There was no sun or moon. There were no mountains or rivers, nor any such features on earth. In fact, there was no earth at all. It was a period of vast emptiness. Even time did not exist.
Eventually, Chaos divided itself into the earth, the sky, and the sea. When the division was complete, everything was peaceful and perfect.
After Chaos divided into the earth, sky, and sea, one goddess came into being without being born to any mother. Her name was Gaia, which means earth, and she took control over the earth as it took shape.
One day, Rhea announced that she was going to have a baby, but her husband was not happy. Cronus was so afraid that history would repeat itself that he did, in fact, manage to repeat history. Like his father before him, Cronus reasoned that if he could keep his children from growing up, none could ever become strong enough to overpower him.
So, when Rhea gave birth to her first child, Cronus quickly grabbed it and swallowed it whole. Rhea was both horrified and saddened at the loss of her firstborn child. In a similar manner, Cronus swallowed all of the next four children that she gave birth to, and Rhea vowed to get them back, any way she could.
It was a good time to be created. No monsters roamed the earth, and the world was at peace. Zeus began to make creatures to populate this beautiful world.
However, just as he was beginning, he was called away to settle a matter dividing his fellow Olympians. He decided to appoint Prometheus and Epimetheus, sons of Titans who had fought with the Olympians, to continue the project of creating earth’s first inhabitants.
Although the brothers were Titans by birth, they had sided with the Olympians in the war against Cronus and the other Titans because, blessed with the gift of being able to see the future, Prometheus had foreseen the Olympian victory.
So far, there were only men in the human population. Women did not yet exist, although certainly there were female gods, or goddesses. Introducing women to the human race was part of Zeus’s plan for revenge.
First, Zeus went to the forge of Hephaestus and asked him to design a human being that would be female. Carefully, Zeus explained that she should be like the men on earth, yet somehow slightly different.
Hephaestus was happy to do Zeus a favor, and he went right to work. The god of fire and the forge was a very talented smith. Everything he made was beautiful, and his new creation was no different.
Demeter and Zeus had a daughter named Persephone. With two powerful gods as parents, it is not surprising that the little girl grew up to be a beautiful maiden. Her mother loved the child more than anything else in the world and cringed at the idea of ever being apart from her.
After she had grown up and become a young woman, Persephone's beauty caught the eye of Hades, the ruler of the Underworld. Hades fell in love at the very first sight of her. He knew he wanted to marry no one else.
Overcome with love, Hades went to Zeus, his brother and Persephone’s father. He said, "Brother, I am in love with your daughter, Persephone. Let me have your consent to marry her. I will make her the queen of my kingdom in the Underworld."
As the girls grew older, everyone remarked on their outstanding beauty. Life seemed perfect for these lovely princesses, until the day Semele fell in love with a tall, handsome stranger.
Caught up in her new romance, Semele ignored the fact that she did not know much about her lover. She kept him a secret from her family and friends, and although her sisters noticed a new radiance about Semele, none suspected her frequent absences.
Semele had no idea that her secret lover was actually Zeus, the king of the gods, who was visiting her in the form of a mortal man. Zeus was very much in love with the beautiful, quiet, and somewhat solitary princess, but he could not visit her in his true god-like state.
Their farm was small, and they could grow only enough to feed themselves. Sometimes conditions made it difficult to coax any crops out of the land, so they often relied on the eggs of the single goose that lived on the farm. The goose not only laid eggs, but it acted like a watchdog, protecting the couple’s meager possessions.
One day, Zeus and Hermes decided to visit Phrygia. Zeus, the protector of guests, wanted to see if the people in Phrygia were being kind to visitors.
Zeus and Hermes wore ragged clothes so that no one would recognize them. They knew that as gods they would be treated royally, but they wanted to see how they would be welcomed as ordinary travelers.
Echo, friendly and fun-loving, adored talking to her many sisters and friends. Nevertheless, no one ever complained that she talked too much, because Echo was so much fun to be with, and everyone loved her.
One of the other nymphs was having a love affair with Zeus, the king of the gods. Often, the couple would meet in a secret glade in the forest, far from the jealous eyes of Hera, Zeus’s wife. Echo did not know about the affair, and she did not mind when her friends and sisters asked her to stand guard outside the secret glade.
