Gaia in Hesiod’s Theogony: Tormented, Tomentor, Submissive and Insurgent

Hesiod’s Theogony characterizes Gaia, otherwise known as Earth as a mighty yet necessary force of reproduction that needs to be subdued by a masculine power. In a cosmic discourse, Gaia represents man’s effort to control and harvest nature’s resources, only to be punished for his abuse. This brief analysis will explore, to some depth, Gaia’s fearful capabilities, her characterisation in Theogony and how this was utilized as a justification for male domination, at least, in Hesiod’s contention.

Within the Theogony, Gaia is introduced to be a mother agonized by the entrapment of her children by her husband Ouranos, alternatively Sky, ‘she grieved’ for the welfare of her children, and longed to break free of his cruelty (Hesiod Theogony 164). She describes Ouranos to be a villain figure, ‘a wicked father’ whom saw no value in his children’s lives, only the threat they posed to his power and authority (Hesiod Theogony 165). In wanting to free her children, Gaia is initially an ideal mother- as a mother should show love for her children, and desire to protect them from harm. Due to this desire, Gaia eventually conceives a stratagem to put an end to her husband’s oppression of their offspring, whom were locked away on Earth, her own body. Gaia demonstrates a great cunning and intelligence in this stratagem, and in doing so, Hesiod begins to express his disapproval of her initiative as a female being to overthrow and outsmart the patriarch, Ouranos.

Gaia may have been, at a certain period in the beginnings of the Theogony, perceived as a submissive, weaker force in the play, but eventually her uncontrollable nature is brought to light. Initially, her own son and consort Ouranos already had some knowledge of her power, her ability to reproduce gargantuan deities on her own, which included Ourea, Pontos, Cyclopes and himself. When Gaia bore the Hecatonchires in her belly, Ouranos attempted to subdue her might, her ability of reproduction by sexually constricting her (Hesiod Theogony 160). Despite this, Gaia adds to her character as a threat to male authority by devising what Hesiod distastefully labels as an ‘evil, tricky stratagem’ in league with her son Cronus, to overthrow his father- further justifying Ouranos’ fears (Hesiod Theogony 161-2). This can also be interpreted as an act of evil in more than one manner; it can be perceived as an act of heinous manipulation as Cronus’ was revealed to be ‘crooked-counseled’, and with this in mind, Gaia had purposely exploited her son’s stupidity in order to succeed (Hesiod Theogony 168-9).

Throughout the Theogony, this becomes one of two attempts by Gaia to usurp the throne of male authority. Her child, Typhon, a result of her union with Tartarus, grows to wreak destruction and challenge Zeus’ title as King (Hesiod Theogony 820-68). Twice Gaia has birthed (though not always with success) to threats against the male throne, and in doing so had hatched cunning plans along the way to assist them. These capabilities could possibly have influenced Zeus’ condemnation of women as ‘an evil for mortal men’, a financial burden to every male, and those who grew old without their company, wifeless and without family, faced a social stigma (Hesiod Theogony 601).

Alternatively, the persona of Gaia can demonstrate, the human/man’s relationship with the earth. Man, since the start of time has attempted to harness Gaia’s resources, as Ouranos had taken advantage of his wife’s reproductive ability. But once abused, Gaia determines its revenge to its controller, unleashing natural disasters onto man, as she conspired to overthrow Ouranos. Without her sickle, the naïve Cronus would not have managed a feat. The sickle that severed Ouranos’ genitals, stinting his potency can be perceived as Gaia’s power in nature, how natural disasters and the emergence of new disease could drastically dwindle humanity’s numbers. Gaia, even in a cosmic context, is uncontrollable, unpredictable and highly dangerous. She can reproduce on her own a variety of living beings, from plants to animals and elements, without needing man’s help, and due to this, humans sought to control its resources, harvesting them for his use and space. Otherwise, Gaia also stays true to her title of mother Earth, bringing devastation and death to polluting humans in order to protect her creations; wildlife.

Within Hesiod’s Theogony, Gaia is a non-anthropomorphic deity with the personality of a vengeful mother, with some admirable qualities such as maternal instinct and intelligence. Although Hesiod cautions against this intelligence, illustrating it as a deadly aspect of female beings, particularly to males. He continued to reveal the less admirable qualities of women through Gaia: sporadically threatening and tremendously strong. This nature is mirrored in Gaia’s actions and reactions to humans living on earth.

 

Primary Texts

Hesiod, Theogony. trans. G. W. Most, in Hesiod: Theogony, Works and Days, Testimonia (Cambridge, MA, 2006)


-The Musing Mestiza, 3rd Year

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