Throughout the Theogony, Hesiod details an extensive chronology of the various gods and goddesses, listing dozens of gods and their genealogies and relations to one another. These include personifications of abstract concepts such as Death, Sleep, and Memory, as well as divinities with more fully fleshed-out histories and personalities, like Hera and Athena. Ultimately, family and genealogy is presented as a way of ordering the universe. The poem suggests that the whole of existence can be fit into this schema, resulting in a world that, while sometimes violent and unpredictable, has a fundamental underlying structure that is based in family and relation.
Hesiod begins the poem by detailing the creation of the universe. He lists the initial gods and goddesses who make up the foundation of the world, suggesting that gods and goddesses are the axis around which the rest of the universe is organized. Chasm, Earth, Tartarus, and Eros are the first listed gods, and take primacy as some of the first ordering principles in Hesiod’s Theogony. Chasm, while not entirely chaotic, is the void from which everything else springs and is put into order. Earth and Tartarus, meanwhile, are the boundaries of the universe, and are both personified deities as well a setting for the other gods and goddesses to inhabit. Eros, symbolic of romantic and sexual love, is the generative principle from which all the subsequent gods and goddesses are produced. Next come other physical features, such as Heaven, Night, Day, and Sky. These are additional foundational elements that make up the basis of the world. Here the Theogony again uses genealogy to explain and order the world, making coherent sense of a diverse array of different elements.
Heaven and Earth produce together a new kind of gods and goddesses, including Kronos and the other Titans, which expand the existing schema to include divinities representing both natural forces and human ideas. Elements of the natural world (like the sea) and of human existence (like memory and dreams) are all rooted in a divine genealogy that structures and organizes the world. These gods and goddesses represent a new generation of divinities, one that is based both in the natural world and the human one. Concepts such as time, memory, and the sea are represented as the children of Heaven and Earth and as fundamental ordering principles of the world, along with powerful, terrifying creatures like the Cyclopes. In Hesiod’s conception of the universe, gods and goddesses come into being from other gods and goddesses, and all are intimately connected to one another through their relational ties. This is followed by additional genealogies—the children of Night, including Death, Sleep, and Dreams, various goddesses and nymphs of the sea, Iris the messenger, the Sun and Moon, and many others. Here Hesiod chronicles an extensive list of the various properties of the world and human existence, from particular afflictions like Old Age to more general ones like the Winds. Everything fits into place according to their genealogy, which both explains how they came into being and situates them within the wider world.
With the genealogies of the Olympian gods and their descendants, the divine order of the world fully extends to the human, incorporating gods, goddesses, and human heroes into one coherent system. Zeus fathers deities like the Graces, the Muses, Apollo, Artemis, Dionysus, and heroes like Heracles. This cements his role as a god who can be a father without relinquishing his power, as well as fleshing out the world with a vast array of gods and goddesses who perform different roles and more fully integrate the human, the natural, and the divine. Various goddesses also bear both other divinities and half-human, half-divine children like Achilles, Jason, and Wealth. The realm of the divine now stretches fully into the realm of the human, and the litany of the Theogony has grown to encompass every aspect of human existence and mythology.
From the initial gods and goddesses listed in the Theogony to the partially human heroes and heroines listed at its conclusion, the poem constructs an orderly universe in which everything is organized according to genealogy and family relationship. The poem’s emphasis on the importance of genealogy speaks to the social fabric of ancient Greece, in which genealogy served as a map to understand how individuals fit into their family, community, and the wider world. By chronicling the genealogy of gods and goddesses, Hesiod takes things a step further, showing that all of existence is part of an intricate web of relation that stems back to the gods.
Family and Genealogy ThemeTracker
Family and Genealogy Quotes in Theogony
From the Muses of Helicon let us begin our singing, that haunt Helicon's great and holy mountain, and dance on their soft feet round the violet-dark spring and the altar of the mighty son of Kronos.
Whomsoever great Zeus' daughters favour among the kings that Zeus fosters, and turn their eyes upon him at his birth, upon his tongue they shed sweet dew, and out of his mouth the words flow honeyed; and the peoples all look to him as he decides what is to prevail with his straight judgments. His word is sure, and expertly he makes a quick end of even a great dispute. This is why there are prudent kings: when the peoples are wronged in their dealings, they make amends for them with ease, persuading them with gentle words. When he goes among a gathering, they seek his favour with conciliatory reverence, as if he were a god, and he stands out among the crowd.
Such is the Muses' holy gift to men.
For all those that were born of Earth and Heaven were the most fearsome of children, and their own father loathed them from the beginning. As soon as each of them was born, he hid them all away in a cavern of Earth, and would not let them into the light; and he took pleasure in the wicked work, did Heaven, while the huge Earth was tight-pressed inside, and groaned.
Farewell now, you dwellers in Olympus, and you islands, continents, and the salt sea between. But now, Olympian Muses, sweet of utterance, daughters of aegis bearing Zeus, sing of the company of goddesses, all those who were bedded with mortal men, immortal themselves, and bore children resembling the gods.