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Hesiod's Theogony Gaia Notes

Classics Notes > Early Greek Hexameter Poetry Notes

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What is the role of Gaia in the Theogony?
Gaia's role in the Theogony is twofold; she is both the solid body on which all life dwells and depends and the anthropomorphised primeval deity who births the first generation of gods. This concept seems strange and difficult to understand for readers looking at it from a monotheistic standpoint in which earth is simply earth and god is a separate entity altogether, but Hesiod has no trouble with it and grammatically he flits between the two with seeming no need to make such a distinction. By combining these two things she, in a way, becomes more than either, she is the most powerful female being in existence; all life originally comes from her and it is her that drives forward the succession of the generations to ensure that this life multiplies and spreads. The best place to start when discussing Gaia's role in the Theogony is the beginning because she is origin of all life, but really she is far more than that; not only is this first hint of life dependent on her, but all life after that, because she is the home for all time of gods and men. This is exactly how Hesiod introduces her, "First came the Chasm; and then broadbreasted Earth, secure seat forever of all the immortals who occupy the peak of snowy Olympus." This makes it clear that she is the first real being in existence; the Chasm is nothingness and only really is anything when both the Earth and the heaven, which Gaia creates as her consort and to enclose her boundaries, exist and create something between which there can be a chasm. Furthermore the chasm and the earth are never said to produce any offspring together and this shows that the two are fundamentally opposed. It is interesting to note that Hesiod attempts no explanation as to how Gaia herself was created and he does not seem concerned with the question of how something can come to be out of absolutely nothing. This is because he is working within a pre-existing tradition which probably simply said that Gaia just appeared and he will have accepted this fact just as easily as many modern people accept that God appeared from nothingness to create the universe. In Hesiod's worlds even the gods, who in Homer are described as "being forever", have a genetic origin, but there must be a starting point for both reality and living beings and she is it. The list of her children is, unsurprisingly, long and occupies lines 133-210 of the Theogony while the list of her grandchildren is even longer, stretching from line 337 to 616. These catalogues are the first steps in turning her from simply the earth as a modern reader would conceive it into Gaia, an anthropomorphised woman-god, who is the first to create gods in a recognisably human way but also she is the first of the primeval gods to show the first human emotion, hatred. It is the barbarous cruelty of her husband Ouranos that more than anything humanises Gaia. The birthing of children could simply be an allegory for the natural processes of the earth but to actually feel the powerful and destructive emotion of hate has something purely human about it; no other creature or object in existence is capable of feeling it other than humans. It is through this very recognisable quality of hatred that her primary role is shown; Ouranos is stopping her give birth because of his continual coupling with her and it is for this

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