Religion Wiki

17th century woodcut of Uranus by Tycho Brahe.

Uranus (pronounced: /ˈjʊərənəs/, /jʊˈreɪnəs/) is the Latinized form of Ouranos (Οὐρανός), the Greek word for sky (a cognate of the English word air). His equivalent in Roman mythology was Caelus, likewise from caelum the Latin word for "sky". In Greek mythology, Uranus, or Father Sky, is personified as the son and husband of Gaia, Mother Earth (Hesiod, Theogony). Uranus and Gaia were ancestors of most of the Greek gods, but no cult addressed directly to Uranus survived into Classical times,[1] and Uranus does not appear among the usual themes of Greek painted pottery. Elemental Earth, Sky and Styx might be joined, however, in a solemn invocation in Homeric epic.[2]

Most Greeks considered Uranus to be primordial, and gave him no parentage, but rather being conceived from Chaos, the primal form of the universe, though in Theogony, Hesiod claims him to be the offspring of Gaia. Under the influence of the philosophers, Cicero, in De Natura Deorum ("Concerning the Nature of the Gods"), claims that he was the offspring of the ancient gods Aether and Hemera, Air and Day. According to the Orphic Hymns, Uranus was the son of the personification of night, Nyx.


The most probable etymology is from the basic Proto-Greek form *(F)orsanόj (worsanos) derived from the noun *(F)orsό (Sanskrit: varsa' :"rain") and the Proto-Indo European root *ers (Sanskrit: varsati:"to rain").The root exists also in the verb ourόw (Latin:"hourẻ" , English:"urinate") from the Proto Indo-European base *ur variant of *awer "to moisten,to flow" (Sanskrit: var :"water",Avestan var :"rain")[3] therefore Ouranos is the "rainmaker".Another possible etymology is "the one standing high in order" (Sanskr.: vars-man:height, lit.virus:upper,highest seat).The identification with the Vedic Varuna,god of the sky and waters,is uncertain.[4] It is also possible that the name is deriven from the Proto Indo-European root *wel:to cover,enclose.(Varuna, Veles).[5] or *wer:to cover,shut [6]

Creation myth

In the Olympian creation myth, as Hesiod tells it in Theogony, Uranus came every night to cover the earth and mate with Gaia, but he hated the children she bore him. Hesiod named their first six sons and six daughters the Titans, the three one-hundred-armed giants the Hecatonchires, and the one-eyed giants the Cyclopes.

15th century painting by Giorgio Vasari and Christofano Gherardi which depicts the mutilation of Uranus by Saturn (Cronus).

Uranus imprisoned Gaia's youngest children in Tartarus, deep within Earth, where they caused pain to Gaia. She shaped a great flint-bladed sickle and asked her sons to castrate Uranus. Only Cronus, youngest and most ambitious of the Titans, was willing: he ambushed his father and castrated him, casting the severed testicles into the sea.

For this fearful deed, Uranus called his sons Titanes Theoi, or "Straining Gods."[7]

From the blood which spilled from Uranus onto the Earth came forth the Gigantes; the three avenging Furies, the Erinyes; the Meliae (the ash-tree nymphs); and, according to some, the Telchines.

From the genitals in the sea came forth Aphrodite. The learned Alexandrian poet Callimachus[8] reported that the bloodied sickle had been buried in the earth at Zancle in Sicily, but the Romanized Greek traveller Pausanias was informed that the sickle had been thrown into the sea from the cape near Bolina, not far from Argyra on the coast of Achaea, whereas the historian Timaeus located the sickle at Corcyra;[9] Corcyrans claimed to be descendants of the wholly legendary Phaeacia visited by Odysseus, and by ca 500 BCE one Greek mythographer, Acusilaus, was claiming that the Phaeacians had sprung from the very blood of Uranus' castration.[10]

After Uranus was deposed, Cronus re-imprisoned the Hecatonchires and Cyclopes in Tartarus. Uranus and Gaia then prophesied that Cronus in turn was destined to be overthrown by his own son, and so the Titan attempted to avoid this fate by devouring his young. Zeus, through deception by his mother Rhea, avoided this fate.

