Monday, January 19, 2015

TFBT: Titanophobia

Uneasy Lies the Head that Wears a Crown

Zeus is the King of the Greek gods on Mount Olympus, but “Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.” In the first book of The Iliad the hero Achilles tells the tale of his mother the goddess Thetis rescuing the divine king from a conspiracy of Hera and Poseidon and Pallas Athena. The poet Hesiod tells us about the second generation of Titans, sons of the elder gods revolting against Zeus (Bulfinch uses the word revolt). Of course, the victorious Olympians hurled the Titans into far Tartarus in the black abyss of the netherworld. Next “because of her anger over the Titans, Earth gave birth to the Giants “ After a battle so desperate that for the first time in Greek mythology the goddesses took up arms, the Giants were defeated. Next "Now after Zeus had driven the Titans out of heaven, gigantic Gaia, in love with Tartarus…bore the youngest of her children, Typhoeus." Typhon in turn was defeated.

Those Gods Beneath the World with Cronus Heard our Quarrel

So at this point you would think Zeus’ reign should be secure, but maybe the Olympians have reason for concern.
Starting in Iliad XIV there are several references to the Titans and their King Cronus bound in the world below. As Sara S at Hour 25points out Hera at Iliad XIV.275 swears by the Styx and “invoked all the gods of the nether world, who are called Titans, to witness.” Tritogenia at Hour 25 points out that Theogony 780 Cronion sends the goddess Iris to fetch a golden ewer of water from the dread Styx “when by chance strife and quarrel shall have arisen among the immortals” And finally “It is better for both that he (Poseidon) yielded to my power despite his indignation, before those gods beneath the world with Cronus heard our quarrel,” (Maya M. - Iliad 15.220 ) It is the goddess Iris who delivers the message to Poseidon and uses her own arguments to convince him of the wisdom of Zeus’ words. So it appears that the gods take care to minimize strife and quarrels amongst themselves invoking their most awesome oaths. IIris would be the joiner or conciliator, or the messenger of heaven, who restores peace in nature. In Statius’ Thebaid 8.42 “Hades speaks of “ the Giants, and of the Titans, eager to force their way to the world above, and his own unhappy sire”



Unbar the Bolts of the Darksome Hollows

So the gods had reason to fear their strife being overheard by the Titans and arousing them into revolt. They appointed processes and goddess to handle their quarrels and placed “warders” like Lord Hades and the Hekatonkheires, namely Kottos and Gyes; and Briareos, to guard them.

But how could they escape? Hera called upon them to help with the creation of Typhon and to destroy Zagreus. Colluthus in the Rape of Helen 48 says [Eris was furious at being turned away from the wedding of Peleus & Thetis :] Fain would she unbar the bolts of the darksome hollows and rouse the Titans from the nether pit and destroy heaven the seat of Zeus, who rules on high." Although it all sounds a little ludicrous and un-Homeric it does remind us that Zeus all on his own slew the jailress Campe and released the Hekatonkheires and Cyclopes from Tartarus.

In addition to the examples of Hera, Eris and Zeus releasing prisoners from Tartarus, we know mortals similarly escaped from Hades; Theseus, Semele and almost Eurydice.

Finally we can recall Thetis releasing Zeus from captivity. None of the rebel gods spoke out against her or took up arms against Briareus her faithful ally. But if she could release Cronion so easily, how much more so the Titans if she wished since Briareaus is the “trusty warder” of the Titans.

This might explain the silence around her rescue of Zeus. The gathered Olympians; rebel or loyalist could not make known “strife and quarrel … arisen among the immortals” for fear of the Titans.

Even Immortal Cronion Released the Titans
Wondering what became of the Olympians’ dread of the ancient forces lying beneath the earth waiting, waiting for the first falling out among the allies of Zeus in order to return to power themselves? The riddles is answer in an Ancient proverb used by Pindar in Pythian 4.2; “Even Immortal Zeus released the Titans” Hesiod places them eventually on the Isles of the Blest ( Works and Days 156 )and Aeschylus makes them free to be the chorus in the lost “Prometheus Unbound”.


  1. Some mortals also seem to have had Titanophobia:

    "O Mighty Titans, who from heav'n and earth
    Derive your noble and illustrious birth...
    Avert your rage, if from th' infernal seats
    One of your tribe should visit our retreats."

