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Gaia (mythology)

Gaia (mythology)

In Greek mythology, Gaia (/ˈɡaɪə, ˈɡeɪə/ GHY-ə, GAY-ə;[1] from Ancient Greek Γαῖα, a poetical form of Γῆ , "land" or "earth"),[2] also spelled Gaea (/ˈdʒiːə/ JEE-ə),[1] is the personification of the Earth[3] and one of the Greek primordial deities. Gaia is the ancestral mother of all life: the primal Mother Earth goddess. She is the immediate parent of Uranus (the sky), from whose sexual union she bore the Titans (themselves parents of many of the Olympian gods) and the Giants, and of Pontus (the sea), from whose union she bore the primordial sea gods. Her equivalent in the Roman pantheon was Terra.[4]

Personification of the Earth
Member of the Protogenoi
Personal information
ConsortUranus, Pontus, Aether and Tartarus
OffspringUranus, Pontus, the Ourea, Hecatonchires, Cyclopes, Titans, The Gigantes, Nereus, Thaumus, Phorcys, Ceto, Eurybia, Aergia, Typhon, and Python
ParentsNone, or Chaos (Hesiod), or Aether and Hemera (Hyginus)
SiblingsNone, or Nyx, Erebus, Tartarus, Eros, or Uranus, Thalassa
Roman equivalentTerra, Tellus


The Greek name Γαῖα (Gaĩa)[5] is a mostly epic, collateral form of Attic Γῆ[6] (), Doric Γᾶ (, perhaps identical to Δᾶ )[7] meaning "Earth", a word of uncertain origin.[8] Robert S. P. Beekes has suggested a Pre-Greek origin.[9]

In Mycenean Greek Ma-ka (transliterated as Ma-ga, "Mother Gaia") also contains the root ga-.[9][10]



Gaia hands her newborn, Erichthonius, to Athena as Hephaestus watches – an Attic red-figure stamnos, 470–460 BC

Gaia hands her newborn, Erichthonius, to Athena as Hephaestus watches – an Attic red-figure stamnos, 470–460 BC

Hesiod's Theogony tells how, after Chaos, "wide-bosomed" Gaia (Earth) arose to be the everlasting seat of the immortals who possess Olympus above.[11] And after Gaia came "dim Tartarus in the depth of the wide-pathed Earth", and next Eros the god of love.[12] Hesiod goes on to say that Gaia brought forth her equal Uranus (Heaven, Sky) to "cover her on every side".[13] Gaia also bore the Ourea (Mountains), and Pontus (Sea), "without sweet union of love" (i.e., with no father).[14]

Afterwards with Uranus she gave birth to the Titans, as Hesiod tells it:

She lay with Heaven and bore deep-swirling Oceanus, Coeus and Crius and Hyperion and Iapetus, Theia and Rhea, Themis and Mnemosyne and gold-crowned Phoebe and lovely Tethys. After them was born Cronos (Cronus) the wily, youngest and most terrible of her children, and he hated his lusty sire.[15]

According to Hesiod, Gaia conceived further offspring with Uranus, first the giant one-eyed Cyclopes: Brontes ("Thunder"), Steropes ("Lightning"), and Arges ("Bright");[16] then the Hecatonchires: Cottus, Briareos, and Gyges, each with a hundred arms and fifty heads.[17] As each of the Cyclopes and Hecatonchires were born, Uranus hid them in a secret place within Gaia, causing her great pain. So Gaia devised a plan. She created a grey flint (or adamantine) sickle. And Cronus used the sickle to castrate his father Uranus as he approached Gaia to have sex with her. From Uranus' spilled blood, Gaia produced the Erinyes, the Giants, and the Meliae (ash-tree nymphs). From the testicles of Uranus in the sea came forth Aphrodite.[18]

By her son Pontus, Gaia bore the sea-deities Nereus, Thaumas, Phorcys, Ceto, and Eurybia.[19]

