Creation and Destruction

1 Hesiod’s Theogony

Athena, wearing her helm and carrying a shield, lunges at Enceladus with a spear. Enceladus holds a spear and a shield depicting a silenus, and wears a helm. He is naked, down on one knee, and bleeding from two wounds.
Athena fighting the giant Enceladus, red-figure tondo, ca. 525 BCE (Louvre Museum, Paris)

The Theogony

The ancient Greeks told myths about how the universe came to be in cosmogonies, from the ancient Greek words cosmos, “order (of things) and gonos, “procreation.” So a cosmogony is a myth about the procreation of the order (of things). They also had theogonies (from gonos and theoi, “gods”). These stories told about the creation of the gods and the struggles and hierarchies among them.

The earliest cosmogony and theogony from ancient Greece that still survives today is an epic poem written by the poet Hesiod, who lived in Boeotia (an area in north eastern Greece) in the 8th/7th century BCE. Hesiod’s Theogony starts with the birth of the first primordial gods out of formless chaos and recounts how the major and minor gods, demigods, heroes, and humans came to be. It combines genealogies (catalogues of who is descended from whom) and etiological myths for how the various aspects of the universe and world came to be.


Hesiod, Theogony (trans. H. G. Evelyn-White, adapted by L. Zhang, P. Rogak and T. Mulder)

Greek epic, ca. 700 BCE

The Theogony describes the ordering of the universe, including the ascendancy of Zeus and the other Olympians, and the births of the major divinities. The poem falls into discrete parts:

1-104: Invocation to the muses

105-122: Chaos and the primordial deities

123-232: The second generation of gods (the children of the primordial deities)

233-335: The descendants of Pontos

336-506: Children of the Titans

507-884: Challenges to Zeus

885-966: Children of the Olympians

967-1020: Goddesses who bore children to mortal men

The poem leaves off with a transition into another of Hesiod’s poems, called The Catalogue of Women, which exists today only in fragments. These fragments can be read here.


Let us begin our song with the Heliconian , who hold great and holy , and dance on soft feet around the deep-blue spring and the altar of .[1] [5] After they have washed their tender bodies in Permessus or in the Horse’s Spring[2] or Olmeius, they dance fair and lovely on the highest peak of , moving with vigorous feet. At night, they rise from there and go out into the world, [10] veiled in thick mist, and they sing their song with lovely voices, praising the -holder, and queenly of who walks on golden sandals, and the daughter of the aegis-holder, bright-eyed , and , and who delights in arrows, [15] and the earth holder who shakes the earth, and revered , and quick-glancing , and with the crown of gold, and fair , , , and the crafty counsellor, , and great , and bright , [20] , too, and great , and dark , and all the other deathless gods, who live forever.

One day they taught me their glorious song while I was shepherding my lambs under holy . The goddesses— [25] the of , daughters of who holds the – first said this to me, “Shepherds of the wilderness, wretched, shameful things, only looking to fill your bellies, we know how to speak many false things as though they were true; but, when we want to, we know how to say true things too.”

The quick-voiced daughters of great said this to me and they gave [30] me a marvellous rod made of sturdy laurel. And they breathed a divine voice into me, so that I can celebrate the things that will be and the things that happened before. And they commanded me to sing about the race of the blessed gods, who live eternally, but always to sing about themselves both first and last. [35] But why all this about oak or stone? Come you, let's begin with the who gladden the great spirit of their father in with their songs, telling of things that are and that will be and that were in times before with consenting voice. Unwearying flows the sweet sound [40] from their lips, and the house of their father the loud-thunderer is joyful at the lily-like voice of the goddesses as it spreads abroad, and the peaks of snowy resound, and the homes of the immortals. And they, uttering their immortal voice, celebrate in song first of all the revered race of the gods [45] from the beginning, those whom and wide produced, and the gods sprung of these, givers of good things. Then next, the goddesses sing of , the father of gods and men, as they begin and end their song, how much he is the most excellent among the gods and supreme in power. [50] And again, they chant the race of men and strong giants, and gladden the heart of within ,—the Olympian , daughters of the -holder.

In Piera, , who reigns over the hills of Eleuther, bears them from union with the father, the son of , [55] a forgetting of ills and a rest from sorrow. For nine nights did wise lie with her, entering her holy bed remote from the other immortals. And when a year passed and the seasons came round as the months waned, and many days were accomplished, [60] she bore nine daughters, all of one mind, whose hearts are set upon song, and whose spirit is free from care, a little way from the top-most peak of snowy .

There are their bright dancing places and beautiful homes, and beside them the and live [65] in delight. And they, uttering through their lips a lovely voice, sing the laws of all and the good ways of the immortals, uttering their lovely voice. Then they went to , delightful in their sweet voice, with heavenly song, and the dark earth resounded [70] about them as they chanted and a lovely sound rose up beneath their feet as they went to their father. And he was reigning in heaven, holding the lightning and glowing thunderbolt, after he had overcome his father by force; and he distributed fairly to the immortals their portions and declared their privileges. [75] These things, then, the sang who dwell on , nine daughters conceived by great : Cleio and Euterpe, Thaleia, Melpomene and Terpsichore, and Erato and Polyhymnia and Urania and Calliope, who is the leader of them all, [80] for she attends on worshipful princes: whichever of the heaven-nourished princes the daughters of great honour and behold at his birth, they pour sweet dew upon his tongue, and from his lips flow gracious words. All the people [85] look towards him while he settles cases with true judgements: and he, speaking confidently, would soon bring a wise end to even a great quarrel; for this reason there are princes with wise hearts wise, because when the people are misguided in their assembly, they [the princes] easily set matters right again [90], persuading them with gentle words. And when he passes through a gathering, they greet him as a god with gentle reverence, and he stands out among the assembled: such is the holy gift of the to men. For it is through the and far-shooting that [95] there are singers and harpers upon the earth; but princes are from , and happy is he whom the love: speech flows sweetly from his mouth. For although a man has sorrow and grief in his newly-troubled soul and lives in dread because his heart is distressed, yet, when a singer, [100] the servant of the , chants the glorious deeds of men of old and the blessed gods who inhabit , at once he forgets his heaviness and does not remember his sorrows at all; but the gifts of the goddesses soon turn him away from these.

