Protogenoi (primordial gods) – Part II

The Olympians


Janina Davison Forder continues her brief introduction to the early period of Greek myth


As Part I of our story of the Theogony (the genesis of the gods) ended, we had just witnessed the birth of the first wave of Titans, the hecatoncheires (100-handed monsters), the Fates and the Furies.

Oceanus Titan of the ocean and also the ocean itself, considered a river that flowed around a flat Earth)
Hyperion Lord of light and Titan of the East
Coeus Father of Leto (upon whom Zeus would later father Aphrodite)
Cronus Patron of the Harvest (who would become father of Zeus)
Crius Having no significant rôle of his own
Iapetus Titan of Mortal Life
Mnemosyne Goddess of memory and inspiration
Tethys Sea goddess and mother of rivers
Theia Goddess of light
Phoebe Goddess of the moon
Rhea Mother of the Gods
Themis Goddess of law, order and custom

From the loins of Hyperion and Theia came Eos (the Dawn), Helios (the Sun) and Selene (the Moon).

Coeus and Phoebe had two daughters :  Leto (the name’s origin and meaning are unclear), upon whom Zeus would later father Artemis and Apollo ;  and Asteria, the goddess of prophecy, later to feature in the story of the Amazons and to die at the hands of Heracles.

Iapetus fathered four sons on Clymene (also known as Asia), daughter of Oceanus and Thethys  :  Atlas, who shared with Phoebe dominion over the Moon ;  Prometheus — the name derived from the word for foresight, with which he was said to be endowed — who would go on to create man and to give him fire, a secret stolen from the Olympian gods ;  Epimetheus, credited only with hindsight and therefore seen as foolish ;  and Menoetius, slain by Zeus in the Titanomachy.

Tethys and Oceanus also bore Metis, goddess of wisdom, skill and craft but most famous for having given birth — by Zeus — to Athena.  Zeus had been warned that his children would be stronger than he and no sooner had he lain with Metis than he regretted it so, in the hope of evading the prophecy, swallowed her whole.  Too late :  she had already conceived ;  but Ares and several other of the siblings of Zeus clove his head with an axe, whereupon Athena emerged fully armed.[1]

Crius fathered three sons on Eurybia :  Astraeus, Pallas & Perses.  By Astraeus Eos bore the Winds and the Stars ;  Pallas, who married Styx, would die at Athena’s hand in the Titanomachy.  On Asteria Perses fathered Hecate, another of those all-purpose goddesses that found themselves with different responsibilities in different parts of the Greek world :  on the one hand associated with witchcraft ;  on the other with the raising of children.

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This has been a brief summary of the primordial gods. The story might be said to conclude with the Titanomachy (the War of the Titans, in which many Titans were slain and many banished to Tartarus), after which Heaven settles down to domination by the Olympian gods and Earth by the ancient Heroes, such as Heracles and Theseus.

But all that for another time …

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[1]  It ought to be pointed out that, in common with much of the Theogony, the tale of Athena’s genesis given here is only one of several to have currency at different times and places in the ancient Greek world.  Another trap awaiting the casual reader of ancient myth is that many of the names found occur in other, often unrelated, stories and are borne by real historical characters too.  Caveat lector.

3 thoughts on “Protogenoi (primordial gods) – Part II”

  1. Greek myth ?  It’s like government policy :  you couldn’t make it up !


  2. Janina, I am fascinated by the hecatoncheires, the one-hundred handed monsters you write of. I can promise any of these guys a game with my son’s cricket team.

    They have a very pleasant ground, the lunches are always first rate, and there some good pubs and restaurants nearby. All they have to do is use their many hands to catch the ball when the other team’s batsmen hit it, something my son’s colleagues seem to have forgotten how to do.

    janina,do these fabulous creatures have any other attributes that might be useful in second-eleven cricket?

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