Gaia ("land" or "earth", from the Greek Γαία; variant spelling Gaea—see also Ge from Γη) is a Greek goddess personifying the Earth.
In Greek mythology
Hesiod's Theogony (116ff) tells how, after Chaos, arose broad-breasted Gaia the everlasting foundation of the gods of Olympus. She brought forth Uranus, the starry sky, her equal, to cover her, the hills, and the fruitless deep of the Sea, Pontus, "without sweet union of love," out of her own self. But afterwards, Hesiod tells, she lay with Uranus and bore the World-Ocean Oceanus, Coeus and Crius and the Titans Hyperion and Iapetus, Theia and Rhea, Themis and Mnemosyne and Phoebe of the golden crown and lovely Tethys. "After them was born Cronus the wily, youngest and most terrible of her children, and he hated his lusty sire."
Hesiod mentions Gaia's further offspring conceived with Uranus, first the giant one-eyed Cyclopes, builders of walls, later assigned individual names: Brontes ("thunderer"), Steropes ("lightning") and the "bright" Arges: "Strength and might and craft were in their works." Then he adds the three terrible hundred-handed sons of Earth and Heaven, the Hecatonchires: Cottus and Briareos and Gyges, each with fifty heads.
Uranus hid the Hecatonchires and the Cyclopes in Tartarus so that they would not see the light, rejoicing in this evil doing. This caused pain to Gaia (Tartarus was her bowels) so she created grey flint and shaped a great flint sickle, gathering together Cronos and his brothers to ask them to obey her. Only Cronos, the youngest, had the daring to take the flint sickle she made, and castrate his father as he approached Gaia to have intercourse with her. And from the drops of blood and semen, Gaia brought forth still more progeny, the strong Erinyes and the armoured Gigantes and the ash-tree Nymphs called the Meliae. From the testicles of Uranus in the sea came forth Aphrodite. For this, a Greek etymologist urged, Uranus called his sons "Titans," meaning "strainers" for they strained and did presumptuously a fearful deed, for which vengeance would come afterwards; for, as Uranus had been deposed by his son Cronos, so was Cronos destined to be overthrown by Zeus, the son born to him by his sister-wife Rhea. In the meantime, the Titans released the Cyclopes from Tartarus, and Cronos was awarded the kingship among them, beginning a Golden Age.
Gaia also made Aristaeus immortal.
Gaia is believed by some sources (Joseph Fontenrose 1959 and others) to be the original deity behind the Delphic Oracle at Delphi. She passed her powers on to, depending on the source, Poseidon, Apollo or Themis. Apollo is the best-known as the oracle power behind Delphi, long established by the time of Homer, having killed Gaia's child Python there and usurped the chthonicpower. Hera punished Apollo for this by sending him to King Admetus as a shepherd for nine years.
- With Elara
- With Oceanus
- With Pontus
- With Poseidon
- With Tartarus
- With Uranus
- With Hephaestus
- Unknown father
Hesiod's separation of Rhea from Gaia was not rigorously followed, even by the Greek mythographers themselves. Modern mythographers like Karl Kerenyi or Carl A. P. Ruck and Danny Staples, as well as an earlier generation influenced by Frazer's The Golden Bough, interpret the goddesses Demeter the "mother," Persephone the "daughter" and Hecate the "crone," as understood by the Greeks, to be three aspects of a former Great Goddess, who could be identified as Rhea or as Gaia herself. In Anatolia, Rhea was known as Cybele. The Greeks never forgot that the Mountain Mother's ancient home was Crete, where a figure some identified with Gaia had been worshipped as Potnia Theron (the "Mistress of the Animals") or simply Potnia ("Mistress"), an appellation that could be applied in later Greek texts to Demeter, Artemis or Athena.
In Rome the imported goddess Cybele was venerated as Magna Mater, the "Great Mother" and identified with Roman Ceres, the grain goddess who was an approximate counterpart of Greek Demeter, but with differing aspects and venerated with a different cult.
- Joseph Fontenrose, Python: A Study of Delphic Myth and its Origins, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1959; reprint 1980
- Karl Kerenyi, The Gods of the Greeks 1951
- Carl A.P. Ruck and Danny Staples, The World of Classical Myth, 1994.
- Gaea, a profile of her version in the Marvel Universe