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In the beginning was Chaos. From Chaos sprung Mother Earth, Gaea. In her sleep she bore her son Uranus. With Gaea he fathered the Titans, the second generation of mighty gods, the youngest of whom was Cronus.
Cronus married his sister Rhea, but it had been prophesised by the dying Uranus that one of Cronus’ sons would dethrone him as King of the Sky. And so Cronus ate his children after they were born, first Hestia, then, Demeter and Hera, then Hades, then Poseidon.
Rhea was so angry that when her final son, Zeus was born she gave Cronus a stone wrapped in swaddling clothes to eat instead. She then hid the real Zeus.
When Zeus was grown he returned to his mother. She helped Zeus prepare a poison which he gave to Cronus. This made him vomit up his elder children, who then waged war against Cronus and the other Titans.
After a ten year war Zeus and his brothers and sisters were victorious, punishing the leader of the Titans, Atlas, by forcing him to carry the sky upon his shoulders. It was Atlas who Perseus was later to turn to stone.
After their victory, the brothers drew lots. Zeus was made King of the Sky, Poseidon King of the Sea, and Hades King of the Underworld, where human souls went after they died. The Earth was watched over by all of the gods from on top of Mount Olympus.
Zeus took his sister Hera as his consort. Their other sisters Demeter and Hestia became goddess’ of the harvest and the hearth respectively.
With Hera, Zeus fathered Ares, the god of war, Hephaestus, the god of fire and metalwork, and Hebe who later became wife of the hero Hercules.
Zeus was famed for his “wandering eye” and fathered five more Olympian deities out of wedlock
He first lusted after the Titaness Metis, who became pregnant with a female child. Mother Earth once again prophesised that if Metis should ever give birth to a boy, then that boy would overthrow Zeus, just as Zeus had overthrown Cronus. And so Zeus ate Metis. Shortly afterwards, he complained of an almighty headache, and got his son Hephaestus to split his head open with his axe. Out sprung Athena, the fully armed goddess of wisdom.
With Maia he begat Hermes, god of messengers and travel; with Leto he begat Apollo (god of prophecy), and Artemis (goddess of the hunt.) Then with Semele (the moon) he fathered Dionysus, the god of wine and festivity.
The final Olympian deiety to mention is Aphrodite. She was born after a drop of Cronus’ blood fell in the sea. The sea foamed and out came the fully formed Aphrodite, goddess of love and beauty.
Apart from the sheer number of gods that the ancient Greeks worshipped, a large difference from most religions that still exist today, was that the gods did not initiate creation, they were also created just as man was.
The gods were the way the Greeks explained the natural world around them, and concepts such as fate and destiny. As such the Gods were personifications (Hades = death, Demeter = nature, Aphrodite = love) and anthropomorphic and so could appear to humans in human form. The gods also took on human attributes, and so felt human emotions such as jealousy and anger. Perhaps one of the most amusing examples of this is the particularly volatile and very human marriage of Zeus and Hera.
Our main sources of information on the Greek’s religion are the stories of Homer in The Iliad and The Odyssey , Hesiod in his Theogony and of course the plays that still exist of the tragedians Euripides, Sophocles and Aeschylus.
IDEAS FOR PRACTICAL WORK:
In small groups of 4 or 5 create a series of tableaux detailing one aspect of the creation of the Greek Gods.
Think of a title for each of the scenes.
Think of a short piece of narration for each of the scenes. Organise the narration for maximum dramatic effect. Eg speaking individually, as a group, verse etc
Working individually, pick one of the Gods and create a pose for them that is relevant to their character/activity. Imagine you are posing for a statue.
QUESTION FOR DISCUSSION:
The Greeks saw their Gods as personifications of the elements and natural resources. If we took the same view today, what would be the important things that we would personify and worship?
The Greek gods lived on Mount Olympus.
Make your own Medusa mask.
Make her as scary as you can!
(Could be done solo, in groups, or as a class, with each child contributing their own snake.)