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The Theogony (Greek: Θεογονία, Theogonía, the birth of the gods) is a poem by Hesiod (8th-7th century BCE) describing the origins and genealogie] of the gods of the ancient Greeks, composed circa 700 BCE. It is written in the Epic dialect of Ancient Greek used by Homer.


Hesiod's Theogony is a large-scale synthesis of a vast variety of local Greek traditions concerning the gods, organized as a narrative that tells how they came to be and how they established permanent control over the cosmos. It is the first Greek mythical cosmogony. The initial state of the universe is chaos, a dark indefinite void considered as a divine primordial condition from which everything else appeared. Theogony is a part of Greek mythology which embodies the desire to articulate reality as a whole; this universalizing impulse was fundamental for the first later projects of speculative theorizing.[1] In many cultures, narratives about the origin of the cosmos and about the gods that shaped it are a way for society to reaffirm its native cultural traditions. Specifically, theogonies tend to affirm kingship as the natural embodiment of society. What makes the Theogony of Hesiod unique is that it affirms no historical royal line. Such a gesture would have sited the Theogony in one time and one place. Rather, the Theogony affirms the kingship of the god Zeus himself over all the other gods and over the whole cosmos.

Further, in the "Kings and Singers" passage (80-103)[2] Hesiod appropriates to himself the authority usually reserved to sacred kingship. The poet declares that it is he, where we might have expected some king instead, upon whom the Muses have bestowed the two gifts of a scepter and an authoritative voice (Hesiod, Theogony 30-3), which are the visible signs of kingship. It is not that this gesture is meant to make Hesiod a king. Rather, the point is that the authority of kingship now belongs to the poetic voice, the voice that is declaiming the Theogony.

Although it is often used as a sourcebook for Greek mythology,[3] the Theogony is both more and less than that. In formal terms it is a hymn invoking Zeus and the Muses: parallel passages between it and the much shorter Homeric Hymn to the Muses make it clear that the Theogony developed out of a tradition of hymnic preludes with which an ancient Greek rhapsode would begin his performance at poetic competitions. It is necessary to see the Theogony not as the definitive source of Greek mythology, but rather as a snapshot of a dynamic tradition that happened to crystallize when Hesiod formulated the myths he knew — and to remember that the traditions have continued evolving since that time.

The written form of the Theogony was established in the sixth century. Even some conservative editors have concluded that the Typhoeus episode (820-68) is an interpolation.[4] Hesiod was probably influenced by some Near-Eastern traditions which were mixed with local traditions, but they are more likely to be lingering traces from the Mycenaean tradition than the result of oriental contacts in Hesiod's own time. The decipherment of Hittite mythical texts, notably the Kingship in Heaven text first presented in 1946, with its castration mytheme, offers in the figure of Kumarbi an Anatolian parallel to Hesiod's Uranus-Cronus conflict.[5]

Creation of the world-mythical cosmogonies

In the Theogony the initial state of the universe,or the origin (arche) is Chaos, a gaping void (abyss) considered as a divine primordial condition, from which appeared everything that exists. Then came Gaia (Earth) and Eros (Love). Hesiod made an abstraction because his original chaos is something completely indefinite.[6] In the Orphic cosmogony the unageing Chronos produced Aether and Chaos and made a silvery egg in divine Aither. From it appeared the bisexual god Phanes who is the creator of the world.[7]

Some similar ideas appear in the Hindu cosmology which is similar to the Vedic. In the beginning there was nothing in the universe but only darkness and the divine essence who removed the darkness and created the primordial waters. His seed produced the universal germ (Hiranyagarbha), from which everything else appeared.[8]

In the Babylonian creation story Enuma Elish the universe was in a formless state and is described as a watery chaos. From it emerged two primary gods,one male Apsu and one female Tiamat and a third deity who is the maker Mummu and his power is necessary to get the job of birth.[9] In Genesis the primordial world is described as a watery chaos and the earth "without form and void". The spirit of God moved upon the dark face of the waters and created light.[10]

First generation

After the speaker declares that he has received the blessings of the Muses and thanks them for giving him inspiration, he explains that Chaos arose spontaneously. Then came Gaia (Earth) the more orderly and safe foundation that would serve as a home for the gods and mortals and of Tartarus in the depth of the earth and Eros[11] the fairest among the deathless gods. Eros serves an important role in sexual reproduction, before which children had to be produced by means of parthenogenesis. From Chaos came Erebus (place of darkness between the earth and the underworld) and Nyx (Night). Erebus and Nyx reproduced to make Aether (the outer atmosphere where the gods breathed) and Hemera (Day). From Gaia came Uranus (Sky), the Ourea (Mountains), and Pontus (Sea).