Hail, children of ! Grant lovely song [105] and celebrate the holy race of the deathless gods who are forever, those that were born of and starry and gloomy and them that briny reared. Tell how, in the beginning, gods and earth came to be, and rivers, and the boundless sea with its raging swell, [110] and the gleaming stars, and the wide heaven above, and the gods who were born of them, givers of good things, and how they divided their wealth, and how they shared their honours amongst themselves, and also how they first took many-folded . Declare to me these things, from the beginning, you who dwell in the house of , [115] and tell me which of them happened first. In truth at first came to be, but next wide-bosomed , the ever-sure foundation of all the deathless ones who hold the peaks of snowy , and dim in the depth of the wide-pathed earth, [120] and , fairest among the deathless gods, who loosens the limbs and overcomes the mind and the wise counsels of all gods and all men. From came forth and black ; but from were born and , [125] whom she conceived and bore from (sexual) union in love with . And first bore starry , equal to herself, to cover her on every side, and to be an ever-sure abiding-place for the blessed gods. And she brought forth long hills, graceful homes [130] of the who dwell among the glens of the hills. She bore also the fruitless deep with his raging swell, , without the sweet union of love. But afterwards she lay with and bore deep-swirling , and Crius and and , [135] Theia and , and and gold-crowned Phoebe and lovely . After them was born the wily, youngest and most terrible of her children, and he hated his lusty father.

And again, she bore the , overbearing in spirit, [140] Brontes, and Steropes and stubborn-hearted Arges, who gave the thunder and made the thunderbolt: in all else they were like the gods, [145] but one eye only was set in the midst of their foreheads. And they were called [Orb-eyed] because one orbed eye was set in their foreheads. Their works had strength and might and craft. And again, three other sons were born of and , great and mighty beyond telling, Cottus and Briareus and Gyges [ the ], arrogant children. [150] From their shoulders sprang a hundred arms, not to be approached, and fifty heads grew from the shoulders upon the strong limbs of each, and the stubborn strength they had in their great bodies was invincible . Of all the children that were born from and , [155] these were the most terrible, and they were hated by their own father from the day they were born. And he used to hide them all away in a secret place of so soon as each was born, and would not allow them to come up into the light: and rejoiced in his evil doing. But vast [160] groaned within, being restricted, and she came up with a crafty and evil plan. Right away she created the element of grey flint and shaped a great sickle, and told her dear sons her plan. And she spoke, encouraging them, while she was vexed in her dear heart, [165] “My children, sired by a wicked father, if you obey me, we will punish the vile abuse of your father; for he first thought of doing shameful things.” So she spoke; but fear seized them all, and none of them uttered a word. But great the wily took courage and answered his dear mother, [170] “Mother, I will undertake to do this deed, for I do not care for our evil father, for he first thought of doing shameful things.”

So he spoke and vast rejoiced greatly in spirit, and hid and set him up for an ambush, and put in his hands [175] a jagged sickle, and revealed to him the whole plot. And came, bringing on night and longing for love, and he lay over top of spreading himself fully upon her. Then the son from his ambush stretched forth his left hand and in his right took the great long sickle [180] with jagged teeth, and swiftly lopped off his own father's genitals and cast them away to fall behind him. And they did not fall from his hand uselessly; for received all the bloody drops that gushed forth, and as the seasons progressed [185] she gave birth to the strong and the great with gleaming armour, holding long spears in their hands and the whom they call Meliae all over the boundless earth. And as soon as he had cut off the genitals with flint and cast them from the land into the surging sea, [190] they were swept away over the watercourse for a long time: and a white foam spread around them from the immortal flesh, and in it there grew a maiden. First she came close to holy Cythera, and from there, afterwards, she came to sea-girt Cyprus, and emerged as a powerful and lovely goddess, and grass [195] grew up around her, beneath her shapely feet. Gods and men call her , the foam-born goddess, and rich-crowned . Foam-born because she grew amid the foam, and because she reached Cythera. They also called her Cyprogenes because she was born in billowy Cyprus, [200] and Philommedes[3] as well because she sprang from the genitals of . And with her went , and lovely Desire [ ] followed her at her birth at the first and as she went into the assembly of the gods. This honour she has from the beginning, and this is the portion allotted to her among men and undying gods,— [205] the whisperings of maidens and smiles and deceits with sweet delight and love and graciousness.

But these sons whom he begot himself great used to call [Strainers] in reproach, for he said that they strained and arrogantly did [210] a dreadful deed, and that vengeance for it would come afterwards. And bore hateful Doom [Moiros] and black Fate [Ker] and , and she bore and the tribe of Dreams [Oneiroi]. [214] And again the goddess murky , though she lay with no one, [213] bore Blame [Momos] and painful Woe [Oizys], [215] and the who guard the rich, golden apples and the trees bearing fruit beyond glorious . Also she bore the Destinies and ruthless avenging : Clotho and Lachesis and Atropos, who give men both evil and good at their birth, [220] and they pursue the transgressions of men and of gods. And these goddesses never cease from their dreadful anger until they punish the transgressor with a terrible penalty. Also deadly bore to afflict mortal men, and after her, Deceit [Apate] and Friendship [Philotes] [225] and hateful Old Age [Geras] and hard-hearted . But abhorred bore painful Toil [Ponos] and and Famine [Limos] and tearful Sorrows [Algea], Fightings [Hysminai] also, Battles [Makhai], Murders [Phonoi], Manslaughters [Androktasiai], Quarrels [Neikea], Lying Words [Pseudo-Logoi], Disputes [Amphilogiai], [230] Lawlessness [Dysnomia] and , all of one nature, and Oath [Horkos] who most troubles men upon earth when anyone willfully swears a false oath. And [the sea] fathered , the eldest of his children, who tells the truth and does not lie and men call him the Old Man [235] because he is trusty and gentle and does not forget the laws of righteousness, but thinks just and kindly thoughts. And yet again he fathered great Thaumas and proud , mating with , and fair-cheeked and Eurybia who has a heart of flint within her.

