Or Ge (Γῆ), the personification of the earth. She appears in the character of a divine being as early as the Homeric poems, for we read in the Iliad1 that black sheep were sacrificed to her, and that she was invoked by persons taking oaths.2 She is further called, in the Homeric poems, the mother of Erichthonius and Tithyus.3
According to the Theogony of Hesiod,4 she was the first being that sprang from Chaos, and gave birth to Uranus and Pontus. By Uranus she then became the mother of a series of beings — Oceanus, Coeus, Crius, Hyperion, Iapetus, Theia, Rhea, Themis, Mnemosyne, Phoebe, Tethys, Cronus, the Cyclopes, Brontes, Steropes, Arges, Cottus, Briareus, and Gyges. These children of Gaea and Uranus were hated by their father, and Gaea therefore concealed them in the bosom of the earth; but she made a large iron sickle, gave it to her sons, and requested them to take vengeance upon their father. Cronus undertook the task, and mutilated Uranus. The drops of blood which fell from him upon the earth (Gaea), became the seeds of the Erinyes, the Gigantes, and the Melian nymphs. Subsequently Gaea became, by Pontus, the mother of Nereus, Thaumas, Phorcys, Ceto, and Eurybia.5 Besides these, however, various other divinities and monsters sprang from her.
As Gaea was the source from which arose the vapors producing divine inspiration, she herself also was regarded as an oracular divinity, and it is well known that the oracle of Delphi was believed to have at first been in her possession,6 and at Olympia, too, she had an oracle in early times.7 That Gaea belonged to the δεοὶ χθίνιοι (deoi chthinioi), requires no explanation, and hence she is frequently mentioned where they are invoked.8 The surnames and epithets given to Gaea have more or less reference to her character as the all-producing and all-nourishing mother (mater omniparens et alma), and hence Servius9 classes her together with the divinities presiding over marriage.
Her worship appears to have been universal among the Greeks, and she had temples or altars at Athens, Sparta, Delphi, Olympia, Bura, Tegea, Phlyus, and other places.10 We have express statements attesting the existence of statues of Gaea in Greece, but none have come down to us. At Patrae she was represented in a sitting attitude, in the temple of Demeter,11 and at Athens, too, there was a statue of her.12 Servius13 remarks that she was represented with a key.
At Rome the earth was worshiped under the name of Tellus, q.v.
Gaea is depicted on an archaic relief as a clothed female, rising from the earth. The western facade of the Parthenon shows a seated goddess with a child on her lap, thought to be Gaea with Thalassa. On Greek vases she is portrayed as mother, sometimes pleading for the lives of the Gigantes, for example on the bowl by Aristophanes (late fifth century BCE). The same theme is found on the altar of Pergamon (ca. 200 BCE). On sarcophagi she resembles Cybele, the Great Mother, with as attributes a snake, a cornucopia, flowers or fruits.
- iii, 104.
- ibid. iii, 278; xv, 36; xix, 259; Homer. Odyssey v, 124.
- Iliad ii, 548; Odyssey vii, 324; xi, 576; comp. Apollonius Rhodius, i, 762; iii, 716.
- 117, 125 ff.
- Hesiod. Theogony, 232 ff.; Pseudo-Apollodorus. The Library i, 1.1 ff.
- Aeschylus. Eumenides, 2; Pausanias. Description of Greece x, 5.3.
- Pausanias. Description of Greece v, 14.8.
- Philostratus. Vita Apollonii vi, 39; Ovid. Metamorphoses vii, 196.
- On Virgil's Aeneid iv, 166.
- Thucydides, ii, 15; Pausanias. Description of Greece i, 22.3, 24.3, 31.2; iii, 11.8, 12.7; v, 14.8; vii, 25.8; viii, 48.6.
- Pausanias.Description of Greece i, 21.4.
- ibid. i, 24.3.
- On Virgil's Aeneid x, 252.
- Smith, William. (1870). Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology. London: Taylor, Walton, and Maberly.
This article incorporates text from Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology (1870) by William Smith, which is in the public domain.