You didn’t seriously think I was going to title the post “U is for Uranus,” did you? I never use that name (except when referring to the planet) because it’s his Roman name. Also because it leads to immature jokes.
Anyway, I think I’ll be doing this one as a myth re-telling. ‘Cause otherwise I’ll start getting all blah-de-blah about comparing Hesiod’s Ouranos, the Iliad‘s Oceanos, and Apsu. And I don’t think many people (other than me) would want to read that.
Also because I really would like to someday re-tell all the major myths and collect them together into a book. And then…actually, I think I’ll save what I want to do for a later post. I’m trying to post daily for a whole year, after all, and still have a number of months of that left. On to the myth! (This should, it seems important to point out, be seen as the second “episode” in the creation myth, the first having explained where Gaia came from.)
At first, Gaia produced her children unaided; they were born from her will alone. Ouranos was to be the sky who enveloped her in his embrace. Ourea became the mountains that decorated her. And Pontos was the sea that surrounded her.
Ourea remained passively uninterested, but Ouranos and Pontos were constantly caressing and embracing Gaia, and soon she found herself producing unexpected offspring.
To Pontos she bore many: Nereus, Thaumas, Phorkys, Eurybia and even the monstrous Ceto. But to Ouranos she bore more: six daughters and six sons, who quickly took the name Titans upon themselves. The Titans were finely formed and lovely to look upon, with two each of arms and legs and eyes and ears, and only one torso and head and nose. The daughters were Theia, Rhea, Themis, Mnemosyne, Phoibe and Tethys, and their mother took to them delightedly. The sons were Oceanos, Koios, Creios, Hyperion, Iapetos and Kronos. Though she entrusted them to their father’s care, Ouranos was not so pleased with his sons, and was soon finding excuses to send them away. Oceanos he sent to live with his brother Pontos, and he set Hyperion driving the chariot we call the sun through the sky every day, an act which was soon imitated by Phoibe, who began to drive the chariot of the moon through the sky every night, and sometimes through the day as well. Ouranos sent the rest of his sons away on errands as often as he could.
Whenever he found the opportunity to be alone with her, Ouranos would once again lie with Gaia, blanketing her surface in darkness as he pressed himself down upon her. She was soon again with child, but when she gave birth to her new children, they were not so finely formed as the Titans. They looked similar to the Titans, but they were the Cyclopes, the same as the Titans in all respects but that they had a single great eye where the Titans had two. Gaia named them Brontes, Steropes and Arges, and she loved them fondly. Ouranos detested them, and said he would not look on them, so Gaia took them back within her body, hiding them beneath the surface of the earth, where she taught them metal-working.
Despite these hideous second sons, Ouranos would not contain his lust for Gaia, and continued to lie with her at every chance, and she soon was again bearing his children. But these children were even more hideous than the Cyclopes. They were the Hecatoncheires, the Hundred-Handed Giants. They were an impossible configuration of hands and arms, and the sight of them made their father shudder in revulsion.
“I thought we could call this one Briareos, this one Kottos, and that one Gyges,” Gaia told Ouranos. “What do you think?”
“I shall call them what they are: monsters!” With that, Ouranos shoved his unsightly children back into their mothers’ womb, and shut the opening with a mountain to prevent them escaping.
Gaia was horrified at her lover’s conduct, and asked her sons the Titans to interfere on behalf of their brothers. One by one, they asked their father for the release of the Hundred-Handed Giants, and one by one found themselves imprisoned with them.
When only Kronos, the youngest, was left on the surface, Gaia told him not to approach his father yet, then asked the Cyclopes to forge a weapon for their brother. She told them to create a mighty sickle, but she did not think that any metal she had thus far produced would be strong enough for the task. So she made a new metal within the bones of her body, a metal she called adamant, and she gave that to the Cyclopes to use for the sickle.
When it was finished, it was so sharp that it could split a hair simply by looking at it, and so tough that its edge could never be dulled. Gaia told Kronos to take the blade and approach his father, and if his father would not agree to free his imprisoned brothers, then he should use the sickle to cut bits off his father, and force him into freeing them, refusing to return the pieces until Ouranos agreed.
Kronos did not like his mother’s plan. It wouldn’t work if his father saw the sickle, or if his father proved stronger than he. So Kronos decided on a new, more clever plan. A plan some might call crooked.
Kronos went and hid at the opening to his mother’s womb, waiting for Ouranos to come and lie with her in the night. Once Ouranos had done so, Kronos sliced off his genitals, and flung them far away. Where the drops of Ouranos’ blood fell on the surface of Gaia’s body, new children sprang to life. First came the Erinyes, the three sisters known as the Furies, who avenge sins of kin against kin. Then came the ugly Gigantes, giant brutes, and the beautiful Melian Nymphs, who took up residence in the mountains upon their mothers’ body.
Kronos used his sickle to prod Ouranos back up into the sky, and his brothers–escaping through the opening Ouranos had made for his own pleasure–helped him to fasten Ouranos in place, so that he could never again come down from the sky and lie with Gaia. Thus Ouranos became nothing more than the sky itself, the future home of the gods.
Interesting point (despite that I said I wouldn’t talk about this comparison) is that Hesiod actually describes Ouranos as having been born to be the sky and home of the gods. Just as Apsu becomes the home of the gods after he’s slain. Hesiod’s version of the creation of the universe was obviously influenced by the Mesopotamian creation myth. (Whether directly or indirectly, we have no way of knowing, naturally.) Obviously, my version is pretty much just a re-hash of Hesiod, but hopefully with a bit of a modern twist. You will note, however, that I did not talk about the genitals falling into the sea and foaming and creating Aphrodite. That’s because I prefer the Homeric version where she’s the daughter of Zeus and Dione. (And according to Timothy Gantz, so did most ancient authors. It’s just in modern times that the Hediodic version has become viewed as “canon.”)
I don’t think anyone actually has Hyperion taking on the role of his son (or sometimes alternate identity) Helios quite this early, but…it seemed to make sense, right? Likewise, Phoibe is such a non-entity mythically that she becomes confused/conflated with Selene and/or Artemis over time, hence my giving her Selene’s duties here.
I called Kronos’ plan “crooked” because one of his main epithets in all of Greek literature is “crooked-counselling”. So it amused me to call his plan crooked. Because I’m easily amused.
For a post allegedly about Ouranos, I didn’t actually spend much time on/with him. Sorry about that, but…the story’s really more about Gaia and Kronos. (Despite her primary role being the mother of all, Gaia’s one of the rare mothers in Greek myths who gets to be more than a just a womb. Odd, isn’t it?)