Greek Goddess Spotlight: Who Is Gaia?

Updated on August 21, 2018
JenniferWilber profile image

Jennifer Wilber works as an ESL instructor, substitute teacher, and freelance writer. She holds a B.A. in Creative Writing and English.

Who is the Greek Goddess Gaia?
Who is the Greek Goddess Gaia?

Who is Gaia?

Gaia is perhaps the most important goddess in the Greek pantheon. She is the personification of Earth in Greek mythology and is one of the Greek primordial deities. Without Gaia, according to Greek mythology, none of the other great gods and goddesses – or even humans – would exist. As the first Great Goddess, and the Mother Earth, she was responsible for the beginning of life on the planet Earth. The story of Gaia and her family is fascinating, and even somewhat bizarre.

From the primordial Chaos, Gaia was born. From Gaia, all life on Earth arose.
From the primordial Chaos, Gaia was born. From Gaia, all life on Earth arose. | Source

Gaia’s Mythical Origins

From Chaos, the primordial emptiness that existed before time began, Gaia was born along with Tartarus, the ruler of the deepest, darkest region of the underworld, and Eros, the deity whose beauty inspired the creation of many of the immortal gods yet to come. Gaia was the first thing of substance born from Chaos, followed by Tartarus and Eros. These three deities were soon joined by Erebus, the personification of darkness, and Nyx, the personification of the night.

Gaia, according to Greek mythology, had the unique ability to create life. She gave birth to three deities, Uranus, Pontus, and Ourea.

 Victory, Janus, Chronos, and Gaea
Victory, Janus, Chronos, and Gaea | Source

Gaia’s Family

Gaia was the mother of a very large and complex family. First, she gave birth to Uranus (the personification of the sky), Ourea (the personification of the mountains) and Pontus (the personification of the sea). These three children were born to Gaia alone, without a father.

Uranus and his own mother were later married and had twelve children together, who became known as the Titans. These children were Mnemosyne, Tethys, Theia, Phoebe, Rhea, Themis, Oceanus, Hyperion, Coeus, Cronus, Crius, and Iapetus. Cronus, the youngest of the Titans, became their ruler. Many conflicts arose between these family members.

In addition to the twelve Titans, Gaia and Uranus later had three addition children, the three Cyclopes; Brontes, Steropes, and Argus. Following the birth of the three Cyclopes, Gaia and Uranus produced three more children; the three Hundred-Handed Giants: Cottus, Briareos, and Gyes.

After these six monstrous children were born, Uranus, who hated and feared them, imprisoned them in a secret place within Gaia herself, which caused her great pain. Gaia despised Uruanus for this, but kept her feelings hidden, waiting for revenge. When Gaia knew it was time to get even with Uranus, so she made a giant gray sickle. Gaia instructed the youngest of the Titans, Cronus, to castrate his father.

From Uranus’s blood that spilled into the Earth, Gaia created more monstrous children: the Erinyes, who were also known as the three Furies; the three Giants; and the Meliae, or ash-tree nymphs. The goddess Aphrodite was then born from Uranus’s severed testicles.

Cronus refused to free his brothers, as he was also afraid of them, now that he took his father’s place as Sky God. Gaia, being a goddess of prophecy, warned him that he would suffer the same fate as his father someday. His youngest son, Zeus, later fulfilled that prophecy and defeated the Titans.

Gaea (1875). Ceiling painting, Academy of Fine Arts Vienna
Gaea (1875). Ceiling painting, Academy of Fine Arts Vienna | Source

Gaia’s Significance

As the personification of the Earth, Gaia was one of the most significant deities in the Greek pantheon. She was venerated as a Great Mother Goddess, and as the personification of the Earth itself. Gaia is recognized as the ruler of nature in ancient Greek mythology. Gaia is the mother of all creation, and all mortal life was born directly from her flesh, according to Greek mythology.

Gaia was known for her power to produce plants potent enough for enchantment. She was also known as a goddess of prophecy. Because she is so intertwined with nature and all of Earth, she has a unique ability to control the forces of nature to perform magic and enchantments. She also has a unique ability for prophecy, as everything in creation has come from her.

Birth of Erichtonius: Athena receives the baby Erichthonius from the hands of the earthmother Gaia. Hephaestus is watching the scene. Side A of an Attic red-figure stamnos, 470–460 BC.
Birth of Erichtonius: Athena receives the baby Erichthonius from the hands of the earthmother Gaia. Hephaestus is watching the scene. Side A of an Attic red-figure stamnos, 470–460 BC. | Source

Iconography of Gaia

Gaia was often depicted as a clothed female rising from the earth in ancient Greek art. She was portrayed on Greek vases as a mother, and sometimes as pleading for the lives of the lives her children. On these vase paintings, Gaia was often depicted as a buxom, matronly woman rising from out of the earth, completely inseparable from her native element.

The western facade of the Parthenon in Greece shows a seated goddess with a child on her lap who is thought to be Gaia.

In mosaic art, she appears as a full-figured woman, reclining on the earth, often clothed in green, and sometimes accompanied by troops of Karpoi and Horai.

Gaia also appears on sarcophagi, resembling Cybele, the Great Mother, with the attributes of a snake, a cornucopia, flowers, or various fruits.

The sculpture of Gaia, the Earth goddess, by David Wynne. Situated in the Abbey Gardens, Tresco, Isles of Scilly.
The sculpture of Gaia, the Earth goddess, by David Wynne. Situated in the Abbey Gardens, Tresco, Isles of Scilly. | Source

Gaia’s Legacy

Gaia is still well known throughout the world to this very day, as she is the one who nourishes all life on Earth. Even though thousands of years have passed since the time of the ancient Greeks, the myths surrounding their Mother Goddess live on. Possibly it’s because of the importance Gaia played in the creation of life in Greek mythology. Possibly it’s because of the somewhat disturbing tales of the conflicts between her and her family. Whatever the reason, one thing we can be sure of is that Gaia will forever live on in the memory and the life of man, as she is the embodiment of the Earth.

Research Sources

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gaia

theoi.com/Protogenos/Gaia.html

pantheon.org/articles/g/gaea.html

Questions & Answers

    © 2018 Jennifer Wilber

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      • Priya Barua profile image

        Priya Barua 

        13 months ago

        I find Greek mythology very interesting. I’m glad you wrote about Gaia; we usually find articles about the big three so it’s amazing that you’ve based it on a character who is often sidelined.

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