Numerous mythological instances show that the primordial, primal female power is overthrown or modified by a male figure. Hesiod’s Theogony shows that Gaea’s supremacy is ultimately overthrown by Zeus. Aeschylus, however, sees the primacy of the Furies overridden by the rationality and order of male law. This subordination of females reflects the patriarchal natures ancient Greek and Roman societies. However, it’s important to remember that the primal male nature cannot be completely destroyed, but is instead integrated into the new world orders. The Theogony and Eumenides both contain original, ancient female power, which is the basis for the establishment of institutions and male reason.
Hesiod’s creation account states that Gaea, the first being born from Chaos, was Hesiod. Gaea, the mother-of-all things, occupied the center in Greek mythology when she created the universe from her asexually and sexually-produced offspring. Gaea’s male descendants and grandchildren became more powerful as they vied for power. Cronus succeeds Uranus as his father and Zeus becomes the king over all gods. As the actions of male gods become more defined, female goddesses find themselves marginalized. As a result, goddesses and their generative powers begin to take the back seat to stories of male rivalry and warfare.Interestingly, while the importance of female goddesses is supplanted by that of male gods, a parallel reduction of the primacy of female reproductive power takes place. As Theogony develops from one generation to another, reproduction is no longer controlled by the females but becomes more male-controlled. Gaea is able to reproduce asexually in the beginning to produce Uranus or Pontus. After that, she begins to have sex with her son Uranus. (Powell 80). Gaea cannot save herself from her overbearing son, Uranus. Cronus castrates him father and liberates his mother.
Cronus then marries Rhea, his sister. He follows his father’s lead and suppresses his wife’s reproductive ability. Cronus swallows all his children at birth and can only be defeated when Zeus, his child, is forced to vomit up his entire father’s siblings. Zeus is no worse than his grandfather or father, but he actually stifles his consort’s generative powers and completely takes over female reproduction. Zeus is worried that Metis, his future wife (“Cleverness”) might overthrow Zeus and so he swallows Metis in order to prevent her from giving rise to a possible threat. Athena is born to Zeus asexually through his forehead. Zeus’ “birthing” of Athena gives him control over reproduction and eliminates the female role.
Zeus’ struggle for supremacy as the king of gods also leads to conflict with Mother Earth. Zeus kills many of his offspring, despite initially seeking the support of Gaea (grandmother of the gods), who advised him to join the Hecatonchires and defeat the rebellious Titans (Powell 85). Gaea sends Typhoeus from the Dragon to defeat Zeus. This causes bitter rivalry between Gaea and Gaea’s grandmother and grandson. Zeus defeats Gaea symbolically by killing Typhoeus, and also eliminates her potential threat. The Earth Zeus thus asserts his dominance over Typhoeus, the ultimate female power. This shows that male rule cannot be achieved by suppressing the female authority. Mother Earth is now a mythical figure.
By relating the story of Zeus’ rise to power over Gaea, Hesiod’s Theogony highlights the progression from an initial time of female dominance to a more patriarchally-acceptable institution of male rule. Although Gaea is the original creator of all things at first, her world is later divided into three realms, each one being ruled and controlled by three male gods, Poseidon and Zeus. Theogony’s beginnings place emphasis on Gaea’s generative abilities, but the Theogony eventually shifts to the conflict between male and female generations. The Theogony generally sees the female’s role gradually fade away as it progresses. Zeus must, indeed, suppress female power in order to be established as supreme ruler and king of the universe. To do this, he defeats Gaea’s offspring Typhoeus. Metis is also swallowed by him to stop her conceiving future competitors.
This theme of ending female reproductive power may be a sign of an ancient Greek male’s ambivalence and fear toward this exclusively feminine, inherently feminine ability. Their offspring can pose a threat to the world even though women must have children to make it possible for men to live in the world. The potentially dangerous nature and danger of female reproductive activity means that men need to control it. It is however interesting to see that the males cannot completely eliminate the female, even though they must subordinate powerful females. Even though Gaea is defeated, Zeus still considers her Mother Earth. All life depends on her. Zeus, in the same way, consumes Metis and integrates his “cleverness”. This symbolically makes her part of the same male power who smothered.
Aeschylus (and specifically the Eumenides) continues to explore the theme female suppression and then her eventual incorporation into a male world. A song by the Pythia the female prophetess in the oracles of Delphi that tells the story Apollo’s ascension from the position to seer, opens the play. This position had been held for centuries by ancient female goddesses. However, Apollo, a god younger than them, took it over. The Eumenides theme is foreshadowed by the Pythia’s song, which inherently tells of the triumphs of male over women and old over new. This theme is also reflected in the story about Zeus’s Furies, ancient creatures who were overthrown by Zeus during his rise. They are now living a miserable life under the Earth, as Furies symbolize all that is primal-violent and fearful.
Apollo, a young god that represents civilized order and rationality, stands out in stark contrast to Furies. Apollo, the young god of rationality and civilized order, is in conflict with the Furies when it comes to the rightful punishments for the matricidal Orestes. Apollo defends Orestes’ right of vengeance for his father’s murder and insists that blood ties are the best. The primal and natural bonds forged through kinship contrast sharply with the modern institution of marriage. This gendered dichotomy, which associates women and nature with men and culture with them, is also evident: the Furies are wild, untame, feminine nature. Apollo represents civilized, rational male culture that must control nature with laws.
The Eumenides are the epicenter of taming. The Athenian elders organize a court to decide Orestes fate under the direction of Athena. The older female Furies, which are both ancient and modern, are outnumbered by the gods of the younger generation, as well by an overwhelming preference for males. Athena, the presiding Judge, is, however, a masculine. Asexually born from Zeus’ forehead, she has no mother. Apollo and Orestes are victorious thanks to Athena’s decisive vote, which automatically sides with the man. The masculine’s dominance defeats the Primal Furies and civilisation triumphs over the primitive.
Although Athena is masculine in nature, she doesn’t forget about the Furies and their superior wisdom and age (Eumenides 848-49) Athena is not like Apollo who hates the Furies. She listens and considers their points of view. Athena is not only female but also not male. Athena is the perfect arbiter to resolve a dispute that has gender divisive roots. However, her implicit support for Orestes due to his gender may cast doubt on her judgment. Athena is aware that Justice and Fear (the Furies’ tool), must be paired before there can ever be peace or order. To accomplish this she creates a new role of Furies protectors in Athens. Athena integrates old with new, violence with reason, male with female.
The Furies have been integrated into civilisation, but they don’t occupy an equal position. The Eumenides proves that the new gods still rule over the old and that female power still has a superiority to male power. Although Athena does give the Furies a space in Athens to placate them, the Athenian society’s male-dominated nature ensures that the female’s role will never be equaled. In ancient Greece, a man is in control. This is why we see the males take over after a period when there was female power. Clytemnestra, who tried to overthrow her husband’s reign, is punished. Orestes is released when Athena side with him because Apollo is a man. Theogony similarly shows that power gradually shifts between male and female as the male gods take over reproductive control.
But, ancient Greek mythology does not have a binary gender system. Although a man’s rise in power is often accompanied by subordination to threatening females it cannot be totally eradicated. The Furies are defeated, but Gaea defeats Zeus. Female goddesses can often be used as stepping stones towards the achievement of male order or civilization. As Mt. Mount is literally built upon Gaea, so too. Olympus, home to the Zeus gods and Olympian gods, is also the foundation upon which Mt. It is important to understand the paradoxical role that women played in ancient Greek society by integrating opposites. The survival of the male order is dependent on the female. She is even often the foundation. Hesiod & Aeschylus both make it clear that while there is power for the female, it must be secondary.