Pherecydes of Syros - Creation of The World

Creation of The World

In the older cosmogony of Hesiod (8th-7th century BC) the initial state of the universe is Chaos, a dark void considered as a divine primordial condition and the creation is ex nihilo (out of nothing). Pherecydes probably interpreted chaos as water and he does not place it at the very beginning. In his cosmogony there are three divine principles, Zas (Zeus), Cthonie (the Chthonic) and Chronos (Time) who always existed. The semen (seeds) of Chronos which can probably be considered as a watery chaos was placed in the recesses and composed numerous other offsprings of gods. This is described in a fragment preserved in Damascius' On First Principles.

A close relationship is thought to exist between these recesses and Chthonie, which is another of the three first-existing things. Chthonie has to do with the origin of the word "chthonic"; her name means "underlying the earth". Hesiod described Tartaros as being "in a recess (mychos) of broad-wayed earth". Hermann S. Schibli thinks the five mychos were actually harboured within Chthonie, or at least were so initially when Chronos disposed his seed in the five "nooks".

Alongside Chthonie and Chronos, Pherecydes held a power called Zas. Zas is thought to be a strange etymological form of Zeus, and to be identical with the Orphic Eros in function, and as such a personification of masculine, or simply sexual, creativity. Proclus said that "Pherecydes used to say that Zeus changed into Eros when about to create, for the reason that, having created the world from opposites, he led it into agreement and peace and sowed sameness in all things, and unity that interpenetrates the universe".

The act of creation itself (perhaps it is more accurate to say that Chronos creates and that Zas orders and distributes) is described mytho-poetically as Zas making a cloth on which he decorates earth and sea, and which he then presents as a wedding gift to Chthonie, and wraps around her. Yet, in another fragment it is not Chthonie, but "a winged oak" that he wraps the cloth around. The "winged oak" in this cosmology has no precedent in Greek tradition. The stories are different but not mutually exclusive, because much is lacking in the fragments, but it seems clear that creation is hindered by chaotic forces.

Before the world is ordered a cosmic battle takes place, with Kronos (ordered time) as the head of one side and Ophioneus as the leader of the other. The same story is elsewhere enacted with Zeus and Typhon/Typhoeus as leading characters, and it also has close parallels in many myths from cultures other than the Greek (Marduk vs. Tiamat, etc.). Ophioneus and its brood are often depicted as ruling the birthing cosmos for some time, before falling from power. The chaotic forces are eternal and cannot be destroyed; instead they are thrown out from the ordered world and locked away in Tartaros in a kind of "appointment of the spheres", in which the victor (Zeus-Kronos) takes possession of the sky and of space and time. The locks to Tartaros are fashioned in iron by Zeus, and might hence have been associated with his element of aither, and in bronze by Poseidon, which might indicate a link to water (which was often conceived of as the "first matter"). Judging from some ancient fragments Ophioneus is thrown into Okeanos, not into Tartaros.

Exactly what entities or forces that were locked away in Pherecydes’ story cannot be known for sure. There may have been five principal figures. Ophioneus and Typhon are one and the same, and Eurynome fought on the side of Ophioneus against Kronos. Chthonie is a principal "thing" of the underworld, but whether she is to be counted as one of the five or the five "sum-total" is an open question. Apart from these it is known that Ophioneus-Typhon mated with Echidna, and that Echidna herself was somehow mysteriously "produced" by Callirhoe. If Pherecydes counted five principal entities in association the pentemychos doctrine, then Ophioneus, Eurynome, Echidna, Calirrhoe and Chthonie are the main contenders.

Kronos (or Zeus in the more popularly known version) orders the offspring out from the cosmos to Tartaros. There they are kept behind locked gates, fashioned in iron (associated with Zeus and his element of sky/space) and bronze (by Poseidon—the water force). We are told about chaotic beings put into the pentemychos, and we are told that the Darkness has an offspring that is cast into the recesses of Tartaros. No surviving fragment makes the connection, but it is possible that the prison-house in Tartaros and the pentemychos are ways of referring to the essentially same thing. According to Celsus, Pherecydes said that: "Below that portion is the portion of Tartaros; the daughters of Boreas, the Harpies and Thuella, guard it; there Zeus banished any of the gods whenever one behaves with insolence." Thus the identity between Zeus' prison-house and the pentemychos seems likely.

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