Heaven (Ouranos, Caelus, Anu, Nwt)

Category: Gods > Heavenly Gods

1 Introduction

I use the somewhat archaic ‘Heaven’ to translate certain divine names from ancient Mesopotamia and the Mediterranean which are tied together through shared mythologemes:

  • In Mesopotamia, the god called An in Sumerian and Anu(m) in Akkadian (and spelled 𒀭𒀭 in both cases) was prominent in both myth and worship, at least until the end of cuneiform literacy around the beginning of the Christian Era. He was often treated as the foremost god; if not in terms of power or genealogy, then at least conceptually, as in several of the God Lists. In Akkadian, the god can be distinguished from the heavens, called by the Semitic word šamê rather than the Sumerian theonym.
  • In the Canaanite city of Ugarit, Anu was translated as Šamūma, ‘heavens’ (related to šamê); however, locally, there seems to have been no separate worship of Heaven, but only of Earth-and-Heavens (which I am tempted to translate as ‘cosmos’). Things may have been different in other Canaanite cities, and certainly were different later. In Philo of Byblos, Heaven and Earth are the parents of Ēl, Baetylus, Dagōn as well as an obscure deity whose name he gives in Greek as “Atlas”, and a number of narratives about Heaven are hinted at.
  • Among the Hurrians, Anu was integrated into a local cycle of myths about successive divine kings: first Alalu, then Anu, next Kumarbi, finally Teššub.
  • The Hittites adopted the Hurrian myth and translated it, adapting Teššub as Tarḫunna, but retaining the Hurrian name Kumarbi and the Sumero-Akkadian Anu.
  • Through unknown intermediaries, the Hurro-Hittite myth became known to Greek-speakers, and was reworked in the Theogony of Hesiod. Here, Anu is translated as Ouranos (the ordinary Greek word for ‘sky, heavens’), Kumarbi as Kronos, and Tarḫunna as Zeus.
  • In Latin, to accommodate the myth of Ouranos, a new masculine-gender name Caelus was coined, based on the neuter-gender common noun caelum, ‘sky, heaven’. As Servius auctus writes: “We have said Father Caelus to signify the god, since no god is of neuter gender. For caelum in the neuter gender signifies the element” (On the Aeneid 5.801)

In short, we have the cuneiform sphere, where the god Heaven was widely known as Anu (an originally Sumerian name), and the Greek sphere, where he was most prominently called Ouranos, as well as strong connections between these spheres through Hesiod, Philo of Byblos, and others. A genealogical lineage of, or like, Ouranos → Kronos → Zeus was widely known and accepted by many peoples.

Somewhat to the side of this broad complex stands the Egyptian tradition, in which Heaven (nwt, conventionally “Nut”) is understood as a goddess, while Earth (gbb, copt. Kēb) is a god; nor is there a genealogy that makes them the parents of a god like Kronos and him in turn of Zeus. Kēb himself is translated as Kronos, in fact, but he is not the father of Amoun (=Zeus). In Plutarch’s On Isis and Osiris, the couple is called Kronos and Rhea, and the fact that they are Earth and Heaven is simply ignored.

Contrast a passage in the Greek Magical Papyri: “I am the Mother-of-Gods (feminine), who is called Heaven (Ouranós, masculine)” (PGM 12.234–235). This preserves the identification with Rhea (who is the Mother), but also the literal meaning of the goddess’ name.

The Greco-Egyptian grammarian Horapollon uses a different method of preserving the meaning and gender, by saying that the Egyptians call Heaven “Ourania (feminine), because it does not please them to say Ouranos (masculine).” In still another Greco-Egyptian text, attributed to one Claudianus, she seems to be called Lady Selene, but also connected to Ouranos and Aphrodite Ourania. Both Claudianus and Horapollon are to be discussed below.