[240] And from and rich-haired , daughter of the perfect river, were born children, the lovely goddesses Ploto, Eucrante, Sao, and , and Eudora, and , Galene and Glauce, [245] Cymothoe, Speo, Thoe and lovely Halie, and Pasithea, and Erato, and rosy-armed Eunice, and gracious Melite, and Eulimene, and Agaue, Doto, Proto, Pherusa, and Dynamene, and Nisaea, and Actaea, and Protomedea, [250] Doris, Panopea, and comely , and lovely Hippothoe, and rosy-armed Hipponoe, and Cymodoce who with Cymatolege and easily calms the waves upon the misty sea and the blasts of raging winds, [255] and Cymo, and Eione, and rich-crowned Alimede, and Glauconome, fond of laughter, and Pontoporea, Leagore, Euagore, and Laomedea, and Polynoe, and Autonoe, and Lysianassa, and Euarne, lovely of shape and without blemish of form, [260] and Psamathe of charming figure and divine Menippe, Neso, Eupompe, Themisto, Pronoe, and Nemertes who has the nature of her deathless father. These fifty daughters sprang from virtuous , skilled in excellent crafts. [265] And Thaumas wedded Electra the daughter of deep-flowing , and she bore him swift and the long-haired , Aello [Storm-swift] and Ocypetes [Swift-flier] who on their swift wings keep pace with the blasts of the winds and the birds; for they dart along quick as time.

[270] And again, bore to the fair-cheeked , sisters grey from their birth. And both deathless gods and men who walk on earth call them , Pemphredo well-dressed, and saffron-robed Enyo, and the who dwell beyond glorious [275] in the frontier land towards where the clear-voiced are, Sthenno, and Euryale, and who suffered a deplorable fate: she was mortal, but the two were deathless and did not grow old. The Dark-haired One [ ] lay with her in a soft meadow amid spring flowers. [280] And when cut off her head, there sprang forth great and the horse who is so called because he was born near the springs of ; and that other, because he held a golden blade in his hands. Now flew away and left the earth, the mother of flocks, [285] and came to the deathless gods: and he dwells in the house of and brings to wise the thunder and lightning. But was joined in love to Callirrhoe, the daughter of glorious , and begot three-headed . Mighty slew [290] him in sea-girt Erythea by his shambling oxen on that day when he drove the wide-browed oxen to holy Tiryns, and had crossed the ford of and killed and Eurytion the herdsman in the dim place out beyond glorious . [300] And in a hollow cave she bore another monster, irresistible, in no way like mortal men or undying gods, the goddess fierce who is half a with glancing eyes and fair cheeks, and half a huge snake, great and awful, with speckled skin, eating raw flesh beneath the secret parts of the holy earth. And there she has a cave deep down under a hollow rock far from the deathless gods and mortal men. There, then, did the gods appoint her a glorious house to dwell in: and she keeps guard in Arima beneath the earth, grim , [305] a who does not die or grow old all her days.

Men say that the terrible, outrageous and lawless, was joined in love to her, the maid with glancing eyes [Echidna]. So she conceived and brought forth fierce offspring; first she bore the hound of , [310] and then again she bore a second, a monster not to be overcome and that may not be described, who eats raw flesh, the brazen-voiced hound of , fifty-headed, relentless and strong. And again she bore a third, the evil-minded , whom the goddess, white-armed nourished, [315] being angry beyond measure with the mighty . And her , the son of , of the house of , together with warlike , destroyed with the unpitying sword through the plans of the plunderer. She [Echidna] was the mother of who breathed raging fire, [320] a creature fearful, great, swift footed and strong, who had three heads, one of a grim-eyed lion, another of a goat, and another of a snake, a fierce dragon; in her forepart she was a lion; in her back-end, a dragon; and in her middle, a goat, breathing forth a fearful blast of blazing fire. [325] and noble slew her; but was subdued in intercourse with and brought forth the deadly , which destroyed the Cadmeans, and the , which , the good wife of , brought up and made to haunt the hills of Nemea, a plague to men. [330] There he preyed upon the tribes of her own people and had power over Tretus of Nemea and Apesas: yet the strength of forceful overcame him. And was joined in love to and bore her youngest, the awful snake who guards [335] the golden apples in the secret places of the dark earth at its great endpoint. This is the race of and .

And bore to eddying rivers, Nilus, and Alpheus, and deep-swirling Eridanus, Strymon, and Meander, and the fair stream of Ister, [340] and Phasis, and Rhesus, and the silver eddies of , Nessus, and Rhodius, Haliacmon, and Heptaporus, Granicus, and Aesepus, and holy , and Peneus, and Hermus, and Caicus' fair stream, and great Sangarius, Ladon, Parthenius, [345] Euenus, Ardescus, and divine . Also she brought forth a holy company of daughters who with the lord and the Rivers have youths in their keeping—to this charge appointed them—Peitho, and Admete, and Ianthe, and Electra, [350] and Doris, and Prymno, and Urania divine in form, Hippo, Clymene, Rhodea, and Callirrhoe, Zeuxo and Clytie, and Idyia, and Pasithoe, Plexaura, and Galaxaura, and lovely , Melobosis and Thoe and handsome Polydora, [355] Cerceis lovely of form, and soft eyed Pluto, Perseis, Ianeira, Acaste, Xanthe, Petraea the fair, Menestho, and Europa, , and , and Telesto saffron-clad, Chryseis and Asia and charming , [360] Eudora, and Tyche, Amphirho, and Ocyrrhoe, and who is the foremost of them all. These are the eldest daughters that sprang from and ; but there are many others. For there are three thousand neat-ankled daughters of who are dispersed far and wide, [365] and in every place equally serve the earth and the deep waters, children who are glorious among goddesses. And as many other rivers are there, babbling as they flow, sons of , whom queenly bore, but their names it is hard for a mortal man to tell, [370] but people know those by which they each dwell.

And Theia was subdued in intercourse to and bore great and clear and who shines upon all that are on earth and upon the deathless Gods who live in the wide heaven. [375] And Eurybia, bright goddess, was joined in love to Crius and bore great Astraeus, and , and Perses who also was eminent among all men in wisdom. And bore to Astraeus the strong-hearted winds, brightening , and , headlong in his course, [380] and ,—a goddess mating in love with a god. And after these Erigeneia bore the star Eosphorus [Dawn-bringer], and the gleaming stars with which heaven is crowned. And the daughter of was joined to and bore Zelus [Zeal] and trim-ankled in the house. Also she brought forth [385] and , famous children. These have no house apart from , nor any dwelling nor path except that wherein the god leads them, but they dwell always with the loud-thunderer. For so did the deathless daughter of plan [390] on that day when the Olympian Lightning god called all the deathless gods to great , and said that whosoever of the gods would fight with him against the , he would not deprive him of his rights, but each should have the office which he had before amongst the deathless gods. [395] And he declared that he who was without office or right under , should be raised to both office and rights as is just. So deathless came first to with her children through the wit of her dear father. And honoured her, and gave her very great gifts, [400] for he appointed her to be the great oath of the gods, and her children to live with him always. And carried out his promises to them all. But he himself reigns and rules mightily.

