Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Gaia

Gaia (ˈɡeɪ.ə/ or /ˈɡaɪ.ə/; from Ancient Greek Γαῖα "land" or "earth"; also Gæa, Gaea, or Gea; Koine Greek: Γῆ) was the primordial Earth-goddess in ancient Greek religion. Gaia was the great mother of all: the heavenly gods and Titans were descended from her union with Uranus (the sky), the sea-gods from her union with Pontus (the sea), the Giants from her mating with Tartarus (the hell-pit) and mortal creatures were sprung or born from her earthy flesh. The earliest reference to her is Mycenaean Greek Linear B ma-ka (transliterated as ma-ga), "Mother Gaia."

Her equivalent in the Roman pantheon was Terra.

Hesiod's Theogony (116ff) tells how, after Chaos, arose Gaia, the everlasting foundation of the gods of Olympus. She brought forth Uranus, the starry sky, her equal, to cover her, the hills (Ourea), and the fruitless deep of the Sea, Pontus, "without sweet union of love," out of her own self through parthenogenesis. But afterwards, as Hesiod tells it,

she lay with her son, Uranus, and bore the world-ocean god Oceanus, Coeus and Crius and the Titans Hyperion and Iapetus, Theia and Rhea, Themis, Mnemosyne, and Phoebe of the golden crown, and lovely Tethys. After them was born Cronus the wily, youngest and most terrible of her children, and he hated his lusty sire.

Hesiod mentions Gaia's further offspring conceived with Uranus: first the giant one-eyed Cyclopes: Brontes ("thunderer"), Steropes ("lightning") and the "bright" Arges: "Strength and might and craft were in their works." Then he adds the three terrible hundred-handed sons of Earth and Heaven, the Hecatonchires: Cottus, Briareos and Gyges, each with fifty heads.

Uranus hid the Hecatonchires and the Cyclopes in Tartarus so that they would not see the light, rejoicing in this evil doing. This caused pain to Gaia (Tartarus was her bowels) so she created grey flint (or adamantine) and shaped a great flint sickle, gathering together Cronus and his brothers to ask them to obey her. Only Cronus, the youngest, had the daring to take the flint sickle she made, and castrate his father as he approached Gaia to have intercourse with her. And from the drops of blood and semen, Gaia brought forth still more progeny, the strong Erinyes and the armoured Gigantes and the ash-tree Nymphs called the Meliae.

Zeus hid Elara, one of his lovers, from Hera by hiding her under the earth. His son by Elara, the giant Tityos, is therefore sometimes said to be a son of Gaia, the earth goddess.

Gaia is believed by some sources to be the original deity behind the Oracle at Delphi. Depending on the source, Gaia passed her powers on to Poseidon, Apollo or Themis. Apollo is the best-known as the oracle power behind Delphi, long established by the time of Homer, having killed Gaia's child Python there and usurped the chthonic power. Hera punished Apollo for this by sending him to King Admetus as a shepherd for nine years.

In classical art Gaia was represented in one of two ways. In Athenian vase painting she was shown as a matronly woman only half risen from the earth, often in the act of handing the baby Erichthonius (a future king of Athens) to Athena to foster (see example below). In mosaic representations, she appears as a woman reclining upon the earth surrounded by a host of Carpi, infant gods of the fruits of the earth (see example below under Interpretations).

Gaia also made Aristaeus immortal.

Oaths sworn in the name of Gaia, in ancient Greece, were considered the most binding of all.

From the testicles of Uranus in the sea came forth Aphrodite. After Uranus's castration, Gaia, by Tartarus, gave birth to Echidna (by some accounts) and Typhon. By her son Pontus (god of the sea), Gaia birthed the sea-deities Nereus, Thaumas, Phorcys, Ceto, and Eurybia. Aergia, a goddess of sloth and laziness, is the daughter of Aether and Gaia.

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