IN THE BEGINNING: HESIOD’S
The conception of the universe reflected in Greek verse is not a scientific one but
a mythic one, with sources in ancient Near Eastern myth models and
commonsensical observations of the environment.
According to the Greeks, the earth is a flat, circular disc with mountains
touching the bowl of the sky; the land is surrounded by ocean, and below lies
the Underworld, the land of the dead.
This model of heaven, earth, and the Underworld is called a cosmos. The subject
(the origin of the gods) is both a cosmogony (story of
origin of the universe) and a cosmology (story of the nature and purpose of the
Hesiod begins with Chaos and then tells of Gaea, Tartarus, and Eros springing
into existence independently. A primary focus of the
genealogy. In this creation myth, Eros (love) is the driving force of creation in
Hesiod describes the cosmos as permeated by conflict. Hesiod’s interest in
conflict may have an autobiographical origin in a life of poverty and hard work
and conflicts with his brother.
Hesiod ascribed the origin of his inspiration to the Muses, the nine daughters of
Zeus and Mnemosyne.
Myth-based Greek literature reflects a sophisticated and complex view of a
world filled with paradox.
During the fourth millennium
., a Semitic people called the Sumerians created
a stunning, civilized world in the land between the rivers Tigris and Euphrates,
which the Greeks called “Mesopotamia.” Not only did they build the first true
cities, but they created a writing system and even used it to record literature—
including the Epic of Gilgamesh.
Among the architectural achievements of the Sumerians was the ziggurat form—
a massive many-tiered construction that included, at its pinnacle, a tiny
sanctuary where a deity could reside.
10. The Sumerian ziggurat, the Tower of Babel from the Hebrew Bible, Jacob’s
dream ladder from the same book, and perhaps even the numinous mountains
of Greece like Parnassus offered a place where (at least some) humans could
rise to meet the gods as they descended to visit the earth.
11. The rich mythology of Egypt refers to a watery beginning of the universe.
gods participate in this beginning.
From the myths, one has a sense that the
Egyptians fear a collapse of their orderly universe and a return of the powers
of primal waters.
12. Like the Genesis 1 account, one Egyptian story models creation by divine
thought and speech.
The god Ptah first “thought” a thing and then pronounced
its name, thus bringing it into existence.