    Orphic Hymn to the Titans,

    I am now reading a work explaining that, while Olympians are asked for boons, chthonic gods are asked just not to do harm; they arouse so much dread that humans often don't dare to call them by name, or by any logical epithet, but instead invent epithets contrary to their true nature, i.e. Eumenides or Meilichios. These days, I realized the similarity between these complimentary epithets and Allah "the merciful". I must write a post about this when I have time.

    My gods develop "anthropophobia". As humans multiply, migrate and develop civilization during the Heroic Age, Zeus initially likes this and uses the "human danger" to scare gods and keep them in full submission. However, at some point he realizes that the danger is quite real and requires counter-measures: Babelization, harsh punishment of hubristic humans such as Niobe, wars at Thebes and Troy. (The argumentation in Niobe's case: if humans are allowed to badmouth Titans, their next step will be to disobey the Olympians.) However, everything provides only temporary relief, and finally the gods decide to evacuate before humans have besieged them and cut off their escape route to the sea.

    1. Maya,
      Rather than anthropophobia, I would say hemitheoiphobia. The biggest threat to Apollo and company was demigods. Of course at this point we all have a little chord in our veins

  2. A correction to your latest quiz: at one place, you have written "Leto" while thinking of Leda (Helen's mother).

  3. I've just read a post by Kaoru at Hour 25 about Thetis. It contains the following quote from Nagy:

    "As Marcel Detienne and Jean-Pierre Vernant have argued most convincingly, Thetis herself is a figure of mêtis."

    This quite surprised me, for my impression of Thetis definitely does not include any metis. I searched for the work of these authors, it seems to be this one:

    Thetis is briefly mentioned there, but I don't see any claim that she has cunning intelligence. So, in order not to be alone in my confusion, I am informing you of this :-).

  4. Maya M,

    The work that Nagy references is in French. Here are the footnotes in "The Power of Thetis" addressing that research " M. Detienne and J.-P. Vernant, who argue for a close connection between Thetis and Mêtis. See Detienne and Vernant’s Les ruses de l’intelligence: La Métis des grecs (Paris, 1974), 127–64, which develops a number of ideas first presented in Vernant’s “Thétis et le poème cosmogonique d’Alcman,” in Hommages à Marie Delcourt, Collection Latomus 114 (Brussels, 1970), 219–33. In various versions of their mythology, Thetis and Mêtis have associations with bonds and binding; both are sea powers; both shape-shifters; both loved by Zeus; both destined to bear a son greater than his father. Some scholars, like M. L. West, have seen the name of Thetis as defining her role in Alcman’s poem; see West’s “Three Presocratic Cosmologies,” CQ 57 (1963): 154–57; “Alcman and Pythagoras,” CQ 61 (1967): 1–7; and Early Greek Philosophy and the Orient (Oxford, 1971), 206–8. Detienne and Vernant, Métis des grecs, suggest that it is the power of metamorphosis as an attribute that disposes these goddesses of the sea to a crucial cosmological role: they “contain” the potential shapes of everything created and creatable."

    It is tempting to make Thetis a doublet of Metis based on argument by analogy, but I never bought. That same arguement would extend intelligence and cosmic significance to several other goddesses like Achilles step-grandmother Psamanthe. Achilles grandfather bedded this Nereid the same way his father bedded his mother.

  5. The English title Cunning Intelligence in Greek Culture and Society seems to me equivalent to the French Les ruses de l’intelligence: La Métis des grecs, so I wonder whether it is the same or almost the same work, either translated or published twice in 2 different languages to make a longer publication list. BTW, a not-my-favorite feature of classical studies is that being a serious scholar required fluency not only in ancient Greek and Latin but also in French and German.
    You are right that Thetis is argued by these authors to possiss metis because of her shape-shifting ability. I would have never figured it out! I see now that the poets who describe Thetis in most detail and give her no metis, i.e. Homer and Apollonius of Rhodes, also do not mention her shape-shifting.

  6. Aya M,

    I was reading a scholar yesterday who included German and Greek quotes without translation, as if we all speak English, Greek, Latin, French, German and our native tongues. I wonder how much this has limited research my trapping it within one language, until it is famous enough to justify translation