Again, Phoebe came to the desired embrace of . [405] Then through the love of the god the goddess conceived and brought forth dark-gowned , always mild, kind to men and to the deathless gods, mild from the beginning, gentlest in all . Also she bore Asteria of happy name, whom Perses once [410] led to his great house to be called his dear wife. And she conceived and bore whom the son of honoured above all. He gave her splendid gifts, to have a share of the earth and the unfruitful sea. She received honour also in starry heaven, [415] and is honoured exceedingly by the deathless gods. For to this day, whenever any man on earth offers rich sacrifices and prays for favor according to custom, he calls upon . Great honour comes easily to him whose prayers the goddess receives favorably, [420] and she bestows wealth upon him; for the power is with her. For as many as were born of and amongst all these she has her due portion. The son of did her no wrong nor took anything away of all that was her portion among the former gods: [425] but she holds, as the division was at the first from the beginning, [427] privilege both in earth, and in heaven, and in sea. [426] Also, because she is an only child, the goddess does not receive less honour, [428] but much more still, for honours her. She greatly aids and advances whomever she wants: [434] she sits by worshipful kings in judgement, [430] and in the assembly, whoever she wants is distinguished among the people. And when men arm themselves for the battle that destroys men, [433] then the goddess is at hand to give victory and grant glory readily to whomever she wants [435] She is also good when men contend at the games, for there too the goddess is with them and profits them: and he who gets the victory by might and strength wins the rich prize easily with joy, and brings glory to his parents. And she stands by whichever horsemen she wants: [440] and to those whose business is in the grey discomfortable sea, and who pray to and the loud-crashing , easily the glorious goddess gives great catch, and easily she takes it away as soon as seen, if so she wants. She is good in the farmstead with to increase the stock. [445] The droves of cattle and wide herds of goats and flocks of fleecy sheep, if she wants, she increases from a few, or makes many to be less. So, then, although her mother's only child, she is honoured amongst all the deathless gods. [450] And the son of made her a nurse of the young who after that day saw with their eyes the light of all-seeing . So from the beginning she is a nurse of the young, and these are her honours.

But was made wife to and bore splendid children, , , and gold-sandaled [455] and strong , pitiless in heart, who dwells under the earth, and the loud-crashing , and wise , father of gods and men, by whose thunder the wide earth is shaken. These great swallowed as each [460] came forth from the womb to their mother's knees with this intent, that no other of the proud sons of   should be king among the deathless gods. For he learned from and starry that he was destined to be overcome by his own son, [465] strong though he was, through the contriving of great . Therefore he kept no blind outlook, but watched and swallowed down his children: and unceasing grief seized . But when she was about to bear , the father of gods and men, [470] then she begged her own dear parents, and starry , to devise some plan with her to conceal the birth of her dear child, and some retribution to overtake great, crafty for his own father and also for the children whom he had swallowed down. And they readily heard and obeyed their dear daughter, [475] and told her all that was destined to happen, both to the king and his stout-hearted son. So they sent her to Lyctus, to the rich land of Crete, when she was ready to bear great , the youngest of her children. Vast received him from [480] in wide Crete to nourish and to bring up. To that place came carrying him swiftly through the black night to Lyctus first, and took him in her arms and hid him in a remote cave beneath the secret places of the holy earth on thick-wooded Mount Aegeum; but to the mightily ruling son of , the earlier king of the gods, [485] she gave a great stone wrapped in swaddling clothes. Then he took it in his hands and thrust it down into his belly: wretch! he did not know that in place of the stone his son was left behind, unconquered and untroubled, [490] and that he was soon to overcome him by force and might and drive him from his honours, himself to reign over the deathless gods.

After that, the strength and glorious limbs of the prince [ ] increased quickly, and as the years rolled on, great the wily was beguiled by the deep suggestions of , [495] and brought up again his offspring, vanquished by the arts and might of his own son, and he vomited up first [500] the stone which he had swallowed last. And set it firm in the wide-pathed earth at holy under the glens of Parnassus, to be a sign from that time on and a marvel to mortal men. And he set free from their deadly bonds [the ,] the brothers of his father, sons of whom his father in his foolishness had bound. And they remembered to be grateful to him for his kindness, and gave him thunder and the glowing thunderbolt [505] and lightning: for before that, huge had hidden these. In them he trusts and rules over mortals and immortals.

Now took in marriage the neat-ankled maid Clymene, daughter of , and went up with her into one bed. And she bore him a stout-hearted son, : [510] also she bore very glorious Menoetius and clever , full of various wiles, and scatter-brained who from the first was a mischief to men who eat bread; for it was he who first accepted from the woman, the maiden whom he had formed. But Menoetius was outrageous, and farseeing [515] struck him with a smokey thunderbolt and sent him down to because of his mad presumption and exceeding pride. And constrained holds up the wide heaven with untiring head and arms, standing at the borders of the earth before the clear-voiced ; [520] for this lot wise assigned to him. And ready-witted he bound with inextricable bonds, cruel chains, and drove a shaft through his middle, and set a long-winged eagle on him, which used to eat his immortal liver; but by night the liver grew [525] back as much as the long-winged bird devoured in the whole day., the valiant son of shapely-ankled , slew that bird ; and delivered the son of [ ] from the cruel plague, and released him from his affliction—but not without the will of Olympian who reigns on high, [530] that the glory of the Theban-born might be yet greater than it was before over the plenteous earth. He was amazed at and honoured his famous son; though he was angry, he ceased from the wrath he had held because matched wits with the almighty son of . [535] For when the gods and mortal men had a dispute at Mecone, even then was forward to cut up a great ox and set portions before them, trying to deceive the mind of . Before the rest he set flesh and inner parts thick with fat upon the hide [good meat], covering them with an ox paunch; [540] but for he put the white bones dressed up with cunning art and covered with shining fat. Then the father of men and of gods said to him: “Son of , most glorious of all lords, good sir, how unfairly you have divided the portions!”

