Origin, Nature (phusis)
PHYSIS was the primordial goddess of the origin and ordering of nature. The Orphics titled her Protogeneia "the First Born."
Physis was similar to the primordial deities Eros (Procreation), Phanes and Thesis (Creation). The creator-god was regarded as both male and female.
NONE (emerged at the beginning of time) (Orphic Hymn 10, Nonnus Dionysiaca 41.51)
First Born (prôtos, genos)
CLASSICAL LITERATURE QUOTES
PHYSIS GODDESS OF NATURE
Orphic Hymn 10 to Phusis (trans. Taylor) (Greek hymns C3rd B.C. to 2nd A.D.) :
"To Physis (Nature), Fumigation from Aromatics. Physis, all-parent, ancient and divine, o much mechanic mother, art is thine; heavenly, abundant, venerable queen, in every part of thy dominions seen. Untamed, all taming, ever splendid light, all ruling, honoured, and supremely bright. Immortal, Protogeneia (First-Born), ever still the same, nocturnal, starry, shining, powerful dame. Thy feet's still traces in a circling course, by thee are turned, with unremitting force. Pure ornament of all the powers divine, finite and infinite alike you shine; to all things common, and in all things known, yet incommunicable and alone. Without a father of thy wondrous frame, thyself the father whence thy essence came; mingling, all-flourishing, supremely wise, and bond connective of the earth and skies. Leader, life-bearing queen, all various named, and for commanding grace and beauty famed. Justice, supreme in might, whose general sway the waters of the restless deep obey. Ethereal, earthly, for the pious glad, sweet to the good, but bitter to the bad: all-wise, all-bounteous, provident, divine, a rich increase of nutriment is thine; and to maturity whatever may spring, you to decay and dissolution bring. Father of all, great nurse, and mother kind, abundant, blessed, all-spermatic mind: mature, impetuous, from whose fertile seeds and plastic hand this changing scene proceeds. All-parent power, in vital impulse seen, eternal, moving, all-sagacious queen. By thee the world, whose parts in rapid flow, like swift descending streams, no respite know, on an eternal hinge, with steady course, is whirled with matchless, unremitting force. Throned on a circling car, thy mighty hand holds and directs the reins of wide command: various thy essence, honoured, and the best, of judgement too, the general end and test. Intrepid, fatal, all-subduing dame, life everlasting, fate (aisa), breathing flame. Immortal providence, the world is thine, and thou art all things, architect divine. O, blessed Goddess, hear they suppliants' prayer, and make their future life thy constant care; give plenteous seasons and sufficient wealth, and crown our days iwht lasting peace and health."
Philostratus the Younger, Imagines 3 (trans. Fairbanks) (Greek rhetorician C3rd A.D.) :
"[From a description of an ancient Greek painting :] No doubt you see the grove around the spring, the work of wise Nature (physis), I believe; for Nature (physis) is sufficient for all she desires, and has no need of art; indeed it is she who is the origin of arts themselves."
Nonnus, Dionysiaca 2. 650 ff (trans. Rouse) (Greek epic C5th A.D.) :
"[After the world-shattering battle between Zeus and the monster Typhoeus :] Then Physis (Nature), who governs the universe and recreates its substance, closed up the gaping rents in earth's broken surface, and sealed once more with the bond of indivisible joinery those island cliffs which had been rent from their bed."
Nonnus, Dionysiaca 41. 51 ff :
"Here [Beroe in Lebanon] dwelt a people agemates with the dawn, whom Physis (Nature) by her own breeding, in some unwedded way, begat without bridal, without wedding, fatherless, motherless, unborn: when the atoms were mingled in fourfold combination, and the seedless ooze shaped a clever offspring by comingling water with fiery heat and air [the four elements--Air, Earth, Water, Fire], and quickened the teeming mud with the breath of life. To these Physis (Nature) gave perfect shape . . . now first appeared the golden crop of men [the Golden Race of Mankind] brought forth in the image of the gods, with the roots of their stock in the earth. And these dwelt in the city of Beroe, that primordial seat which Kronos (Cronus, Time) himself builded."
Nonnus, Dionysiaca 41. 98 ff :
"[Aphrodite] newly born from the brine; when the water impregnated from the furrow of Ouranos (Uranus) was delivered of deepsea Aphrodite; when without marriage, the seed plowed the flood with male fertility, and of itself shaped the foam into a daughter, and Physis (Nature) was the midwife--coming up with the goddess there was that embroidered strap which ran round her loins like a belt [the cestus of love], set about the queen's body in a girdle of itself."
NATURA ROMAN GODDESS OF NATURE
Natura was the Roman equivalent of the Greek Physis.
Seneca, Oedipus 23 ff (trans. Miller) (Roman tragedy C1st A.D.) :
"Not as a fugitive did I [Oedipus] leave my home; of my own will, distrustful of myself, O Natura (Nature), I made thy laws secure [i.e. he left home to avoid a prophecy that claimed he would kill his father and marry his mother]."
Seneca, Phaedra 959 ff :
"O Natura (Nature), mighty mother of the gods, and thou, fire-bearing Olympus' lord [Zeus] . . . why dost thou dwell afar, all too indifferent to men, not anxious to bring blessing to the good, and to the evil, bane?"
- The Orphic Hymns - Greek Hymns C3rd B.C. - C2nd A.D.
- Philostratus the Younger, Imagines - Greek Rhetoric C3rd A.D.
- Nonnus, Dionysiaca - Greek Epic C5th A.D.
- Seneca, Oedipus - Latin Tragedy C1st A.D.
- Seneca, Phaedra - Latin Tragedy C1st A.D.
A complete bibliography of the translations quoted on this page.