Because Cronus had learned from Gaia and Uranus that he was destined to be overthrown by one of his children, he swallowed each of the children born to him by his Titan sister Rhea. But when Rhea was pregnant with her youngest child, Zeus, she sought help from Gaia and Uranus. When Zeus was born, Rhea gave Cronus a stone wrapped in swaddling-clothes in his place, which Cronus swallowed, and Gaia took the child into her care.[20]

With the help of Gaia's advice,[21] Zeus defeated the Titans. But afterwards, Gaia, in union with Tartarus, bore the youngest of her sons Typhon, who would be the last challenge to the authority of Zeus.[22]

Other sources

According to Hyginus, Earth (Gaia), along with Heaven and Sea, were the children of Aether and Day (Hemera).[23] According to the mythographer Apollodorus, Gaia and Tartarus were the parents of Echidna.[24]

Zeus hid Elara, one of his lovers, from Hera by stowing her under the earth. His son by Elara, the giant Tityos, is therefore sometimes said to be a son of Gaia, the earth goddess.

Gaia also made Aristaeus immortal.[25]


In classical art Gaia was represented in one of two ways. In Athenian vase painting she was shown as a matronly woman only half risen from the earth, often in the act of handing the baby Erichthonius, a future king of Athens, to Athena to foster). In mosaic representations, she appears as a woman reclining upon the earth surrounded by a host of Carpi, infant gods of the fruits of the earth.


Oaths sworn in the name of Gaia, in ancient Greece, were considered the most binding of all.

She was also worshipped under the epithet "Anesidora", which means "giver of gifts".[26][27][28] Other epithets were Calligeneia,[29] Eurusternos,[30] and Pandôros.[31]

In ancient times, Gaia was mainly worshipped alongside Demeter and as a part of the cult of Demeter, and does not seem to have had a separate cult. Being a chthonic deity, black animals were sacrificed to her:

[Sacrifices to the gods as witnesses of an oath :] Bring two lambs : let one be white and the other black for Gaia (Earth) and Helios (Sun). [N.B. Chthonic Gaia receives a black animal, heavenly Helios a white one.][32]


Gaia is believed by some sources[33] to be the original deity behind the Oracle at Delphi. It was thus said: "That word spoken from tree-clad mother Gaia's (Earth's) navel-stone [Delphoi]."[34] Depending on the source, Gaia passed her powers on to Poseidon, Apollo, or Themis. Pausanias wrote:

Many and different are the stories told about Delphoi, and even more son about the oracle of Apollon. For they say that in earliest times the oracular seat belonged to Ge (Earth), who appointed as prophetess at it Daphnis, one of the Nymphai (Nymphs) of the mountains. There is extant among the Greeks an hexameter poem, the name of which is Eumolpia, and it is assigned to Musaios (Musaeus), son of Antiophemos. In it the poet states that the oracle belonged to Poseidon and Ge (Earth) in common; that Ge (Earth) gave her oracles herself, but Poseidon used Pyrkon (Pyrcon) as his mouthpiece in giving responses. The verses are these:--‘Forthwith the voice of Khthonie (Chthonia) uttered a wise word, And with her Pyrkon, servant of the renown Earthshaker.’ They say that afterwards Ge (Earth) gave her share to Themis, who gave it to Apollon as a gift. It is said that he to Poseidon Kalaureia (Calaurea), that lies off Troizenos (Troezen), in exchange for his oracle.[35]

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 chthonic power.[36] Hera punished Apollo for this by sending him to King Admetus as a shepherd for nine years.

