(host) Imagine being the mother to every single living thing.
What would you do if one of your children threatened the safety of the others?
Would you kill or imprison your progeny to save the world?
It's an impossible choice, one that no mother wants to make, but maybe it gets easier after the first time.
Gaia would know.
As Greek mythology's original Mother Earth, with the unique ability to create life from nothing, Gaia made the choice to fight against her descendants three separate times.
And in typical Greek mythology fashion, this feminine figure doesn't get a very satisfying ending.
[curious instrumental music] In art, Gaia was often depicted as one with the land, either a woman's torso emerging from the soil, or as a woman lounging on the very ground that she personified.
In stories, she was described as a beautiful woman with a buxom, motherly figure.
Hesiod called her "wide-bosomed" in his Theogony.
But all of these terms are just different ways to say that Mother Earth had a lot of curves.
Unlike the Olympian gods, who had power over specific domains, Gaia's abilities were more general.
As the personification of Earth, Gaia had some control over the land and weather.
She also had the power of prophecy and was said to share her predictions through dreams.
These oneiric messages were just one of many presents that Gaia bestowed on her followers, and so she was appropriately given the epithet "Anesidora," which meant "spender" or "giver of gifts."
Gaia's most important ability, however, was the power to create life even without the... usual methods.
It is because of this very power that the Greek pantheon existed at all.
According to Greek creation myths, the universe at first held nothing but Chaos, a lifeless bulk of darkness from which Gaia spontaneously formed.
Tartarus and Eros also sprang from Chaos, and together with Gaia, these three were the Protogenoi, Greek mythology's most primordial deities.
With the pit of Tartarus resting below her, Gaia birthed Ourea to look over the mountains and Pontus to care for the seas, and earthly creatures sprang from her skin.
In an act that would bring about a thousand mythological years worth of drama, Gaia also gave birth to Ouranos, a personification of the sky who stretched above her in a dome.
Gaia and Ouranos produced many powerful offspring in the more traditional way.
Together they bore 12 Titan children, including Rhea and Cronus, then three giant Cyclopeses, and three Hecatoncheires, who were just as large as their one-eyed brothers, but each had 50 heads and 100 arms.
Ouranos felt threatened by his out-sized children and hid them away so deep in Gaia's own womb that they ended up in the pit of Tartarus, the darkest part of Hades.
Naturally, Gaia was upset with the situation.
Maybe Ouranos could have gotten away with punishing the Giants or with forcing Gaia to suffer painful cramps, but certainly not both.
Gaia conspired with her Titan children to overthrow their father, and the death blow was dealt by Cronus, who castrated Ouranos with a sickle made by Gaia's own hand and threw his genitals into the sea.
The blood from this violent act produced Giants, the goddess Aphrodite, and the Furies.
With Ouranos out of the picture, Cronus took over as king of the heavens.
Isn't it funny how history tends to repeat itself?
Gaia probably wouldn't think so, but even a powerful earth goddess can't outrun fate.
Gaia foresaw that her son Cronus would one day be overthrown by his own son.
When he heard the prophecy, Cronus tried to avoid it by eating all his newborn children whom he sired with his sister Rhea.
At least he learned from his father's mistake and didn't try to imprison them within Gaia's belly.
But she was no more thrilled by her son's casual cannibalism than she was by Ouranos playing the unfair jailer, so Gaia conspired with her daughter Rhea to dethrone the cruel Cronus.
The Earth Mother advised Rhea to hide her sixth-born child, Zeus, and to give Cronus a blanket-wrapped stone to swallow instead.
Zeus was raised in secret in a cave on Mount Dikti on the island Crete.
By some accounts, Gaia raised Zeus herself, though others say he was raised by nymphs.
When he was old enough, Zeus returned to Olympus and used a special regurgitory elixir from Gaia to free his brothers and sisters from Cronus's gut.
With Gaia's help, Zeus and the other would-be Olympian gods overthrew the Titans and imprisoned many of them in Tartarus.
