aesthetically pleasing and an infestation. He made her as an evil to balance against the good in the world, and he added to the curse of women, "To offset the good. Whoever escapes marriage / And women's harm, comes to deadly old age / Without any son to support him" (Hesiod 148.607-9). It is clear that soon after creation, when man becomes smart enough to trick the king of gods, a hindrance must be created to keep them on a lower level, and at this time, and in this society, woman as a necessary part of reproduction, as well as offspring for support, was the perfect solution. The creation of Pandora makes an example for the immorality of theft, a division of the power of immortals over mortals, and of the unerring dependence of men on women.
Aphrodite was also born out of an example of a bad relationship because of the treatment of Ouranos to Gaia and their many children, as an example of the necessity of additional elements in creation of a loving relationship. When Cronos does his mother's bidding in castrating his father he tosses his genitals into the sea, where they float for a long time collecting foam. A beautiful goddess grows from them in the ocean and floats to the island of Cypros. His testicles were now Aphrodite, lover of sex organs and "function that includes / Virginal sweet-talk, lover's smiles and deceits, / And all of the gentle pleasures of sex" (Hesiod 137.204-6). These newly created functions with the birth of Aphrodite could be considered to be necessary for good (sexual) relationships and the lack of these aspects to their relationship may be the reason why Gaia was unhappy with Ouranos, and why Ouranos was unhappy with the birth of their children. It is through reactions to different situations by the gods that multiple solutions and functions are created to be used by the mortal world. The sexual strife presented with Ouranos suppressing Gaia's children, or her role as mother, and his genitalia being cut off, his role of father, is answered with the creation of sweet talk, smiles and pleasure.
A section of the Theogony entitled "Zeus in Power" describes the many wives and lovers of Zeus and their offspring, drawing a clear distinction in the order of importance of creation in a budding civilization. Zeus first marries Metis, or Cunning Intelligence, suppressing their first born because of how wise they will be. He then marries Themis, or Established Custom, who bears Horai, or the Seasons, Lawfulness, Justice and Peace. It is with the experience of intelligence that a civilization can establish customs to go with the cyclical seasons, maintaining lawfulness and in turn having justice and peace in the land. Later Zeus sleeps with Mnemosyne who gives birth to the Muses whose "delight is in festivals and the pleasures of song," things that are a pastime, good for celebrating their peace and entertaining visitors, but could not be before the others because festivities as such cannot be held in a land of injustice or war, and are held where the land and people have been settled (Hesiod 157.922). It is after the creation of festivals and songs that Zeus has sex with Leto, who births Artemis, the goddess of hunting, a necessary sport for survival and a sign of settling down and adapting to an area. It is after these basic elements are produced that Zeus gives birth to Athena from his head, the child he swallowed from Metis. Athena is the goddess of fighting and war, another detrimental aspect of civility providing protection against other civilizations and staking claim in the solidification of theirs. The order begins with ideas and characteristics of a people, something that is existent with creation of a person, and ends with the protection of a people once they have utilized the land and become civilized. It is with intelligence that customs, laws, and the understanding and maintenance of the concepts of justice and peace can occur, and once the divide between animalistic survival and tradition is made, pleasure can be had in appreciation of becoming a superior being that can hunt and fight off the elements they were born from.
Society is not only representative in the birth and creation of the gods, goddesses and monsters of the Theogony, but also in their demises and repression. In the common case of the succession scare in society, powerful gods and leaders were worried about the might of their offspring and did whatever necessary in some cases to prevent them. In Hesiod's poem, the first example of the anxiety of an overthrow was apparent in Ouranos, who would stuff his children by Gaia back into the Earth as they were born. Their son Cronos avenged this abuse to his mother, but then followed in his father's footsteps by forcing himself upon Rheia and then swallowing all of their offspring. She gives birth to Hestia, Demeter, Hera, Hades, and Poseidon, all of whom he swallows "With the intent that only he among the proud Ouranians / Should hold the title of King among the Immortals" (Hesiod 145.465-6). Cronos did so because he was fated by the gods to be overthrown by his son named Zeus, a possible sentiment at the time of destiny determined by familial actions and anxieties. Rheia gives birth to Zeus away from Cronos, hidden away by her parents, and tricks him by getting him to swallow a stone he believes to be their new son. It is shortly after he realizes the trick that his fate comes true, and Zeus releases the children he had swallowed.
The anxiety of succession surpasses one's own offspring in some cases, such as Zeus' defeat of Gaia and Tartaros' son Typhoios, a creature with 100 dragon heads and fiery rays for eyes. Zeus burned all of the heads with thunder and lightning because "Typhoios would have ruled over Immortals and men, / Had the father of both not been quick to notice" (Hesiod 155.844-5). After Zeus burns his heads, hot vapor begins to melt the earth, so Zeus throws Typhoios into Tartaros and thus damp monsoons are created, another creature creation like the thunderbolts of the Cyclopes. It is Zeus' position that would be in question, and he will not allow someone to overpower him whether or not they are his child. He does the same to his own offspring when he first marries Metis by stuffing Athena into his stomach in "taking the advice / of Earth and starry Heaven. They told him to do this / so that no one but Zeus would hold the title of King / Among the eternal gods" (Hesiod 156.895-8). Athena would be equal to him in strength and wisdom, and perhaps the idea of this revolving destiny for his past actions would ring true in the way that it did for Cronos. This instance is different, however, because Earth and Heaven gave him the advice, possibly because he was establishing the order of civilization and having the goddess of war before customs, justice, enjoyment and hunting may not have gone well, disrupting the natural progression of society.
In Hesiod's Theogony the creation of gods, goddesses, monsters, their multiple lands and the formation of civilization shows struggle, agreement and history of societal anxieties at the time. The repetition of certain events and outcomes, such as the inbreeding of family members birthing monsters, scientific and psychological unknown factors birthing dark elements, admirable and awful qualities being passed on generationally, bad relationships giving birth to heroes and misery, and cornerstones of civilization being born in consecutive order all outline important ideas and values of a society. The unknown, however, plays a large role in the creation myths, for paranoid fathers would suppress childbirth because of the uncertainty of their position in life and society. The Theogony as a poem on the birth of the gods emphasizes parenting and knowledge to depict concerns and to show the amount of room for growth in the land of the mysterious in an attempt to explain the darkness.
Hesiod, "Theogony." Anthology of Classical Myth. Ed.. Stephen M. Trzaskoma, R. Scott Smith, and Stephen Brunet. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 2004. Print.