She never even thought to ask them why the glade needed guarding. All that Echo knew was that her sisters and friends warned her that her most important job was to keep Hera away from the glade.
This chariot was very important because, in fact, it was the sun itself. The sun gave light and warmth to the earth, and its travels across the heavens caused day and night. Helius was careful never to let anything jeopardize the daily rising and setting of the sun.
Although he was very busy, Helius had an affair with Clymene, a mortal woman. Clymene lived in the geographical area that is now known as Ethiopia. The couple had a son named Phaethon.
Soon after the birth of Phaethon, the love affair ended, and Clymene married a prince who raised the boy as his own son. The prince and Clymene had other children after their marriage, and they all lived very happily for many years.
Jupiter’s humble beginnings as sky god and chief god of the Latins can be traced to the region of Italy first settled by early Romans. Some early flint stones were preserved in the Capitol, where he was worshipped as Jupiter Feretrius, "The Oldest."
Jupiter’s greatest influence as sky god was through his omens of thunder and lightning. He caused rain to fall on the farms and vineyards of the land and kept the crops well-watered. By the middle of the third century B.C.,
Jupiter had become the prime protector of Rome and was called Jupiter Optimus ("The Best") Maximus ("The Greatest"). With such an all-encompassing title, Jupiter began to assume a variety of roles that were important to a rising class of educated and wealthy Romans.
By the fourth century B.C., Mars, the Roman god of war, had already assumed the form and shape of a warrior. He was portrayed wearing armor and a crested
helmet and carrying a shield. In preparation for war, Roman soldiers practiced vigorous drilling exercises on the Campus Martius, or "field of Mars," located beyond the city walls next to the Tiber River.
Mars was worshipped on the Capitol in a temple that he shared with Jupiter and Quirinus, another god of war. The Roman army would gather at the site of the temple Mars Gradvisu before leaving for war. Still another temple - one that he shared with Venus - was built on the Forum Augustus. This temple was known as Mars Ultor ("The Avenger").
There were several festivals held in honor of Mars. The most notable festival was the Armilustrium, which was celebrated in October when the military weapons of the soldiers were ritually purified and then stored away for winter. Wars were often begun or continued in spring; thus, the month of March (Martius) was named after the god Mars.
Hector’s ghost warned Aeneas that Troy was doomed and would be overrun by the warring Greek armies the next day. He told Aeneas to gather up the household deities, the Lares and Penates, and lead his people from the burning city.
Alarmed by this strange nocturnal warning, Aeneas awoke, put on his armor, and hurried into the city. Greek soldiers had already stormed the walls and were burning Troy to the ground. Aeneas joined other Trojan soldiers and they fought their way toward King Priam’s palace.
But they were too late to save the lives of King Priam and his royal Trojan family. Outside the king’s chamber, Aeneas and his men heard King Priam bellowing at Greek soldiers for murdering his son, Polites. After the boy was killed, King Priam himself was murdered.
Hesperia, however, continued to elude them. Scarcely a few miles out at sea, a vicious storm tossed the Trojans onto another island, which was inhabited by the Harpies, a group of ugly winged creatures with women’s faces.
Before Aeneas and his people could get away from the island, the Harpies had stolen their food and attacked them. Celaeno, a prophetic Harpy, told them that she had received an oracle from Apollo that foretold of much hardship ahead for the Trojans. She said Apollo predicted that hunger would cause them to eat their tables when they finally found Hesperia.
Disgusted by the sight of the ugly bird-women and confused by Apollo’s oracle, the Trojans packed up and left the island in a hurry. They enjoyed a well-deserved rest at Actium on the western coast of Greece, where they played games and socialized for many months. Then, they sailed farther up the coast to Buthrotum, where Aeneas consulted with Helenus, an exiled Trojan ruler.
As he stood staring off into the distance, he heard his pilot, Palinurus, shouting to him that a storm was brewing and that they must set a course toward the coast of Sicily.
Only the year before they had encountered the same bad luck. Storms had blown the fleet from Sicily to the coast of North Africa, and now they were being blown back to Sicily again. Aeneas’ only consolation was that in Sicily, he would be able to visit the grave of his father, Anchises.
