Chapter 4: Zeus Rise to Power: The Creation Of Mortals
THE TITANOMACHY: ZEUS DEFEATS HIS FATHER CRONUS
This epic battle was waged for ten years between Zeus and the Olympians and Cronus and the Titans.
Cronus fought from Mt. Othrys; his allies were the Titans except for Themis and her son PROMETHEUS
[proh-mee'the-us]. Prometheus brother ATLAS [at'las] sided with Cronus.
Zeus fought from Mt. Olympus and his allies, in addition to Themis and Prometheus, were his brothers and
sisters, who had been swallowed by Cronus but later regurgitated, namely: Hestia, Demeter, Hera, Hades,
and Poseidon. Also on his side were the Hecatonchires and the Cyclopes.
Zeus was victorious and the Titans were imprisoned in Tartarus, guarded by the Hecatonchires; and Atlas
was punished with the task of holding up the sky.
THE GIGANTOMACHY: ZEUS DEFEATS THE GIANTS AND TYPHOEUS
Giants, called GEGENEIS [jeeje-nays and gayge-nays], since they were born from the Earth, challenged
Zeus and the new order of the gods. They were defeated in a fierce battle and were imprisoned under the
earth. Volcanoes, when they erupt, reveal the presence of the giants below.
TYPHOEUS [teye-fee'us], also called TYPHAON [teye-fay'on] or TYPHON [teye'fon] was a ferocious dragon-
god, whom earth produced to do battle with Zeus, either separately, or alongside the giants in the great
Gigantomachy. Zeus' triumph singles him out as an archetypal dragon-slayer.
The giants, OTUS [oh'tus] or OTOS and EPHIALTES [ef-i-al'teez], in a separate attack, failed in
their attempt to storm heaven by piling Olympus, Ossa, and Pelion, one upon the other.
The Titanomachy and the Gigantomachy are often confused in literature and art, and details vary
THE FOUR OR FIVE AGES
There are several conflicting versions about the creation of mortals. According to the myth of the ages of
humankind, men and women are the creation of the gods or Zeus himself. The following is a summary of
Hesiods account. Ovid describes only four ages, omitting the Age of Heroes. This tale of human
degeneration mingles fact and fancy in an astonishing manner, for ages of bronze and of iron is
historically very real indeed.
The Age of Gold. In the time when Cronus (Saturn) was king in heaven, the Olympian gods made a
golden race of mortals, who lived as though in a paradise, without toil, trouble or cares. All good things
were theirs in abundance, and the fertile earth brought forth fruit of its own accord. They lived in peace
and harmony, never grew old, and died as though overcome by sleep. The earth covered over this race,
but they still exist as holy spirits who wander over the earth.
The Age of Silver. The Olympian gods made a second race of silver, far less favored than the one of
gold. Their childhood lasted a hundred years and when they grew up their lives were short and distressful.
For they were arrogant against one another and refused to worship the gods or offer them sacrifice. Zeus
in his anger at their senselessness hid them under the earth where they still dwell.
The Age of Bronze. Zeus made a third race of mortals, a terrible and mighty one of bronze. Their
implements and weapons were of bronze, and they relentlessly pursued the painful and violent deeds of
war. They destroyed themselves by their own hands and went down to the realm of Hades without leaving
The Age of Heroes. Zeus made still another race, also valiant in war but more just and more civilized.
This was the race of the heroes, also called demigods, who were involved in the legendary events of Greek saga. They fought, for example, at Thebes and in the Trojan War. When they died, Zeus sent some of
these heroes to inhabit the Islands of the Blessed, a paradise at the far ends of the earth, ruled over by
Cronus (Saturn), who had been deposed and freed by Zeus.
The Age of Iron. Zeus made still another race, that of iron, troubled by toil and misery, although good is
intermingled with their evils. It is in this age that the poet Hesiod lived, and he exclaims in woe: Would
that I were not a man of the fifth generation but had either died before or had been born later. He
predicts further moral and physical disintegration and annihilation through war, until Zeus will finally
destroy human beings when it comes to pass that they are born with gray hair on their temples. More and
more will this become an age of wickedness, strife, and disrespect for the gods, until Shame itself and
righteous Retribution will abandon mortals to their evil folly and doom.
PROMETHEUS OUR CREATOR
Dominant in the tradition about creation is the myth that Prometheus (not Zeus) was the creator of
human beings from clay and Athena breathed into them the divine spirit. In the version of Hesiod,
although his account is far from logical and clear, it seems that Prometheus fashioned only mankind.
Womankind was created later, through the agency of Zeus, in the person of Pandora.
