Ancient Greek Titanomachia
Ancient Greece, being the polytheistic culture that it was, derived extravagant myths regarding fourteen gods and goddesses they believed to rule over every aspect of life. The Greek population believed that the gods were incorporated in every part of their lives, from washing dishes to growing crops, one of the many gods would be watching over them. These gods and goddesses however were not the first to rule over Greece. It is said that prior to the Olympians, (named as they would come to reign on Mt.Olympus), there were a group of Titans that ruled atop Mt. Othrys. Suggesting that ancient Greek mythology is based around three main points, the Titans, the Olympians and the Great War that separated them. This Great War was known as the Titanomachia.
The stage for this Great War was set after Ouranos the eldest titan and the ruler of the cosmos, was overthrown by his son, and youngest Titan, Cronus. Gaia, mother to Cronus and wife to Ouranos, was upset after her children Hecatonchires and Cyclopes were exiled by their own father for fear of deception. After an ambush was set and Cronus cut off the genitals of Ouranos he took his throne as the new leader of the Titans. He then secured his power by re-imprisoning his siblings the Hecatonchires and Cyclopes, and his (newly-created) siblings the Gigantes, in Tartarus (depths of hell). Gaia, angry at Cronus for keeping his brothers in the same pit Ouranos locked them in, made a prophecy that Cronus’ own children would rebel against his rule just as he had done to his own father. For fear of his unborn children rising against him, Cronus now turned into the terrible king his father Ouranos had been, swallowing each of his children whole as they were born from his sister-wife Rhea. Rhea, however, managed to hide her child Zeus, by tricking Cronus into swallowing a rock wrapped in a blanket instead. Rhea therefore, when she was pregnant with Zeus, went to Crete and gave birth to the child in the Dictaean Cave, and entrusted him to be brought up by the Curetes, and the daughters of Melissus, the nymphs Adrasteia and Ida. The armed Crete Soldiers guarded the infant in the cave, and struck their shields with their spears in order to prevent Cronus from hearing the voice of the child. After Zeus reached adulthood, he was given a potion that upon drinking would cause Cronus to release the remaining children from his stomach, thus sparking the flame of the Great Titan War.
The Titanomachia or Titan War with the Gods, was said to have taken place in Thessaly, Greece and lasted for ten years, when at length Gaia promised victory to Zeus, if he would deliver the Cyclopes and Hecatonchires from Tartarus. Zeus accordingly slew Campe or Kampe, a dragon-like monster with a woman’s head and torso, who guarded the Cyclopes.
“Then Zeus no longer held back his might; but
straight his heart was filled with fury and he showed forth all
his strength. From Heaven and from Olympus he came forthwith,
hurling his lightning: the bold flew thick and fast from his
strong hand together with thunder and lightning, whirling an
awesome flame. The life-giving earth crashed around in burning,
and the vast wood crackled loud with fire all about. All the
land seethed, and Ocean’s streams and the unfruitful sea. The
hot vapour lapped round the earthborn Titans: flame unspeakable
rose to the bright upper air: the flashing glare of the thunder-
stone and lightning blinded their eyes for all that there were
strong” (Hesiod 687-712).
The Titans then were overcome, and hurled down into a cavity below Tartarus, bound cruelly around the throat and underarms, to suffer the same fate as those they had cast there before. The only two that were not banished to Tartarus were the Titan Atlas, who was condemned to go to the western edge of the earth and hold up the heavens so as to prevent them from achieving their primordial embrace. Being that he was the leader of the titans, Cronus was deemed a different fate. He was sentenced to roam the dessert for the rest of his immortal life carrying the Temple of Pandora on his back, guarding the sacred Pandora’s Box.
After the war had subsided and the gods had taken their rightful place atop Mt. Olympus, they divided the earth amongst themselves each taking a portion to look over. Zeus, though the youngest of the gods, became supreme ruler of not only Mt. Olympus but also the sky and the earth. Known for his sexual escapades, Zeus was said to have had about 16 children and only three by his named wife Hera. His brother Poseidon became ruler of the sea and all of the aquatic creatures including the famous Leviathan. He also led rule over the Earth’s horses and known as the “ground shaker” he oversaw earthquakes. Although Poseidon held a throne on Mt. Olympus he chose instead to stay in his palace with his wife Amphitrite, the granddaughter of the Titan Oceanus. Finally the third brother Hades was named ruler of the underworld, as greedy as they come and willing to grant wealth and royalties to those set out to add subjects to his world. Hades does not have a throne on Mt.Olympus and resides in the underworld where he lives with his wife Persephone, whom he abducted and forced to live there half the year. “But he on his part secretly gave her sweet pomegranate seed to eat, taking care for himself that she might not remain continually with grave, dark- robed Demeter …but if you have tasted food, you must go back again beneath the secret places of the earth, there to dwell a third part of the seasons every year: yet for the two parts you shall be with me and the other deathless god” (Hunt 2). Demeter then cursed the lands for the loss of her daughter and thus the seasons were created.
Because the Greek culture was so intertwined into the legends of the gods, they based their lives around them. They prayed to the appropriate gods when in need of their specialties, and they thanked them for all they received. Throughout the epic myths of the Gods and the Titans the polytheistic culture of Greece was understood. They believed that the tales were true; they believed that the forces of nature were controlled by those divine figures that rose to Mt. Olympus through the struggles and hardships of the war for supreme rule. Divinities were the most important element of Greek religion and much emphasis was placed on pleasing the Gods in order to live a life free of oppression and hardship. Like all Pagans, the Greeks believed that they had to worship and please the Gods in order to have good fortune. The Greeks participated in a number of rituals, rites, ceremonies and sacrifices in order to impress and placate the Gods. Temples, shrines and statues were erected as a designated place to offer sacrifices to these deities. If deemed necessary, a sacrifice would we given to the gods in order for certain communities and towns to stay clear of their wrath. Although philosophers of the Greek Antiquity age negated the ideas that the gods may not rule over every force that nature has to offer, and actually applied some science to nature, those who did were branded heretics and caste out of their respected cities.
In conclusion the deities of polytheistic religions are agents in mythology, where they are portrayed as complex personages of greater or lesser status, with individual skills, needs, desires and histories. These gods are often seen as similar to humans in their personality traits, but with additional individual powers, abilities, knowledge or perceptions. For the ancient Greeks to believe this, they had to wrap their life around it. To believe that a great battle erupted many years before, causing an emergence of a dozen divine entities to rule over all that is known is a true sign of faith. To believe that these fourteen individuals divided up the different elements of the earth in order to watch over them at all times, explains a lifestyle that western culture knows nothing of. The ancient myths about the Titans the Gods and the Titanomachia are tales passed down from generation to generation that explain the ideas behind the polytheistic culture that was Ancient Greece. These turning points (as they were labeled earlier) in Greek mythology were notably recognized at the turn the golden age to the classical/antiquity era. The era moved past the time of the Titans to a time of more sophisticated Gods, bringing change in many ways to the world.
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