These ancient myths of distant origins were not expressed in cults among the Hellenes.[11] The function of Uranus was as the vanquished god of an elder time, before real time began.

After his castration, the Sky came no more to cover the Earth at night, but held to its place, and "the original begetting came to an end" (Kerényi). Uranus was scarcely regarded as anthropomorphic, aside from the genitalia in the castration myth. He was simply the sky, which was conceived by the ancients as an overarching dome or roof of bronze, held in place (or turned on an axis) by the Titan Atlas. In formulaic expressions in the Homeric poems ouranos is sometimes an alternative to Olympus as the collective home of the gods; an obvious occurrence would be the moment at the end of Iliad i, when Thetis rises from the sea to plead with Zeus: "and early in the morning she rose up to greet Ouranos-and-Olympus and she found the son of Kronos..."

"'Olympus' is almost always used of that home, but ouranos often refers to the natural sky above us without any suggestion that the gods, collectively live there," William Sale remarked;[12] Sale concluded that the earlier seat of the gods was the actual Mount Olympus, from which the epic tradition by the time of Homer had transported them to the sky, ouranos. By the sixth century, when a "heavenly Aphrodite" was to be distinguished from the "common Aphrodite of the people", ouranos signifies purely the celestial sphere itself.


The Greek creation myth is similar to the Hurrian creation myth. In Hurrian religion Anu is the sky god. His son Kumarbis bit off his genitals and spat out three deities, one of whom, Teshub, later deposed Kumarbis.[13] In Sumerian mythology and later for Assyrians and Babylonians, Anu is the sky god and represented law and order.

It is possible that Uranus was originally an Indo-European god, to be identified with the Vedic Varuna, the supreme keeper of order who later became the god of oceans and rivers, as suggested by Georges Dumézil,[14] following hints in Émile Durkheim, The Elementary Forms of Religious Life. (1912),[15] Another possibility is that the Iranian supreme God Ahura Mazda is a development of the Indo-Iranian *vouruna-*mitra. Therefore, this divinity has also the qualities of Mitra, which is the god of the falling rain.[16]

Uranus and Váruṇa

Uranus is connected with the night sky and Varuna is the god of the sky and the celestial ocean which is connected with the milky way. His daughter Laksmi is said to have arisen from an ocean of milk, a myth similar to the myth of Aphrodite. Both Laksmi and Aphrodite are assosiated with the planet Venus.

Georges Dumézil made a cautious case for the identity of Uranus and Vedic Varuna at the earliest Indo-European cultural level.[17] Dumézil's identification of mythic elements shared by the two figures, relying to a great extent on linguistic interpretation, but not positing a common origin, was taken up by Robert Graves and others. The identification of the name Ouranos with the Hindu Varuna, based in part on a posited Proto Indo-European root *-ŭer with a sense of "binding"— ancient king god Varuna binds the wicked, ancient king god Uranus binds the Cyclopes— is widely rejected by those who find the most probable etymology is from Proto-Greek *(F)orsanόj, from a Proto Indo-European root *ers "to moisten, to drip" (referring to the rain).

Cultural context of flint

The detail of the sickle's being flint rather than bronze or even iron was retained by Greek mythographers (though neglected by Roman ones). Knapped flints as cutting edges were set in wooden or bone sickles in the late Neolithic, before the onset of the Bronze Age. Such sickles may have survived latest in ritual contexts where metal was taboo, but the detail, which was retained by classical Greeks, suggests the antiquity of the mytheme.

Planet Uranus

Image of the planet Uranus compiled on January 17, 1986, based on images taken by the Voyager 2 satellite.

