castration culture shows ancient, bloody grip in Hesiod’s Theogony

castration of Uranus

Students wondering how university officials today can support policies that viciously disparage and persecute men’s sexuality should study Hesiod’s Theogony. That influential work, written in Greek nearly 2700 years ago, depicts the earth goddess Gaia plotting to castrate Uranus, the sky god, who was both her son and her husband. Gaia’s unjust and vicious hostility toward male genitals indicates castration culture’s ancient, bloody grip on western Eurasian gynocentric societies.

The sky god Uranus covered the earth goddess Gaia. She then gave birth to three strong sons. Hostility to male sexuality made those births problematic. Greek theogony distinctively celebrates goddesses creating child on their own, without men — reproducing by parthenogenesis.[1] Many government policies now support effectively similar reproduction among humans. Unlike ancient Greek gods, men today are vastly disproportionately forced to make enormous “child support” payments to women holding privileged custody of children. That’s the cultural construction of parthenogenesis.

After she had children with Uranus, Gaia with vague and unsubstantiated charges incited his castration. Gaia said to the children she had with Uranus:

Children of mine and of a wicked father, obey me, if you wish: we would avenge your father’s evil outrage. For he was the first to devise unseemly deeds. [2]

Consensual heterosexual activity isn’t unseemly, nor should it be blamed on men. In ancient Greek theogony, Gaia was the original exponent of parental alienation. Cronus, son of Gaia and Uranus, responded like a well-programmed zombie to her work of parental alienation:

Mother, I would promise and perform this deed, since I do not care at all about our evil-named father. For he was the first to devise unseemly deeds.

Gaia rejoiced at her son’s willingness to commit horrible violence at her behest. She arranged for an ambush:

She placed him in an ambush, concealing him from sight, and put into his hands the jagged-toothed sickle, and she explained the whole trick to him. And great Sky came, bringing night with him; and spreading himself out around Earth in his desire for love, he lay outstretched in all directions. Then his son reached out from his ambush with his left hand, and with his right hand he grasped the monstrous sickle, long and jagged-toothed, and eagerly he reaped the genitals from his dear father and threw them behind him to be borne away. [3]

Fathers understand Hesiod’s Theogony in a deeply personal, deeply painful way. College students not yet fathers are beginning to recognize castration culture.

When Bernardus Silvestris wrote a new cosmogony in twelfth-century France, he confronted the castration culture that Hesiod’s Theogony described. As Roman culture developed with awareness of the earlier Greek culture, the Roman god Saturn assimilated the Greek god Cronus. Bernardus described Saturn as:

an ancient to be most strongly condemned, cruel and detestable in his wickedness, savagely inclined to harsh and bloody acts.
{accusatissimus veteranus, crudelioris quidem et detestandae malitiae, dirisque ac cruentis actibus efferatus.} [4]

Writing under gynocentrism, Bernardus didn’t dare attack long-established castration culture directly. He challenged it figuratively with a new poetic description of Saturn’s violence:

he {Saturn} mowed down with a blow of his sickle whatever was beautiful, whatever was flourishing. Just as he would not accept childbirth, so he forbade roses, lilies, and the other kinds of sweet-scented flowers to flourish.
{insumpto falcis acumine, quicquid pulchrum, quicquid florigerum demetebat. Rosas et lilia et cetera olerum genera, sicut nasci non sustinet, non sustinet et florere.}

Destroying gardens is a poetic metaphor for castration. Bernardus sought to create a new, more humane cosmos. His Cosmographia ends with creating man’s penis and celebrating the importance of the penis’s skillful work.

Penetrating castration culture to implant the seeds of a new imaginative world requires gleaning discarded resources in literary history. For example, classical Latin Priapus poems exposed the brutalizing and commodifying stereotypes of men’s person. Asinus aureus recounted a woman’s delight in a large male member. The medieval French knight Geoffrey de La Tour Landry taught his daughters concern for violence against men. Unlike Hesiod’s Theogony, the medieval Latin Cosmographia of Bernardus Silverstris excludes castration culture. All just, merciful, and loving persons should be striving to create such a world.

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[1] Relative to other western Eurasian creation myths, female parthenogenesis is far more important and marked in Hesiod’s Theogony. Park (2014) pp. 265-9. Scholars today tend to see female parthenogenesis as part of the primordial Golden Age:

The mythic form his {Zeus’s} act of creation assumes completes the trend of the Theogony that began with Earth’s natural parthenogenetic capacity and ends with the male’s imitation of her. The seal is set on the finality of the transition from female dominance to male dominance by conscious male usurpation of her procreative functions, the basic source of her mystery and power.

Zeitlin (1996) p. 108. Students are now thoroughly indoctrinated with these threadbare clichés of anti-meninism:

Evidently, Hesiod merely reflected the opinions of his society onto his story of the gods’ creation of the universe, creating a justification for the philosophical opinions of the society in which he lived.

Could myths like the Theogony have been used to reinforce the patriarchy as it operated in ancient Greek society? It seems likely.

