Recap: Gaia is one of three gods who existed at the beginning of time. She represents the earth itself, and is the mother of Uranus, the Titans, the Cyclopes, and the Hecatonchires. When Uranus imprisons the Cyclopes and the Hecatonchires, this feisty lady demands that he be punished. She also saves Zeus from being eaten, and helps the Olympians win the war. Not a bad résumé.
Gaia is pretty much the bomb. Let's see: she's existed since the dawn of time and she's all powerful. So yeah, the bomb. As Greek mythology progresses, Gaia slowly takes a back seat to the younger gods, getting involved in the drama less and less frequently. But here at the beginning of time, she's hands on and in your face. She's the Wizard of Oz, but instead of hiding behind a curtain, she's up close and personal, handing out flint daggers to her minions. And make no mistake, everybody is Gaia's minion.
Throughout the Theogony, Gaia presents herself as the one who's in total control of events. She's the one who demands that Uranus be punished, the one who hides Zeus from Cronus, and the one who encourages Zeus to free the Cyclopes and the Giants. She doesn't take any crap from her husband or her children, and she doesn't sit around when important things are happening.
In many ways her character in the Theogony is the opposite of the gentle, almost timid Mother Nature that we tend to think of today. She's also different from many of the female characters we see in ancient literature; she's not a damsel in distress, but a force to be reckoned with. You go, Gaia.
In addition to being an ancient rock star, in Hesiod's account, Gaia also plays the role of spokeswoman of Fate. She's the one who reveals to Cronus the prophecy about his eventual doom, and also the one who rescues young Zeus and keeps him safe so that he can fulfill said prophecy when he grows up. Finally, she's the one who reveals to Zeus that freeing the Cyclopes and Hecatonchires will lead to victory in the war with the Titans. If you're keeping track, you should remember that the imprisonment of the Cyclopes and the Hecatonchires is what miffed Gaia and led to Uranus being dethroned in the first place. Wait, so freeing Gaia's imprisoned children leads to the Olympians winning the war? Yep. Pretty crafty of her, don't you think?
P.S. If you want more deets on Gaia, checkout her profile.
Recap: Uranus is Gaia's first-born son, and also her husband. Don't ask why. He is usually thought of as representing Heaven, but in some stories he represents the sky instead. He is nearly as powerful as Gaia until Gaia has him castrated for imprisoning his children, after which he mostly drops out of the story. He is the father of the Titans, the Cyclopes, and the Hecatonchires.
Character-wise, Uranus gets the short stick in this story. His primary job in the Theogony is to pop out kids and then play the role of the evil parent, fairy tale style.
If Hesiod's Theogony were a bestseller today, we might think it was kind of boring and uncool to give Uranus such a tiny role. But because ancient Greek poetry (the kind that Hesiod dealt with) was intended to be largely historical, we realize that the author was just trying to tell it how it happened. Sure, as a character, Uranus is pretty uninspiring, but we recognize that there's no way to make him more interesting without making stuff up. Maybe that's why modern adaptations of mythology are often only loosely based on the original myth.
Recap: Cronus is the youngest of the Titans, born to Uranus and Gaia. He is also the smartest, and the most ambitious. Not bad. Cronus is the first to respond when Gaia demands that Uranus be punished. He's also the one who does the actual… castrating. Yeah. In return for his loyalty he becomes the ruler of the Titans, but sadly, he learns just after taking the throne that he is doomed to be replaced by one of his children. Determined to escape his fate, he decides to eat his children as they are born. Well, then.
Despite the fact that Cronus is not the primary protagonist of this story, he may actually be the most interesting character that we get our hands on. Cronus is the closest thing that we've got to what classical literature would call a tragic hero. Throughout the course of the story, he gets to be both the good guy and the bad guy, and his eventual downfall is the result of fate rather than personal action. Basically, he gets shafted.
