So, it’s Father’s Day soon and you are looking to give your dad some love and show him how much he means to you. Who should you NOT get advice from? The Greek gods that’s who. Seat down BOI, for I have a story to tell.
Anyone can tell you that where there is family, there is family drama. But before we can go into the multi-generational Greek drama that is the Greek creation myth, let’s look at the… planets?
The ancients knew of the planets long ago as they gaze up into the heavens. They noticed that some stars never moved and always stayed in the same position every night every year. But there were 5 very pesky stars that kept moving throughout the sky along with the sun and the moon. These were the wondering stars, as compared to the fixed stars that never moved. So, they decided to name these after their gods. These 5 visible planets are still visible in the night skies now.
They named the fast one Mercury, after their messenger god who was known for his speed. The big bright one, Venus, was named after the goddess of love and beauty. The planet Venus is also really toxic 😉. The red one is Mars, after the god of war (no relation to the PS4 games). The other bright one, that stays in the night sky for longer periods, was named Jupiter, after the king of the gods, whose name also means “sky father”. And lastly, the dimmest and slowest of the visible planets is named Saturn.
But you may ask, these are roman gods and, at the start, I mentioned Greek gods — what gives? Well BOI, stop asking questions and let daddy talk. When Rome took over Greece, the Romans also incorporated the Greek’s gods and stories into their own. Greek gods got a new paintjob, name change and continued rolling on like nothing happened. Hermes became Mercury, Aphrodite became Venus, Ares became Mars, Zeus became Jupiter (or sometimes ‘Jove’), and Cronos became Saturn. The actual reasons behind this reskin are vast and political, and also not in the scope of this article… and I was supposed to be taking about family drama!
Well, as it turns out, coincidental or not, Hermes and Ares are both sons of Zeus, while Zeus himself is the son of Cronos. Now that we are introduced to most of the main characters of this family drama, let’s finally start on this.
In the beginning there was nothing but chaos, dark and formless. Out of chaos, came Gaia who personifies the earth. From Gaia, she made for herself a consort named Ouranos who ruled the sky (the original sky daddy). Gaia and Ouranos quickly started having kids and were soon the proud parents of 3 cyclopes, 3 hecatoncheires (basically giants with 100 hands) and 12 titans. Ouranos did not seem to like his less-pretty kids, imprisoned them underground and, at the same time, lost any chance of getting the “#1 dad cup” from any of his kids.
Gaia probably got fed up with this and straight up asked her kids to help deal with this. She made a sickle and the youngest titan, Cronos (remember him?), used it to “deal” with his dad. Ouranos survived this but I would just say that he can no longer celebrate Father’s Day to any new offspring. After this little hiccup in their family, the titans took over and ruled the land. Cronos and another titan, Rhea, got together and started on some family planning when Gaia popped in and informed Cronos that one of his children would one day overthrow him, just like how he did his father. Who is to doubt Mother Earth? Cronos was not taking any chances. The brilliant idea he thought up was to SWALLOW his children right after they were born. I mean, what else could he do? Rhea, like Gaia, was not very happy about losing her 5 children to Cronos’s tummy and decided to do something. When the next child, Zeus, was born, Rhea quicky swapped him out for a rock wrapped in babies clothing and passed that to Cronos who probably picked up the rock, threw it into his mouth, petted his tummy and burped all without bothering to check.
Zeus grew up strong under the care of some nymphs and a goat. Upon reaching adulthood, Gaia hinted to Zeus that he should really free his other siblings and rule the world, and Zeus took to this idea really well. With the help of a nymph named Metis, they made a medicine that caused Cronos to regurgitate 1 rock and all the kids he swallowed in the reverse order that he swallowed them. Now, we have, in order or “rebirth”, Zeus (the rock), Poseidon, Hades, Hera, Demeter and Hestia (who is bestia).
I am going to just summarise here. Zeus, with the help of his brothers and sisters, challenged the titans but needed the help of their imprisoned uncles, their cyclopes and hecatoncheries, to finally win the war and become Earth’s new rulers.