PROMETHEUS AGAINST ZEUS
Although Prometheus had fought on the side of Zeus in his war against Cronus, the two mighty gods soon
came into conflict once Zeus had assumed supreme power.
The Nature of Sacrifice. Their antagonism began when Prometheus dared to match wits with Zeus.
There was a quarrel between mortals and the gods, apparently about how the parts of the sacrificial
animals should be apportioned. Prometheus divided up a great ox and for his creatures, us mortals, he
wrapped the flesh and the rich and fatty innards in the oxs paunch. For the gods, however, he deviously
and artfully wrapped up the bones of the ox in its enticing, rich, white fat. He asked Zeus to take his
choice between the two portions, and Zeus, fully aware of Prometheus deception, chose the bones
attractively wrapped in fat. Thus it was that when the Greeks made sacrifice to the gods, they enjoyed
feasting upon the best edible portions of the animals, while only the white bones that remained were
burned for the gods.
The Theft of Fire. Zeus was enraged at Prometheus attempt to deceive him and wreaked his vengeance
upon mortals, the creatures of Prometheus. He took away from them fire, essential to their livelihood and
progress. Prometheus, defiantly our champion, once again tricked Zeus (who this time was presumably at
first unaware?) by stealing in a hollow fennel stalk fire from heaven and restoring it to earth. Zeus was
stung to the depths of his heart by Prometheus outrage and contrived an evil thing for mortals in
recompense for the fire, namely, the woman Pandora.
The Punishment of Prometheus. A further defiance of Prometheus was his refusal to reveal to Zeus a
crucial secret that he knew and Zeus did not. If Zeus mated with the sea-goddess Thetis, she would bear
a son who would overthrow his father. Thus Zeus faced the terrible risk of losing his power as supreme
god, like Cronus and Uranus before him. The outcome of Zeus anger against Prometheus for his rebellious
championship of mortals and his obstinate refusal to warn Zeus about Thetis was a dire punishment. Zeus
had the wily and devious Prometheus bound in inescapable bonds to a crag of the remote Caucasus
Mountains in Scythia, with a shaft driven through his middle. And he sent an eagle to eat his immortal
liver each day, and what the eagle ate would be restored again each night. Generations later, however,
Zeus worked out a reconciliation with Prometheus and sent his son Heracles to kill the eagle with an arrow
and release Prometheus. Zeus avoided mating with Thetis, who married a mortal, Peleus, and bore a son
Achilles to become mightier than his father.
The woman that Zeus sent as a beautiful and treacherous evil to mortals in punishment for their
possession of Prometheus stolen fire was named PANDORA [pan-dor'a] (all gifts). He had Hephaestusfashion her out of earth and water in the image of a modest maiden, beautiful as a goddess. Athena
clothed her in silvery garments and her face was covered with a wondrously embroidered veil. She placed
on her head lovely garlands of flowers and a golden crown, beautifully made and intricately decorated by
Hephaestus; and she taught her weaving. Aphrodite bestowed upon her the grace of sexual allurement
and desire and their pain. Hermes contrived in her breast wheedling words and lies and the nature of a
thief and a bitch. All at the will of Zeus.
Zeus sent this snare to the brother of Prometheus, named EPIMETHEUS [ep-i-mee'the-us], who received
the gift even though his brother had warned him not to accept anything sent from Zeus. The name
Prometheus means forethought, but Epimetheus means afterthought.
Pandoras Jar. Zeus sent with Pandora a jar, urn, or box, which contained evils of all sorts, and as well
hope. She herself removed the cover and released the miseries within to plague human beings, who
previously had led carefree and happy lives: hard work, painful diseases, and thousands of sorrows.
Through the will of Zeus, hope alone remained within the jar, because life without hope would be
unbearable in the face of all the horrible woes unleashed for poor mortals. In Hesiod, Pandora is not
motivated toopen the jar by a so-called feminine curiosity, whatever later versions may imply.
AESCHYLUS PROMETHEUS BOUND
In addition to Hesiods account, Aeschylus play Prometheus Bound is fundamental for an understanding of
the archetypal Prometheus. Aeschylus powerfully establishes Prometheus as our suffering champion who
has advanced human beings, through his gift of fire, from savagery to civilization. Furthermore,
Prometheus gave us the hope denied to us by Zeus, which, however blind, permits us to persevere and
triumph over the terrible vicissitudes of life. Prometheus is grandly portrayed as the archetypal trickster
and culture-god, the originator of all inventions and progress in the arts and the sciences. At the end of
the play, Prometheus is still d