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date: 23 June 2018

Summary and Keywords

Early Greek cosmogonies and theogonies are mainly preserved in the form of hexametric poetry, rarely in systematic accounts, such as Hesiod’s, but more often within texts of broader mythical scope, as in Homer’s Iliad and the Homeric Hymns. The differing assumptions about the origins of and relations among the gods in these poems demonstrate the wide variety of cosmogonic traditions available in the Greek world and the poetic freedom to express or emphasize aspects of them. This is also evident in other sources for Greek theogony/cosmogony, such as the longer of the Homeric Hymns, which focus on specific gods, sometimes including their birth stories and framing their familial relations with other gods and with humans. The strand known as “Orphic” cosmogony or theogony runs parallel to the mainstream epic tradition (not without intersections), and underscores the connection between cosmogonic ideas and spiritual and philosophical movements. These alternative cosmogonies also served as a narrative and theological framework for mystery cults, which revolved around the figures of Demeter, Persephone, and Dionysus (e.g., Eleusinian and Bacchic groups). Other forms of expression of cosmogonies/theogonies (e.g., lyric poetry, tragedy, iconography) tend to follow the Homeric and Hesiodic traditions, which become a pan-Hellenic point of reference, but local and regional idiosyncrasies were always possible. A salient feature of Greek cosmogony/theogony is its intersection with the creation stories of the Near Eastern world, especially in the Mesopotamian, Anatolian, and North-West Semitic traditions. The study of Greek cosmogonies in recent decades has focussed heavily on disentangling and understanding the intimate relation between common motifs and the importance of adaptation and innovation. In turn, in the Roman world we see two main strands: the reception and creative adaptation of Greek cosmogonies (e.g., Ovid’s Metamorphoses), and the elaboration of different cosmogonic narratives driven by philosophical enquiry (e.g., Stoicism, Epicureanism), a movement that had in part already begun with the Presocratics and Plato.

Keywords: cosmogony, theogony, anthropogony, succession myth, Hesiod, Orphic texts, Plato, Ovid, Near Eastern cosmogonies, Neoplatonism

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