Classical Creation Myths

Hesiod's version | Ovid's version | Ages of "Man"
Hesiod's Version Hesiod and His Muse, by Gustav Moreau

Hesiod tells his version of Creation in the Theogeny. Hesiod says that "In truth at first Chaos came to be." That statement seems to be a little, um, lacking, since Chaos means the lack of order - or, in other words - nothing was there yet. So, moving on. Next he says, came Gaia (or Earth), and with Earth came all the mountains and valleys and stuff. Hesiod never mentions exactly what causes this sudden appearance, only helpfully reassures us that this was, indeed, the order of things. Next came Tartarus. Again, there seems to be a little bit of trouble. I mean, technically, Tartarus is a humungous pit inside Earth. But I guess you can't really sweat details like hows and whats in a Creation story. The next thing "created" is Eros. Eros is, quite simply, the personification of love. In Classical myth, Eros is the son of Aphrodite - but then, this is Classical myth, too . . . so. Right. Love is created. I suppose that makes sense, cuz otherwise the rest of the people involved in Creation might not want to procreate. I mean, it's yucky to kiss someone you don't really dig - imagine having to populate a world like that! I bet you think things are gonna get all cheery now that Eros is making things all giggly, but no, next comes Erebus. Erebus is the (male) personification of the darkness of the Underworld. Then comes Nyx, the (female) personification of night. Now comes the lovey-dovey stuff. Nyx and Erebus find themselves (mostly) alone in the dark together . . . and well . . . then there started a whole new era of Creation. Their first children were Aether (personification of the Upper Air, think atmosphere) and Hemera (the personification of day). Then Gaia managed to give birth to Pontus (the Sea) and Uranus (not the planet - it means, essentially, Heaven) to cover her completely (I told you Eros was important). Then Gaia and Uranus got it on, and the first real Gods were born. They were called the Titans and there were 12 or 14 of them, and they all married to each other and had lots of kids, and Cronos (the youngest boy) and Rhea (the youngest girl) had what YOU know as the Olympian Gods. Think Zeus, Hera and Hades. So after a lot of trouble, there they all were!

There were actually a lot other things created as well in Hesiod's version (like the Cyclopes and the Hundred-Armed Giants), but it's not very long, and if you're really interested then you can read it for yourself here at the Perseus Project.

Ovid's Version
Publius Ovidius Naso

In the Metamorphoses, Ovid opens with an invocation to the ever-changing immortal Gods. But as the book starts, we find, not the pantheon expected - or even any names - simply a God of All Things. Ovid says that God, "which one is yet unknown," ended Chaos when "he cut the land from skies, the sea from land, the heavens ethereal from material air; and when were all evolved from that dark mass he bound the fractious parts in tranquil peace." (I know it is weird to call Nature "he", but Ovid lived in a patriarchy, and we have to go with what he wrote.)

This God had created order in the world, but having done so, began to add little doohickeys and doodads to give the place a nice ambiance. He added air conditioners and heaters (lands with different climates), made mountains, valleys, and plains. He made winds and gave them offices in the different corners of the Earth. He had insomnia and got bored with the blue of the night sky and so he added all the stars and constellations; "and lest some part might be bereft of life the gleaming waves were filled with twinkling fish; the earth was covered with wild animals; the agitated air was filled with birds."

All this was great, and God, also called Nature, was having a great time. Unfortunately, this game got old. There's only so much time you can spend watching camels spit and flamingos stand on one leg. Nature needed some laughs. So what did Nature do? He created Man. Well - that's what Ovid THINKS, he isn't sure about it, though. He suggests that the idea that Prometheus created people could be valid, but if it isn't then people were created from clay and divine seed.
That seems like it would be the end of Creation, doesn't it? Ohhhhh no. That was just the Beginning of Creation. There was a second part to it, called the Ages of Man.

The Ages of Man

According to Ovid, there were Four Ages of Man. They were Golden, Silver, Brazen, and Iron. According to Hesiod, there were Five Ages of Man (he stuck in an extra Bronze Age), but we don't care about Hesiod right now, do we? If you want to read a quick overview about Ovid's Ages of Man, continue down the page. But if you'd like to read it straight from the translating-horse's mouth, check out the Perseus Project.

The Golden Age

The Golden Age was just how it sounded - Golden. There was no crime, no anger, nothing but love and joy and all that good stuff. The Avengers hadn't been created yet, because there was no need. Obviously there was no war, and because of that there were no weapons, no "martial pomp." But not only were there no swords, there were also no plows. For the earth grew food of its own accord, requiring no one to plant anything. Men (and I do mean men, not people) gathered berries and stuff like that, and had no interest in doing any work and lived in little caves and were happy about it. "Soft breathing zephyrs soothed and warmly cherished buds and blooms, produced without a seed. The valleys though unplowed gave many fruits; the fields though not renewed white glistened with the heavy bearded wheat: rivers flowed milk and nectar, and the trees, the very oak trees, then gave honey of themselves." During this time the Titans were in power, led by Cronus (called Saturn by Ovid, because Ovid wasn't Greek), but when the "revolution" took place in Heaven and Zeus took over, the Golden Age ended.

The Silver Age

In the Silver Age, Zeus was clearly the ruler and he created the 4 seasons and people stopped living in caves because they discovered building a house can be fun (or so some shows on PBS would LIKE you to think). Instead of caves, people made wooden houses, and started plowing fields and getting harvests and all that neat stuff - they even domesticated animals to work for them.

The Age of Bronze

Ovid doesn't say very much about the Age of Bronze. In fact, all he says is, "The third Age followed, called The Age of Bronze, when cruel people were inclined to arms but not to impious crimes."

The Iron Age

The long and short of the Iron Age is this: people suck. They do horrible crimes, they have no faith, they rape the earth, they introduced and continue to have War, the sacredness of guests was forsaken, husbands and wives sell each other out and threaten each other, and Astraea, the virgin Goddess of Justice, Innocence, and Purity, abandoned the Earth for Heaven. She was the last of the Gods to leave Earth. That sounds pretty bad, but I've got worse news - you know that horrible Age I just described? Yeah. Well it's this one. Congratulations.

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Last Updated January 15, 2008