The children of Uranus and Gaia
The Titans were gigantic, powerful, ancient beings that loomed in the background of many Greek myths and tales. Children of Uranus (pronounced YOOR-uh-nuhs) and Gaia (pronounced GAY-uh), the Titans ruled the world before they were overthrown by the god Zeus (pronounced ZOOS) and his brothers and sisters. Originally there were twelve Titans. The Greek writer Hesiod listed six male Titans—Oceanus (pronounced oh-SEE-uh-nuhs), Coeus (pronounced SEE-uhs), Cronus (pronounced KROH-nuhs), Crius (pronounced KRYE-uhs), Hyperion (pronounced hy-PEER-ee-on), and Iapetus (pronounced eye-AP-uh-tus)—and six female Titanesses—Tethys (pronounced TEE-this), Themis (pronounced THEEM-is), Phoebe (pronounced FEE-bee), Mnemosyne (pronounced nee-MOSS-uh-nee), Theia (pronounced THEE-uh), and Rhea (pronounced REE-uh). Some accounts add the brothers Prometheus (pronounced pruh-MEE-thee-uhs), Epimetheus (pronounced ep-uh-MEE-thee-uhs), Atlas (pronounced AT-luhs), and the moon goddess Selene (pronounced suh-LEE-nee) to this group of Titans. These four gods and a few others are more often described as children of the original twelve Titans.
The most important tales of the Titans involve the overthrow of their father Uranus and their own battle against the Olympian gods. Uranus hated the children born from his wife Gaia, so he forced her to keep the Titans in Tartarus (pronounced TAR-tur-uhs), a dismal pit deep within Gaia's bowels. This caused Gaia much pain, and she asked her sons to help her defeat Uranus by cutting off his genitals with a sickle. Only her youngest son, the Titan Cronus, was willing to do it. After he was successful, the Titans were freed from Tartarus and ruled the heavens. Cronus, with his sister Rhea at his side, was their leader.
However, Cronus was told that when he had children, one of his sons would overthrow him—just as he had done to his own father. To avoid this fate, Cronus swallowed each of his children as soon as they were born. Rhea managed to save only one child, Zeus, by hiding him and feeding Cronus a stone in the baby's place. When Zeus grew older, he gave his father a potion that made him vomit out his other siblings. These children, known as the Olympians, then waged an eleven-year war against the Titans. The Olympians eventually won and cast many of the Titans back into Tartarus, where Uranus had imprisoned them long before. However, several of the Titans—including Oceanus and all the female Titans—did not participate in the war against the Olympians, and therefore were able to remain free.
Titans in Context
Some scholars suggest that the reign—and ultimate defeat—of the Titans in Greek mythology reflects the conquest of an earlier culture by the one we now associate with the ancient Greeks. This earlier culture is believed to have been matriarchal, meaning women held the primary positions of power within the society. This is suggested by the Titans' close association with their mother, Gaia, and poor relationship with their father Uranus. The ancient Greeks, being a patriarchal society (where men held the most power), were similar to the Olympian gods who take control of the heavens. The regions of the world were divided among the three sons—Zeus, Poseidon (pronounced poh-SYE-dun), and Hades (pronounced HAY-deez)—while the daughters were not given direct rule over anything. If this idea is correct, the myths of the ancient Greeks would be a direct reflection of ancient cultural clashes in the region.
Key Themes and Symbols
The Titans represent huge, primitive, hard-to-control forces; indeed, many of the Titans are embodiments of the forces of nature and are born from Mother Earth (Gaia). They also symbolize a spirit of rebellion against the authority of the gods, as in the story of the Titan Prometheus, who helped human beings against Zeus's will. The myth of the Titans and their downfall includes a theme common throughout Greek mythology: the fate of a god or person cannot be avoided, no matter how hard one might try to change it.
Titans in Art, Literature, and Everyday Life
The Titans are featured in ancient art primarily in depictions of the war between them and the Olympian gods. Although some Titans, such as Prometheus, appear in other myths, they were not generally considered important subjects for literature or art. Instead, throughout the centuries, the Olympian gods dominated art influenced by Greek mythology. The most notable exception is Cronus, also referred to by his Roman name, Saturn. One of the most famous images of Saturn is Francisco Goya's grisly painting Saturn Devouring One of His Children (1823), which depicts the myth of the Titan leader consuming one of his children in order to keep from being overthrown. Another famous image of Cronus/Saturn eating one of his children was created by Peter Paul Rubens in 1636. More recently, the 1997 Disney animated film Hercules included a plot by Hades to release the Titans from their imprisonment and take control of Greece and Olympus. In modern usage, the immense size of the Titans has led to the word “titanic,” meaning extremely large.
Read, Write, Think, Discuss
The myths of the early Greek gods include two examples of sons overthrowing their fathers for control of the heavens—first Cronus defeating Uranus, and then Zeus defeating Cronus. In both cases, the sons are raised by mother figures and have very little or no contact with their fathers. What do you think this theme of conflict between fathers and sons reflects about ancient Greek family life?
