Sunday, July 19, 2015

TFBT:Why the Gods Created Man

Apollodorus 1.6.1,  trans J. G. Frazer


Maya M. asked why the gods of Ancient Greek myth created man?  I asked more specifically why Cronus was the first to attempt this grand experiment that took 5 attempts under two different divine regimes? 


This is a sketchy proposal, but it might possible be one answer or part of the answer; “Now the gods had an oracle that none of the giants could perish at the hand of gods, but that with the help of a mortal they would be made an end of.” Apollodorus does not say which “gods”.  But the metopes of several ancient temples include virtual all the gods not just the Olympians in the Gigantomachy and in contrast to to the Titanomachy, almost all the goddess too.   Gaea seemed to be familiar with this prophecy, too..  What if all the gods knew the prophecy? Image the look on the Titans’ faces as they pondered the oracle, saying “What’s a giant?”  “More importantly what is a mortal?” 


So aware of the doom laying before the divine community; generation after generation of gods perfected the race that would save them.  First the golden age of man; a failed experiment without fire or women[i].  The Silver Age added then Motherhood.  Next the Bronze Age and our benefactor Prometheus; in pages 106-107  of “Hesiod’s Cosmos” Clay argues that Prometheus’ affection for humanity was more mercenary than philanthropic.  The Titan adds  fire and Pandoric wives to the blood line.  As the final moments of the Gigantomachy approach, a dash of ichor in human veins and Zeus spend three days and nights in the siring of Heracles.[ii] 

Tierasias at Heracles birth calls him the hero of the Gigantomachy to come.[iii]  According to the metopes several other demi-gods join him.  The gods win, the giants loss.  At Thebes and Troy the heroes and demi-gods battle to the death.  The gods pull the veil and are done with improving their creation.[iv]  

[i] Page 87 “Hesiod’s Cosmos” Jenny Strauss Clay
[ii] The Preparation for the Gospel, Eusenius, page 54
[iii] Pindar  Nemean 1.67-72
[iv] This timeline follows page 63, Emma Stafford, “Herakles”


  1. Thank you! So the Golden and Silver Age humans may have been all-male because they were designed as warriors. However, the war they were intended for didn't come as soon as expected.
    BTW, it seems to me that the Bronze and Heroic generations are identical, and Hesiod has for some reason duplicated the entry, changing only the epithets. In the description, he is more accurate than Homer who anachronistically puts iron items into the hands of his characters.
    I wondered why Hesiod doesn't mention any generation being destroyed by flood; now I think the legend hadn't reached the Greeks by his time.
    In my reading of the Odyssey, there was one bit that puzzled me: lines 200-205 of Book 20. Cowherd Philoetius, complaining of the human condition, exclaims: "Father Zeus, no other god is more baneful than thou; thou hast no pity on men when thou hast thyself given them birth..." (translation by Perseus).

  2. Maya,

    The difference between Bronze Men and Heroes is ancestry not creation I think. Was the silver age wiped out my the flood? Lots of demigods besides Deucalion made it to the mountain tops, not so much the autochthons


  3. The Silver generation were wiped out for refusing sacrifices to the gods - so far, they look like the proteges of Prometheus. On the other hand, it is difficult to me to imagine them, as described by Hesiod, receiving the fire. They do not seem competent enough for such advanced technology.
    At the same time, they may have been "heroes", i.e. of mixed parentage. The bit about men growing helpless and clueless for 100 years by the side of their mothers, then having short lives, suggests either very unusual sexual difference (long-lived competent females, defective males), or non-human mothers (ash-tree nymphs?).

  4. I also find it strange that the gods cause decimation of the mortals (the Heroic generation) AND pull the veil. After the decimation, one would say that they must feel very comfortable in this world, with enough space for all. Or, if they could withdraw to a parallel reality, reliably isolate themselves from the mortals and live comfortably, then why bother to decimate the mortals first?
    Did Zeus really care so much for Gaea? (Would be something totally new for him.) And if he did, can he be expected to return again to finish the Iron generation, as Hesiod expected?
    Or, it looks like all those wars and Odysseuses failed to produce the desired result after all and the gods resorted to Plan B, "divine flight".

  5. Maya,

    According to the Cypria the reason for the decimation was to get rid of the heroes and demi-gods specifically. Let's do the math;
    demi-gods > giants + giants>gods = demi-gods>gods
    We were/are a threat. We are greater than the petty gods who desperately tried desperately to maintain the illusion of their superiority. The HH to Aphrodite suggests the gods pulled the veil because of the heartbreak of watching their sons die at Troy, but maybe they pulled the veil to secure their way of life,

    As to Gaea, the weight she suffered was some cosmic/spiritual heaviness the gods often demonstrate but that we don't quite gasp. As to Zeus' kindness to her, recall that after the defeat of the Giants and Typhon, Earth and Sky cut a deal for the release of the Titans from Tartarus. "luse de Zeus ifthitos Titanas"; Immortal Zeus released the Titans. Eternal peace is declared, the story ends and the curtain falls on the Epic story of Olympus.