Gaia or Ge had at least three sanctuaries in Greece, which where mentioned by Pausanias. There was a temple of Ge Eurusternos on the Crathis near Aegae in Achaia, with "a very ancient statue":[37]

It is a journey of about thirty stades [from the stream of Krathis (Crathis) near the ruins of Aigai (Aegae) in Akhaia] to what is called the Gaion (Gaeum), a sanctuary of Ge (Earth) surnamed Eurysternos (Broad-bossomed), whose wooden image is one of the very oldest. The woman who from time to time is priestess henceforth remains chaste, and before her election must not have had intercourse with more than one man. The test applied is drinking bull's blood. Any woman who may chance not to speak the truth is immediately punished as a result of this test. If several women compete for the priesthood, lots are cast for the honour.[37]

Pausanias also mention the sanctuary of Ge Gasepton in Sparta,[38] and a sanctuary of Ge Kourotrophe (Nurse of the Young) at Athens.[39]

Aside from her temples, Gaia also had altars as well as sacred spaces in the sanctuaries of other gods. Close to the sanctuary of Eileithyia in Tegea was an altar of Ge;[40] Phlya and Myrrhinos had an altar to Ge under the name Thea Megale (Great goddess);,[41] as well as Olympia which additionally, similar to Delphi, also said to have had an oracle to Gaia:

On what is called the Gaion (Gaeum, Sanctuary of Ge) [at Olympia] is an altar of Ge (Earth); it too is of ashes. In more ancient days they say that there was an oracle also of Ge (Earth) in this place. On what is called the Stomion (Mouth) the altar to Themis has been built.[42]

Her statues were naturally to be found in the temples of Demeter, such as the Temple of Demeter in Achaia: "They [the Patraians of Akhaia (Achaea)] have also a grove by the sea, affording in summer weather very agreeable walks and a pleasant means generally of passing the time. In this grove are also two temples of divinities, one of Apollon, the other of Aphrodite . . . Next to the grove is a sanctuary of Demeter; she and her daughter [Persephone] are standing, but the image of Ge (Earth) is seated."[43] The Temple of Zeus Olympios in Athens reportedly had an enclosure of Ge Olympia:

[Within the sanctuary of Zeus Olympios in the lower town of Athens :] Within the precincts are antiquities : a bronze Zeus, a temple of Kronos (Cronus) and Rhea and an enclosure of Ge (Earth) surnamed Olympia. Here the floor opens to the width of a cubit, and they say that along this bed flowed off the water after the deluge that occurred in the time of Deukalion, and into it they cast every year wheat mixed with honey . . . The ancient sanctuary of Zeus Olympios the Athenians say was built by Deukalion (Deucalion), and they cite as evidence that Deukalion lived at Athens a grave which is not far from the present temple.[44]

In Athens, there was a statue of Gaia on the Acropolis depicting her besieging Zeus for rain,[45] as well as an image of her close to the court of the Areopagos in Athens, alongside the statues of Plouton and Hermes, "by which sacrifice those who have received an acquittal on the Areopagos".[46]


Aion and Gaia with four children, perhaps the personified seasons, mosaic from a Roman villa in Sentinum, first half of the third century BC, (Munich Glyptothek, Inv. W504)

Aion and Gaia with four children, perhaps the personified seasons, mosaic from a Roman villa in Sentinum, first half of the third century BC, (Munich Glyptothek, Inv. W504)

Some modern sources, such as James Mellaart, Marija Gimbutas and Barbara Walker, claim that Gaia as Mother Earth is a later form of a pre-Indo-European Great Mother, venerated in Neolithic times. Her existence is a speculation, and controversial in the academic community. Some modern mythographers, including Karl Kerenyi, Carl A. P. Ruck and Danny Staples interpret the goddesses Demeter the "mother," Persephone the "daughter" and Hecate the "crone," as aspects of a former Great goddess identified by some as Rhea or as Gaia herself. In Crete, a goddess was worshiped as Potnia Theron (the "Mistress of the Animals") or simply Potnia ("Mistress"), speculated as Rhea or Gaia; the title was later applied in Greek texts to Demeter, Artemis or Athena. The mother-goddess Cybele from Anatolia (modern Turkey) was partly identified by the Greeks with Gaia, but more so with Rhea and Demeter.


