A Comparison of Greek and Hittite Mythology with Theogony and Kingship in Heaven
In the early days of civilization, mythology developed chiefly as a way of explaining the unknown and understanding the purpose for one’s existence. These stories were often passed down orally, from generation to generation, however, versions of the myths were eventually written down. Hesiod’s Theogony paints a picture into how Greek civilization viewed the origin of their world, and the cosmos. To the east, a tablet with the poem Kingship in Heaven describe the Hittite people’s view of their origin. Although they bear some superficial differences, the similarities between Theogony and Kingship in Heaven are strikingly clear.
Hesiod’s Theogony overviews the transition from the primordial Gods of the cosmos, all the way down to Zeus, the king of Gods and men. The story begins with the cosmogony — the birth of the cosmos: from Chaos came Gaea, Tartaros, and Eros. From Gaea came Uranus, who was the first “God of the Sky.” Uranus and Gaea had many children; however, Uranus banished many of these children to Tartarus, “[taking joy in] his wicked work.” Gaea plotted against Uranus, and gave Cronus, a Titan and one of her children, a sharp sickle. Cronus castrated his father in his sleep, ending his rule and in some versions, threw his testicles into the sea wherein his sperm would beget the Goddess Aphrodite. After the fall of Uranus, it was prophesied that he would be overthrown by a son, as was his father before him. To avoid this, Uranus swallowed each of his children as they were born. Rhea, Cronus’ sister and wife, grew angry with Cronus, and hid herself away as she gave birth to her sixth child, and replaced the child with a rock for her husband to swallow. After Rhea’s son, Zeus, was grown into a handsome youth, she convinced Cronus to allow their child to act as a cupbearer on Mount Olympus. Zeus poisoned the titan king, which compelled Cronus to throw up all of the children he had once swallowed. This act sparked the Titanomachy, a war between the Gods and Titans lead by Zeus and Cronus respectively. The battle lasted ten years, but in the end the Gods were victorious; Zeus became the undisputed supreme ruler of the Gods and the heavens.
Much like Theogony, The Hittites’ Kingship in Heaven also follows the transition from a godly king in heaven, Alalush, to his thunder-god descendent, which other sources have named Teshub. It begins with Alalush sitting on his throne, with his servant Anush bowing at his feet. After nine years of service, Anush declares war and defeats Alalush, sending him “under the dark earth.” For nine years Anush ruled heaven, until his servant Kumarbi declared war. Much like Alalush, Anush could not defeat his servant, however unlike Anush, Kumarbi did not let his master flee. Kumarbi chased Anush through the sky, pulling him down and biting off his genitals. Consuming Anush’s sperm, Kumarbi was impregnated with the storm-god Teshub, along with many of Teshub’s godly siblings. What happens next is unknown, however when the writings return we learn that Teshub is still inside of Kumarbi, and they argue over how best to escape from his body. Teshub is warned not to exit out of many different openings, especially not the anus, and eventually decides to exit through the penis. The rest of the piece is lost, but somehow Teshub overthrows and succeeds Kumarbi to become the new king of heaven, as described by other writings such as the Song of Ullikummi.
When comparing Kingship in Heaven and Theogony, obvious parallels can be drawn in regards to succession. In Kingship in Heaven, Alalush was the first ruler, who was succeeded by the sky-god Anush, who was succeeded by his servant Kumarbi, who was finally succeeded by the thunder-god Teshub. In Theogany, Chaos was the first “ruler” (he wasn’t exactly King, he was just sort of all encompassing), who was then succeeded by the sky-god Uranus, who was defeated by his son Cronus, who was finally defeated by his son, the thunder-god Zeus.
When investigating this line of succession, it’s important to contrast that the characters in Kingship in Heaven were not seemingly blood related like in Theogony; most of the characters acted as a servant to their predecessor. One could speculate that the difference arises in part due to the Greek relationship between father and son. In many mythological stories, fathers are destined to be defeated or replaced by their sons. This common motif appears in stories such as the myths of Oedipus, and the hero Perseus. One could be lead to believe that Ancient Greek culture often thought of the son as being an extension of the father, who would one day take his place.
Other notable similarities appear in the two pieces; specifically the idea of castration and the battles of Zeus and Teshub. Both Anush and Uranus are castrated by their respective successors, Kumarbi and Cronus. Many stories tell of the birth of Aphrodite through Uranus’ severed genitals, and Kingship in Heaven tells of many gods, including Kumarbi’s ultimate successor Teshub, being born from the castration of Anush. In Song of Ullikummi, the storm-god fights a dragon of chaos, Ullikummi. In Greek myth, Zeus must defeat the youngest son of Gaea Typhoeus, who is described as a “grisly monster with a hundred dragons’ heads.” The Hittite uses “the weapon which heaven and earth were separated” to conquer the dragon, whereas Zeus uses a sickle to defeat Typhoeus. Remembering back to primordial myth, Cronus uses a sickle to castrate Uranus, effectively separating the God of Heaven and Gaea, the God of Earth. The thematic resemblance between the two is likely no accident; because many of these stories were transmitted orally, quite often stories from nearby cultures would mix and share distinct qualities. The use of castration and similarities in plot devices suggest that Kingship in Heaven likely preceded and inspired the stories behind Hesiod’s Theogony.
Despite coming from vastly different cultures, there exists themes, symbols, and plot devices that are shared between the stories of Hesiod’s Theogony and the Hittite empire’s Kingship in Heaven and Song of Ullikummi, most evidently, the structure of godly succession. In some ways, the differences between the two enlighten us onto the attitudes of the specific culture. Researching and analyzing these mythological stories allow us to better understand the cultural ideals of ancient peoples.
Cite this Essay
To export a reference to this article please select a referencing style below