The young Trojan leader was not prepared for the terrible sadness that overcame him when he visited his father’s grave. To dull the ache in his heart, Aeneas organized a great festival in his father’s honor. The Trojans played games, competed in athletic contests, feasted, and socialized for many months while the women tended the camp and did their daily chores.
The king paced up and down the palace corridors trying to decide what he should do. Finally reaching a decision, he ordered his men to bring Rhea Silvia to him.
When his men returned, the king was sitting in the throne room on his ornately carved chair, his face flushed with rage. The men shoved the frail young woman toward the king, and she slumped in a heap on the floor.
King Amulius looked at his young niece and snapped, "Mars, you say? The god of war made you with child? Am I to believe such an impossible story?"
As Rhea Silvia looked up at her uncle, her sad, green eyes filled with tears. She pleaded, "You must believe me. Mars is the father of my twins. He took me against my will in the gods' sacred grove. It is not my fault."
In the beginning, there was only chaos, which stretched, dark and silent, throughout all space and eternity. Later, people in some parts of Egypt came to see this bottomless abyss containing a limitless ocean of black, lifeless water as a living being.
They called the nothingness Nu and worshipped him as a god. Whatever one chooses to call this dismal and foreboding state of nonexistence, a time came, long ago, when a dramatic and wonderful event transformed nonexistence into existence.
This was the creation of Amun, the First One, the King of the Gods, the maker of all things. No other god was needed to make him. Indeed, because he had no father or mother, Amun somehow created himself, in an invisible, secret way that no human being has ever known or will ever discover.
There was once a golden age in which the people of Egypt lived in a state of prosperity and happiness. By order of the sun god Ra, the kindly god Osiris ruled the land as king.
Osiris’s sister, the goddess Isis, sat at his side as his wife and Egypt’s beautiful, wise, and strong-willed queen. Osiris was indeed a kind and helpful king.
He showed the people how to plant crops and to irrigate them using the waters that were so plentiful when the Nile River overflowed its banks each year. He also instructed them in making laws and worshipping the gods in the proper manner. Eventually, the god-king went on a long pilgrimage to bring these same gifts of civilization to the inhabitants of other lands.
While Osiris was away, Isis ruled Egypt in his stead. She kept a watchful eye on their brother Seth because she sensed that Seth felt jealousy and hatred for Osiris, and she feared that Seth might be scheming to steal his brother’s throne.
After Seth had killed Osiris, Isis had given birth to her son, Horus, and the sun god Ra had made Osiris lord of the Underworld, Isis began weaving a shroud to place around her husband’s mummy. Although Osiris’s spirit now reigned beneath the horizon, his lifeless body still required preparation for burial, as well as burial itself.
The infant Horus lay in a crib beside Isis as she worked. Soon Thoth, the god of wisdom, approached the new mother and warned, “Take care, Isis. Seth is looking for you and your son. I fear he means to kill you both.”
“I must protect my son at all costs,” she said. “That is my primary task, since I am his mother. But what can I do? Where can I hide? Seth knows every rock, cave, and bush for miles around. He is sure to find us.”
After he had killed Osiris and ascended to Egypt’s throne, Seth expected to reign for a very long time. As it turned out, however, he was sorely mistaken.
Seth had not reckoned on the birth of Horus or foreseen that this son of his brother Osiris and his sister Isis would come to challenge his uncle for mastery of the lands of the Nile.
Indeed, this is exactly the course of action Horus pursued when he grew old enough. First, he summoned the gods of the sacred Ennead, along with a number of other deities, and asked them to sit in judgment, reviewing his claim for the throne that had once belonged to his father.
One of these deities was his mother, Isis, who over the years had protected her son from Seth and patiently watched the boy grow into a handsome, adult god.
The mighty Ra had ruled the land of Egypt for so long that no human being could conceive of, let alone count, the number of years. Although the sun god had governed fairly and well, it was clear that he was becoming old and frail, for apparently even the deathless ones were somewhat susceptible to the aging process when they took an earthly form.
Consequently, various groups of people in different parts of Egypt began to question Ra’s continued ability to rule. They held secret meetings behind his back, and some began plotting to overthrow him and set a human king on his throne.
