Ouranos [Uranus] 2002
1 mvt | 9 min
a cappella

single print license


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The Esoterics

About this Piece

My freshman year of college was my first attempt to study ancient Greek. Since I was a child, I had always been fascinated with the myths and legend of this civilization, and wanted very much to read and understand these stories from the cradle of Western civilization in the original language. Having only public high school Spanish when I arrived at Yale, I wasn’t quite prepared for the intricacies of a language as complex as ancient Greek, so I ended up dropping the class. Fifteen years and several languages later, I tried again. To master this text, one of the oldest extant sources of Western myth and cosmology, was my goal, and their attributed author, Hesiod (c 800 BCE) was my teacher. For the better part of four months in early 2002, I poured over Hesiod’s Theogony, Homeric hymns, and Works and days, looking for the epic strains of dactylic hexameter that would best tell the stories of the gods and goddesses for whom the nine planets are named. After I found and compiled these texts, I shared them with eight Northwest composers who were interested in collaborating together on the epic Greek commissions for the project. For these composers and The Esoterics, I prepared a word-for-word translation, a grammatical glossary, an analysis of the poetic rhythm, and a pronunciation key – all to make this daunting task a bit more civilized.

From the nine gods and goddesses that I had to choose from, the myth of Ouranos spoke with a most compelling and sinister voice. Ouranos is the primævel sky god, the father of Saturn, the grandfather of Zeus, and the husband of the Earth goddess, Gaia. In the Theogony, these verses about Ouranos recount the creation of the very first deities in the epic Greek pantheon, and begins to detail their various “wanderings” (the meaning of planhteq – planêtes – in Greek), their seemingly human struggles for power and love. A synopsis of this section of the Theogony (verses 116-117, 119-159) would go something like this:

At the beginning of time, the first twelve beings emerged from the infinite expanse. They were more spirits or locales than deities, although they were the source for all of the future generations of gods. These twelve were Chaos, Earth, Hell, Love, Purgatory, Night, Air, Day, Heaven, the Hills, the Streams, the Nymphs, and the Sea. The next twelve gods came forth after the union of Earth and Heaven (Gaia and Ouranos): Oceanus, Coeus, Cruis, Hyperion, Iapeton, Theia, Rhea, Themis, Mnemosyne, Phoebe, Tethys, and Kronos. Their youngest child, Kronos (Saturn, who would become the father of Jupiter or Zeus), for reasons that will be revealed in the myth, despised his father, Ouranos. After Gaia brought forth the Cyclopes, with their infamous solitary eyes, Heaven and Earth had three more sons – Cottus, Briareos, and Gyes – the arrogant, monstrous Titans. These offspring, as all of the children of Gaia, were hated by their father, who was threatened by their inimitable power. As a result, Ouranos forced them to remain inside their mother after they were born, and rejoiced in his trickery. Later in the myth, Kronos and Zeus will exact their revenge upon the wicked Ouranos.

In order to depict such an array: the creation of abstract forces at the beginning of time, the bringing forth of “Titanic” children, and the distended delight of this wicked father at the imprisonment of his own children, I have employed a variety of musical techniques. However, the strict adherence to epic Greek meter and tonal accent was my first consideration.

Text Credit

from Hesiod's Theogony

Sample Text

Truly at the very first moment, Chaos, the infinite expanse, came to be,
Then came Gaia, the open-hearted Earth, the steadfast dwelling-place for all things forever;
Then misty Tartarus, the abyss at the bottom of the wide-ranging world,
Then came love, Eros, the most beautiful of the immortal gods,
Who disarms us all, both gods and humankind, in the heart,
As he overcomes the mind and any wisdom therein.