Creation Myths Hesiod’s Theogony and Ovid’s Metamorphoses Allen Romanoaromano@uchicago.edu background: Muses
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Modern-Day Creation Story: THE BIG BANG Artist Approximation; Not Shown Actual Size Not the Greek Creation Myth
Agenda • Why explain the creation of the universe? Some possibilities... • Hesiod’s Theogony (in context) • Ovid’s Metamorphoses (in context) and Hesiod vs. Ovid
How to Do Things with Creation Myths Today’s question: How do people use creation myths? Ask: • Who’s telling the creation story? • To whom? • Why in this particular way? • Is there something else a person telling a creation story is trying to convey beyond the details of the story itself?
A Creation Myth in Context:Greek Hymns • Hymn (greek, hymnos): • A song in honor of a god • occur throughout Greek history; unlike modern hymns, they were often sung by a single person • Homeric Hymns: collection of hymns attributed (falsely) to Homer, the poet of the Iliad and Odyssey; 7th-2nd cent BCE • Main features of hymns: • list of the god’s powers • god’s favorite places • god’s epithets • prayer’s to the gods • account of how the god was born and acquired his functions. [very much like Hesiod’s Theogony] Not Ancient Greeks
The Homeric Hymn to Hermes • Song about half the length of Hesiod’s Theogony • Author unknown • probably composed in 6th century BCE • tells the story of Hermes’ birth and early exploits A Singer in Ancient Greece
Hermes • Son of Zeus • born from a nymph, Maia • invented the lyre and the pipes • Messenger god • trickster, thief Hermes
Hermes is born Hymn to Hermes Thought-Experiment: What was the legendary trickster god like as a baby?
Baby Hermes Grown-up mischief trapped in a baby’s body artist reconstruction of the baby Hermes
Oh wait, I’m a god smoke which gods do enjoy Stuff Hermes can’t eat
Apollo confronts Baby Hermes “What’d I do? I’m just a baby.”
Apollo presses him...“Dude, where are my cows?” alternate reconstruction: Baby Hermes
Apollo takes baby Hermes and appeals to their father Zeus The threat of an angry Apollo Zeus
Hermes Sings a Creation Story ...but Hermes, as he had designed, easily soothed the Far-Darter, Son of most glorious Leto, obdurate though he was. Taking his lyre upon his left arm, he tried out Each string in turn with the plectrum, and under his hand The Lyre resounded uncannily. Phoebus Apollo Laughed aloud with delight. The lovely sound Of heavenly music went straight through his heart, and sweet longing Possessed him as he listened, enraptured.
Hermes Sings a Creation Story he burst into song – and lovely his voice – Telling of how the immortal gods and black earth First came to be, and how each was allotted his portion. Mnemosyne [Memory], mother of the Muses, first of the gods He honored with song, for to her Maia’s son was apportioned by lot. Hermes, the son brilliant in splendor of Zeus, Hymned the undying gods according to age, And told the tale of how each one was born, relating All things in order, to the sweet strains of the lyre on his arm. from the Homeric Hymn to Hermes
Conflict Resolved That’s sweet. I want one!
Hermes’ Expert Use of a Creation Myth • Song is itself a cure for strife • Theogony 99-104: “For if anyone is grieved, if his heart is sore with fresh sorrow, if he is troubled, and a singer who serves the Muses chants the deeds of past men or the blessed gods ... He soon forgets his heartache, and of all his cares he remembers none.” • Cosmogony and Theogony: Singing about the ordering of the universe prevents disorder
Why tell Creation stories?Distinct Uses of Creation Myths Hopi Creation: Spider Woman leads the people out of the underworlds; teaches them how to live What telling this myth does: • ethical instruction (how to hunt, grow corn, build houses) • sites of present habitation explained by what happened on the mythic journey out of the underworld
The Function of Navajo Creation Myths During the Blessing Way ceremony, shaman chants the creation story Sand painting representing the creation Creation story used for rites of new Beginnings Navajo saindpainting of the creation of the universe
The Function of Babylonian Creation Myths Told at the dedication of sacred buildings: In the beginning Anu (sky) created the heavens, and Nudimmud (Ea-waters) created Apsu, the primeval waters. Then Ea took some clay and created necessary elements for the buildings of great structures. He made the Arazu, the gods of the various crafts.
Questions • Why did Hesiod tell his creation story in the way that he did? • Why did Ovid tell his creation story in the way that he did?
Hesiod: Who was he? • lived around 700 BCE • Boeotian (central Greece) Composed • Theogony (origins of gods and universe) • Works and Days (wisdom poetry) Hesiodic works (attributed to Hesiod in antiquity): • Catalog of Women (birth stories of the heroes, continuation of the Theogony) • Shield (on Heracles) bust of Hesiod
The Backbone of the Theogony: Genealogy Genealogy: • Account of familial descent • Gr. genos “race, generation” • /log/ ~ Gr. logos “account, word” (e.g. logic)
Cosmogony vs. Theogony Cosmogony • story that explains the generation of the world • kosmos “world, order” • /gon/ ~ genos “race, generation” (e.g. gonads) Theogony • story that explains the generation of the gods • theos “god” (e.g. theology, polytheism / monotheism)
Structure of the Theogony Succession Myth: story of the overthrow of a god or generation of gods Succession Myth, interwoven with genealogy • Kronos succeeds his father Ouranos: Castration of Ouranos, birth of Aphrodite • Zeus Ascendant over Kronos: Tricking of Kronos, birth of Zeus; Zeus outwits Prometheus • Zeus and his generation defeat the Titans of the earlier generation • Zeus defeats a big monster (Typhoeus); Zeus swallows Metis to ensure there will be no more successors.
A Series of Contests [Hesiod vs. Muses] • Kronos defeats Ouranos • Zeus defeats Kronos • Zeus defeats Prometheus • Zeus defeats Titans
Hesiod vs. Muses Muses to Hesiod: “Hillbillies and bellies, poor excuses for shepherds: We know how to tell many believable lies, but also, when we want to, how to speak the plain truth.” Muses dancing with Apollo
Muses: Sing a theogony in honor of Zeus Hesiod Turns the Muses’ theogony into a cosmogony Honors Zeus with a more elaborate song Competitive Singing
Contests 1 and 2: Kronos vs. OuranosZeus over Kronos Rhea gives Kronos a stone rather than the baby Zeus Kronos eating his kids
Prometheus’ Attempt to Trick Zeus A standard scene of sacrifice
Something understated... Man’s creation