CLA160: Lecture 2
Reading#2: Hesiod’s Theogony
The Gods and Greek religion
- Theogony: ‘’ birth of Gods’’
- Theos(gods)+gonê( birth)
- The Gods can be spiteful (sons& fathers) & violent.
- Incest (Zeus and Hera for example).
- Even the Gods are bound by destiny.
- They’re beautiful and appreciate beauty.
- Strong relationship with their worshippers (intercede directly).
- The Gods values and social hierarchy reflect human society.
- Immortality is almost conditional contrary to Modern views.
- There is a huge diversity (God of outrageousness, good gods, bad ones, fun ones, quiet
A culture reflected by its Gods
- By looking at their Gods, we hope to learn more about Greek& Roman culture. Their
Gods are anthropomorphic, i.e. they have the shape of a human, as well as human
emotions, psychology, mindset etc. Other examples of anthropomorphism: violence,
competition, love, sexuality; they can be fooled and pissed off.
- Anthropôs(human)+morphê( shape)
- The question is, would you like a God like us, accessible, or infinitely better and
- The essential difference is their power.
- How do you recognize a God? By his/her gleaming neck.
- Other difference: mortality. Mortals are thanatoi, Gods are athanatoi. Thanatos= death,
death-like and a= not.
- The myth of Arachne, who tried to compete with Athena (The God of crafts). Athena
turned her into a spider for trying to compete with her. - The Gods can get attached to human beings and have to watch them die. Myth of
Sarpedon: Zeus let his son die because he was a mortal.
- Hermes= messenger of death, escorts dead souls
- The story of Eos and Tithonus: Eos asked Zeus to give tithonus eternal life but forgets to
ask for eternal youth.
- This illustrates that the Gods are accessible YET infinitely different. This can be
illustrated with the example of Zeus: On one hand we have Zeus the lecher who can’t
control his libido ( Io, Ganymede) and on the other we have Zeus the moral enforcer.
- Gods are not examples to us in Old religion, but they set up moral surveillance. For the
just man receives prosperity and peace. Zeus is the guarantor of justice, not the model
(Zeus’s thunderbolt). Although Zeus is omniscient, he can be fooled (Prometheus).
Ambivalence of anthropomorphism?
- Xenophane is a Greek philosophy during the 6 century BCE: man creates Gods in their
own image. We project our own issues on the Gods.
- Why is Hesiod’s Theogony so exhaustive? Why is there so much detail? One possible
explanation comes from a historical context.
- Cultural explanation: pan Hellenism (referring to all Greek people or a movement to unify
- Religious explanation: Polytheism ( the worship or belief of multiple deities)
- The establishment of shrines, the establishment of Olympics in 776 BCE (every four
years the Greeks came together to worship Zeus).Every community would’ve had its
own Theogony. Hesiod brings them all together, which satisfied all Greeks. Line 367:
‘’Again there is many other rivers roaring loudly…’’.
- The primary Gods were Zeus and the 12 Olympians.
- Humans can develop patron gods but must worship the other ones as well. There is a
continuum between Gods and humans (mountains, trees, rivers, nymphs, aspects of
human life; nature is divine).
The Succession myth: three generations of conflict
First generation Second generation Third generation
- Gaia, goddess of - Kronos mated with - Titanomachy: