Classical Mythology: Tales Of The Titanic
Tales Of The Titanic
No doubt about it, the Creation, was a monumental feat. One might have thought that Gaia, Mother Earth, might have rested on her laurels after such a display of creative force. Yet Gaia knew that giving birth to the universe, however impressive, merely set the stage for the drama to follow.
The story still needed its players. So after giving birth to Uranus and Pontus, Gaia enlisted them to fill up the stage with more than mere scenery.
Raise the Titanic!
Gaia lay with her son Uranus, encouraging him to envelop her with his love. Through this union arose the famed Titans, the first rulers of the universe. Yet even before the Titans were born, Gaia and Uranus had six other formidable children: the Hundred-Handed Giants and the Cyclopes.
Too Many Hands, Not Enough Eyes
What a Life!
Gaia also lay with her other son, Pontus. She gave birth to five children by him (whose name means “sea” in Greek). Nereus, a sea god who would become known as the Old Man, was renowned for his truthfulness, gentle manner, and fairness. Phorcys, another sea god, and Thaumas were the brothers of Nereus. The Old Man also had two sisters: Ceto, a sea monster, and Eurybia.
Though not as well known as the Titans who came after them, the first children of Gaia and Uranus were three giants: Cottus, Briareus, and Gyges. Each of these three brothers had 50 heads and 100 arms. These Hundred-Handed Giants would prove the mightiest of all Gaia and Uranus’s children. Their great strength and imposing presence caused even Titans and later Olympian gods to quake with fear.
The next children born to Gaia and Uranus were no less intimidating. They were three Cyclopes: Brontes, Steropes, and Arges. Each had only one eye, yet their enormous stature and mighty limbs more than made up for their limited vision.
These three Cyclopes were not the man-eating monsters of later myths (see Take the Long Way Home: Odysseus), though some storytellers suggest that they might have fathered this later race. On the contrary, these Cyclopes were almost godlike. Inventive smiths and builders, they would later become the forgers of thunder and lightning.
Unfortunately, these nearly divine Cyclopes were also arrogant, powerful, and unwilling to bow to authority. To punish them—and prevent them from becoming a threat—Uranus hurled them down into Tartarus, imprisoning the Cyclopes in the deepest, gloomiest section of the Underworld. But the Cyclopes need not have felt singled out by this cruel act. Uranus, who envied the incredible strength of the Hundred-Handed Giants, tossed these sons into Tartarus as well.
No Womb to Move
In addition to the Hundred-Handed Giants and the Cyclopes, the mating of Gaia and Uranus—Earth and Sky—also produced a line of gods. The primordial couple had a dozen more children, who later became known as the Titans.
The 12 children, conveniently enough, included six daughters and six sons—the perfect balance for later couplings. The daughters were named:
- Theia, who would become an early goddess of light
- Rhea, an earth goddess who would later become mother of the Olympian gods
- Themis, another earth or mother goddess—like her mother, Gaia, and her sister, Rhea
- Mnemosyne, a personification of memory
- Phoebe, who would become an early moon goddess
- Tethys, who would become the most ancient goddess of the sea
The sons were named:
- Oceanus, the first-born of the Titans, both the god of the primordial river and the river itself, which flowed from the Underworld in a circular and never-ending stream around the edge of the earth
- Coeus, who would become the father of Leto
- Crius, who would become the father of Astraeus
- Hyperion, who would become an early god of the sun
- Iapetus, who would become the father of Prometheus
- Cronus, the youngest of the Titans, but the craftiest and most daring
The youngest of the Titans, Cronus, hated his father, Uranus. In fact, all of the Titans hated their father—and with good reason. Uranus hated all of his children with a passion. Unlike mortal fathers who age and die, thus passing the torch to a younger generation, immortals like Uranus never wanted to give up their power. So no sooner had Gaia given birth to one of these children than Uranus thrust the baby back into the darkness of Gaia's womb. Forcing his own children to remain in the deepest, darkest hollows of the earth, Uranus refused to let them into the light again. What's more, the father of the Titans seemed to take great pleasure in this cruelty toward his children.
Gaia was, to say the least, uncomfortable with so many already-born children still borne in her womb. She now carried a dozen Titans inside her—not to mention the three Hundred-Handed Giants and the three Cyclopes trapped in Tartarus. Groaning with pain and the oppression of this forced burden, Gaia finally reached her breaking point.
Mother's Little Helper
What a Life!
In the sea behind Cronus, the severed organ bobbed on the water, giving rise to a white foam. From this foam emerged the fully formed goddess of love: Aphrodite (whose name means “out of foam”). Naked and riding on a scallop shell, Aphrodite first touched land on the island of Cythera, but found the place too small for her comfort. Instead she stepped ashore on Cyprus. Wherever her feet touched down, grass and flowers popped up from the earth.
In honor of Aphrodite's landing sites, the goddess was sometimes also called Cythereia (meaning “from Cythera”) or Cypris (“born on Cyprus”).
Gaia devised a scheme to avenge the injuries inflicted by Uranus on both herself and her children. She crafted an enormous and very sharp sickle of iron. She then complained to her children about their father's shameful behavior and called upon them to punish him. From deep inside her, she felt the Titans quake with fear. But no one volunteered until Cronus, the youngest, boldly promised to do his mother's bidding.
Cronus hid and awaited his father's arrival. When Uranus finally entered at nightfall, he embraced Gaia and lay upon her in the fullness of his love. But Cronus took him by surprise. Seizing his father's genitals with his left hand, Cronus swiftly sliced them off with the right hand, which wielded the iron sickle. The deed done, Cronus tossed the castrated organ into the sea.
From Uranus's severed manhood (or godhood) fell countless drops of blood, which spattered all over Gaia. From this not-so-immaculate conception, Gaia bore many more children, including:
- The Erinyes (Furies)—Alecto, Tisiphone, and Megara, who avenge perjury and crimes against one's own family (such as patricide—or castrating one's own father)
- The race of Giants, who were born in full armor with spears in their hands
- The ash tree nymphs, who would soon come to inhabit the forests of Greece
Uranus, understandably furious at Cronus and the rest of his children, cursed them all with the name “Titans” (which means “Overreachers”). He screamed a warning that their monstrous act would one day be avenged.
Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Classical Mythology © 2004 by Kevin Osborn and Dana L. Burgess, Ph.D.. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.