Think about it: Cronus rises to power by doing exactly what this mother asks of him, and instead of being properly rewarded, he's told that one of his own children will eventually overthrow him. How would you feel if you finished all of your chores and, instead of getting an allowance, your mom told you that your son would one day kick you out of the house? Seems like a bogus deal. Of course, Cronus' response to the prophecy is to start eating his kids. That part doesn't really play in his favor.
The upshot of Cronus' transformation from hero to villain is that we, as readers, have the choice either to hate or pity Cronus. Or both. The same thing can't be said of characters like Gaia and Uranus, who scholars would call "flat" because we only see one side of them during the story. Even Zeus, who is the protagonist of the story, seems a little one-sided next to Cronus.
One last thing: in certain versions of mythology, Cronus is eventually released from Tartaros and given rule over the Elysian Fields, where the spirits Greek heroes reside after they die. So this makes us think that certain authors did pity him. (We're with them.)
Recap: Zeus is the youngest Olympian, born to Cronus and Rhea. He escapes being eaten alive when his mother begs Gaia to hide him from his father. Gaia carries baby Zeus away to the mountains of Crete, and Rhea gives Cronus a rock to eat instead. After growing up safely in Crete, Zeus returns to confront his father.
"Holler! Zeus is about to get his thunder on." Wait, that's too cheesy. Let's try again.
"And in the red corner, weighing in at an astonishing we-don't-know-how-many pounds, it's Zeus the almighty Thunderrrrrrrrrrr God!" That's better. Hey, don't laugh. It's hard to introduce a guy who's been in more movies than Samuel L. Jackson.
Like many of the other characters in Hesiod's Theogony, Zeus comes off at first glance as pretty one-dimensional. He's born. He grows up. He stomps his father. He and the other Olympians lay the smack down on the Titans. But to really get a feeling for Zeus as a character we need to look at what he does after he imprisons his father's generation in a gassy, dank, hole in the ground. Fortunately, Shmoop has been keeping tabs on the Lighting Thrower for you. Read up!
One of the things that makes the Theogony so weird is that it's full of characters that don't actually do anything besides exist. Cronus' brother and sister Titans fall into this category. Hesiod tells us when they were born, who they married, and who their children are, but these guys (and gals) don't actually do anything during the war. Still, we'll list what we know about them here, just for reference. Oh, and remember, all of the original Titans were born to Gaia and Uranus.
Recap: The Cyclopes are the sons of Uranus and Gaia. Uranus imprisoned them in the earth along with their brothers, the Hecatonchires, because he was afraid of their strength. Zeus frees the Cyclopes from prison during the war, and in return they teach him the secrets of thunder and lightning. Fair trade? Well, it worked out okay for Zeus.
Like so many characters in the Theogony, the Cyclopes don't really do much. They're born, they get imprisoned, Zeus frees them, and they hook Zeus up with some awesome lightning bolts. In later versions of the mythology, they also provide Hades with a helmet of invisibility – yep, sort of like Harry Potter's cloak – and they give Poseidon his trident (three pointed spear thing). If you've read the Odyssey then you may remember that Odysseus faces off against a Cyclopes named Polyphemus early in his journey home. Unfortunately, it's not clear if there is any connection between these different Cyclopes. The only thing we really know for sure is that Cyclopes only have one eye. Eek!
Recap: The Hecatonchires are the sons of Uranus and Gaia. They are said to have fifty heads and one hundred arms each, and Uranus imprisoned them in the earth alongside their brothers, the Cyclopes, because he feared their power. Zeus frees them from prison during the war, and in return they join the Olympians during the struggle.
As far as we can tell the sole purpose of these bad boys is to help the Olympians whomp on the Titans. Briareos does show up in random places throughout literary history, but the three giants and their three hundred arms have no other role in Greek mythology that we can find. In fairness, beating the heck out of the Titans is an impressive accomplishment, and probably qualifies the Hecatonchires for retirement.