[545] So said whose wisdom is everlasting, rebuking him. But wily answered him, smiling softly and not forgetting his cunning trick: “, most glorious and greatest of the eternal gods, take whichever of these portions your heart within you wants.” [550] So he said, thinking trickery. But , whose wisdom is everlasting, saw and failed not to perceive the trick, and in his heart he plotted against mortal men. With both hands he took up the white fat and was angry at heart, and wrath came to his spirit [555] when he saw the white ox-bones craftily tricked out: and because of this the tribes of men upon earth burn white bones to the deathless gods upon fragrant altars. But who drives the clouds was greatly vexed and said to him: “Son of , clever above all! [560] So, you have not yet forgotten your cunning arts!” So spoke in anger, whose wisdom is everlasting; and from that time he was always mindful of the trick, and would not give the power of unwearying fire to the Melian race of mortal men[4] who live on the earth. [565] But the noble son of outwitted him and stole the far-seen gleam of unwearying fire in a hollow fennel stalk. And who thunders on high was stung in spirit, and his dear heart was angered when he saw the far-seen ray of fire among men. [570] Then he made an evil thing for men as the price of fire; for the very famous Limping God [ ] formed from earth the likeness of a shy maiden as the son of willed. And the goddess bright-eyed girded and clothed her with silvery garments, and down from her head [575] she spread with her hands an embroidered veil, a wonder to see; and she, , put about her head lovely garlands, flowers of new-grown herbs. Also she put upon her head a crown of gold which the very famous Limping God [ ] made himself [580] and worked with his own hands as a favor to , his father. It was much curious work, wonderful to see; for of the many creatures which the land and sea rear up, he put most upon it, wonderful things, like living beings with voices: and great beauty shone out from it.[5]

[585] But when he had made the beautiful evil to be the price for the blessing [of fire], he brought her out, delighting in the finery which the bright-eyed daughter of a mighty father [ ] had given her, to the place where the other gods and men were. And wonder took hold of the deathless gods and mortal men when they saw that which was sheer guile, not to be withstood by men. [590] For from her is the race of women and female kind: of her is the deadly race and tribe of women who live among mortal men to their great trouble, no assistance in hateful poverty, but only in wealth. And as in thatched hives bees [595] feed the drones whose nature is to do mischief—by day and throughout the day until the sun goes down the bees are busy and lay the white combs, while the drones stay at home in the covered hives and reap the toil of others into their own bellies— [600] even so who thunders on high made women as an evil for mortal men, with a nature prone to doing evil. And he gave them a second evil, as a price for the good they had: whoever avoids marriage and the sorrows that women cause, and will not wed, reaches deadly old age [605] without anyone to tend to him, and though he at least has no lack of livelihood while he lives, yet, when he is dead, his kinsfolk divide his possessions among themselves. And as for the man who chooses marriage and takes a good wife suited to his mind, evil continually contends with good; [610] for whoever happens to have mischievous children, lives always with unceasing grief in his spirit and heart; and this evil cannot be healed. So it is not possible to deceive or go beyond the will of : for not even the son of , kindly , [615] escaped his heavy anger, but of necessity strong bands confined him, although he knew many tricks.

But when their father was first offended by Briareus and Cottus and Gyges, he bound them in cruel bonds, because he was jealous of their exceeding manhood and appearance [620] and great size: and he made them live beneath the wide-pathed earth, where they were afflicted, sent to live under the ground, at the end of the earth, at its great borders, in bitter anguish for a long time and with great grief at heart. But the son of and the other deathless gods [625] whom rich-haired bore from union with , brought them up again to the light at 's advising. For she herself recounted all things to the gods fully, how with these they might gain victory and a glorious means to raise themselves up. [630] For the gods and the children of had been fighting against each other for a long time in unending war with heart-grieving toil. On one side were the lordly from high and on the other were the Olympian gods, givers of good, whom rich-haired bore in union with , from . [635] So they, with bitter wrath, were fighting continually with one another at that time for ten full years, and the hard strife had no close or end for either side, and the war hung evenly balanced. But when he had provided those three [Briareus, Cottus, and Gyges] with all things fitting, [640] nectar and ambrosia which the gods themselves eat, and when their proud spirit revived within them after they had fed on nectar and delicious ambrosia, then it was that the father of men and gods [Zeus] spoke to them: “Hear me, bright children of and Uranus, [645] so that I may say what my heart within me commands. For a long time now we, who are sprung from and the gods have fought with each other every day to be victorious and to prevail. But show your great might and unconquerable strength, and [650] face the in bitter strife; for remember our friendly kindness, and the liberation from sufferings we have given you, who have come back to the light from your cruel bondage under misty gloom through our plans.”

So he spoke. And noble Cottus answered him: “[655] Divine one, you say what we know well: no, even on our own we know that your wisdom and understanding is exceeding, and that you became a defender of the deathless ones from chill doom. And through your devising we have come back again from the murky gloom and from our merciless bonds, [660] enjoying what the unexpected, O lord, son of . And so now with fixed purpose and deliberate counsel we will aid your power in dreadful strife and will fight against the in hard battle.” So he spoke: and the gods, givers of good things, applauded when [665] they heard his words, and their spirits longed for war even more than before, and they all, both male and female, stirred up hated battle that day, the gods, and all that were born of together with those dread, mighty ones of overwhelming strength [670] whom brought up to the light from beneath the earth. A hundred arms sprang from the shoulders of each of them, and each had fifty heads growing from his shoulders upon strong limbs. These, then, stood against the in grim strife, [675] holding huge rocks in their strong hands. And on the other part the eagerly strengthened their ranks, and both sides at one time showed the work of their hands and their might. The boundless sea rang out terribly, and the earth crashed loudly: wide was shaken and [680] groaned, and high reeled from its foundation under the charge of the undying gods, and a heavy quaking reached dim and the deep sound of their feet in the fearful onset and of their hard missiles. So, then, they launched their grievous shafts upon one another, [685] and the cry of both armies as they shouted reached to starry heaven; and they met together with a great battle-cry.

