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Clas 104: Greek Mythologies

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Daniel Kaminski

CLAS 104: Greek Mythologies

Assess and discuss the role played by the female principle represented by Gaia in Hesiod's Theogony.

Gaia is represented in Hesiod’s Theogony as the main female principle by following Greek female principles in Greek culture. She does this by birthing many strong children such as the Titans. She also represents femininity in the constructive and destructive form. Many can also interpret Pandora as the main female principle in Theogony as she is the first female on earth. However, Gaia is represented as female long before the birth of Pandora, making the case for Gaia to be the female principle in Theogony.  

Gaia portrays the female principle in Hesiod’s Theogony as she gives birth to many of the first beings on earth. According to Cartwright, In Greek culture, a woman’s purpose in life was to birth children[1]. This idea is also shared with Aristotle who believed women to be the soil in which men plant their seeds [2]. This can attribute women to fertility. Women would favour birthing a child who is male over a female as male children could potentially grow up into strong men who can fight in wars. It is because of this that female babies were much more likely to have been abandoned than male babies[3]. Men were placed above woman in Greek social hierarchy. For example, the Greek family is male dominant, typically headed by the father in the family. Females were typically chosen by the men for marriage and a virgin marriage was favoured. Women were not allowed to control property regardless of their ownership, they would not gain inheritance of their children during a divorce and they were mainly educated to work as house wives[4]. Gaia embodies Cartwright’s female principle as she follows a female’s purpose of birthing life. She does this in Theogony when she creates Uranus (sky) and Pontus (sea) “without sweet union of love”[5]. This is like how Greek women give birth to their children in their society. This is an example of Gaia following the Greek principle of women of birthing children. Gaia and Uranus together bore three Hecatonchires, three cyclops and twelve Titans. Since Gaia never mated before she did with Uranus, she again follows Cartwright’s female principle of virgin marriage. The idea that she gives birth to the strong monsters and titans also corresponds with the female principle of women baring strong male sons for battle. For example, the male Titans were powerful at war while female titans were neutral at war[6]. Gaia represents Cartwright’s female principles as she is the birth-er of strong sons and follows the principle of a virgin marriage that is favoured in Greek society.

Chaos and Gaia can both be interpreted as the female principle before life existed. In the beginning, there was Chaos. Gaia was the first being to have emerged after chaos[7]. According to Jorunn Okland, an expert in gender studies with a background in classics, Chaos is filled with female symbolism and both Gaia and Chaos represent femininity in destructive and constructive form[8]. She explains how the relationship between the two is the struggle between the void, the structured composition of Gaia and the infinite and unstructured-ness that is chaos and space. This holds true in Theogony as it states that Gaia is the firm and structured foundation of everything in the world[9]. Since Gaia and Chaos exist together, we can assume that both structure and disharmony is needed to reach tranquillity on earth. This depicts the harmony between the two entities which corresponds to the female principle of the cycle birth and death (destruction and re construction). From this, Okland claims that space is gendered long before the creation of the first man or woman and that the creation from a gigantic body results in a world with gender essences[10]. The stability and structured model of the representation of Gaia also parallels with stability and safety of the representation of mothers is Greek society. This corresponds with Cartwrights idea of a woman’s purpose, to bare and raise children. We also know from life that mothers exert that feeling of safety and stability.

Pandora in Theogony can be viewed as the main female principle as she is the first biological woman to exist[11]. However as stated by Okland, Theogony depicts the world as gendered long before the birth of the first woman (Pandora)[12]. From this one can assume that the biology of a female does not determine the female principle in Theogony. For example, Gaia is known as the giver of all gifts which is a female principle represented in the poem. We can see an example of this principle executed by Athena in the myth of name giving to Athens. Athena gifts the people of Athens with an olive tree. This gives the city wood for fire, food and oil for cooking electing the city to be named after her[13]. In Theogony, there states that women are “filling their bellies up with products of the toils of others”[14]. Okland interprets this as a pun. He states that Pandora is not represented as the giver of all gifts but the receiver of many[15]. This is shown in Theogony as Pandora herself was created as a gift for men to trick them. Pandora receives her clothes, her garland upon her head and her good looks all from the gods[16]. Since Pandora receives all these gifts and does not give any notable gifts in return, she therefor does not represent the female principle of gift giving. Thus, showing that she is not the main female principle in Theogony. This is supports Aristotle’s statement that women are the soil where men plant the seeds where one can attribute a woman to fertility[17].  Pandora does not attribute any of Aristotle’s ideas of women, however Gaia attributes all as she (Gaia) is the soil of the earth which is fertilised by the seed of man (Uranus). The idea that Pandora is not the main female principle is also shared by King and Beattie as they state origin of femininity is not in woman (Pandora), but in the earth (Gaia)[18].

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