Mother Goddess, Goddess Mothers: Maternal Stories from Ancient Greece
I am bringing you an anthology of Greek legends, this one centering around mothers. I wanted to do this last year, but I forgot. Anyway, settle back and enjoy these classic myths for Mother's Day.
The first tale begins with our original mother:
Gaea: Mother Earth.
Out of Chaos emerged the first three immortal beings: Gaea, the Earth; Tartarus, ruler of the underworld; and Eros (Love). Gaea then gave birth to Uranus (Father Sky). She made him her equal so that he would surround her on all sides and provide a home for the immortal beings. Gaea also gave birth to Ourea, the Mountains, and Pontus, the Sea.
Gaea married Uranus, who ruled over all that came into being. The first immortal children from this union were the hundred-handed Giants, who each had fifty heads and fifty arms. The next were the three Cyclopes, which each had only one eye set in the middle of his brow. They were expert craftsmen, and they later built the palaces for the gods on Mount Olympus.
Uranus feared and hated these immortal children of his, so when each child was born, he took him from his mother, bound him, and cast him deep into Gaea's being, the Earth, sending them falling for nine days and nine nights into the realm ot Tartarus. Uranus ruled without fear of any challenge to his authority, and he expected to rule forever.
Gaea was outraged at her husband's actions. She hated Uranus for what he did to her beloved children, but kept silent and waited for an opportunity for revenge.
Gaea gave birth to the thirteen Titans, who became the oldest generation of the Greek gods and goddesses: Hyperion, the Titan of Light and father of the sun, moon and the dawn; Oceanus, the God of the river surrounding the earth; Tethys, who produced the rivers and the three thousand ocean nymphs; Cronus, God of the Sky and ruler of the Titans; Rhea, or Cybele, Mother Goddess of the Earth like her own mother, Gaea, later consort of Cronos; Atlas, the strongest of the Gods, holding up the sky so it would not fall on the earth; Iapetus, father of Prometheus (forethought) and Epimetheus (afterthought). Prometheus, the most intellegent and clever Titan, who would create man out of clay; and Epimetheus, his brother, who would marry the first mortal woman, Pandora; Mnemonsyne, the Titaness of memory and the mother of the Muses; Themis, the Titaness of justice who would give birth to the Fates and the seasons; Coeus; Crius; Phoebe; and Thea.
Gaea decided to use her Titan children against her cruel husband, Uranus. She took a sharp sickle made of flint and ordered her sons to punish their father with it for his crimes against the Giants and the Cyclopes. Of all of Gaea's sons, only Cronus was the one to step forward. "If no one will help you, Mother," he said courageously, "I certainly will! If our father has been cruel to you and to our brothers, we should take revenge!"
Gaea's heart overflowed with pride for this brave son of hers. She put the great flint sickle into his hands and told him where to hide and what to do. That night, Uranus lay by his wife by the shore of the sea and slept soundly. Cronus crept from his hiding place, crept up to his father, raised the sickle and castrated him. "Your reign is over, Father!" he crowed triumphantly. "Now I shall reign in your place! I am more powerful than you are now, so you might as well submit to your fate!"
Uranus howled in pain and rage, and from his blood came the black-clothed Furies. With eyes dripping poisonous tears and exhaling a foul stench, they would drive any child who murdered one of his parents to insanity. From the same blood, Gaea bought forth another race of Giants. Uranus's body was hacked into pieces and cast into the sea, where in time, Aphrodite, the Goddess of beauty and sexual desire, would emerge.
Thus was Gaea avenged for her children's suffering, and her own.
Rhea: Mother of the Gods
Cronos became the new God of the Sky, but he feared the Cyclopes and the Giants in Tartarus, so he forgot his promise to free them. Gaea was enraged, and prophesied that a son of Cronos would overpower him as he did Uranus. But Cronos vowed to defy the fates, vowing to have no children and so rule forever. His sister-wife, Rhea, however, gave birth to four children: Demeter, Hera, Hades, and Poseidon. But after the birth of each child, Cronos would take it and swallow it whole. Rhea was grief-stricken, and she sought counsel from her mother, Gaea.