Then no longer held back his might; but immediately his heart was filled with fury and he displayed all his strength. From and from [690] he came immediately, hurling his lightning: the bolts flew thick and fast from his strong hand together with thunder and lightning, whirling an awesome flame. The life-giving earth crashed around, burning, and the vast wood crackled loud with fire all about. [695] All the land seethed, and 's streams and the barren sea. The hot vapor lapped round the earthborn : flame unspeakable rose to the bright upper air: even thought they were strong, the flashing glare of the thunderbolts and lightning blinded their eyes. [700] Fearful heat seized : and to see with eyes and to hear the sound with ears it seemed as if and wide above came together; for such a mighty crash would have arisen if were being hurled to ruin, and from on high were hurling her down; [705] so great a crash was there while the gods were meeting together in strife. Also the winds brought rumbling earthquake and dust storm, thunder and lightning and the smokey thunderbolt, which are the shafts of great , and carried the clamor and the war cry into the midst of the two armies. A horrible uproar [710] of terrible strife arose: mighty deeds were displayed and the battle increased. But until then, they kept at one another and fought continually in cruel war. And amongst the foremost Cottus and Briareus and Gyges insatiate for war [715] fought fiercely: three hundred rocks, one upon another, they launched from their strong hands and overshadowed the with their missiles, and hurled them beneath the wide-pathed earth, and bound them in bitter chains when they had conquered them by their strength, [720] as far beneath the earth as heaven is above earth; for so far is it from earth to . For a copper anvil falling down from heaven nine nights and days would reach the earth on the tenth: and again, a copper anvil falling from earth nine nights and days [725] would reach on the tenth. Round it runs a fence of bronze, and night spreads in triple line all about it like a necklace, while above grow the roots of the earth and barren sea.

There, by the counsel of who drives the clouds, the gods [730] are hidden under misty gloom, in a dank place at the ends of the huge earth. And they may not go out; for fixed gates of bronze upon it, and a wall runs all round it on every side. There Gyes and Cottus and great-souled Obriareus [735] live, trusty guards of who holds the . And there, all in their order, are the sources and ends of gloomy earth and misty and the barren sea and starry heaven, loathsome and dank, which even the gods abhor. [740] It is a great gulf, and if ever a man were within the gates, he would not reach the floor until a whole year had passed, but cruel blast upon blast would carry him this way and that. And this marvel is awful even to the deathless gods. There stands the awful home of murky [745] wrapped in dark clouds. In front of it the son of [ ] stands immovably upholding the wide heaven upon his head and unwearying hands, where and draw near and greet one another as they pass the great threshold [750] of bronze: and while the one is about to go down into the house, the other comes out at the door. And the house never holds them both within; but always one is outside the house passing over the earth, while the other stays at home and waits until the time for her journeying comes; [755] and the one holds all-seeing light for them on earth, but the other holds in her arms the brother of , evil , wrapped in a vaporous cloud. And there the children of dark have their dwellings, and , awful gods. [760] The glowing never looks upon them with his beams, neither as he goes up into heaven, nor as he comes down from heaven. And the former of them roams peacefully over the earth and the sea's broad back and is kindly to men; but the other has a heart of iron, and his spirit within him [765] is pitiless as bronze: whomever of men he has once seized he holds fast: and he is hateful even to the deathless gods.

There, in front, stand the echoing halls of the god of the lower-world, strong , and of dread . A fearful hound guards the house in front, [770] pitiless, and he has a cruel trick. He happily greets those who arrive with his tail and both his ears, but does not allow them to go back out again, but keeps watch and devours whomever he catches going out of the gates of strong and dread . [775] And there dwells the goddess loathed by the deathless gods, terrible , eldest daughter of who encircles the earth. She lives apart from the gods in her glorious house vaulted over with great rocks and propped up to heaven all round with silver pillars. [780] Rarely does the daughter of Thaumas, swift-footed , come to her with a message over the sea's wide back. But when strife and quarrel arise among the deathless gods, and when any one of them who live in the house of lies, then sends to bring in a golden jug the great oath of the gods [785] from far away, the famous cold water which trickles down from a high and projecting rock. Far under the wide-pathed earth a branch of flows through the dark night out of the holy stream, and a tenth part of his water is allotted to her. [790] With nine silver-swirling streams he winds about the earth and the sea's wide back, and then falls into the sea; but the tenth flows out from a rock, a sore trouble to the gods. For whoever of the deathless gods that hold the peaks of snowy Olympus pours a libation of her water and is forsworn, [795] must lie breathless until a full year is completed, and never come near to taste ambrosia and nectar, but lie spiritless and voiceless on a strewn bed: and a heavy trance overshadows him. But when he has spent a long year in his sickness, [800] another penance more hard follows after the first. For nine years he is cut off from the eternal gods and never joins their councils or their feasts, nine full years. But in the tenth year he comes again to join the assemblies of the deathless gods who live in the house of . [805] Such an oath, then, did the gods appoint the eternal and primeval water of to be: and it spouts through a rugged place.

And there, all in their order, are the sources and ends of the dark earth and misty and the barren sea and starry heaven, [810] loathsome and dank, which even the gods abhor. And there are shining gates and an immovable threshold of bronze having unending roots, and it is self-grown. And beyond, away from all the gods, live the , beyond gloomy . [815] But the glorious allies of loud-crashing have their dwelling upon 's foundations, even Cottus and Gyges; but Briareus, being noble, the deep-roaring made his son-in-law, giving him Cymopolea his daughter to wed.

[820] But when had driven the from heaven, huge bore her youngest child from intercourse with , by the aid of golden . Strength was with his hands in all that he did and the feet of the strong god were untiring. From his shoulders [825] grew a hundred snake heads, a fearful dragon, with dark, flickering tongues, and from under the brows of his eyes in his marvellous heads flashed fire, and fire burned from his heads as he glared. And there were voices in all his dreadful heads [830] which uttered every kind of sound unspeakable; for at one time they made sounds such that the gods understood, but at another, the noise of a bull bellowing aloud in proud ungovernable fury; and at another, the sound of a lion, relentless of heart; and at another, sounds like puppies, strange to hear; [835] and again, at another, he would hiss, so that the high mountains re-echoed. And truly a thing past help would have happened on that day, and he would have come to reign over mortals and immortals, had not the father of men and gods been quick to perceive it. But he thundered hard and mightily: and the earth around [840] resounded terribly and the wide heaven above, and the sea and 's streams and the lower parts of the earth. Great reeled beneath the divine feet of the king as he arose and earth groaned. And through the two of them heat took hold on the dark-blue sea, [845] through the thunder and lightning, and through the fire from the monster, and the scorching winds and blazing thunderbolt. The whole earth seethed, and sky and sea: and the long waves raged along the beaches round and about at the rush of the deathless gods: and there arose an endless shaking. [850] trembled where he rules over the dead below, and the under who live with , because of the unending clamor and the fearful strife.

