Ah, origin stories. Every culture and religion has one, and sometimes they can be quite weird. In the mainstream traditional ancient Greek theology/philosophy, as espoused by authorities such as the poet Hesiod (c. 8th century BCE), a primordial Chasm or Chaos was the originator of early deities like Gaia or Ge (Earth). Gaia, in turn, mated with Ouranos (Heaven), and they begot the Titans. By these offspring, Ouranos was overthrown. Kronos and Rhea, the most prominent Titans, then became the parents of most of the next generation of gods—the Olympians. This latest generation of deities, led by Zeus, overthrew Kronos and went on to further populate the spiritual realm through their loves, affairs, and rapes, but none of these later offspring (in recorded myth) were able to overthrow Zeus. Such, then, is a brief and simplified summary of the traditional, commonplace, myths relating to the creation and ascendance of the major Greek gods. Yet, there were also alternative theological origin stories in circulation. In particular, some later Greek and Roman scholars would push a controversial theory (later famously embraced by the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche) that the figures which became known as gods actually had quite human and mundane origins.
One of the scholars who had a tendency to perceive the gods as more flesh than spirit was the Greek-Sicilian historian, Diodorus Siculus (c. 1st century BCE). In his Library of History, Diodorus recorded an alternative genealogy for the gods (who were often described as earthly kings), and he also curiously linked this godly dynasty of ancients to the mythical/legendary civilization of Atlantis. In the beginning of the holy family’s history, claimed Diodorus, there was a royal couple named King Ouranos and Queen Titaea. In this scenario, the so-called ‘Titans’ were Titaea’s children, the most prominent of which were Kronos, Atlas, and a new name in the mix—Basileia. As this alternative story goes, Basileia was the senior Titan and she was the one that succeeded Ouranos and Titaea as ruler of the ancient realm. Yet, her reign was preyed upon by intrigue, and her personal family was ravaged by assassination and other tragic deaths. After losing her husband and her children, Basileia was said to have gone insane and went into exile. The odd narrative went on to claim that this mad Basileia eventually became the inspiration for the cult of Cybele, the Magna Matter goddess, in Phrygia—yet, even Diodorus had to admit that the Basileia-Cybele connection was unpopular and largely unbelieved. Whatever the case, after the downfall of Basileia’s personal family, the kingdom of the gods was divided between her brothers. Diodorus Siculus described the ascendance of these brothers. Be advised, the Loeb Classical Library’s Oldfather translation (c. 1935) of the relevant passage uses some alternative spellings for the names:
“[T]he kingdom was divided among the sons of Uranus [aka Ouranos], the most renowned of whom were Atlas and Cronus [or Kronos]. Of these sons Atlas received as his part the regions of the coast of the ocean, and he not only gave the name of the Atlantians to his people but likewise called the greatest mountain in the land Atlas…Cronus, the brother of Atlas, the myth continues, who was a man notorious for his impiety and greed, married his sister Rhea, by whom he begat that Zeus who was later called ‘the Olympian’” (Diodorus Siculus, Library of History, 3.60-61).
According to this odd theological theory, the Olympian gods and the Atlantian royal family would have been from different branches of the same godly dynasty. Nevertheless, this is not all that surprising, for many ancient Greek cities (and Rome, too) claimed to have been founded, and ruled for a time, by descendants of the Greek gods. Therefore, it would have been more odd if Atlantis had not been in some way connected to the family tree of the gods.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribution: (Feast of the Gods, painted by Abraham Govaerts (c. 1589-1626) and Frans Francken II (c. 1581-1642), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons and the National Museum in Warsaw).