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Ouranos Uranus mythology god

The Mutilation of Uranus by Saturn, fresco by Giorgio Vasari and Cristofano Gherardi, c. 1560 (on the ceiling of the room of the Elements, Sala di Cosimo I, Palazzo Vecchio)



We have already seen the primal dethronement of father by son in the Zeus-Kronos (Jupiter-Saturn) relationship. Now we see it again between Kronos and his father, Ouranos (Uranus). But first we have to go back to the Greek version of the beginning of the world.

In the beginning was Khaos (Chaos), the shapeless, disordered mass that was the universe before the creation of living beings. Out of Chaos arose the primordial gods: Gaia, Tartarus, Eros, Erebus, Nyx, and Eurynome. Of these, the only anthropomorphic, well-defined divinity was Gaia, the Earth-goddess from whom all things issued. Pre-Hellenic, even Paleolithic, Gaia was often depicted half-risen from the Earth, unable to completely separate herself from her element. She gave birth—parthenogenetically, without any male help—to the Sea (Pontus), the Mountains (Ourea), and the Sky (Ouranos).

Hesiod delivers a more poetic version of the Greek creation myth in his Theogony (a different and more extensive extract from Theogony is given on page 74 under The Genealogy of the Greek Gods, and continued on page 117 under Venus):

"In the beginning there was Chaos, vast and dark. Then appeared Gaea, the deep-breasted earth, and finally Eros, the love which softens hearts,’ whose fructifying influence would thenceforth preside over the formation of beings and things. From Chaos were born Erebus and Night who, uniting, gave birth in their turn to Ether and Hemera, the day. On her part Gaea first bore Uranus, the sky crowned with stars, whom she made her equal in grandeur, so that he entirely covered her.’ Then she created the high mountains and Pontus, the sterile sea’ with its harmonious waves."

Hesiod goes on to tell us that the entire and more familiar Greek pantheon issued from a primal marriage between the sky or heaven (Ouranos) and the Earth (Gaia):

"Great Ouranos came, bringing on Night, and desirous of love, he spread himself over Gaia, stretched out in every direction."

From this celestial union, Gaia bore the first generation of gods and giants, which included Kronos (Saturn), the 12 Titans, the three Cyclopes (gigantic one-eyed monsters), and the three Hecatonchires (even more terrible monsters with 50 heads and 100 arms). Hesiod tells us that she groaned (the first earthquake?) when these gods and giants pressed tightly against her womb.

Ouranos in this myth is the personification of the Mountain of Heaven, which explodes and falls to Earth thereby sowing the seeds of creation. Ouranos literally means “Mountain of Heaven” (ouros is Greek  for “mountain”), and he was thus a cognate for the still older Mesopotamian gods Anu, Enki, Enlil and Zu, who likewise personified the Mountain of Heaven.

Here the various mythologies diverge slightly. One account has it that disgusted by or fearful of his monstrous children, Uranus imprisoned the Hecatonchires and the Cyclopes in Tartarus forever. Since this was part of the Earth (Gaia’s very bowels), Gaia found her children’s presence again in her body painful, and conceived a plan to end both Uranus’ passions and more monstrous offspring. She asked all of her children for help, but only the youngest, Kronos, agreed.

Gaia created an adamantine sickle for him, and he hid under their bed with it. When Uranus came to lie with her again, Kronos cut off his genitals with one sweep of the sickle! From the blood that fell to Earth/Gaia, the Erinyes (the Furies: avenging spirits of retributive justice), the Giants, and the Meliae (nymphs of the manna ash tree) were born. From the blood that fell into the sea, or perhaps from the genitals themselves that Kronos tossed there, Aphrodite/Venus was born from the foam ("Aphrodite" means "foam-born" in Greek).

Thus the Earth (Gaia) was separated from the sky (Uranus), a body-mind split that still pervades Western culture. Being the primordial element from which all the gods originated, Gaia was universally worshipped, but later went into decline and was replaced by other gods.

Having overthrown Uranus, the Titans retrieved their brothers from Tartarus and gave the power to Kronos, who once again bound and imprisoned the Cyclopes there. Much later at the end of the 10-year war between the Olympians led by Jupiter-Zeus and the Titans under Saturn-Kronos, Gaia prophesied a victory for Zeus were he to free the Cyclopes as his allies. When he did so, the Cyclopes—the first smiths—in return gave Zeus thunder, lightning, and a thunderbolt, Pluto a helmet, and Poseidon a trident. Armed with these gifts the three gods overpowered the Titans, cast them into Tartarus, and placed the Hecatonchires in guard over them.

This Uranus-Ouranos-Mythology-God page and much of this 600-page website are excerpted from the personalized Fine Art Book You and the Universe.

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