The battle of the gods in Greece

Like many Indo-European cultures, Greek myth and cult celebrated a series of primordial battles through which the order of the world was both threatened and forged. Two of these battles, the battle of the gods and giants (the gigantomachia or gigantomachy) and the battle of the gods and titans (the titanomachia or titanomachy) were confused even in antiquity and may, indeed, never have been clearly separate events. In both, an older generation of divine beings associated with (but somehow also antagonistic to) Gaia, earth, engage in a decisive battle with the Olympian gods of the sky. The outcome of the battle is to determine the rule of the earth and even before the advent of philosophy such 'rule' is associated with more than mere power. The myths themselves imply that something is at stake here which goes to the constitutional foundations of being itself. Hesiod, for example, describes the battle as follows: "The boundless sea rang terribly around, and the earth crashed loudly: wide Heaven was shaken and groaned, and high Olympus reeled from its foundation under the charge of the undying gods".

That being itself is at stake in this battle is to be seen in the German-Scandinavian variant of this Indo-European theme, where the war between gods and giants concludes only by putting an the end to the world in Götterdämmerung or Ragnarök.

With Plato, the ontological implications of the battle achieve conceptual translucence: the perennial argument between idealists and materialists is described as "a battle of gods and giants going on between them over their quarrel about reality [gigantomachia peri tes ousias]".

August 31, 2003 in Gigantomachia/Titanomachia, Indo-European parallels | Permalink