What these conspirators did not realize was that Ra, frail or not, still held many important powers. Among them were extremely acute senses of sight and hearing; thus he was able to watch and overhear the plotters as they drew their plans against him.
Ra decided that something had to be done to teach these ungrateful humans a lesson, so he secretly convened a council made up of most of the gods to ask for their advice.
One day the mighty pharaoh Rameses II decided to leave Egypt and travel into Syria, a region bordering the eastern Mediterranean Sea, several hundred miles north of Egypt. There, he collected tribute, or payment acknowledging submission - in the form of gold and other valuables - from the princes of several surrounding lands.
Some of these lands he had recently conquered, while others saw the wisdom of submitting to the pharaoh before he sent his armies against them. Either way, a payment signified that a realm acknowledged Rameses’ dominion and authority.
One of these princes, the king of faraway Bakhtan, sent the usual collection of precious metals, rare gems, cartloads of timber, and other valuable commodities.
In all of Egypt’s history, so it is said, no pharaoh was wealthier than Rhampsinitus, who possessed gold, silver, precious gems, and other treasures in incredible abundance. Not surprisingly, he worried that someone might try to steal his treasures.
That would make him a poor king, and in Rhampsinitus’s mind a poor king was a powerless one who would not be remembered by his people after he had passed on to Osiris’s nether realm beneath the horizon.
Consequently, Rhampsinitus ordered that a special treasure room be built along one side of the palace. “There are to be no windows and only a single door,” he told the architect. “Furthermore, I want you to construct the walls, floor, and ceiling out of huge stone blocks that a man with a large ax would not be able to chip away, even if he worked at it day and night for twenty years.”
As the hot summer sun beat down, an Egyptian envoy stood at the railing of his ship. It was floating northward along the Nile River in the direction of the Egyptian capital of Thebes on its return voyage from Nubia. One of the envoy's assistants, who was sitting nearby mending a garment, suddenly noticed that his boss seemed cheerless and depressed. "Why so glum, sir?" asked the assistant, approaching the other man.
"You look as though you have lost all your friends and your money, too."
"It might just as well be that way," said the envoy.
"As you well know, because of my reputation as a successful trader, the pharaoh sent me to Nubia to bring back a load of gold from the rich mines in that land. But the mines were all empty. What am I going to say to him when I reach Thebes with an empty ship? My reputation will be ruined. And he will have me scrubbing the floors in the House of the Dead, that dreadful, foul-smelling place where they mummify dead bodies. I just know it."
Inside the egg was a tiny creature named Panku. He slept soundly, unbothered by the disorder around him. As he slept, Panku grew, and the egg also grew around him. For eighteen thousand years Panku slumbered peacefully, until he had developed into a well-formed, muscular giant whose body spanned ninety thousand li (about thirty thousand miles).
In perfect harmony with Panku’s body, the eggshell also stretched, straining to hold both the expanding giant and the turbulent gases of the world inside its boundaries.
One day when the universe was especially unstable, Panku woke up. All around, he saw nothing but darkness and confusion. At first, he was intrigued by the irregular rhythms of the world. He watched, fascinated, as whirling particles burst and scattered around him. Quickly, he learned to dodge exploding gases by nimbly jumping from side to side.
Birds flitted about in the azure sky, leaving their black, crimson, and iridescent green feathers drifting in the wind. Silverfish and carp splashed gleefully in the waterways. Fierce beasts like tigers and gentle creatures like deer roamed with equal abandon across the rocky hills.
Nuwa, a goddess, stumbled accidentally upon this vibrant world during her travels. The earth was humming and teeming with life. She marveled at its many wondrous creatures. Everywhere she looked, she found a creature more marvelous than the one before.
She saw every type of fur and fin, feather and scale, horn, hoof, and stinger. Creatures lumbered, crawled, and slithered upon the earth. They jumped, darted, and roiled in the sea. Scented flowers like jasmine, hyacinth, and narcissus wrapped the entire world in their warm, strong perfume.
People had thin skin, soft flesh, sparse hair, and moved about rather slowly. They had good hearts and cheerful laughter, but they were easily frightened and discouraged. Fushi decided to help the new humans.
First, Fushi taught people how to twist plant fibers together to form ropes of all widths and lengths. With the thinner ropes, he wove fishing lines and nets so people could plunge the water’s depths to find food.
