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Gaia: a picture of the ground in Greece

Gaia is the earth.

Many people in classical Greece believed that at the beginning of time there was only one being, which they called Chaos. (This is not unlike the Jewish idea that “the earth was without form, and void.”) Out of Chaos then came the earth, a goddess called Gaia, and the sky, a god called Ouranos (OO-ran-ohs) (like our planet Uranus). The Greeks thought of the earth as a woman and the sky as a man, because seeds go in the earth and yet it takes both the sky (the rain and the sun) and the earth to grow a crop.

clouds and sky

Clouds and sky: Ouranos

Gaia and Ouranos soon did grow a crop – more gods. Some of their children were Rhea (RAY-ah) (another Earth goddess), Cronos, and Ocean (like the Jews’ God separating the water from the earth). Mnemosyne, who was the mother of the Muses, was another of Gaia and Ouranos’ children. Ouranos though was not a good father. He kept his children prisoners in caves inside the Earth (which was Rhea’s womb). So Gaia convinced her youngest son Cronos to attack his father with a flint sickle. Ouranos fled, and Rhea and Cronos became the new rulers of the gods. (Compare this to the older Babylonian story of the Enuma Elish.) Aphrodite, the goddess of love, and the Furies, the spirits of hate, were born out of the bloody foam from where Cronos wounded Ouranos.

Here’s a video showing the story of Zeus and Cronos
The cave on Mount Ida

The cave on Mount Ida

Rhea married her brother Cronos, and they also had a lot of children. (Earth goddesses have a lot of children.) Their children were ZeusHestiaDemeterHeraHades and Poseidon. But Cronos was also a bad father. He ate all of his children, to keep them from overthrowing him. But Rhea and Gaia hid the little baby Zeus away in a cave on the island of Crete, in Mount Ida, and gave Cronos a rock to eat instead.

When Zeus grew up, he defeated his father Cronos and killed him, and saved all his brothers and sisters. That is how he became the king of the gods.

Learn by doing: Compare this creation story to the Bible and the Enuma Elish

Bibliography and further reading about Greek creation stories:

In the Beginning: Creation Stories from Around the World, by Virginia Hamilton (1991).

D’aulaire’s Book of Greek Myths, by Edgar and Ingri D’Aulaire.

Greek Religion, by Walter Burkert (reprinted 1987). By a leading expert. He has sections on each of the Greek gods, and discusses their deeper meanings, and their function in Greek society.

More about Zeus
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