Uranus mated with Gaia to create twelve Titans: Oceanus, Coeus, Crius, Hyperion, Iapetos, Theia, Rhea, Themis, Mnemosyne, Phoebe, Tethys, and Cronus; three cyclopes:Brontes, Steropes and Arges; and three Hecatonchires:Kottos, Briareos and Gyges.[12]

Second generation

Uranus was disgusted with his children, the Hecatonchires, so he hid them away somewhere in Gaia. Angered by this, she asked her children the Titans to punish their father. Only Cronus was willing to do so. Cronus castrated his father with a sickle from Gaia. The blood from Uranus splattered onto the earth producing Erinyes (the Furies), Giants, and Meliai. Cronus threw the severed testicles into the Sea (Thalassa), around which foam developed and transformed into the goddess of Love, Aphrodite (which is why in some myths, Aphrodite was daughter of Uranus and the goddess Thalassa).

Meanwhile, Nyx, though she married Erebos, produced children parthenogenetically: Moros (Doom), Oneiroi (Dreams), Ker and the Keres (Destinies), Eris (Discord), Momos (Blame), Philotes (Love), Geras (Old Age), Thanatos (Death), Moirai (Fates), Nemesis (Retribution), Hesperides (Daughters of Night), Hypnos (Sleep), Oizys (Hardship), and Apate (Deceit).

From Eris, following in her mother's footsteps, came Ponos (Pain), Hysmine (Battles), the Neikea (Quarrels), the Phonoi (Murders), Lethe(Oblivion), Makhai (Fight), Pseudologos (Lies), Amphilogia (Disputes), Limos (Famine), Androctasiai (Manslaughters), Atë (Ruin), Dysnomia (Anarchy and Disobedient Lawlessness), the Algea (Illness), Horkos (Oaths), and Logoi (Stories).

After Uranus's castration, Gaia married Pontus and they have a descendent line consisting of sea deities, sea nymphs, and hybrid monsters. One child of Gaia and Pontus is Nereus (Old Man of the Sea), who marries Doris, a daughter of Oceanus and Tethys, and has Nereids, the fifty nymphs of the sea - one of whom is Thetis. Another child of Gaia and Pontus is Thaumas, who marries Electra, a sister of Doris, and has Iris (Rainbow) and two Harpies.

Phorcys and Ceto, two siblings, marry each other and have the Graiae, the Gorgons, Echidna, and Ophion. Medusa, one of the Gorgons, has two children with Poseidon, the winged-horse Pegasus and giant Chrysaor, at the instant of her decapitation by Perseus. Chrysaor marries Callirhoe, another daughter of Oceanus, and has the three-headed Geryon.

Gaia also marries Tartaros and has Typhoeus, whom Echidna marries and has Orthos, Kerberos, Hydra, and Chimera. From Orthos and either Chimera or Echidna were born the Sphinx and the Nemean Lion.

In the family of the Titans, Oceanus and Tethys marry and have three thousand rivers (including the Nile and Skamandar) and three thousand Okeanid Nymphs (including Electra, Calypso and Styx). Theia and Hyperion marry and have Helios (Sun), Selene (Moon), and Eos (Dawn). Kreios and Eurybia marry to bear Astraios, Pallas and Perses. Eos and Astraios will later marry and have Zephyros, Boreas, Notos, Eosphoros, Hesperos, Phosphoros and the Stars (foremost of which are Phaenon, Phaethon, Pyroeis, Stilbon, those of the Zodiac and those three acknowledged before. From Pallas and Styx (another Okeanid) came Zelus (Zeal), Nike (Victory), Cratos (Strength), and Bia (Force). Koios and Phoibe marry and have Leto, Asteria (who later marries Perses and has Hekate). Iapetos marries Klymene (an Okeanid Nymph) and has Atlas,Menoetius, Prometheus, and Epimetheus.

Third and final generation

Cronus, having taken control of the Cosmos, wanted to ensure that he maintained power. Uranus and Gaia prophesied to him that one of his children would overthrow him, so when he married Rhea, he made sure to swallow each of the children she birthed: Hestia, Demeter, Hera, Hades, Poseidon, Zeus (in that order). However, Rhea asked Gaia and Uranus for help in saving Zeus by sending Rhea to Crete to bear Zeus and giving Cronus a huge stone to swallow thinking that it was another of Rhea's children. Gaia then takes Zeus and hides him deep in a cave beneath the Aegean Mountains.

Tricked by Rhea (the Theogony does not detail how), Cronus vomits up his other five children. Joining with Zeus, they waged a great war on the Titans for control of the Cosmos. The war lasted ten years, with the Olympian gods, Cyclopes, Prometheus and Epimetheus, the children of Klymene, on one side, and the Titans and the Giants on the other (with only Oceanos as a neutral force). Eventually Zeus releases the Hundred-Handed ones to shake the earth, allowing him to gain the upper hand, and casts the fury of his thunderbolts at the Titans, throwing them into Tartarus. Zeus later must battle Typhoeus, a son of Gaia and Tartaros created because Gaia was angry that the Titans were defeated, and is victorious again.