2 The heavens and the god Heaven

Unlike with, say, Hephaestus, who is imperceptible and known to us only from mythology and traditions of worship, heaven – the sky – is visible to everyone who can see, and can be investigated more empirically. One natural consequence of this is a tendency to distinguish the god and “the element” (as Servius calls it), albeit without severing their intimate relation. Alongside the Latin grammarian, we can cite the much more evocative Mesopotamian Secrets of the Great Gods:

“The upper heaven (anu), of luludanītu stone, is that of Anu (ᵈa-nu). He settled the 300 Igigi (Heavenly Gods) within it.
“The middle heaven, of saggilmut stone, is that of the Igigi. Bēl is settled in a great temple within it, on a dais of lapis lazuli; he has lit a lamp of electrum there.
“The lower heaven, of jasper, is that of the Stars. Bēl drew the constellations of the gods upon it.”

(As a side note for curiosity’s sake, we may note that in a scholium [explanatory comment] on Iliad 1.591, the Babylonian god Bēl [known to the Greeks as Bēlos] is drawn upon to explain the Homeric expression bēlós [‘threshold’] in reference to heaven [ouranós]: “Some, following the Chaldaeans, say that Bēlos is the highest circumference of heaven.”)

Etymologicum Gudianum, Magnum; Zeus/Dios = Ouranos (who disputes this?)

Secondly, Heaven appears not only in mythological and devotional discourse, but also in natural philosophy. When other gods are interpreted through the lense of natural philosophy, they may be identified with Heaven, and thus, Zeus may be the grandson of Ouranos according to mythology, but Ouranos himself according to the philosophers.

that quote from Ennius; Euripides?

Mesopotamian and Greek iconography

Egyptian (Horapollo)

Servius, Euhemerus

Hesychius (kappa.228.1 <καίλους>· οὐρανός. Ῥωμαῖοι). Hermeneumata etc.

Photius, Lexicon: alpha.774.1 <Ἀκμονίδης>· ὁ Χάρων. καὶ ὁ Οὐρανός· Ἄκμονος γὰρ παῖς.

multiple meanings of Ouranos
Olympos = Ouranos. Polus
Plato & Cornutus

Scholia on Hesiod Theogony: 126.1 <Γαῖα δέ τοι πρῶτον μέν:> κέντρον ἡ γῆ· αἴτιον 126.2 δὲ σφαίρας τὸ κέντρον· διὸ γεννᾷ ἡ Γῆ τὸν Οὐρανόν. ἀλλ‘ ὁ Κράτης (frg. pp. 55 – 56 Wachsmuth) ἀπορεῖ· εἰ γὰρ <ἶσον,> πῶς δύναται καλύπτειν; λέγει οὖν <ἶσον> ὅμοιον τῷ σχήματι, σφαιροειδῆ, τῷ 126.5 μεγέθει δὲ ἀπειροπλάσιον· Δίδυμος (frg. p. 300 Schm.) δὲ ὅτι ἐγεννήθη. οὕτως καὶ Ἀριστοφάνης (frg. p. 60, n. 83 Nauck) ἐν τῷ βίῳ <ἔχειν> λέγει· Ἀμφιτρύων δὲ γενναιότερον αὐτοῦ παῖδα γεννᾷ, ἀντὶ τοῦ ὅτι ἐπηυξήθη ὁ Οὐρανὸς ἀστερόεις. R2WLZTΛB

127.1 <Οὐρανὸν ἀστερόενθ‘, ἵνα μιν:> τὸ ἀπὸ τῆς γῆς συμβὰν ἐν αἰτίᾳ λέγει. τὴν γῆν καλεῖ τὴν νυγμήν, ὡς ἐν διαβήτῃ περιρραγέντος τοῦ οὐρανοῦ. καὶ τὸ πρῶτον παγέν, τοῦτο αἴτιον τοῦ περιρραγέντος. οὐ γὰρ πρῶτον ἡ περιφέρεια καὶ τότε ἡ νυγμή, 127.5 ἀλλὰ νυγμὴ καὶ τότε περιφέρεια γίνεται. <ἶσον> δ‘ εἰς ὁμοίωσιν τῆς περιφερείας καὶ τοῦ σφαιροειδοῦς. R2WLZ