  6. "Maybe they pulled the veil to secure their way of life."

    I think this is the answer. My characters, inhabiting the same space-time as humans, have to evacuate physically: "Let's find some island and sail away, before we are besieged on Olympus and our escape route to the sea is closed."

  7. Maya,

    Let's conclude our discussion here based on the logic mythology and congratulate ourselves for figuring it all out! Hurray!

    No I'd like to propose an alternative answer. Hang in here for a moment while I set up the argue. You know the name Carl Sagan? I can offer no reference here, but he believed that the end product of any cosmological product was life. (The neighboring planets were no helpful in proving this point.) Meanwhile, the Kabbalah an ancient school of Jewish philosophy offers that the abstract aspect of the Divine become ever more "material" and hence understandable to us. Which brings us to my proposal. What if the Primordial gods are abstracts. "Nyx" the goddess of the night is an Abstraction before birth of Hyperion the Sun. What is the Sea (Pontus) without waves (Nereides) or rivers running into it (Rivers being second generation Titans,) but a veil covering the deep. So for Nyx and Pontus to be "real" from them must be born the sun, the waves and the river.

    But how can the sun (Hyperion first generation Titan) rise without the dawn (Eos second generation Titan) How can rivers hold water without stream (Naiads, daughters of Rivers or Zeus) filling their courses. So, into the world must come streams and the dawn. How can Irene (daughter of Zeus' second wife Themis) be the goddess of peace, unless Zeus' (seventh?) wife Hera brought War (Ares) into the world. So, all of the cosmos because a cascading domino affect creating ever more refined aspects of abstraction and creating ever branching manifestations to express those abstractions. Hence, you create Golden Age man and silver age woman must follow, followed by the birth of the goddess of birth; Eleithyia.

    Just a thought.

  8. In this line of thought, have you mentioned how in the Theogony, the dark void called Tartarus by the middle of the poem grows so much flesh and blood that mates with Gaea to produce Typhon?

    "How can Irene (daughter of Zeus' second wife Themis) be the goddess of peace, unless Zeus' (seventh?) wife Hera brought War (Ares) into the world."
    Good question!
    Actually, we can solve this paradox by postulating that Irine was to help peace both in Heaven and on Earth, while Ares was specialized for human wars. When the immortals fought the perfectly good Titanomachy, I guess Ares wasn't even born.
    Moreover, it seems that Ares is just a strategos, a sort of military expert, but he never takes the political decisions about wars. As far as I know, he has no part in kindling the wars at Thebes, Troy or anywhere else.
    Athena is a better strategos, and she also takes the political decisions. She protects Tydeus and later Diomedes, the destroyers of Thebes, she is very active in the destruction of Troy, and when she cannot convince anyone to fight a war in the poor, God-forgotten island of Ithaca, she brings back Odysseus to kill off the men as efficiently as a war would. I wondered, why? I think now that, similarly to Apollo who was god of infectious diseases, both causing and treating them, so Athena is goddess of cities; when a city is to be protected, this is her job, and when it is to be destroyed, this is her job again.

    1. Maya,

      Atsma postulates that the secong generation Titan Perses and his brothers were gods of warrish stuuf. Maybe my theory should include them them. I like your idea that it tooks blood and bodies before Tartarus came to life

  9. The more I think of the Olympians, the more impotent they seem to me.
    Their only real achievement in the military sphere was the victory in the Titanomachy. However, it was due to the help of non-Olympians, namely the Cyclopes and the Hundred-Handers. If the victory over the Titans was a Labor for Zeus, of the type Heracles was doing, it would have been disqualified based on the help by 3rd parties.

    Then, Zeus defeats Typhon single-handedly. Well, let's count this as well.

    What happens to the might of the Olympians after that? The only serious threat to them are the Giants, who are defeated with the decisive help of one or more heroes. Heroes also finish different monsters. Maybe the gods could kill these monsters themselves, but we can only hypothesize on this. The fact is that they didn't. Lucian rightly says that it was Heracles and Theseus who cleared Greece from monsters and bandits - if it depended on the gods, travelers would have been ambushed and killed to this day.

    More strikingly, the balance of forces of Olympians vs. humans is not clear. Hesiod gives us a list of human generations. One of them, the Iron, is extant. The poet says that Zeus will destroy it when grey-headed babies start to appear, but this has not happened yet. The only individuals grey-headed from birth are the Graiae, who are divine.

    The first (Golden) generation passed in an unspecified way. Maybe naturally, due to the absence of females. (A world without females may be wonderful, but it is unsustainable.) The second (Silver) generation was allegedly exterminated by Zeus for failure to sacrifice. The WMD is not specified. I don't think anymore that it was the Flood, because the Flood myth was for the Greeks a late import without strong roots. I don't know a single item of pottery depicting it. Both the Golden and the Silver generations are likely invented by Hesiod; he claims that they are honored, but I don't know of any such cult, just some vague ancestor cult.

