The Beginning of the World, the Pain and Separation of the Divine Family

In Maori mythology, Ranginui and Papatūānuku are the sky father and the earth mother. They lie locked together in a tight embrace. Their many children, the gods, are therefore forced to live in the cramped darkness between them. These children always dreamed of living in the light. When they grew up, Tumatauenga, the god of war and fiercest of the children, proposes that the best solution to their predicament is to kill their parents.

Image by holgerheinze0 from Pixabay

But his brother Tane, god to forests and birds, disagrees, suggesting that it is better to push them apart. If they pushed Ranginui and Papatūānuku apart, Ranginui would be propelled upwards to form the sky while Papatūānuku will remain below to nurture them. Their brothers preferred this plan and immediately put this plan into action. Rongo, the god of cultivated food, Tangaroa, the god of the sea, and Haumia-tiketike, the god of wild food,  pushed his parents apart with their hands. However, in spite of their joint efforts Ranginui and Papatūānuku remain close together in their loving embrace. After many attempts Tāne lies on his back and pushes Ranginui away from Papatūānuku with his strong legs. Stretching every sinew of his body, Tāne pushes and pushes until, with cries of shock and grief, Ranginui and Papatūānuku were pried apart.

And so, for the first time in their lives, the children of Ranginui and Papatūanuku see light. However, not everyone was happy about this separation. Tawhirimatea, the god of storms and winds, is angered that his parents have been torn apart and cannot bear to see his father’s tears as he was ripped apart and thrown up to the sky. Tawhirimatea flies off to join Ranginui. To fight his brothers, Tāwhirimātea gathers an army of his children—winds and clouds of different kinds, including fierce squalls, whirlwinds, gloomy thick clouds, fiery clouds, hurricane clouds and thunderstorm clouds, and rain, mists and fog. As these winds show their might the dust flies and the great forest trees of Tāne are smashed under the attack and fall to the ground, food for decay and for insects. 

Image by Johannes Plenio from Pixabay

Then Tāwhirimātea attacks the oceans and huge waves rise, whirlpools form, and Tangaroa, the god of the sea, flees in panic. Punga, a son of Tangaroa, has two children, Ikatere – the father of fish, and Tu-te-wehiwehi – the father pf reptiles. Terrified by Tāwhirimātea’s onslaught, Ikatere seek shelter in the sea and Tu-te-wehiwehi found refuge in the forests. Tangaroa has been angry with Tāne eversince for giving refuge to Tu-te-wehiwehi and for helping the descendants of Tūmatauenga with tools to catch his grandchildren, the fish. So whenever Tāne supplies the descendants of Tūmatauenga with canoes, fishhooks and nets to catch the descendants of Tangaroa, Tangaroa retaliates by swamping the canoes and sweeping away houses, land and trees that are washed out to sea in floods, hoping that the reptiles, children of Tu-te-wehiwehi would finally come home.

Tāwhirimātea then attacks his brothers Rongo and Haumia-tiketike, the gods of cultivated and uncultivated foods. However, Papatūānuku hides them so well that Tāwhirimātea cannot find them. Unsatisfied, Tāwhirimātea turns on his brother Tūmatauenga. However, Tūmatauenga stands fast and Tāwhirimatea cannot prevail against him. At last, the war of the gods subsided and peace prevailed.

Tūmatauenga never forgotten about Tane’s action in separating their parents and his brothers’ preference towards Tane’s methods. He made snares to catch the birds so that the children of Tāne who could no longer fly free. He then made nets from forest plants and casts them in the sea so that the children of Tangaroa would lie in heaps on the shore. He made hoes to dig the ground, capturing his brothers Rongo and Haumia-tiketike where they have hidden from Tāwhirimātea. Recognising them by their long hair that remains above the surface of the earth, he drags them up and heaps them into baskets to be eaten. Thus Tūmatauenga eats all of his brothers and their children to repay them for what he perceived as their cowardice.

All these actions left out one more child of Ranginui and Papatūānuku. This child was never born and still lives inside Papatūanuku. Whenever this child is kicking the earth shakes and causes an earthquake. His name is Ruaumoko, the god of earthquakes and volcanoes.

Perhaps contrary to Tūmatauenga’s belief, Tāne took no pleasure in separating his parents. Later, he searched for heavenly bodies as lights to beautifully adorn his father. He threw up the stars, the moon and the sun towards his father, hoping to make him a little happier. Ranginui and Papatūanuku continue to grieve for each other to this day. Ranginui’s tears sometimes fall towards Papatūanuku to show how much he loves her. Sometimes Papatūanuku heaves and strains and almost breaks herself apart to reach her beloved partner again but it is to no avail. When mist rises from the forests, these are Papatūānuku’s sighs as the warmth of her body yearns for Ranginui and continues to nurture mankind.

