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date: 18 April 2024

Gaia, Gēfree

Gaia, Gēfree

  • Christiane Sourvinou-Inwood


  • Greek Myth and Religion

Gaia, Gē, the Earth, a primordial goddess. In Hes.Theog. (116 ff.) the original entity was Chaos, then came Gaia and other beings like Eros. Gaia had many children from her son Uranus, including the Titans. In the Titanomachy she assists Zeus by telling him what he needs to do to win (Hes. Theog. 626–8). But after the defeat of the Titans (820–2) she produces, from her union with Tartarus, the monster Typhon who was a threat to the order of the Olympians, but was defeated by Zeus. The Olympians chose Zeus as their ruler on Gaia's advice. She is generally ambivalent: she can be deceitful and threatening, dangerous, and gives birth to creatures that pester gods and men. But she is also a positive nurturing figure. In Athens there was an important cult of Gē Kourotrophos; the sanctuary of Gē Kourotrophos and Demeter Chloe was near the entrance to the Acropolis (Paus. 1. 22. 3). Besides offerings to Gē and to Gē Kourotrophos (and other mentions of the latter (cf. e.g. Ar. Thesm. 300)), there also appears in sacrificial calendars a figure called simply Kourotrophos, who may have been identical to Gē Kourotrophos, though we cannot be certain. A popular episode in Attic art is the representation of the birth of Erichthonius, where Gaia is shown as a woman emerging from the ground, handing the baby Erichthonius to Athena. The story that Gaia was the original owner of the Delphic oracle seems not to be a reflection of cult history, but a myth. The earliest evidence for a cult of Gaia at Delphi is early 5th cent. bce. At Olympia, Pausanias (3) tells us (5. 14. 10) the sanctuary of Gaia (Gaion) had an ash altar of Gaia and it was said that in earlier times there had been an oracle of Gē there.


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  • T. Hadzisteliou Price, Kourotrophos: Cults and Representations of the Greek Nursing Deities (1978).
  • C. Bérard, Anodoi: Essai sur l'imagerie des passages chthoniens (1974), 26–9, 34–8.
  • M. P. Nilsson, Geschichte der griechischen Religion, 3d edn. (1967), 1. 456–461.
  • L. R. Farnell, The Cults of the Greek States (1896–1909), 3. 1–28, 307–311.
  • L. Deubner, Attische Feste (1932), 26–27.
  • C. Sourvinou-Inwood, ‘Reading’ Greek Culture (1991), 217–43.
  • F. Quantin, Métis 7 (1992), 177–99.