Sunday, January 31, 2016

TFBT: The Titan Perses and Zeus' Allies

I have written several blogs referencing “Hesiod’s Cosmos” by Jenny Strauss-Clay, in particular;  TFBT: Random Notes on Hesiod’s Cosmos ,  and TFBT: Clay's Five Ages of Man.  The former generated a lengthy conversation between my friend Maya M. and I.  I thought we had some interesting thoughts and insights.   This is my first attempt at unweaving the threads of our rambling conversation and reweaving them into coherent blog posts.

 I thought the bulk of our conversation was about Hesiod the composer of the Theogony and Works & Days.  In the latter he whines constantly about his foolish brother Perses.  I was wrong.  We actually talked  about the Titan Perses. 
 There is a theortical connection between the Titan Perses and Hesiod’s brother Perses.  The theory is that the third generation Titaness Hecate was the particular goddess of  Hesiod’s family.  The theory is based on where the mortal brothers grew up and Hesiod’s overly abundant  praise of  the otherwise obscure goddess Hecate.  The Titan Perses is the father of Hecate.  So I have always thought it is not surprising that one of the brothers is named after the Titan.  I was probably wrong about that too as you will see below

Some suspect that "brother Perses" was 100% invented, just a literary device. However, the Works & Days sounds too authentic. Possibly Hesiod indeed had a brother who took more of their father's estate than Hesiod was inclined to give him. In myth, Perses "the destroyer" is a 2nd generation Titan who never destroys anything. Hesiod describes him in the Theogony as "eminent among all men in wisdom", crooked or otherwise. If the translation is accurate, why is a god compared to mortal men unless Hesiod has another person in mind? Perses leads Asteria "to his great house to be called his dear wife". Maybe Hesiod's brother could also build a "great" house with the snatched portion of his father's estate. Then, Perses was presumably imprisoned in Tartarus for the rest of time,   Maybe Hesiod named his brother Perses not only because of him being "destroyer" of the estate but to have the unfortunate Titan Perses as his mythological double.  Getting your “foolish” brother tossed into Tartarus sounds like nice wish-fulfillment.
Hesiod didn't name his “fictional” brother Perses after the defeated Titan. He named the fictional titan after his real brother. For many of the Titans there is no proof of their existence until the Theogony. Titan Perses is only in the Theogony. The W & D keeps silence about Titan Perses.   

For many of the Titans there is no proof of their existence until the Theogony."Just think about it, "pious" Hesiod inventing gods!   We  browsed to check the Titans for authenticity. Criteria: if the Titan is mentioned by Homer or has a cult, he is likely to be authentic. The following Titans made it:

  • 1st generation: Cronus, Oceanus, Hyperion (barely), Iapetos (barely), Rhea, Themis, Tethys, Mnemosyne (barely).
  • 2nd generation: Helios, Atlas, Prometheus, Leto, Selene, Eos. We didn't count here the elder Oceanids.
  • Hecate stands out as a single "3rd generation Titaness" who is undoubtedly authentic, though none of her parents seems to be.

To the victor goes the spoils!" With the exception of Atlas, all the "authentic" 2nd and 3rd titans were allies of Zeus in the Titanomachy. One wonders why the Titan Pallas wasn't smart enough to join his wife and kids when the allied themselves with Zeus.