So when had raised up his might and seized his arms, thunder and lightning and smokey thunderbolt, [855] he leaped from and struck him [ ], and burned all the marvellous heads of the monster about him. But when had conquered him and lashed him with strokes, was hurled down, a maimed wreck, so that the huge earth groaned. And flame shot forth from the thunder-stricken lord [860] in the dim rugged glens of the mountain, when he was defeated. A great part of huge earth was scorched by the terrible vapor and melted as tin melts when heated by men's art in channelled crucibles; or as iron, which is hardest of all things, is shortened [865] by glowing fire in mountain glens and melts in the divine earth through the strength of . Like this, then, the earth melted in the glow of the blazing fire. And in the bitterness of his anger cast him into wide . And from come boisterous winds which blow damply, [870] except and and clear . These are a god-sent kind, and a great blessing to men; but the others blow fitfully upon the sea. Some rush upon the misty sea and cause much destruction for men with their evil, raging blasts; [875] for varying with the season they blow, scattering ships and destroying sailors. And men who meet these upon the sea have no help against the mischief. Others again over the boundless, flowering earth spoil the fair fields of men who dwell below, [880] filling them with dust and cruel uproar. But when the blessed gods had finished their toil, and settled by force their struggle for honours with the , they encouraged far-seeing Olympian to reign and to rule over them, by 's prompting. So he divided their offices amongst them.

[885] Now , king of the gods, made his wife first, and she was wisest among gods and mortal men. But when she was about to give birth to the goddess bright-eyed , craftily deceived her [890] with cunning words and put her in his own belly, as and starry advised. For they advised him so, so that no other should hold royal sway over the eternal gods in place of ; for very wise children were destined to be born of her, [895] first the maiden bright-eyed , equal to her father in strength and in wise understanding; but afterwards she was to bear a son of overbearing spirit, king of gods and men. But put her into his own belly first, [900] that the goddess might plot for him both good and evil.

Next he married bright who bore the , and Eunomia [Order], Dikë [Justice], and blooming Eirene [Peace], who mind the works of mortal men, and the to whom wise gave the greatest honour, [905] Clotho, and Lachesis, and Atropos who give mortal men evil and good to have. And , the daughter of , beautiful in form, bore him three fair-cheeked ], Aglaea, and Euphrosyne, and lovely Thaleia, [910] from whose eyes as they glanced flowed love that loosens the limbs: and beautiful is their glance beneath their brows. Also he came to the bed of all-nourishing , and she bore white-armed whom carried off from her mother; but wise gave her to him. [915] And again, he loved with the beautiful hair: and of her the nine gold-crowned were born who delight in feasts and the pleasures of song. And was joined in love with who holds the , [920] and bore and delighting in arrows, children lovely above all the descendants . Lastly, he made his blooming wife: and she was joined in love with the king of gods and men, and brought forth and and . But himself gave birth from his own head to bright-eyed , [925] the awe-inspiring, the strife-stirring, the host-leader, the unwearying, the queen, who delights in tumults and wars and battles. But without union with —for she was very angry and argued with her partner—bore famous , who is skilled in crafts more than all the descendants of . [929a] But was very angry and argued with her partner. And because of this strife she bore without union with who holds the a glorious son, , who excelled all the sons of in crafts. [929e] But lay with the fair-cheeked daughter of and apart from ((lacuna))[6]. . . deceiving although she was full wise. But he seized her with his hands and put her in his belly, for fear that she might bring forth something stronger than his thunderbolt: [929j] therefore did , who sits on high and dwells in the , swallow her down suddenly. But she straightway conceived : and the father of men and gods gave birth to her by way of his head on the banks of the river Trito. And she remained hidden beneath the inward parts of , [929o] , 's mother, worker of righteousness, who was wiser than gods and mortal men. There the goddess received what she needed to she excelled in strength all the deathless less ones who dwell in , she who made the host-scaring weapon of . [929t] And with it [ ] gave birth to her, arrayed in arms of war. [930] And from and the loud-roaring was born great, wide-ruling , and he owns the depths of the sea, living with his dear mother and the lord his father in their golden house, a fearsome god. Also bore to the shield-piercer Panic [Deimos] and Fear [Phobos], [935] terrible gods who drive the close ranks of men into discord in numbing war, with the help of , sacker of towns; and whom high-spirited made his wife.

And , the daughter of , bore to glorious , the herald of the deathless gods, for she went up into his holy bed. [940] And , daughter of was joined with him [Zeus] in love and bore him a splendid son, joyous ,—a mortal woman, an immortal son. And now they both are gods. And was joined in love with who drives the clouds and bore mighty . [945] And , the famous Lame One, made Aglaea, youngest of the , his buxom wife. And golden-haired made brown-haired , the daughter of , his buxom wife: and the son of made her deathless and unageing for him. [950] And mighty , the valiant son of neat-ankled , when he had finished his terrible labours, made the child of great and gold-sandaled his shy wife in snowy . A happy man! For he has finished his great work [955] and lives amongst the undying gods, untroubled and unaging all his days. And Perseis, the daughter of , bore to unwearying and the king. And , the son of who shows light to men, [960] took to wife fair-cheeked Idyia, daughter of the perfect stream, by the will of the gods: and she was subdued him in love through golden and bore him neat-ankled .