Angered again by her children's confinement, Gaia urged her Giant children to attack the Olympians, but they were defeated after the gods enlisted Herakles, for it was prophesized that the Giants could only be thwarted with a mortal's help.
When that attempt failed, Gaia lay with Tartarus to produce a truly terrifying offspring: Typhus, the father of all monsters, who had 100 fire-breathing dragon heads.
Typhus almost defeated the gods but was eventually struck down by Zeus's lightning bolt.
Not wanting to endanger any more of her children, Gaia accepted Zeus's role as the ruler of Olympus.
When we talk about ancient mythology now, it's tempting to treat it as a static story.
We see the end state and assume that it was always that way.
But myths, like history, evolve over time, and Gaia's story is an excellent example of that.
Most people think of Zeus as the highest God in Greek mythology, but it was once Cronus and, before him, Ouranos.
But they all got their power and position thanks to Gaia, who never really got to rule over the Earth that she was responsible for.
And even though Gaia played a pivotal role at the beginning of the Greek myths, she doesn't get any kind of satisfying ending, good or bad.
She seems to disappear from the myths after Zeus's wedding to Hera, without even the honor of a memorable, horrific punishment like so many of her Titan offspring.
A modern Western lens would blame that on the patriarchy, saying a culture that worships such a male-dominated pantheon would downplay the accomplishments of the ultimate maternal figure.
There's some truth in that, but it's not the whole story.
Gaia's exclusion from most myths has led some researchers to believe that she is a much older figure than any of the Olympian gods.
Figurines of motherly goddesses have been found at many ancient shrines associated with Gaia, and they were very reminiscent of statues from neolithic and Bronze Age times representing the Great Mother.
Similar statues have been found in modern-day Turkey, Germany, and France.
Folklorist Jules Cashford claims that the myth of Gaia has roots in the ancient Indian figure Gayatri, who was brought to Europe by the Mycenaeans about 4,000 years ago.
Gaia's underwhelming presence in mythology could be a consequence of conquest or a matter of misogyny, or maybe she just needed a break from her kids like any overworked mom and lost track of time as immortals are wont to do.
Whatever the reason for her relative absence from later myths, Gaia was worshiped at several sites across Greece, including Athens and Delphi.
Erichthonius, an early king of Athens, was said to be the ill-begotten son of Gaia by Hephaestus, and so he decreed that Gaia would receive sacrifices before any other deity.
As a chthonic goddess associated with the earth and the underworld, the animals sacrificed to her had to be black.
The Oracle at Delphi ultimately came to be connected to the God Apollo, but legend says it originally belonged to Gaia.
In the form of a tree, Gaia breathed life into the Sybilline stone and gave it her power of prophecy.
Gaia eventually renounced her claim on the oracle stone, and others took over its power.
Gaia was also venerated at many of Demeter's temples, and some scholars believe that these two goddesses may have once been worshiped as a single agricultural and fertility deity.
Gaia's origins and her mythological fate may be unclear to us, but her influence on today's culture is undeniable.
Modern Wiccans and Pagans revere Gaia in her role as Mother Earth.
An ecological framework called the Gaia Hypothesis from 1979 saw the environment as a self-sustaining system, almost as if it were guided by a living, nurturing hand.
In 2013, scientists launched a telescope into space and then ironically named it after this primordial Earth goddess.
In this latest incarnation, the Gaia space Telescope gave astronomers the most accurate map of stars in our galaxy that we've ever seen, measuring the positions and velocities of more than one billion stars, and gave me the data that I used to get my PhD.
Whether she's serving as the foundation and engine of our planet's entire ecosystem or unveiling the mysteries of the universe, Gaia has always looked out for us humans.
She made the impossible choice to dismember her immortal children to save the world from their cruelty time after time, until she couldn't fight anymore.
And yet, she's seen as the prime antagonist of Greek mythology; that is, if she's remembered at all.
So remember Gaia, and respect the Earth that she represents, and for all our sakes, stop putting her children in jail!
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