The ancient Greeks and Romans knew of only five 'wandering stars' (Greek: πλανήται, planētai): Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. Following the discovery of a sixth planet in the 18th century, the name Uranus was chosen as the logical addition to the series: for Mars (Ares in Greek) was the son of Jupiter, Jupiter (Zeus in Greek) the son of Saturn, and Saturn (Cronus in Greek) the son of Uranus. What is anomalous is that, while the others take Roman names, Uranus is a name derived from Greek in contrast to the Roman Caelus.

Consorts and children

All the offspring of Uranus are fathered upon Gaia, save Aphrodite and the Erinyes, born when Cronus castrated him and cast his severed genitalia into the sea (Thalassa).

  1. Cyclopes, one-eyed giants
    1. Brontes
    2. Steropes
    3. Arges
  2. Hecatonchires, hundred-handed, fifty-headed giants
    1. Briares
    2. Cottus
    3. Gyges
  3. Titans, the elder gods
    1. Crius
    2. Coeus
    3. Cronus
    4. Oceanus
    5. Hyperion
    6. Iapetus
    7. Mnemosyne
    8. Phoebe
    9. Rhea
    10. Tethys
    11. Theia
    12. Themis
  4. Erinyes, the three Furies.
    1. Alecto
    2. Megaera
    3. Tisiphone
  5. Gigantes, the giants
    1. Alcyoneus
    2. Athos
    3. Clytias
    4. Enceladus
    5. Echion
  6. Meliae, the ash-tree nymphs.
  7. Aphrodite


  1. "We did not regard them as being in any way worthy of worship," Karl Kerenyi, speaking for the ancient Greeks, said of the Titans (Kerenyi, The Gods of the Greeks, 1951:20); "with the single exception, perhaps, of Cronos; and with the exception, also, of Helios."
  2. As at Iliad xv.36f and Odyssey v.184f.
  3. urine Online Etymology Dictionary
  4. Frisk.Griechiesches Etymologisches Woerterbuch. entry 4441
  5. The American heritage dictionary.( PIE roots *wel)
  6. wer Online Etymology Dictionary
  7. Modern etymology suggests that the linguistic origin of Τιτάνες lies on the pre-Greek level.
  8. Callimachus, Aitia ("On Origins"), from book II, fragment 43, discussed by Robin Lane Fox, Travelling Heroes In the Epic Age of Homer 2008, p. 270ff; Fox notes that Zancle was founded in the 8th century.
  9. Reported by the scholiast on Apollonius of Rhodes' Argonautica, 4.984, noted in Fox 2008, p. 274 note 36.
  10. Acusilaus, in FrGH vol. 2, fragment 4, noted by Fox, p. 274, note 37
  11. Kerényi 1951, p. 20.
  12. William Merritt Sale, "Homeric Olympus and its formulae" The American Journal of Philology 105.1 (Spring 1984:1-28), p. 3.
  13. Guterbock, Hans Gustav. "Hittite Religion" in Forgotten Religions including some Primitive Religions" ed. Vergilius Firm. NY Philadelphia Library 1950: 88f,103f.
  14. Dumézil, Ouranós-Váruṇa: étude de mythologie comparée indo-européenne, 1934.
  15. The Durkheim connection was noted by Arnoldo Momigliano, "Georges Dumezil and the Trifunctional Approach to Roman Civilization", History and Theory, 1984; a link between Uranus and Varuna was suggested as early as 1824 by Albrecht Weber, Modern investigations on ancient India: A lecture delivered in Berlin March 4, 1824, 1857.
  16. According to Dumezil Varuna is the god of "masses of water", while falling rain is rather related to Mitra.
  17. Dumézil, Ouranós-Váruna: Étude de mythologie comparée indo-européenne (Paris: Maisonneuve 1934).


  • Kerenyi, Carl, 1951. The Gods of the Greeks
  • Graves, Robert, revised edition, 1960. The Greek Myths.

External links

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