    Then come the Bronze and Heroic generations, who are largely indistinguishable. Both bring about their own destruction by total wars, presumably resulting from divine plans. So it seems that gods have no way to destroy the human race except by instigating intra-human armed conflicts.

    By the late Heroic Age, gods prefer to use human puppets even for the elimination of individual humans. Relatives seem the best for this purpose. Hera via Medea makes Pelias' daughters kill him, Aphrodite makes Theseus kill Hippolytus (indeed, with the help of Poseidon), Dionysus makes Agave and her sisters kill Pentheus.

  10. Maya,

    My thoughts got thrown in several directions when I read, "The only serious threat to them are the Giants, who are defeated with the decisive help of one or more heroes" I think this example is the best of all your arguments. If the Hyperionides hadn't stayed out of the sky, the Giants would have found the herb of invincibility. If the gods hadn't sired some timely demi-gods, they never would have defeated the Giants. Even then it took all the gods (and goddesses) to defeat the Giants. In the Titanomachy the titanesses and goddess moved in with Oceanus and Tethys during the war. During the Gigantomachy the goddesses, the divine children, pets and Oceanus joined in the desperate fray. Their supposed superiority to us is dependent on trickery, bluff and an occasional lightning bolt.

    Still thinking of giants, I read "Maybe the gods could kill...monsters themselves" It is a cliché to say that the giants represent the violent (destructive) forces of nature and the monsters represent chaos to be tamed by civilization. Else where you mentioned the gods binding the 4 forces of nature. All this times in nicely with Typhon representing well typhoons and the giants struggling against the mountains atop them causing earthquakes. The Norse giants are divided into Frost and Fire and a horde of monsters forever gnaws at the great cosmic tree. All nice and tidy except the Norse gods are descended from and inter-marry with the Giants. The Greek monsters are literally descended form the gods via Pontus and Oceanus' children. And some of their monsters are sent by the gods to harass mankind, while others work for the forces of civilization and help slay other monsters; Pegasus versus Chimera

    So I suppose the only insights to draw out of all this is that;
    * It wasn't necessarily the gods and men against the giants and monsters
    * That the gods used demigods, men and monsters to attain their ends.

    Sorry to ramble


  11. The situation of gods creating or at least feeding monsters to be a plague for the mortal community and then sending heroes from said community to kill said monsters reminds me of human military unions, e.g. the US alliance with USSR against Nazi Germany during WWII and with West Germany against USSR after WWII. Such alliances change depending on who is more menacing at the moment.

    I of course cannot retain the traditional origin of the monsters. My monsters are GMOs:
    "After the flood, when the Earth was repopulated with humans, Zeus tried to keep them confined to a narrow area... He ordered the creation of a brood of monsters to serve as border guard. Hera helped by feeding some of them. However, they turned out to be unfit for the task. Instead of keeping watch day and night, they settled in burrows in the vicinity of busy roads, gobbled travelers to satiety and then lied in deep sleep until awakened again by hunger. And because they made no difference between humans and gods, they were not only useless and annoying but also dangerous. For that reason, Heracles and other distinguished heroes were eventually sent to kill them off."

    I like your conclusion that the gods’ “supposed superiority to us is dependent on trickery, bluff and an occasional lightning bolt.”

  12. Maya,

    "A brood of monsters to guard the borders" - interesting. Made me think of Orthrus and Cereberus. O was guarding the western entrance of Hades and C apparently all the others. I think they kept people from accidently wandering in. Dogs are our friends


  13. The near-equality of forces between humans and gods helps to explain why Zeus was mad after Mecone and the theft of fire. Apparently, giving food and fire to humans was the equivalent of giving double-application technology to Iran.
    Hesiod says that Zeus successfully controlled damage by sending Pandora and assuring a miserable human condition. However, it seems to me that here Hesiod's stress on the gap between humans and gods contradicts the logic of his narrative. Why does Zeus punish Prometheus so severely? Spectacular punishments aim either to satisfy personal revenge (yet competent rulers, which Zeus is presumed to be, are above such feelings) or to prevent emulation of the crime. That is, Zeus thought that other gods might engage in high treason and seek alliance with humans against him, and he found this possibility quite dangerous.
    We know that Asopus and Demeter later did this and Zeus indeed got mad again, though he was not in a position to retaliate against Demeter.

  14. Maya,

    I totally agree with your analyses. I found it remarkable in the Iliad when Poseidon and Zeus are having a tiff. Iris is sent to tell the earth shaker to leave the battlefield. When he argues Iris reminds him that the Erinnyes will take Zeus side in the fight! Wow! That is serious maintenance of world order!