In the beginning, there was only chaos, the primodial abyss. Then came Gaia, the Earth Goddess, and Eros, the force of love. There was darkness and out of darkness came light. Then Gaia created the mountains and the sea. And then the Earth gave birth to the starry heaven, Uranus, who created twelve terrible titans, the parents of the gods.
When Zeus grew up, he returned to battle his titan father and liberate his brother and sister gods. Chronos had swallowed all those deities to prevent them usurping his power. But Zeus forced the cruel titan to set them free. And then he and his siblings went to battle against all the other titans—one generation pitted against another. In the end, the liberated gods defeated the titans and drove them deep into an abyss. Ever since, this ancient world flourished under the divine shadow of Mount Olympus. This divine force acted upon every living thing. This was the garden of the gods.
This is how life on Earth was created, according to the ancient Greeks. Gods infused in nature were the way the Greeks made sense of their world—a whole dynasty of extraordinary characters residing on Mount Olympus—led by Zeus.
According to myth, Hades also imprisoned his wife, Persephone, in the underworld’s eternal darkness. Persephone’s mother was Demeter, the goddess of fertility, who took a furious revenge for the loss of her child. She turned the world into a place of everlasting winter. Until her child was returned, shi decided the garden of the gods become entombed as well—in ice. Now Zeus had to act. He had to find a compromise with his brother, Hades. They struck a deal. Persephone would be allowed to return to the world for eight months each year, and, for that time, Demeter would call off her fertility strike. In this way, the seasons were created. As soon as Persephone returns above ground, the cold grip of winter is removed; rivers run free again and flowers carpet the land. Once again, the garden of the gods becomes a land of plenty.
Nature and civilization have always been entwined in the garden of the gods. The ancient Greeks revered the power of nature; with myth, they made sense of it and they infused it in their religion, their stories, their history. They created a vivid world of gods, titans and heroes. But all of this was inspired by the wonder and beauty of Greece’s natural world; by its unique richness and variety. In nature, the Greeks discovered something divine, for this had already been a garden, before the gods.