Pelos (2016). Of course it seems likely when you live in a Soviet-style indoctrination camp. See the praise for the good little apparatchik.

[2] Hesiod, Theogony ll. 164-6, from Greek trans. Most (2007) p. 17. Subsequent quotes are from id. ll. 170-2, 174-82. The earlier Loeb edition of Hesiod’s Theogony, translated by Hugh G. Evelyn-White (1914), is available online.

[3] Reflecting the fantastic imagination that now drives totalitarian sex tribunals at American universities, Vernant declares:

Ouranos {Uranus} sprawls over Gaia, covering her permanently, and discharges into her without stopping, imposing on her an incessant copulation—at least, at night (Theog. 176). There is neither spatial separation nor temporal interlude between them, in this union without pause.

Vernant (1990) p. 466. This contempt for Uranus isn’t warranted. Without Uranus’s work, ordinary life would be impossible. Uranus provides relief that helps persons begin a new day.

Echoing tenets of today’s dominant castration culture, Park declares:

The emasculation of Uranus is key to progress: it ends his sexual relationship with Gaea and explains in symbolic terms the separation between earth and sky.

Park (2014) p. 271. Castration also occurs in the earlier Hurrian-Hittite Kumarbi Cycle (Song of Kumarbi). In the Hittite version of that theogony (from the fourteenth or thirteenth century BGC), Kumarbi overthrows king Anu by biting off his genitals. For an English translation, Bachvarova (2013). Long-established castration culture has broad bite today in the broad criminalization of men’s sexuality.

While he presented castration culture, Hesiod himself seems not to have been an anti-meninist. Hesiod sought to provide men with prudent counsel in the work of their ordinary days:

Do not let a fancy-assed woman deceive your mind
by guilefully cajoling while she pokes into your granary:
whoever trusts a woman, trust swindlers.

Hesiod, Works and Days ll. 373-5, from Greek trans. Most (2007) pp. 117, 119.

[4] Bernardus Silvestris, Cosmographia, Microcosmus 5.5, from Latin trans. Wetherbee (2015) pp. 101. The subsequent quote is similarly from Microcosmus 5.6, id. pp. 101, 103.

Underscoring his condemnation of Saturn / Cronus for promoting castration culture, Bernardus describes “the barren and frozen wastes of Saturn {infecunda Saturni frigora}” as a place:

where the peace of the sky had been broken and shivered with chill and icy harshness. {ubi gelidis et pruinosis rigoribus demutata caeli tranquillitas inhorrescit.}

Microcosmus 5.7, id. p. 103. I suspect that the Latin gelidus shares a common origin with the Old Norse term gelda (“geld, castrate”).

Other medieval Latin poetry sadly shows more tolerance for castration. Walter of Châtillon, who vigorously addressed the poetic problem of man-hating Amazons, nonetheless wrote:

Nor should priests be excused who are known to be fouling themselves with their sheep. Some have been castrated for this or put to death, whenever Fortune has wanted some amusement.
{Sed neque presbiteros decet excusari
quos cum suis ouibus constat inquinari
unde quosdam contigit uel ementulari
uel perimi quotiens uoluit fortuna iocari.

Walter of Châtillon, Stulti cum prudentibus 16, Latin text and English translation from Traill (2013) pp. 116-7 (poem 43). Aelred of Rievaulx recorded a brutal account of a monk being castrated for having sex with a nun about the year 1160.

[image] Cronus castrates his father Uranus at his mother Gaia’s urging. Oil on panel. Giorgio Vasari  and Cristofano Gherardi, 16th century Florence. Thanks to Wikimedia Commons.


Bachvarova, Mary. 2013. “Translation of the Kumarbi Cycle, with Song of Hedammu separated into two different versions.” Pp. 139-63 in López-Ruiz, Carolina. Gods, heroes, and monsters: a sourcebook of Greek, Roman, and Near Eastern myths in translation. New York: Oxford University Press.

Most, Glenn W., trans. 2007. Hesiod. Theogony. Works and Days. Testimonia. Loeb Classical Library 57. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.

Park, Arum. 2014. “Parthenogenesis in Hesiod’s Theogony.” Preternature: Critical and Historical Studies on the Preternatural 3.2: 261-283.

Pelos, Andy. “The Asexual Revolution: Parthenogenesis in Hesiod’s Theogony (Revised).” A Classic(s) Dilemma. May 12, 2016.

Traill, David A., ed. and trans. 2013. Walter of Châtillon, the shorter poems: Christmas hymns, love lyrics, and moral-satirical verse. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Vernant, Jean-Pierre. 1990. “One…Two…Three: Eros.” Ch. 14 (pp. 465-78) in Halperin, David M., John J. Winkler, and Froma I. Zeitlin, eds. Before sexuality: the construction of erotic experience in the ancient Greek world. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

Wetherbee, Winthrop, trans. 2015. Poetic works: Bernardus Silvestris. Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library 38. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.

Zeitlin, Froma I. 1996. Playing the other: gender and society in classical Greek literature. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.