Prometheus helped Zeus, therefore he was not sent to Tartarus like the other Titans. However, Prometheus sought to trick Zeus. Slaughtering a cow, he took the valuable fat and meat, and sewed it inside the cow's stomach. Prometheus then took the bones and hid them with a thin layer of fat. Prometheus asked Zeus' opinion on which offering pile he found more desirable, hoping to trick the god into selecting the less desirable portion. However, Hesiod relates that Zeus saw through the trick and responded in a fury. Zeus declared that the ash tree would never hold fire, in effect denying the benefit of fire to man. In response, Prometheus sneaks into the gods' chambers and steals a glowing ember with a piece of reed.

For this theft, Zeus punishes Prometheus by chaining him to a cliff, where an eagle fed on his ever-regenerating liver every day. Prometheus would not be freed until Heracles, a son of Zeus, comes to free him. Since man had access to fire, Zeus devises woman as a general punishment in trade. Hephaestus and Athena build woman with exquisite detail, and she is considered beautiful by all men and gods (it is generally agreed in academic translations that this woman is Pandora). Despite her beauty, Hesiod writes that woman is a bane for mankind, attributing women with laziness and a waste of resources. Hesiod notes that Zeus' curse, womankind, can only bring man suffering as his wife, and any man who tries to avoid marriage will suffer.

Zeus marries seven wives. The first is the Oceanid Metis, whom he swallowed to avoid getting a son that, as happened with Cronus and Uranus, would overthrow him, as well as to absorb her wisdom so that she can advise him in the future. He would later "give birth" to Athena from his head, which would anger Hera enough for her to produce her own son parthenogenetically, Typhon, the part snake, part dragon sea monster, or in other versions Hephaestus, god of fire and blacksmiths. The second wife is Themis, who bears the three Horae (Hours) – Eunomia (Order), Dikē (Justice), Eirene (Peace) and the three Moirae (Fates) – Clotho (Spinner), Lachesis (Alotter), Atropos (Unturned), as well as Tyche. Zeus then married his third wife Eurynome, who bears the three Charites (Graces): Aglaia, Euphrosyne, and Thalia. The fourth wife is his sister Demeter, who bears Persephone. Persephone would later marry Hades, and bear Melinoe, Goddess of Ghosts, and Zagreus, God of the Orphic Mysteries, and Macaria, Goddess of the Blessed Afterlife. The fifth wife of Zeus is another aunt, Mnemosyne, from whom came the nine Muses – Clio, Euterpe, Thaleia, Melpomene, Terpsikhore, Erato, Polyhymnia, Urania and Calliope. The sixth wife is Leto, who gives birth to Apollo and Artemis. The seventh and final wife is Hera, who gives birth to Hebe, Ares, Enyo, Hephaestus,and Eileithyia. Of course, though Zeus no longer marries, he still has affairs with many other women, such as Semele, mother of Dionysus, Danae, mother of Perseus, Leda, mother of Castor and Pollux and Helen, and Alcmene, the mother of Heracles, who marries Hebe.

Poseidon marries Amphitrite and produces Triton. Aphrodite, who married to Hephaestus, nevertheless has an affair with Ares to have Eros (Love), Phobos (Fear), Deimos (Cowardice), and Harmonia (Harmony), who would later marry Cadmus to sire Ino (who with her son, Melicertes would become a sea deity) Semele (Mother of Dionysus), Autonoë (Mother of Actaeon), Polydorus, and Agave (Mother of Pentheus). Helios and Perseis birth Circe. Circe with Poseidon would in turn beget Phaunos, God of the Forest, and with Dionysos mother Comos, God of Revelry and Festivity . After coupling with Odysseus, Circe would later give birth to Agrius, Latinus and Telegonos.[13] Atlas' daughter Calypso would also bear Odysseus two sons, Nausithoos and Nausinous.[14]

Influence on earliest Greek Philosophy

The heritage of Greek mythology already embodied the desire to articulate reality as a whole and this universalizing impulse was fundamental for the first projects of speculative theorizing. It appears that the order of being was first imaginatively visualized before it was abstractly thought. Hesiod impressed by necessity governing the ordering of things discloses a definite pattern in the Genesis and appearance of the Gods. These ideas made something like cosmological speculation possible.The earliest rhetoric of reflection all gravitate about two interrelated things, the experience of wonder as a living involvement with the divine order of things and the absolute conviction that beyond the totality of things, reality forms a beautiful and harmonious Whole.[15]

