Creation Myths or Greek Cosmogonies

Stories from Greek myth about the creation of the world or "cosmogony"

Aion-Uranus with Terra (Gaia)
Mosaic of Aion or Uranus and Gaia. Glyptothek, Munich, Germany. Public Domain. Courtesy of Bibi Saint-Pol at Wikpedia.

The term "creation myth" can be confusing because the term doesn't specify what is being created. Creation myth refers to either

  • Creation of the universe or
  • Creation of mankind and/or gods.

The Nature of Greek Myths, by G.S. Kirk, divides myths
into six categories, three of which are coming into being or creation myths.

3 Creation Myth Categories

  1. Cosmological myths
  2. Tales of the Olympians, and
  3. Myths about the early history of men.

    Cosmological = Creation of the Universe Myths

    In this article, we're focusing mainly on the first, the cosmological myths (or cosmogonies [see the end of the article for a definition of cosmogony, with etymology]). Specifically, we're looking at ancient Greek stories of the creation of the world out of primordial goo or soup.

    If you want to read about the coming into being of the Olympians, try Rise of the Olympians.

    For information on the creation of human beings, read about Prometheus.

    Ab Origine - What There Was in the Beginning

    There isn't one standard story about the first substance. The main contenders for the primordial substance is not a soup, but Sky (Uranus or Ouranos) and a kind of emptiness, referred to as either the Void or Chaos. Since there was nothing else, what came next must have sprung from these first or elemental things.

    • Chaos

      There wasn't clear unanimity on what it was that Chaos was. Some thought Chaos created the specific bodies of the cosmos; others, the cosmos itself and order.

      "Chaos - in one ancient Greek myth of creation, the dark, silent abyss from which all things came into existence. According to the Theogony of the early Greek didactic poet Hesiod, Chaos generated the solid mass of Earth, from which arose the starry, cloud-filled Heaven. Mother Earth and Father Heaven, personified respectively as Gaea [Gaia] and her offspring Uranus [Uranos], were the parents of the Titans. In a later theory, Chaos is the formless matter from which the cosmos, or harmonious order, was created."
      (formerly found at http://www.ancientgreece.com/html/mythology_frame.htm) Ancient Greece Mythology
    • Uranus and Gaia

      One account of the beginnings of everything comes from the Library, conventionally attributed to Apollodorus, translated by Sir J. G. Frazer. Who exactly Apollodorus was still remains a mystery, although he may have lived around the second century B.C., which puts him much closer than us to the main writers to whom the ancient Greeks turned for religious information, Homer and Hesiod. Here's (Pseudo-)Apollodorus' version of the cosmogony:

      Sky (Uranos) was the first who ruled over the whole world. And having wedded Earth (Gaia), he begat first the Hundred-handed.... After these, Earth bore him the Cyclopes.... But them Sky bound and cast into Tartarus.... And he begat children by Earth, to wit, the Titans ... and youngest of all, Cronus....But Earth, grieved at the destruction of her children, who had been cast into Tartarus....
      Apollodorus
    • Void first; then Eros and Earth

      An earlier (7-8th century B.C.) version of the story (referred to above) comes from Hesiod, author of Theogony and Works and Days. In Theogony the Void or Chaos existed before anything else. Then came Earth (Gaia) and Eros (god of love or desire). Out of the Void or Chaos came Darkness (Erebus) and Night (Nyx); from Night, Light and Day.

      Earth produced the Sky (Uranus) to cover herself. Then, by coupling, they produced an enormous brood, including Oceanus (Ocean), Themis (Law), Mnemosyne (Memory), Phoebe, Cronus, the Cyclopes/Cyclops (producers of Zeus' thunderbolt) and the 50-headed monsters, Cottus, Briareus, and Gyes (the Hecatoncheires).

      Uranus Hides His Children Within Their Mother

      Not a very natural parent, Uranus took pleasure in preventing any of his children from seeing the light of day. He insisted that Gaia (Mother Earth) keep them locked up. Growing within the bowels of Mother Earth, the children of Uranus and Gaia caused great physical and emotional pain for Gaia. Eventually, she could take it no longer and so she created a new metal. From the metal, Gaia fashioned a sickle, which she gave to her boldest offspring, the Titan Cronus (Saturn).

      They Castrate Father Uranus

      The next time Uranus came to make love to Gaia, which he did by stretching out all over the Earth, Cronus sprang up from his hiding place, brandished his sickle, and attacked and castrated father Uranus. Additional offspring sprang from the spilled blood and organ of Uranus: Giants, Erinyes (Furies), Meliae -- and most spectacularly, Aphrodite, who was born from the foam.

      The Naming of the Titans

      In his translation of the following section of the Theogony, Norman O. Brown explains the etymology of the name Titans for these 12 children of Earth and Sky (Cronus, Rhea, Iapetus, Oceanus, Hyperion, Themis, Thea, Mnemosyne, Phoebe, Coeus, Tethys, and Crius):

      Great Father Sky called his children the Titans because of his feud with them; he said that they blindly had tightened the noose and had done a savage thing for which they would have to pay in time to come. (lines 209-210)

      ...And they did have to pay. Just as Uranus (Sky) suffered at his son's hands, so would Cronus at the hands of his offspring, Zeus. But that's another story and The Five Ages of Man - Greek Myth on the Creation of Man

      Resources Related to Cosmogony

      Myths vs. Legends
      Gods in the Heroic Age - Bible vs Biblos
      • Uranus' Revenge
      Titanomachy
      Bulfinch Mythology
      Myths and Legends

      Cosmogony Definition

      \Cos*mog"o*ny\ (-n?), n.; pl. Cosmogonies (-n?z). [Gr. kosmogoni`a; ko`smos the world - root of gi`gnesthai to be born: cf. F. cosmogonie.]

      The creation of the world or universe; a theory or account of such creation; as, the poetical cosmogony of Hesiod; the cosmogonies of Thales, Anaxagoras, and Plato.
      From Hypertext Webster