( ) is the Latinized
form of Ouranos
( ), the Greek
word for sky
cognate of the English word air
and the Hindi word
(to fly)). In Greek mythology Ouranos
, is personified as the son and husband
, Mother Earth (Hesiod,
). 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
. Elemental Earth, Sky and Styx
might be joined, however, in a solemn invocation in Homeric
Most Greeks considered Uranus to be primordial
), and gave him no parentage. Under the
influence of the philosophers, Cicero
De Natura Deorum
("The Nature of the Gods"), claims that
he was the offspring of the ancient gods Aether
, Air and Day. According to the
, Ouranos was the son of the
personification of night, Nyx
equivalent in Roman mythology
, likewise from caelum
Latin word for "sky".
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
Hesiod names the Titan
, six sons
and six daughters, the one-hundred-armed giants (Hecatonchires
) and the one-eyed giants, the
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
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 three avenging Furies, the Erinyes
, the Meliae
, the ash-tree nymphs
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 Zancle 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 Achaea, whereas the
historian Timaeus located the sickle at
Corcyra; 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'
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.
, through deception by his mother Rhea
, avoided this fate.
These ancient myths of distant origins were not expressed in
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
. In formulaic
expressions in the Homeric poems ouranos is sometimes an
alternative to Olympus 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..."
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 Olympus, from which the epic tradition by the time of Homer
had transported them to the sky, ouranos.
sixth century, when a "heavenly Aphrodite" was to be distinguished
from the "common Aphrodite of the people", ouranos
signifies purely the celestial sphere itself.
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
, based in part on a posited PIE
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
, from a PIE
"to moisten, to drip" (referring to the
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
The ancient Greeks and Romans knew of only five 'wandering stars' (
the discovery of a sixth planet in the 18th century, the name
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
) 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
Argive genealogy in Greek mythology
- "We did not regard them as being in any way worthy of worship,"
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
- As at Iliad xv.36f and Odyssey v.184f.
- Modern etymology suggests that the linguistic origin of Τιτάνες
lies on the pre-Greek level.
- 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.
- Reported by the scholiast on Apollonius of Rhodes'
Argonautica, 4.984, noted in Fox 2008,
p.p274 note 36.
- Acusilaus, in FrGH vol. 2, fragment 4, noted by Fox,
p. 274, note 37
- Kerényi 1951, p. 20.
- William Merritt Sale, "Homeric Olympus and its formulae"
The American Journal of Philology 105.1
(Spring 1984:1-28), p. 3.
- Dumézil, Ouranós-Váruna: Étude de mythologie comparée
indo-européenne (Paris:Maisonneuve 1934).