"My heart understands your pain, daughter," Gaea said. "And I think I can help you. The son you carry now will be destined to overthrow his father. When your time comes, go to the island of Crete and take refuge there. In the deep, hidden cave on the slopes of Mount Dicte, the nymphs will nurse your infant with goat's milk and hang his cradle from a tree, so Cronos will not find him on land, in the air or the sea. And as for how to trick Cronus, wrap a rock in a blanket and present it to him as his son. He will swallow it whole, not knowing the difference."
So Rhea did as she was told. The child, Zeus, was born and hidden in the cave. Cronos fell for the ruse and swallowed the rock, thinking it was his child. Years passed, and Zeus grew to manhood. One day, Rhea served Cronos a tasty drink. He loved it so much he asked for more. A young stranger walked in and handed him the cup. Cronos swallowed the drink before he could ask who he was. Suddenly, he vomited up the rock he swallowed years before, as well as the other four gods and goddesses.
In his rage, Cronos declared war against them. The gods and the Titans fought for ten years without victory on either side. Then Gaea came to Zeus' aid. She told him about the Giants and the Cyclopes in Tartarus and encouraged their alliance. The imprisoned children of Gaea and Uranus agreed, and bestowed upon Zeus the gift of thunder and lightning bolts. To Poseidon, the trident which could stir up earthquakes and create waves at sea. To Hades, the helmet of invisibility.
With these weapons, Zeus and his allies defeated the Titans. Zeus became god of the sky, and taught humans to be just to one another. He married his sister, Hera, goddess of marriage and childbirth as well as queen of Olympus. Poseidon became god of the sea, and Hades king of the underworld.
The rule of the gods had begun.
Demeter: Goddess of the Harvest.
Demeter, daughter of the Great Goddess Rhea and granddaughter of Mother Gaea, was the goddess of grain and the harvest. She taught humans how to plant, raise and harvest corn, wheat and barley. In turn, the people worshipped Demeter to insure fertility of their crops--and themselves. Farm wives always set a place for her at their tables; the gods often teased Demeter that she ate more meals in peasant homes than in the palaces of Olympus. Demeter didn't care one whit. She loved the people who tilled the land, and they loved her in return.
Demeter's greatest joy was her daughter, Persephone. She was as bright and sunny as a summer's day, roaming the fields of wildflowers with a large basket to fill it with fragrant blossoms. She had the gift of bringing what she loved into the lives of those who knew her. Everyone adored Persephone, but there was one of the gods whose adoration would bring sorrow to the earth.
Hades, the god of the underworld, was smitten with this golden child of Demeter, and wished to make her his bride. Knowing that the goddess of the grain would never consent to such a union, he chose to take her by force.
One sunny day, Persephone was gathering wildflowers in Sicily, Hades drove his chariot drawn by two black horses and swept her away into his dark kingdom. Persephone screamed for her mother to come rescue her, but no one heard her. Hades disappeared with his stolen bride into the underworld. All that remained was her basket of flowers that she had dropped.
When Demeter heard her daughter's cries echoing from the underworld, she was overwhelmed with grief. Hysterical, she searched the world for her beloved daughter, stopping at Sicily, the scene of the crime. In her rage over losing her daughter, she withdrew her gifts of fertility, leaving the earth barren with drought. For a whole year, nothing would grow, no matter how hard the farmers tried to placate her.
Finally, Demeter approached Helios, god of the sun, who drove his firey chariot across the sky and watched both gods and mortals. She begged for any information regarding her kidnapped daughter. When he told her of Hades's trechery, the goddess' grief increased tenfold. She determined to punish Zeus and the other gods by causing all mortals to starve to death; there would be no one to honor the gods of Olympus, and Hades would have more souls to add to his kingdom.
Fearing the worst, Zeus ordered, cajoled and even bribed the grain goddess to come to Olympus. Demeter stood firm, insisting that she would not cause even a stalk of wheat to grow until she saw her beloved child again. At last, Zeus agreed to let Persephone return to earth and rejoin her mother, but on one condition: if Persephone had eaten the food of the dead, she was condemned to remain in the underworld as Hades's queen.