With the thicker ropes, he braided strong bridges, then strung them across high chasms so people could cross from one mountain peak to another in search of food.
Great mountains crumbled and crashed into the swelling muddy rivers. Gong showed no mercy as thousands of people and animals perished on the soggy, bloated earth.
The other gods avoided Gong because his fury was so intense. They watched silently as their moats, villages, and temples were destroyed, one by one.
Finally, Zurong, the fire god, decided that Gong had gone too far. Zurong was irritated by the other gods’ cowardice, and he did not approve of his successor’s plans to reshape the earth into water-heavy proportions.
According to ancient myths, the Yellow Emperor had a pile of magic dirt that could absorb water. His grandson Kun stole the magic earth and dropped little balls of dirt wherever he went.
The dirtballs swelled into huge, fertile mounds of soil as they absorbed water.
The peasants then scooped up the fertile soil and spread it over their sopping fields. Kun also built dams to control the flooding of the country’s unpredictable rivers.
Unfortunately, the dams often burst and reflooded the land. When the emperor found out about the theft, he was furious and sent Zurong the fire god, now the chief executioner, to track down and kill his grandson Kun. Zurong chased Kun to the ice glaciers of the arctic and struck him dead with a flaming sword. Kun’s body lay trapped and frozen in the ice.
The most glorious specimen of all the plant life was the Fusang tree, whose wondrous branches stretched up toward the heavens and out across the island for hundreds of miles.
Scattered among its masses of dark green foliage, fragrant hibiscus flowers burst into flaming shades of magenta, crimson, and violet.
Among the glossy leaves of the Fusang tree lived ten naughty suns. They were left alone to play in paradise, neglected by their parents, the sun god Dijun and the sun goddess Shiho. Each day, Shiho left heaven in a pearl-shell chariot drawn by six fiery young dragons and passed by the Fusang tree.
When he lived in heaven, Yi had always ridden in the empress’s chariot or straddled the tails of sky dragons to reach the Western Paradise, but now that he lived on earth, he had to walk.
He crossed burning deserts, forded cold streams, and trekked over high mountains for thousands of miles.
Finally, Yi arrived at his destination and was greeted by Hsi Wang Mu. When Yi told her that his wife wanted a dosage of the elixir of immortality, Hsi Wang Mu could only sigh.
Unfortunately, she told Yi, the gods and goddesses had just feasted on the last batch of peaches. The next peach crop would not ripen for another three thousand years.
Loved and respected by everyone, she longed desperately for a child. Night and day, she prayed for a son.
However, her husband scolded her for wanting another mouth to feed. Once he had been a nobleman, but he had lost all his money.
Afterward, all his old friends avoided him and he became deeply ashamed of his poverty. Luckily, Cheng was willing to marry him.
One day, Cheng undertook a long journey to a remote temple to pray for a child. Her husband angrily refused to accompany her. The villagers all admired her bravery for attempting the journey to such an isolated place.
He played with other monkeys and with wolves, tigers, and deer, but he had an enormous appetite and often gobbled up their share of grass, leaves, berries, and fruit. Still, his joyful personality and curious nature made him the most popular animal on the mountain.
One day, Monkey jumped through the waters of a cascading waterfall and discovered behind it a cave furnished with stone bowls, cups, and chairs. Delighted, Monkey called all the other monkeys to come see the novelties he had found.
When they arrived, the other monkeys grabbed the utensils, made themselves comfortable in the cave, and proclaimed Monkey their king. Amidst the wild orchids and aromatic herbs growing in the mountains, the monkeys lived in perfect happiness for centuries.
Finally, the Buddha stepped in. All the gods in heaven listened respectfully as he commanded the deities to stop fighting with Monkey.
Then the Buddha asked Monkey why he wanted to replace the Jade Emperor. Monkey replied that his own clever magic spells and fighting ability made him superior to anyone in heaven, including the Jade Emperor.
Monkey bragged about how he could transform himself into seventy-two types of animals, plants, and rocks.
He boasted that his somersaults could take him through the clouds a hundred and eight thousand li to the end of the world. The Buddha issued Monkey a simple challenge. "Jump across my palm and heaven is yours," the Buddha said.