The youngest Titan was Kronos, who castrated his father with a sickle given to him by his sister Rhea, and threw his genitalia into the sea; the Giants sprang to life from Kronos' blood, which fell on the earth, while Aphrodite was born from the foam of the sea. Kronos took his father's throne, then married Rhea; but he proceeded to swallow every child born to her, from fear that a child would copy his example and take control of the world. But one child, Zeus, was smuggled away to be brought up in Crete; instead Rhea passed a stone wrapped in a cloth to Kronos to swallow. When Zeus reached adulthood, he gave an emetic to Kronos that made him vomit up Zeus' long-lost brothers and sisters, the Olympian deities. These fought the Titans for ten years, and after the eventual Olympian victory the Titans were banished to Tartarus, a place below the underworld. Despite the cruelty and violence of these stories, the time when Kronos ruled was nevertheless also regarded as a Golden Age by the Greeks, and in some myths he now rules the Isles of the Blessed, where some of the dead are privileged to dwell.
A variant from of Greek mythology given in Orphic theology, known from Neoplatonist sources, told an alternative version of the Titan myth, which also involves the separation of body parts but suggests a dual nature for human beings. In this variant, it is said that the young god Dionysos was dismembered, cooked, and eaten by the Titans, acts for which Zeus subsequently punished them by destroying them with a thunderbolt. Human beings were then created out of the ashes of the Titans; this suggests that, as part of our identity as humans, we have not only a tendency towards violent criminal acts, from the Titans, but also something good, from the parts of Dionysos they had consumed before their own destruction. Dionysos himself was reborn from the one remaining part of his body, the heart, which the goddess Athena preserved. The Orphic literature influenced many Bacchic mystery groups in antiquity; initiates seem to have regarded the body as a ‘prison’, and believed that they must liberate the divine ‘Dionysiac’ part of humanity from the evil ‘Titanic’ part.
At least one of the offspring of the Titans took on an important role in the period of the rule of Zeus in which the classical Greeks believed themselves to be living. Prometheus, son of the Titan Iapetus, was the major culture-bearer in Greek thought, responsible for many of the arts, crafts, and sciences. In some myths he creates men from clay. A friend to humankind, he stole fire from Zeus to bring to earth, making possible not only the cooking of food, thought to separate humans from beasts, but also sacrificial practice, which allows humans to communicate with the gods. However, Prometheus' cunning tricks annoyed Zeus, causing him to send the first woman, Pandora, as an unsolicited gift to humans; made by the gods to be a seductive snare, attractive on the outside, but containing an evil mind and an endless hunger for all the food a man can work to produce, Pandora went on to open the forbidden jar containing all the evils of the present age. Prometheus himself was punished by being tied to a pillar, with an eagle visiting him daily to consume his liver. Overnight, his liver regenerated, making his punishment unending until Heracles (Hercules) came to set him free.
See also Bacchus; Greeks; Hercules; mythology and the body; sacrifice.
The Titans were gigantic, powerful, and primeval beings that loomed in the background of many Greek myths and tales. Children of Uranus (the sky) and Gaia (the earth), the Titans ruled the world before they were overthrown by the god Zeus* and his five brothers and sisters.
The Greek writer Hesiod* listed six male Titans—Oceanus, Coeus, Cronus, Crius, Hyperion, and Iapetus—and six female Titanesses—Tethys, Themis, Phoebe, Mnemosyne, Theia, and Rhea. Some accounts add the brothers Prometheus*, Epimetheus, and Atlas* and the moon goddess Selene to this group of Titans. These four gods and a few others, however, are more often described as children of the original 12 Titans.
Zeus and his siblings, the first of the Olympian gods, were the children of Cronus and Rhea. Their battle to overthrow the Titans and take possession of the universe is the backdrop of Greek mythology. The Olympian gods eventually won, and Zeus is said to have thrown those who stood against him into Tartarus, a deep pit in the underworld.
primeval from the earliest times
underworld land of the dead
The Titans represent huge, primitive, and hard-to-control forces. They also symbolize a spirit of rebellion against the authority of the gods, as in the story of the Titan Prometheus, who helped human beings against Zeus's will. The immense size of the Titans is the source of the modern word titanic, meaning extremely large.
See also Atlas; Cronus; Gaia; Greek Mythology; Prometheus; Uranus; Zeus.
TITANS , Greek mythological figures, offspring of Uranus and Gaia. They warred against Zeus and were afterward imprisoned in Tartarus. The Septuagint translated Emek Refaim (ii Sam. 5:18, 22) as "valley of the Titans" (elsewhere it is translated "valley of the Giants," i Chron. 11:15; 14:9; see also Jos., Ant., 7:71). In the apocryphal book of *Judith the phrase "sons of Titans" is used to represent forces of great power (16:7). *Philo in interpreting Genesis 10:8–9, makes reference to the Titans (Quaestiones et Solutiones in Genesin 2:82) and *Josephus alludes to them in Contra Apionem 2:240, 247. The Jewish author of the Sibylline Oracles describes the war between the Titans and the sons of Cronos, which ends with God's punishing the warring parties (3:106ff.).
Lanchester, in: Charles, Apocrypha, 2 (1913), 371f.