The Birth of the Titans

Impregnated by Ouranus’ rains, Earth gave birth to a succession of primal beings, called Titans (‘Stretchers’ or ‘Strainers’). Some, personifications of abstract ideas such as Themis (‘Divine Tradition’) and Mnemosyne (‘Memory’), would play an important role in Greek religious thought. Others, such as Rhea, brought forth future generations; still others were ferocious and malformed creatures. Such were the Cyclopes: ‘Arrogant and boastful who gave Zeus thunder and forged his lightning-bolt. In all else they were like gods, but they had just one eye set in the middle of their foreheads. And so they called them Cyclopes [‘Round-Eyed’].’. But deadliest of all was Cronus ‘of the twisted mind, his father’s bitterest enemy’.

But none of the children of Ouranus and Gaia had seen the light of day. No sooner were they born than Ouranus secreted them beneath the earth. So many offspring were returned into her womb, that

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Gaia stretched and strained in agony. At last in desperation she forged a sickle of the strongest stone and demanded which of her sons would help her. Only Cronus volunteered. Placing the sickle in his hands, Gaia instructed him to wait till nightfall, when Ouranus covered her, intent on making love. Hesiod imagined Cronus reaching out his left hand, ‘holding in his right the saw-toothed sickle, while he eagerly sliced off his father’s genitals and flung them far behind him’. From the gouts of blood were born the Giants and the avenging Furies, while from the genitals themselves, which splashed into the sea, came Aphrodite, goddess of sex and love, who in time was washed ashore near Paphos on her favoured island, Cyprus.

Now other gods appeared. Night gave birth to terrors: Old Age and Famine; Wars and Killing; Quarrels, Falsehoods, Blame; unerring Nemesis, who punishes wrongdoers; the ruthless Fates, ‘who at birth assign both good and bad to mortals, who hunt down the transgressions of both gods and men, goddesses whose anger never stills until they wreak a dreadful justice on the criminal’.

Some of Pontus’ children were more benign: his firstborn was Nereus (sometimes called ‘The Old Man of the Sea’), whose daughters, the Nereids, could calm the ‘sea-swell on the misty sea and soothe the screaming winds’. But others were truly terrifying: Briareus with a hundred hands; the Harpies [‘Snatchers’], bird-women who conveyed dead souls of heroes down to Hades; Echidna, half ‘fair-cheeked girl’, half blotchy, bloated snake; the Sphinx, the Hydra, the Chimaera, creatures who would plague the earth until heroic mortals killed them Streams and rivers bubbled up. The breezes blew. Helios, the sun, came into being, and the moon, Selene. And the first Dawn broke.

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