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Uranus ( ) is the Latinized form of Ouranos ( ), the Greek word for sky ( a cognate of the English word air and the Hindi word oura (to fly)). In Greek mythology Ouranos or Father Sky, is personified as the son and husband of Gaia, Mother Earth (Hesiod, Theogony). Uranus and Gaia were ancestors of most of the Greek gods, but no cult addressed directly to Uranus survived into Classical times, and Uranus does not appear among the usual themes of Greek painted pottery. Elemental Earth, Sky and Styx might be joined, however, in a solemn invocation in Homeric epic.

Most Greeks considered Uranus to be primordial (protogenos), and gave him no parentage. Under the influence of the philosophers, Cicero, in De Natura Deorum ("The Nature of the Gods"), claims that he was the offspring of the ancient gods Aether and Hemera, Air and Day. According to the Orphic Hymns, Ouranos was the son of the personification of night, Nyx. His equivalent in Roman mythology was Caelus, likewise from caelum the Latin word for "sky".

Creation myth

In the Olympian creation myth, as Hesiod tells it in Theogony, Uranus came every night to cover the earth and mate with Gaia, but he hated the children she bore him.

Hesiod names the Titan, six sons and six daughters, the one-hundred-armed giants (Hecatonchires) and the one-eyed giants, the Cyclopes.

Uranus imprisoned Gaia's youngest children in Tartarus, deep within Earth, where they caused pain to Gaia. She shaped a great flint-bladed sickle and asked her sons to castrate Uranus. Only Cronus, youngest and most ambitious of the Titans, was willing: he ambushed his father and castrated him, casting the severed testicles into the sea.

For this fearful deed, Uranus called his sons Titanes Theoi, or "Straining Gods."

From the blood which spilled from Uranus onto the Earth came forth the Gigantes, the three avenging Furies, the Erinyes, the Meliae, the ash-tree nymphs, and according to some, the Telchines.

From the genitals in the sea came forth Aphrodite. The learned Alexandrian poet Callimachus reported that the bloodied sickle had been buried in the earth at Zanclemarker in Sicily, but the Romanized Greek traveller Pausanias was informed that the sickle had been thrown into the sea from the cape near Bolina, not far from Argyra on the coast of Achaeamarker, whereas the historian Timaeus located the sickle at Corcyramarker; Corcyrans claimed to be descendants of the wholly legendary Phaeacia visited by Odysseus, and by ca 500 BCE one Greek mythographer, Acusilaus, was claiming that the Phaeacians had sprung from the very blood of Uranus' castration.

After Uranus was deposed, Kronos re-imprisoned the Hecatonchires and Cyclopes in Tartarus. Uranus and Gaia then prophesied that Kronos in turn was destined to be overthrown by his own son, and so the Titan attempted to avoid this fate by devouring his young. Zeus, through deception by his mother Rhea, avoided this fate.

These ancient myths of distant origins were not expressed in cults among the Hellenes The function of Uranus was as the vanquished god of an elder time, before real time began.

After his castration, the Sky came no more to cover the Earth at night, but held to its place, and "the original begetting came to an end" (Kerényi). Uranus was scarcely regarded as anthropomorphic, aside from the genitalia in the castration myth. He was simply the sky, which was conceived by the ancients as an overarching dome or roof of bronze, held in place (or turned on an axis) by the Titan Atlas. In formulaic expressions in the Homeric poems ouranos is sometimes an alternative to Olympusmarker as the collective home of the gods; an obvious occurrence would be the moment at the end of Iliad i, when Thetis rises from the sea to plead with Zeus: "and early in the morning she rose up to greet Ouranos-and-Olympus and she found the son of Kronos..."

"'Olympus' is almost always used of that home, but ouranos often refers to the natural sky above us without any suggestion that the gods, collectively live there," William Sale remarked; Sale concluded that the earlier seat of the gods was the actual Mount Olympusmarker, from which the epic tradition by the time of Homer had transported them to the sky, ouranos. By the sixth century, when a "heavenly Aphrodite" was to be distinguished from the "common Aphrodite of the people", ouranos signifies purely the celestial sphere itself.