It is a pity that we have lost the Titanomachy. A fragment attributed to it says that Prometheus has been herald of the Titans. We have no data of the Hyperionides. Even if the remained neutral in the war or even if Helios fought on the "wrong" side, Zeus may have decided to keep them as irreplaceable experts. The same may have been true for Prometheus, if he was needed for the creation of humans. Alternatively, he may have been an ally and may have been assigned to human affairs at the 1st Mecone Conference, but we have no source for this. All we know is that he appears at the 2nd Mecone Conference out of nowhere and Zeus for unknown reasons gives into his hands both the bread and the knife (this is an idiom meaning "full control over the situation"; in this case, "both the ox and the knife" is more precise).
If Atlas took the side of Zeus like his brother Prometheus and Epitheus, he must have been honored with the job to support the sky. And it would be logical; as one modern Hellenist said, supporting the world seems too important job to be entrusted to someone pissed off for losing a war against you.
We have no data about Leto and Hecate in the Titanomachy; is there any evidence they were even been born at that time? If Leto has been an ally of Zeus, then he has betrayed her gravely. He has not made her goddess of anything (all the time she has is secured by her children) and, if we take the story of her flight as usually told, he has left her and their child(ren) at the mercy of Hera after impregnating her. The honors given by Zeus to Hecate are often understood to imply that she has been an ally of Zeus. However, this is not explicitly written, and there are other explanations. Maybe her honors were for the same reasons as those of Nyx and her brood., maybe she actually belonged to the progeny of Nyx. In the Homeric hymn to Demeter, Hecate opposes Zeus (and btw so does Helios).
It is funny that Styx and Hecate are referred to as allies, nice the goddesses and titanesses all stayed with Oceanus and Tethys during the Titanomachy. The goddesses didn't take up arms until the Gigantomachy. The Titanomachy (like the castration of Cronus) was a male affair except that Iris and her sister Arce, served as messengers of the Olympians and Titans respectively. So Leto and Hecate had no business there anyway.
Styx is a peculiar case. Hesiod explicitly writes that she was Zeus' ally, and the fact that she was a river goddess shows that she may be a "honorary male". So her portrayal in the Hymn to Demeter as picking flowers is sort of a laugh.
As for Helios, let's remember the Odyssey. When Odysseus' men eat Helios' cattle, how does Helios turn to Zeus? Does he use the "If I ever have..." expression, as Thetis does and as we expect from an ally? No, he says, “Father Zeus and you other gods, immortally blessed, take vengeance on the followers of Odysseus.. They have killed my cattle... If they do not atone for their killing, I will go down to Hades and shine for the dead instead.” This is not a formulaic request, actually not a request at all. This is an ultimatum by someone who has formidable power in his domain and cares little about Zeus.   Definitely doesn't sound like a proper personal conversation!
One wonders what Demeter said. According to the HH to Demeter, she didn't say much, even though all the gods at various times came and beg her to relent. Finally Zeus sends Hermes to Hades to discuss Persephone, "But she was afar off, brooding on her fell design because of the deeds of the blessed gods." Which means that Hades and Hermes "went apart" " And the strong Slayer of Argus drew near and said:[347] "Dark-haired Hades, ruler over the departed, father Zeus bids me bring noble Persephone forth from Erebus unto the gods, that her mother may see her with her eyes and cease from her dread anger with the immortals; for now she plans an awful deed, to destroy the weakly tribes of earthborn men" That "bids" sounds a lot like "begs".
Anyway, Demeter like Helios got her way without saying pretty please.


  1. Glad to see that you have put the chaos of our discussion in order and posted it!
    I've just checked whether Homer writes anywhere about Hecate. He doesn't. From

    "Hesiod proclaims Hekate to be the mother of the six-headed beast, Skylla (Scylla), with Phoibos Apollon as the father. Homer, on the other hand, does not mention Hekate in the Iliad or the Odyssey … this is especially interesting because Skylla is a major character in the Odyssey and it seems likely that Homer would not have neglected such an important detail as Hekate being Skylla's mother."

    The language of Hesiod's Hymn to Hecate in the Theogony reminds me of the languate used in the Koran to tell about Mother Mary and Jesus. Mohamed hoped to attract Christians to Islam by this praise. I wonder, had Hesiod a similar intention? To reconcile a local favorite non-Olympian goddess with the official pantheon?

  2. It is actually in the Argonautica where Hecate is named as Scylla's mother, and by Phorkys rather than Apollon.

  3. Maya,

    Diodorus says she was the wife of Aeetes anf mother of Medea. It is as if the late writers dont know what to do with her


  4. OT: I've just seen an ancient Greek relief with a laptop-like object:
    Reminds me of my story (though I've no laptops there, just stationary computers).