138.1 <θαλερὸν δ‘ ἤχθηρε τοκῆα:> Ἀρίσταρχος (frg. III Waeschke) ἐπιλαμβάνεται ὡς οὐ καλῶς τοῦ πρεσβυτέρου Οὐρανοῦ θαλεροῦ εἰρημένου. εἰ μὴ ὡς μαλερὸν πῦρ τὸ μαραντικὸν 138.4 λέγει καὶ χλωρὸν δέος τὸ χλωροποιόν, οὕτως θαλερὸς Οὐρανὸς ὁ 138.5 θαλεροποιὸς τῷ βίῳ· διὰ γὰρ τῆς ὀμβρήσεως θάλλειν πάντα καὶ αὔξεσθαι ποιεῖ. R2WLZT ὅλα γὰρ αὔξεται ἐξ οὐρανοῦ· Μέ- νανδρος· ἐρᾷ μὲν ὄμβρων γαῖα.

154.1 <ὅσσοι γὰρ Γαίης τε:> ὅσοι γὰρ δεινότατοι τῶν 154.2 παίδων τοῦ Οὐρανοῦ καὶ τῆς Γῆς, ἐμισοῦντο ὑπὸ τῶν ἀγαθῶν παίδων, τουτέστιν ὑπὸ τῶν ἀδελφῶν, καὶ ὑπὸ τοῦ πατρός. ἐσήμαινε δὲ τὸ ὑπὸ τῶν ἀδελφῶν ἐμισοῦντο διὰ τὸ εἰπεῖν <σφετέρῳ δέ.> 154.5 ὁ γὰρ δέ σύνδεσμος ἐσήμαινε καὶ ἄλλον τινά, ἐπεὶ εἶχεν εἰπεῖν <σφετέρῳ> μόνον. ἄλλως. οὗτοι μᾶλλον δεινοὶ τῶν ἐξ ἄλλων γεννηθέντων· παῖδες δεινότατοι οἱ ἐκ Γῆς καὶ Οὐρανοῦ γεννώμενοι. R2WLZT

459.1 <καὶ τοὺς μὲν κατέπινε Κρόνος μέγας:> ⟦Κρόνος εἴρηται ἀπὸ τοῦ κερᾶν καὶ κιρνᾶν ἕκαστα τῶν γενεθλιω- μάτων καὶ μῖξαι τὸ θῆλυ τῷ ἄρρενι. Χρύσιππος (Stoic. vet. II frg. 1090 v. Arnim) δέ φησιν [ὅτι], καθύγρων ὄντων τῶν ὅλων 459.5 καὶ ὄμβρων καταφερομένων πολλῶν, τὴν τούτων ἔκκρισιν Κρόνον 459.6 ὠνομάσθαι. ἡ δὲ ἐκτομὴ αὐτοῦ οὕτως ἀναλύεται· ὅτι τοῦ Οὐρανοῦ καὶ τῆς Γῆς μίξεως γενομένης ἐζωογονεῖτο πολλά· εἶτα τοῦ χρόνου ἕκαστα διακρίναντος καὶ τὰ γεννηθέντα ἐκ τῆς πρὸς ἄλληλα μίξεως ζωογονοῦντος, ἐκτετμῆσθαι τὸν Οὐρανὸν εἴρηται. ἄλλοι δέ 459.10 φασι Κρόνον εἰρῆσθαι, ὅτι πρῶτος θεῶν εἰς κρίσιν ἐπέβαλε. νομίζε- ται δὲ παῖς Οὐρανοῦ καὶ Τῆς, ὅτι ἐκ τῆς ἐπιτολῆς τῶν ὑπὲρ γῆς καὶ ὑπὸ γῆν ἄστρων ὁ χρόνος γίνεται. διὰ γὰρ τούτου καὶ ἡμερονύ- κτιον καὶ μῆνα καὶ καιρὸν διορίζομεν. καταπίνειν δὲ λέγεται τὰ τέκνα, ὅτι ὅσα διὰ χρόνου γίνεται τῷ χρόνῳ πάλιν συνδιαφθείρε- 459.15 ται. T⟧


Egyptian sources; Horapollon 1.11; PGM VII.862ff
Hathor = Aphrodite Ourania