Greek Myth of the Creation of the World From Chaos and the Rise of the Olympian Gods

Updated on February 23, 2017
SarahLMaguire profile image

Sarah has a PhD in Classical Civilisation from Swansea University. She continues to write on the Ancient World and other topics.

Kronos Devouring His Children

Like all the peoples of the world, the ancient Greeks told myths about how everything got started. This version of the Greek creation myth is based on the work of the Greek poet Hesiod, who lived around the seventh century BCE.

Pontus, the primordial God of the Sea, Mosaic, Tunisia
Pontus, the primordial God of the Sea, Mosaic, Tunisia | Source

In the Beginning, There Was Chaos

In the beginning, there was Chaos—a formless void, emptiness. Out of Chaos came Gaia or Earth, Tartarus, the Underworld, and Night and Day.

By herself, Gaia brought forth the Sky - Ouranos to cover her on all sides as a lover. From that union, she brought forth Pontus, the Sea.

The Twelve Titans and Titanesses

  • Oceanus
  • Coeus
  • Crius
  • Hyperion (A Sun God)
  • Iapetus
  • Kronos
  • Theia
  • Rheia
  • Themis (Goddess of Justice)
  • Mnemosyne (Memory)
  • Phoebe (A Moon Goddess)
  • Tethys (A Sea Goddess)

The Children of Gaius and Ouranos: The Titans and the Cyclops

Gaia joined in love with Ouranos and brought forth twelve gods called the Titans. Kronos was the youngest and most terrible of the Titans, who hated his father Ouranos. Gaia then went on to give birth to the Cyclopes, whom Hesiod describes as “overbearing in spirit”.

Like the Titans, they seem to have basically been human in appearance, but they each had one great round eye in the middle of their forehead, The name Cyclops means “round eye”. The Cyclops were strong and mighty and cunning.

After that, Gaia and Ouranos had three more sons and these were even more terrible than the Cyclops. They each had a hundred hands and fifty heads and they had tremendous strength and aggression. Ouranos hated these monstrous children, so as soon as each of them was born, he hid them deep inside Gaia herself and would not let them see the light of day.

The First Rebellion and the Reign of Kronos

Earth was angry at Ouranos’ treatment of her children and found it most uncomfortable having these giants trapped inside her, so she made a plan to end this tyranny.

First, she created within herself hard flint stone, and from it, she made a great sickle – an implement with a great curved blade. She then urged her children to help her overthrow their father and put a stop to his evil plans.

All her children were too afraid to help, all except her youngest son Kronos. He agreed with Gaia that Ouranos must be stopped. Gaia was delighted and gave her youngest son the flint sickle and hid him in ambush.

That evening, when Ouranos came to Gaia’s bed, Kronos leaped out at him and severed his genitals with the flint sickle. The blood dropped to Earth, and from these drops were born the Erinyes – the Furies – snaky-haired old women, who would have the function of punishing certain crimes. From Ouranos’ blood also sprang mighty giants and also Nymphs, demi-goddesses of nature, who could be found throughout the countryside and wild places such as woods, streams, and pools.

Ouranos’ blood also dripped into the sea, and this engendered Aphrodite Goddess of Love. She came ashore at Paphos in Cyprus, riding on a conch shell.

Aphrodite Emerging from the Sea, from a Pompeian fresco.
Aphrodite Emerging from the Sea, from a Pompeian fresco. | Source

The Reign of Kronos and Rhea

Kronos then became king of the gods and married his sister Rhea. Together they produced divine sons and daughters:

  • Hestia
  • Hera
  • Demeter
  • Poseidon
  • Hades
  • Zeus

Kronos, however, was not proud of his divine children as he was too afraid of being overthrown by them in his turn, just as he had conquered his own father. Each time one of his sons and daughters was born, Kronos would snatch it from Rhea and swallow it whole.

Rhea naturally was distressed by this, so when she was pregnant with her youngest child, Zeus, she asked her parents, Gaia and Ouranos for help. On their advice, when Zeus was born, she handed Kronos a great stone, wrapped up in cloth, and he, believing it was the baby, swallowed it.

Rhea then hid the infant Zeus on the island of Crete, where he was guarded by warriors called the Curetes who clashed their weapons so that Kronos would not hear his crying and where he was cared for by nymphs who fed him on milk from a goat called Amaltheia.

Rubens' Titanomachy (Battle with the Titans)
Rubens' Titanomachy (Battle with the Titans) | Source

The Second Rebellion: The Olympians Disgorged

Soon, Zeus grew to adulthood and was ready to challenge Kronos just as Kronos had risen up against his father before him. With the help of Metis, daughter of the Titans Oceanus and Tethys, Zeus forced Kronos to vomit up his devoured brothers and sisters. The stone he had swallowed mistaking it for Zeus flew first out of his mouth and landed at Delphi which became the home of the famous Oracle.

Then, all the swallowed gods and goddesses came pouring out of Kronos’ mouth – Hestia, Hera, Demeter, Poseidon, and Hades.

Zeus then released the Cyclops and the Hundred-Handed Giants from gloomy Tartarus where Kronos had imprisoned them. The Cyclops were metalworkers and in gratitude, they gave Zeus his thunderbolt and lightening. They also gave Poseidon his trident and Hades a helmet of invisibility.

The Olympians then embarked on a great battle with the Titans, finally conquering them and banishing them to Tartarus.

According to later versions of the story, Zeus eventually released them from this prison and Kronos became king of Elysium - the Isles of the Blessed where heroes went when they died.

The Birth of Athena from the Head of Zeus, Vase 6th century BCE
The Birth of Athena from the Head of Zeus, Vase 6th century BCE | Source

The Reign of Zeus and the Olympians

Zeus now became king of the gods and ruled over the sky with lightning and thunderbolt. Poseidon was allocated dominion over the seas while Hades became Lord of the Underworld.

Zeus took his sister Hera as a wife but also pursued affairs with other divine and mortal women. In anger at this, Hera is said to have conceived without intercourse and gave birth to a son Hephaistos. Hephaistos became the God of smiths and had the mighty Cyclopes as his assistants.

One of the many women Zeus was involved with was Metis who, unwisely as it turned out, prophesised to him that she would bear him first a daughter and then a son and that this son would grow up to overthrow his father. To prevent this from coming to pass, Zeus swallowed Metis herself whole, and she continued to act as an advisor from within.

Some time later, Zeus experienced agonising pains in his head. Either Hephaistos or the Cyclopes split his head open, and the Goddess Athene leaped out fully grown and fully armed.


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    • SarahLMaguire profile imageAUTHOR


      19 months ago from UK

      Thanks for your comment, Jack. While the release of Kronos from Tartaros is not part of the story as related by Hesiod in the Theogony, it is attested to in his epic Works and Days, lines 156 ff where he explicitly states that Kronos was released by Zeus from Tartaros and made king of Elysium. Kronos as king of Elysium is also attested to in other ancient authors.

    • profile image

      JACK JACK 

      19 months ago


    • SarahLMaguire profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from UK

      Thanks :)

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      so good!!!!!!!!

    • SarahLMaguire profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from UK

      Thank you! :) Glad you liked it.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      totally amazing!

    • SarahLMaguire profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from UK

      An important part of the story! :)

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      thnx u added the dangley bits part

    • SarahLMaguire profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from UK

      Glad you enjoyed it - thanks!

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Thanks for your Greek story.


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