Zeus sent Hermes, the messenger, and delivered his edict. Reluctantly, Hades allowed Persephone to return to the surface world. As she happily mounted the chariot with Hermes, Hades gave her a sweet pomegranate seed to eat as a parting gift. Not knowing the consequences, Persephone swallowed the seed and went on her way.
Demeter waited in a once fertile meadow, now barren and lifeless, waiting for her daughter's return. Hermes had barely halted the horses when Persephone leapt out of the chariot and into her mother's arms. Demeter's joy suddenly turned to fear as she asked if she had eaten the food of the dead. Sadly, Persephone admitted to eating the pomegranate seed Hades had given her, not knowing it bound her to the underworld.
Demeter was crushed at hearing this. It seemed to her that her daughter was lost to her forever. To her joy and relief, however, she saw her own mother, Rhea, approach. The mother of the gods embraced her daughter and granddaughter.
"Come, my child," Rhea said. "A mother must have the strength to pain as well as joy. Sorrow visits all of us. You must not let your grief destroy you. I have come from Mount Olympus, and I bring a message from Zeus himself. He wishes you to return to Olympus, where you will be honored among the gods. He gives his word that Persephone will only spend one third of the year in Hades, and return to earth to bring flowers of springtime. You two will be together until the harvest and Helios has caused the days to become short and cool."
Thus the pattern of the seasons were established. After the harvest, Persephone would return to her husband in the underworld during the winter months. During that lonely time, Demeter would leave the earth cold and barren. But when springtime returned, so did Persephone, and with her came flowers and seed-bearing plants, and the earth became fertile again.
Leto: Mother of Artemis and Apollo
Zeus, King of the gods, was married to Hera, his sister and consort. But this did not stop him from casting a roving eye upon the lovely mortal maidens on earth. Whenever a beautiful girl caught his fancy, he would turn into whatever shape he knew would appeal to her, and use her as he would. Of course, the poor girl would end up being with child, earning the wrath of Hera.
One such unfortunate girl was Leto. For her revenge against her husband's infidelity, Hera condemned her to be persued by the serpent, Python, during her pregnancy. Finally, on the island of Delos, Leto gave birth to Artemis, virgin goddess of the hunt. Nine days later, she gave birth to Apollo, the god of light, prophecy and music. Four days after he was born, he called for a bow and arrow. Hephasteus gave him the weapons, and Apollo slew Python in a gorge.
Artemis was very secretive, and very defensive of her sacred groves. If anyone trespassed, or saw her while she bathed, she would either slay the poor wretch or turn him into a stag like Actaeon, who was then torn apart by his own hounds.
Thus did Artemis and Apollo join the Olympians.
Niobe: The Queen Who Defied the Gods.
Niobe was queen of Thebes, wife to King Amphon and mother of fourteen children--seven sons and seven daughters, of whom she was exceedingly proud. One day, a festival was held to honor Leto, mother of Artemis and Apollo. As the rite went on in the temple, Niobe became incensed that this trollop should be honored instead of her, and said so to anyone within earshot. If they wanted to praise someone's mother, she said, they should look no furthur than their own queen with her fourteen splended children. Embarrassed, the people of Thebes left the temple to complete the rites in their own homes.
Outraged at this slander against their mother, Artemis and Apollo set out to avenge this insult. One afternoo, the seven sons of Niobe were at athletic practice. Suddenly, arrows came flying at them, and all seven boys were killed. Then, at the palace, more arrows flew from Artemis's bow, slaying all seven daughters. In her shock and grief, Niobe cradled her youngest daughter as the child died in her arms. It was said that at that moment, Queen Niobe turned to stone.
Thus were the gods avenged.
Yeah, I know, they're brutal, but that was Greek mythology for you. If you want to read more myths, just Google "Greek mythology", or check your local library. Happy Mother's Day!
Hello Ash has asked me to post for her so here's what she said
" thanks for thinking of all of the moms who are loyal fans, we all appreciate having someone remember mothers day and it was especially nice that you posted stories for moms about moms."
She has also asked me to post her new poem for her since she is still unable to use her shoulder and I will try to post it tomorrow or Tuesday after work....
Have a good night and Ash says thanks for waiting for her update
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