So, we have seen 2 bad daddies mistreating their kids and the new and upcoming king of the skies, Zeus, rise to power. Will he make the same mistakes his father and grandfather made? Now, stories and comedy work best in threes and Zeus is an entirely different kind of father from the other two. Instead of banishing or swallowing his kids, Zeus went the opposite route and made more kids. That’s right, with enough children… you too can be #1 best daddy to someone, it’s just pure math 😊. With Hera, he fathered Hephaestus and Ares (hey, he is back). With Metis, he fathered Athena, who burst out of Zeus’s head (long story). A fling with a goddess, Leto, got him Artemis and Apollo, while another fling with a deity named Maia got him Hermes. I have to emphasize that this is a very NON EXHAUSTIVE list of his many many many children.
Alright, family drama out of the way and back to science.
Until 1781, we only knew of 5 planets other than our own. When sir William Herschel first laid eyes on a dim object through his telescope on 13 march 1781, the world was introduced to the 7th planet in our solar system. The new planet was not visible without the aid of telescopes and had actually been misidentified as a star or comet way before this official discovery. Now, it is fully accepted as the 7th planet from our sun. But what to call it? If there is one thing you should know about scientists, we love trends and patterns. If there is a naming pattern, we will stick to it until we die! The planets are no exception. We already have a sort of succession from Mars to Jupiter to Saturn, so the next logical name would be Ouranos, or its Latin version, Uranus.
With careful study of the orbit of Uranus, the scientist discovered that there was something off about it. It was not where the calculations made it out to be, as if something was occasionally pulling on it. With that in mind, the scientist predicted that there was another unseen planet beyond the orbit of Uranus and set their minds to find it. They made their predictions and aimed their telescopes where they thought the mysterious planet was, and actually spotted it within a degree of where the predictions said it would be, a major win for science. So, on 23rd September 1846, a new planet was discovered by Johann Galle, using predictions by Urbain Le Verrier. The new planet was a deep blue in colour and, in keeping with the Roman gods theme of naming, was named Neptune, which is the Roman name for the Greek god Poseidon, the god of the seas. He also fits into the family tree as he is one of Cronos’ children.
With renewed energy of what might be out there in the solar system, and the possibility of yet another planet beyond Neptune, scientists kept studying the orbits of Uranus and Neptune and discovered more irregularities in their orbits, hinting at another planet. Thus began the search for planet X. Planet X was so far away and so small that no telescope could see it, but they could guess where it should be in the night sky. So, by comparing different photographs of that portion of the night sky over a few days, they found their wondering star on 18th February 1930. Planet X was found, what will they name it? The name Pluto was actually suggested by an 11-year-old girl, who had an interest in Greek mythology. It was submitted to the council and subsequently chosen as the name of the new planet. Pluto is the Roman name for Hades, the god who rules the underworld and is also another one of Cronos’s children.
Sadly, Pluto would eventually lose its planet status and be retitled as a dwarf planet. But, that is also strangely accurate as Hades is not seen as one of the 12 Olympians. Strangely fitting if you ask me.
WAIT! We missed out one planet who is not part of the family tree, Venus. Weeeelllllllllllllllllllllllll there are 2 stories regarding her birth, one in Hesiod’s Theogony and another in Homer’s lliad. Remember way back where I mentioned that Cronos dealt with his father Ouranos, in a way that made sure Ouranos could father anymore children? Well, Cronos cut off Ouranos testicles and casted it into the sea. And from those family jewels formed the beautiful Aphrodite, emerging from the sea and maybe never knowing who her real father is. So, from Hesiod’s point of view, Ouranos is Aphrodite’s father.
She also has another origin story, just like some of our favourite superheroes. The lliad gives a more traditional parentage for Aphrodite where she is the daughter of Zeus and Dione, one of the more ancient nymphs and also showing that Zeus had kids with EVERYONE. That makes her a daughter of Zeus.
When you look at your own family tree and family drama, be happy that there was no baby swallowing or imprisonment that happened. Give your father a hug but try not to overthrow him. But most importantly, shower him with all the love you have. Be a good BOI.
Written by Lim Meng Hwee
Illustrations by Lydia Konig