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Literature Study GuidesMythologyPart 1 Chapter 3 Summary

Mythology | Study Guide

Edith Hamilton

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Mythology | Part 1, Chapter 3 : How the World and Mankind Were Created | Summary



Out of Chaos and nothingness emerges Love, which creates Light and Day. Then Heaven and Earth, known as Uranus and Gaea, emerge. Heaven and Earth first give birth to monsters, including the Cyclopes, giants with a single eye in their foreheads. Then they give birth to the Titans. Uranus imprisons the monsters, and Gaea enlists the Titans to help free them. Cronus, one of the Titans, challenges his father, and the blood from Uranus's wound gives rise to more monsters and the Erinyes (Furies) whose task is to punish sinners. The monsters are driven away, and the Titans begin their reign with Cronus as their king and his sister Rhea as their queen.

Cronus and Rhea have five children, but Cronus eats them all, fearing one of them will dethrone him. Rhea hides the sixth child, Zeus, and disguises a large stone as the child, which Cronus eats. Once Zeus is an adult, he challenges his father and forces him to disgorge his siblings; these six children of Cronus and Rhea become the first Olympians. A war between the Olympians and Titans ensues, which almost "wrecked the universe." With the help of the exiled monsters and their mother, Gaea, Zeus emerges victorious. He punishes the Titans who stood against him by casting most of them into the bottomless pit of Tartarus.

Once the world is free of monsters and the Olympians reign supreme, the world is ready for human habitation. In one version, Prometheus creates humans with superior gifts after his brother Epimetheus creates animals. Other versions tell of the gods creating a series of humans from various metals, starting with gold and ending in the current generation of humans made of iron. Each of these stories implies a golden age of man, before women are created. Zeus creates women to punish Prometheus's favor toward man, sending the beautiful Pandora to earth with a box she is forbidden to open. Curiosity gets the best of her, and she opens the box and releases a horde of miseries into the world. She closes the box before the last of its contents (hope) can escape. For favoring man and giving him fire, Prometheus is further punished by being chained to a rock and tortured by an eagle who eats his liver every day.

Another version of human origins tells of several generations also made of metals, but Zeus destroys them with a flood to punish their wickedness. Two humans, Deucalion and Pyrrha (Prometheus's son and niece) survive the deluge. They are faithful to the gods, so Zeus lets them live. They are instructed to cast the bones of their mother behind them, which means they are to throw stones—the bones of their mother Earth—behind them. The stones take human shape and create the next generation of man.


At its core, the creation story in Greek mythology is a celebration of progress and an affirmation of its inevitability. The first inhabitants of earth in this story are hideous monsters. Three of them are enormous, each with "a hundred hands and fifty heads." Three others are Cyclopes. These monsters are "devastating in their power" and represent little improvement over the Chaos that preceded their parents. Symbolically, these monsters represent the hostile world that existed before civilizations began to take shape, where "monsters" in the form of inexplicable creatures and phenomena would have run rampant.

The Titans are a step forward in terms of evolution. They are gigantic and strong like the monsters, but they have redeeming features. One of them, Prometheus, is even recognized as the "savior of mankind," although his benevolence comes at a steep cost to him. Prometheus is instrumental in Zeus's defeat of his father, Cronus—the first character, but not the last, in Greek mythology to learn that destiny is inescapable—yet his service to Zeus is not sufficient to allow him to evade the punishment he receives. Ultimately, Zeus must defeat and/or banish all the monsters and Titans in order to assume his role as lord of the universe. Symbolically, Zeus's victory over the Titans represents the triumph of civilization and order over the primitive violence and hostility that has come before him. This is the march of progress.

The stories of man's origins reveal a bleak view of human nature. Either humans are creatures tormented by forces of misery unleashed by their own curiosity, or the current race of humans is inherently flawed and constructed of inferior materials compared to the generations that came before. In the story of the flood, Zeus's power and propensity for vengeance is central, and human loyalty to the gods is presented as the highest of virtues and the saving grace for the human race.

Interestingly, the creation stories center around the presence of neglectful or malicious fathers who must be defeated by their sons. Uranus hates his monstrous sons, which leads Gaea to enlist Cronus in fighting against his father. In turn, Cronus eats his children, which leads his son Zeus to overthrow him. In one sense, these stories indicate how bad fathers must be punished for their neglect or hostility. Parenthood is an enterprise requiring some level of focus. In another sense, this aspect of the creation story sets up an inherent competition between fathers and sons that emerges in later myths and establishes a pattern, indicating that progress often involves the younger generation surpassing the older one, in a literal sense.

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