I’ve been slowing partaking of the SDCC 2015 bounty, and one thing that has fascinated me was the nugget that Richard Armitage has drawn inspiration from Goya’s horrific Saturn Devouring His Son
Saturn was originally a very ancient Roman god connected to fertility who was later syncretized to the Greek Titan Kronos. This piece by Goya is a depiction of a scene from the mythology of Kronos, and it illustrates a relatively common thematic element in classical storytelling.
The Greeks understood their deities to be part of a great cosmic family….generations of gods begetting the next generation of gods. The poet Hesiod dedicated a massive poem, The Theogony, written in the Homeric epic dialect, to detailing the genealogies of the Greek pantheon. There is an element that repeats in several generations and is also found in the genealogical myths of non deities…the fear of overthrow by one’s progeny.
The Greeks saw the divine genealogy as unions of the forces of the earth and the sky…when they come together each day, they create children. The first personified version of this is the marriage of Ouranos (the sky) and Gaia (the earth) This union was tremendously fertile…the children of Ouranos and Gaia included the Titans among others. Ouranos was on the paranoid side though, and feared that his children would overthow him. To prevent this, he essentially crammed them all back into Gaia’s womb which was more than a little uncomfortable for her. (I cannot make this up!) To alleviate her pain, Gaia implored her children to free themselves and to deal with their father…she even provided them with a giant sickle to take care of things.
Only the youngest, Kronos, was willing to take the challenge. He took up the sickle and freed himself before using it to castrate Ouranos, solving all of Gaia’s problems and making himself the new ruling god. While the Greeks are happy enough to describe these gory scenes in literature, it is not so common to find them in artisitic depictions. In fact, the most common visual element of this story is the part where Kronos flings the castrated genitals of Ouranos into the sea. Hesiod describes how the seed of Ouranos and the sea created a foam out of which rose the most beautiful of the Greek gods – Aphrodite
Kronos goes on to take control of the cosmos and then to generate his own family by marrying his sister Rhea (another earth goddess). Having usurped his own father to take power, Kronos was understandably afraid of overthrow by his offspring. He’d learned that mothers could not be trusted to keep their children under control, so he took matters into his own hands…literally. Everytime Rhea bore a child, he took it from her and consumed it (hence the Goya). Like the castration of Ouranos, ancient Greek depictions of this event are decidedly less gory
By birth number twelve, Rhea had had enough of this game and secretly sent her youngest, Zeus, off to a cave on Crete to be raised by a magical goat (again, not making this up). To keep Kronos from being suspicious, she handed him a swaddled stone to swallow instead. What happens next? You guessed it, Zeus grows to maturity, frees his siblings (the older Olympian gods) from Kronos and it’s on.
Zeus is the last in the family tree to consume his offspring…well, with Athena, he consumes her pregnant mother Metis, but finds out that this won’t work either…
…when sometime later Athena pops out of his head – fully grown and fully armed !
Child eating seems to have a rather storied past with the ancient Greeks…it begs the question what they were really afraid of that there is such a plethora of it in their cosmogony. The topic also makes me extremely curious as to what other roles Richard Armitage used this imagery to inspire. Francis Dolarhyde I get…toothy serial killer. Other child eating things coming down the road? I seriously hope he elaborates on this somewhere!
Look at that, time for lunch!
(I’m going to dine *with* my progeny, not on him!)