Ouranos and

Georges Dumézil made a cautious case for the identity of Ouranos and Vedic at the earliest Indo-European cultural level. Dumézil's identification of mythic elements shared by the two figures, relying to a great extent on linguistic interpretation, but not positing a common origin, was taken up by Robert Graves and others. The identification of the name Ouranos with the Hindu Varuna, based in part on a posited PIE root *-ŭer with a sense of "binding"— ancient king god Varuna binds the wicked, ancient king god Uranus binds the Cyclopes— is widely rejected by those who find the most probable etymology is from Proto-Greek *worsanos, from a PIE root *wers- "to moisten, to drip" (referring to the rain).

Cultural context of flint

The detail of the sickle's being flint rather than bronze or even iron was retained by Greek mythographers (though neglected by Roman ones). Knapped flints as cutting edges were set in wooden or bone sickles in the late Neolithic, before the onset of the Bronze Age. Such sickles may have survived latest in ritual contexts where metal was taboo, but the detail, which was retained by classical Greeks, suggests the antiquity of the mytheme.

Planet Uranus

The ancient Greeks and Romans knew of only five 'wandering stars' ( , planētai): Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. Following the discovery of a sixth planet in the 18th century, the name Uranus was chosen as the logical addition to the series: for Mars (Ares in Greek) was the son of Jupiter, Jupiter (Zeus) the son of Saturn, and Saturn (Cronus) the son of Uranus. What is anomalous is that, while the others take Roman names, Uranus is a name derived from Greek in contrast to the Roman Caelus.

Consorts and children

All the offspring of Uranus are with Gaia, save Aphrodite, born when Cronus castrated him and cast his severed genitalia into the sea (Thalassa).
  1. Cyclopes, one-eyed giants
    1. Brontes
    2. Steropes
    3. Arges
  2. Hecatonchires, hundred handed, fifty headed giants
    1. Briares
    2. Cottus
    3. Gyges
  3. Titans, the elder gods
    1. Crius
    2. Coeus
    3. Cronus
    4. Oceanus
    5. Hyperion
    6. Iapetus
    7. Mnemosyne
    8. Phoebe
    9. Rhea
    10. Tethys
    11. Theia
    12. Themis
  4. Erinyes, the three Furies.
    1. Alecto
    2. Megaera
    3. Tisiphone
  5. Gigantes, the giants
    1. Alcyoneus
    2. Athos
    3. Clytias
    4. Enceladus
    5. Echion
  6. Meliae, the ash-tree nymphs.
  7. Aphrodite

380 px

Argive genealogy in Greek mythology


  1. "We did not regard them as being in any way worthy of worship," Karl Kerenyi, speaking for the ancient Greeks, said of the Titans (Kerenyi, The Gods of the Greeks, 1951:20); "with the single exception, perhaps, of Cronos; and with the exception, also, of Helios."
  2. As at Iliad xv.36f and Odyssey v.184f.
  3. Modern etymology suggests that the linguistic origin of Τιτάνες lies on the pre-Greek level.
  4. Callimachus, Aitia ("On Origins"), from book II, fragment 43, discussed by Robin Lane Fox, Travelling Heroes In the Epic Age of Homer 2008, p 270ff; Fox notes that Zancle was founded in the 8th century.
  5. Reported by the scholiast on Apollonius of Rhodes' Argonautica, 4.984, noted in Fox 2008, p.p274 note 36.
  6. Acusilaus, in FrGH vol. 2, fragment 4, noted by Fox, p. 274, note 37
  7. Kerényi 1951, p. 20.
  8. William Merritt Sale, "Homeric Olympus and its formulae" The American Journal of Philology 105.1 (Spring 1984:1-28), p. 3.
  9. Dumézil, Ouranós-Váruna: Étude de mythologie comparée indo-européenne (Paris:Maisonneuve 1934).


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