In Theogony the origin (arche) is Chaos, a divine primordial condition and there are the roots and the ends of the earth, sky, sea and Tartarus. Pherecydes of Syros (6th century BCE),believed that there were three pre-existent divine principles and called the water also Chaos.[16] In the language of the archaic period (8th-6th century BCE), arche (or archai), designates the source, origin or root of things that exist. If a thing is to be well established or founded, its arche or static point must be secure, and the most secure foundations are those provided by the gods: the indestructable, immutable and eternal ordering of things.[17]

In ancient Greek philosophy, arche is the element or first principle of all things, a permanent nature or substance which is conserved in the generation of the rest of it. From this all things come to be and into it they are resolved in a final state.(Aristotle, Metaph.A983,b6ff). It is the divine horizon of substance that encompasses and rules all things.Thales (7th-6th century BCE), the first Greek philosopher claimed that the first principle of all things is water. Anaximander (6th century BCE) was the first philosopher who used the term arche for that which writers from Aristotle on call the "substratum" (Hippolitus I,6,I DK B2). Anaximander claimed that the beginning or first principle is an endless mass (Apeiron) subject to neither age nor decay, from which all things are being born and then they are destructed there. A fragment from Xenophanes (6th century BCE) shows the transition from Chaos to Apeiron: "The upper limit of earth borders on air. The lower limit of earth reaches down to the unlimited (i.e the Apeiron)."[18]


  1. Barry Sandwell (1996). Presocratic Philosophy vol.3. Rootledge New York.  p28
  2. Kathryn B. Stoddard, "The Programmatic Message of the "Kings and Singers" Passage: Hesiod, 'Theogony' 80-103"Transactions of the American Philological Association 133.1 (Spring 2003), pp. 1-16.
  3. Herodotus (II.53) cited it simply as an authoritative list of divine names, attributes and functions.
  4. F. Solmsen, Hesiod and Aeschylus (Ithaca: Cornell Studies in Classical Philology 30) 1949:53 and note 172 with citations; "if an interpolation," Joseph Eddy Fontenrose observes (Python: a study of Delphic myth and its origins :71 note 3), "it was made early enough."
  5. Walter Burkert, The Orientalizing Revolution: Near Eastern Influence on Greek Culture in the Early Archaic Age (Harvard University Press) 192, offers discussion and bibliography of related questions.
  6. O.Gigon.Der Umsprung der Griechische Philosophie.Von Hesiod bis Parmenides.Bale.Stutgart.Schwabe & Co.p 29
  7. G.S.Kirk,J.E.Raven and M.Schofield (2003). The Presocratic Philosophers. Cambridge University Press. p.24
  8. Matsya Purana (2.25.30)online:The creation
  9. The Babylonian creation story (Enuma Elish) online
  10. The Holy Bible.King James Version online
  11. Bulfinch's Age of Fable or Beauties of Mythology by Thomas Bulfinch Publisher: S W Tilton (1894). ASIN: B000JWAT00 pg 19.
  12. The Theogony of Hesiod.Translation H.G. Evelyn White (1914) 116-163 online
  13. Hesiod, Theogony trans. Athanassakis 1011-1013
  14. Hesiod, Theogony trans. Athanassakis 1017-1018
  15. Barry Sandywell (1996). Presocratic Philosophy vol.3. Rootledge New York.  p.28,42
  16. <DK B1a>
  17. Barry Sandwell (1996). Presocratic philosophy vol.3. Rootledge New York.  p.142
  18. Karl.L.Popper (1998). The world of Parmenides. Rootledge New York.  p.39


  • Brown, Norman O. Introduction to Hesiod: Theogony (New York: Liberal Arts Press) 1953.
  • Bulfinch's Age of Fable or Beauties of Mythology by Thomas Bulfinch Publisher: S W Tilton (1894)ASIN: B000JWAT00
  • Lamberton, Robert, Hesiod, New Haven : Yale University Press, 1988. ISBN 0300040687. Cf. Chapter II, "The Theogony", pp. 38–104.
  • Tandy, David W., and Neale, Walter C. [translators], Works and Days: a translation and commentary for the social sciences, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996. ISBN 0520203836
  • Verdenius, Willem Jacob, A Commentary on Hesiod Works and Days vv 1-382 (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1985). ISBN 9004074651

Selected translations

  • Athanassakis, Apostolos N., Theogony ; Works and days ; Shield / Hesiod ; introduction, translation, and notes, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1983. ISBN 0801829984
  • Frazer, R.M. (Richard McIlwaine), The Poems of Hesiod, Norman : University of Oklahoma Press, 1983. ISBN 0806118377
  • Most, Glenn, translator, Hesiod, 2 vols., Loeb Classical Library, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2006-07.
  • Schlegel, Catherine M., and Henry Weinfield, translators, Theogony and Works and Days, Ann Arbor, Michigan, 2006

External links

This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at Theogony. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.