Image by Maraea from Pixabay

The Men Behind the Gods and the Power of the Ancient Media

Out of all the millions of myths around the world today, I think we can agree that Greek mythology is arguably the most famous. A significant reason for this is that the ancient Greeks were very media-savvy. The Greek myths that we know today are known primarily from representations on visual media dating from c. 900 BCE to c. 800 BCE onward as well as from written literature.

The ancient Greeks also started what we roughly know now as “product placement.” In this case, the “product” was myths and legends. Mythical narration plays an important role in nearly every genre of ancient Greek literature. They covered their bases so thoroughly and entwined the gods into the mortals’ narratives so well that, although we have of course lost many ancient Greek writings and visual representations, we are still familiar with the gods and heroes as if they were members of our own extended family.

File:Homer Musei Capitolini MC557.jpg
Bust of Homer. Marble, Roman copy after an Hellenistic original of the 2nd century BC.

Among the earliest literary sources, and arguably the most famous, are Homer’s two epic poems, the Iliad and the Odyssey. Any reader of Homer would recognize the close relationship between the gods and human destinies. The study of Homer is also one of the oldest topics in scholarship. The earliest preserved comments on Homer concerning his treatment of the gods which is not unlike the religious debates we see today. Hostile critics such as the poet Xenophanes of Calophon denounced Homer’s depictions of the gods as immoral. The allegorist Theagenes of Rhegium defended Homer by arguing that the Homeric poems are allegories and thus never meant to be taken literally. These kinds of debate only served to propel Homer and his work even further. As one American political consultant said, “If you’re not controversial, you’ll never break through the din of all the commentary.” In other words, any publicity is good publicity.

File:William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905) - Homer and his Guide (1874).jpg
“Homer and His Guide” by
William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905)
File:Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, Apotheosis of Homer, 1827.jpg
” Apotheosis of Homer ” by
Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres (1780 – 1867)

Hesiod, a possible contemporary with Homer, offers in his Theogony (Origin of the Gods) the fullest account of the earliest Greek myths, dealing with the creation of the world; the origin of the gods, Titans and Giants. He also includes elaborate genealogies, folktales, and etiological myths. Hesiod also includes the myths of Prometheus, Pandora and the Five Ages of Man in his Works and Days, a didactic poem about farming.

Both Homer and Hesiod are central to the history of ancient Greece. They received their greatest endorsement from none other than the “father of history,” Herodotus himself, who credits them with giving the Greeks their gods: “For Hesiod and Homer I suppose were four hundred years before my time and not more, and these are they who made a theogony for the Hellenes and gave the titles to the gods and distributed to them honours and arts, and set forth their forms: but the poets who are said to have been before these men were really in my opinion after them. Of these things the first are said by the priestesses of Dodona, and the latter things, those namely which have regard to Hesiod and Homer, by myself.”

File:Hesiod and the Muse by Gustave Moreau (1870).jpg
Hesiod and the Muse ” by
Gustave Moreau  (1826 – 1898)

Not much is known about the actual life of Hesiod. He started his working life as a young shepherd in the mountains. He says that his father left his home at Aetolian Cyme because his life of sea-trading was unprofitable; “he settled near Helicon in a miserable hamlet, Ascra, which is bad in winter, sultry in the summer, and good at no time.” Hesiod then moved on to be a small peasant on a hard land after his father’s death. While tending his flock on Mt. Helicon, he claims that the Muses appeared to him in a mist. It should be noted that this is a common claim. Two of the easiest way to distinguish oneself from the market these days is to be the first or the best. Leaders in the ancient world liked to distinguish themselves by associating themselves to the deities or ancient heroes. Hesiod, like many other epic poets, claims to have been inspired by the Muses and tells his audience that this happened “while he was shepherding his lambs under holy Helicon”.

The Theogony covers the beginning of the world with Chaos, followed by Gaia, Tartarus, and Eros. It then moves on to Gaia’s creation of Uranus, and their parenting of the Titans, Cyclopes and other giants. He tells us about Cronus’ castration of Uranus and the parenting of Cronus and Rhea of the Olympian gods. Cronus, as we know, ate his divine children as soon as they were born, with only Zeus surviving, who later forced Cronus to throw-up the other Olympians. Hesiod took great care to cover the story of Prometheus and his punishment by Zeus for giving fire to humans and the Titanomcahy, the great battle between the Titans and Olympians which Zeus won, casting the Titans and Typhoeus into Tartarus. He also devoted sections to Zeus and his many wives and the birth of Hercules.

The Works and Days, again, begins with an appeal to the Muses, but then goes on to address Hesiod’s brother, Perses, urging him to put aside their dispute, “Perses, lay these things in your heart, and do not let that Strife who delights in mischief hold your heart back from work…”. Hesiod dedicated Works and Days to his brother, giving him advice on life, farming, sea trade, as well as religious and social expectations. On a personal note, although Works and Days tended to be a little overlooked compared to the Theogony, this work appeals to me more due to its humanity and attempt at making the myths and belief that the brothers would have already known relevant to their day to day human existence.

“Hesiod” by ROOSDY