Many Neopagans worship Gaia. Beliefs regarding Gaia vary, ranging from the belief that Gaia is the Earth to the belief that she is the spiritual embodiment of the earth, or the Goddess of the Earth.[47]

Modern ecological theory

The mythological name was revived in 1979 by James Lovelock, in Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth; his Gaia hypothesis was supported by Lynn Margulis. The hypothesis proposes that living organisms and inorganic material are part of a dynamical system that shapes the Earth's biosphere, and maintains the Earth as a fit environment for life. In some Gaia theory approaches, the Earth itself is viewed as an organism with self-regulatory functions. Further books by Lovelock and others popularized the Gaia Hypothesis, which was embraced to some extent by New Age environmentalists as part of the heightened awareness of environmental concerns of the 1990s.


Olympian descendants


Gaia is the personification of the Earth and these are her offspring as related in various myths. Some are related consistently, some are mentioned only in minor variants of myths, and others are related in variants that are considered to reflect a confusion of the subject or association.

  • No father Uranus Pontus Ourea Nesoi The Autochthons: Cecrops, Palaechthon, Pelasgus, Alalcomeneus, Dysaules, Cabeirus, Phlyus, and Leitus[54].

  • with Uranus The Titans: Oceanus, Coeus, Crius, Iapetus, Hyperion, Theia, Themis, Tethys, Phoebe, Mnemosyne, Rhea, Cronus, and Dione. The Cyclopes: Arges, Brontes, and Steropes. The Hecatonchires: Briareus, Cottus, and Gyes. The Meliae 1 The Curetes 1&2 The Erinyes 1: Alecto, Megaera, and Tisiphone. The Gigantes 1: Porphyrion, Alcyoneus, Ephialtes, Eurytus, Clytius, Mimas, Pallas, Polybotes, Enceladus, Hippolytus, Gration, Agrius, and Thoas. The Elder Muses: Mneme, Melete, and Aoide. The Telchines: Actaeus, Megalesius, Ormenus, and Lycus. Aetna[55] Aristaeus[56]

  • with Tartarus Typhon Echidna[57] Campe (presumably) Giants: Enceladus, Coeus, Astraeus, Pelorus, Pallas, Emphytus, Rhoecus, Agrius, Ephialtes, Eurytus, Themoises, Theodamas, Otus, Polyboetes, and Iapetus.

  • with Pontus Ceto Phorcys Eurybia Nereus Thaumas Telchines

  • with Aether Uranus[58] Personifications: Altercation (Amphillogia) Combat (Hysminai) Deceit (Dolos) Falsehood Fear (Deimos) Forgetfulness (Lethe) Grief (Algos) Incest (Incestum)[59] Intemperance (Intemprentia)[59] Lamentation (Penthus) Oath (Horkos) Pride (Superbia)[59] Sloth (Aergia) Vengeance (Poine) Wrath (Lyssa)

  • with Poseidon Antaeus[60] Charybdis[61] Laistrygon

  • with Zeus Agdistis Manes Cyprian Centaurs

  • Triptolemos with Oceanus

  • Erichthonius of Athens with Hephaestus

  • with unknown consorts Lesser Giants** Alpos Anax[62] Argus Panoptes Damasen[63] The Gegenees Hyllus[64] Orion Sykeus[65] Tityos Monsters and Animals** Arion Caerus Colchian dragon Nemean dragon Ophiotauros Python Scorpios Kreousa Pheme Prometheus Silenus


1 Some said they were born from Uranus' blood when Cronus castrated him.

2 Kouretes were born from rainwater (Uranus fertilizing Gaia)

Other appearances

  • In the 1990 animated series Captain Planet and the Planeteers, Gaia is depicted as the "spirit of the earth," who acts as a mentor guide that aids the titular protagonists with their quest to save the environment.[66]

See also

  • Aditi

  • Atabey (goddess)

  • Bhumi

  • Dewi Sri

  • Earth Mother

  • Gaia hypothesis

  • Gaia philosophy

  • Great Mother

  • Mother Nature

  • Pachamama

  • Tellus Mater

  • Terra (mythology)

  • The Seven Deadly Sins of Modern Times (painting)

  • Titan


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