And now farewell, you dwellers on , and you islands and continents, and you briny sea within. [965] Now sing the company of goddesses, sweet-voiced of , daughters of who holds the ,—even those deathless ones who lay with mortal men and bore children like gods. , bright goddess, was joined in sweet love [970] with the hero Iasion in a thrice-ploughed fallow in the rich land of Crete, and bore , a kindly god who goes everywhere over land and the sea's wide back, and he makes rich the man who finds him and into whose hands he comes, bestowing great wealth upon him. [975] And , the daughter of golden , bore to and and fair-cheeked and whom long haired wedded, and Polydorus also in rich-crowned . And the daughter of , Callirrhoe [980] was joined in the love of rich with stout-hearted and bore a son who was the strongest of all men, , whom mighty killed in sea-girt Erythea for the sake of his shambling oxen. And bore to brazen-crested Memnon, [985] king of the Ethiopians, and the Lord Emathion. And to Cephalus she bore a splendid son, strong Phaethon, a man like the gods, whom, when he was a young boy in the tender flower of glorious youth with childish thoughts, laughter-loving [990] seized and caught up and made a keeper of her shrine by night, a divine spirit. And [ ] the son of by the will of the gods led away from the daughter [ ] of the heaven-nurtured king, when he had finished the many grievous labours [995] which the great king, overbearing , that outrageous and presumptuous doer of violence, put upon him. But when the son of had finished them, he came to Iolcus after long toil bringing the coy-eyed girl with him on his swift ship, and made her his buxom wife. [1000] And she was wife to , shepherd of the people, and bore a son Medeus whom the son of Philyra brought up in the mountains. And the will of great was fulfilled.

But of the daughters of , the Old man of the Sea, Psamathe the fair goddess, [1005] was loved by through golden and bore Phocus. And the silver-sandaled goddess was made wife to and brought forth lion-hearted , the destroyer of men. And with the beautiful crown was joined in sweet love with the hero and bore [1010] on the peaks of with its many wooded glens. And the daughter of , 's son, loved steadfast and bore Agrius and Latinus who was faultless and strong: also she brought forth by the will of golden . [1015] And they ruled over the famous Tyrsenians, very far off in a recess of the holy islands. And the bright goddess was joined to in sweet love, and bore him Nausithous and Nausinous. [1020] These are the immortal goddesses who lay with mortal men and bore them children like gods. But now, sweet-voiced of , daughters of who holds the , sing of the company of women.


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Art and Symbolism

Gods and giants, armed with round shields and spears, fight. A large lion is in the melee.
Gigantomachy, Delphi Siphnian Treasury frieze, ca. 525 BCE (Archaeological Museum, Delphi)

While there are no known representations of the battle between the Olympians and the Titans (the Titanomachy), the victory over the Giants (the Gigantomachy) was one of the most popular themes in ancient Greek art.


A large melee of people and horses, featuring Hermes, Apollo and Athena. they fight giants, naked and draped with animal skins.
Gigantomachy, red-figure amphora, ca. 400 BCE (Louvre Museum, Paris)
Zeus rides in a horse-drawn chariot. Other gods, including Athena, are around. Below them are the giants, armed with shields and various weapons, and nude.
Gigantomachy, red-figure krater, ca. 350 BCE (State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg)

















In our earliest examples, from the and , the Olympian gods were portrayed with their usual attributes, but also holding various weapons. The Giants were initially depicted as bearded warriors in hoplite armour with no monstrous features.


Winged Nike rides in a horse-drawn chariot. Other gods, including Zeus with his lightning bolt, Athena with helm and spear, and Heracles with a bow and lion skin, are engaged in battle with giants.
Gigantomachy, red-figure amphora, 4th century BCE (Louvre Museum, Paris)

However, during the the iconography of the Giants changed to mixed creatures with human heads and torsos and snake-like legs. This was meant to stress their connection to Gaia, their mother: snakes were seen as chthonic animals, and consequently many of the children of Gaia were represented with serpentine features in art.


Zeus in a chariot pulled by 4 horses. He is wielding a 3-pronged lightning bolt and fighting a giant who has snakes for legs.
Zeus fighting a giant, red-figure tondo, ca. 350 BCE National Archaeological Museum, Madrid)

Specific Olympian gods were almost always represented fighting the same adversaries during the war: Athena slays Enceladus with her spear, Dionysus kills Eurytus, Poseidon throws an island on Polybotes, Hecate burns Clytios.


Athena lunges forward and grabs Enceladus by the neck. Enceladus, nude, falls backwards.
Athena fights the giant Enceladus, Selinunte relief, ca. 450 BCE (Museo Archaeologico Regionale, Palermo)
Dionysus, long-haired and bearded with a crown of vines, grabs Eurytus' head with one hand and stabs at him with a spear with the other. Eurytus, wearing a helm and wielding a sword, is on his knees.
Dionysus fighting the giant Eurytus, red-figure pelike, ca. 460 BCE (Louvre Museum, Paris)











Poseidon lunges at Polybotes with a spear. Polybotes, holding a shield and wearing a helm, is down on one knee.
Poseidon and the giant Polybotes, black-figure amphora, ca. 540 BCE (Louvre Museum, Paris)
White marble frieze from the Altar of Pergamum. Left hand scene shows Hecate on the right with shield and brandishing torch. To her left the monster Clytios, with snakes for legs is attacking. One of his snake legs bites Hecate's shield. One of Hecate's dogs bites at the lower torso of Clytias.
Hecate fighting Clytios (far left) in the Gigantomachy, Pergamon Altar frieze, 2nd century BCE (Pergamon Museum, Berlin)

The victory against the Giants was often used as a tool of political propaganda to celebrate victories against foreign enemies. For instance, sculptures representing this myth were displayed on the metopes on the eastern side of the Parthenon to remember Athens' victory against the Persians, and on the massive Altar of Zeus in Pergamon to commemorate the local king’s victory against the Galatian Gauls.


Athena, with shield and helm, fights a winged giant with a snake wound around him. Gaia rises up out of the ground, and winged Nike flies above.
Athena in the Gigantomachy, Pergamon Altar frieze, 2nd century BCE (Pergamon Museum, Berlin)

Media Attributions and Footnotes

  1. Mount Helicon was in Hesiod's native Boeotia. Writers of myth often associate their hometowns to significant mythic events, which lends prestige to their place of origin and therefore authority to themselves as writers.
  2. Refers to a spring on Helicon, called Hippocrene. In some accounts, it is named the Horse's Spring because it was created when Pegasus kicked a rock.  
  3. Philommedes can mean either "genital-loving" (as Hesiod here interprets it) or "laughter-loving"
  4. The meliae were nymphs of trees, or specifically ash trees. In another of Hesiod's works, Works and Days, the humans of the mythical Bronze Age were offspring of the Meliae (see Hesiod, Works and Days, 140-145). The "Melian race of mortals" may therefore be a reference to this origin of humanity, or to the people of the Bronze Age.
  5. For more on the creation of the first woman Pandora, see chapter 14.
  6. Indicates a gap or missing segment in the text


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Hesiod's Theogony by Tara Mulder is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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