Monday, October 31, 2016

TFBT: Racism Among the Gods


Generally, the Titanomachy is looked upon as an intra-family struggle; the Olympians versus their second-generation Titan-cousins for control of the universe after the removal of Cronus from the scene.  I would like to suggest, that the war between the forces of the Iapetides and the forces of Cronides was racially-based. The premise for this paper is;  

“Among the Olympians there is a deep-set racial prejudice against the Pontides and by affiliation other water-gods.”

There is a precedent for such racial prejudice.  Jenny Strauss Clay observed “Gaia, whose lineage remains completely separate from that of Chaos – intercourse between these two fundamentally opposite cosmic entities seems impossible”.  The Fates decreed that some specific members of these clans could not meet. (Please see TFBT: The Divine Aversion to Death and Nyctophobia

The Titanomachy

In the beginning Earth, Gaia, produced the primordial god of the sea, Pontus.  Their children were the ancient sea gods of the Aegean and Mediterranean, among them Nereus and the great sea-monsters that frolicked there.  These are the Pontides.  Next, she produced Uranus, the starry sky.  Their children would include Cronus, future king of the gods and Oceanus, the personification of the great fresh-water river that encircled the world.  These are the Titans.  The Titans in turn were parents of the second-generation Titans including those latter called Olympians.    

Let’s leave out the gruesome details and just say there was trouble between King Cronus and his children the Olympians.  (According to Graves) when Cronus’ time had passed a family of second generation of Titans took over the leadership in their battle against the Olympians.  These were the four sons of Iapetus; the Iapetides.  These “mixed-blood” Titans took over the leadership of their cause; these were the sons of a water nymph rather than Titanesses. 

Gaia and Uranus were the proud parents of 12 Titans; six sons and six daughters.  Generally, Titan married Titaness with two exceptions;

·      Crius wed a daughter of Pontus, were born sons of mixed-blood great Astraios, and Pallas, husband of Styx, and the son-less Perses.  Several goatish giants named Pallas are slain by Zeus’ daughter Athena. None of the three sons of Crius are heard of after the Titanomachy and Eos (wife of Astraios) is husbandless.

·      Iapetos son of Uranus took to wife Klymene, daughter of Okeanos, And she bare him, Atlas, Menoitios, Prometheus, and Epimetheus.  All the Iapetides (sons of Iapetus) married Oceanides like their father did.  

These then are the major opponents to the Olympians in the power struggle called the Titanomachy, the sons of water nymphs 

Oceanus was one of the original Titans.  He is the Great River that encircles the world and defines the boundary of the universe.  . Oceanus is not of this world in many ways, which might explain his neutrality in the war that followed. None of his sons; the Rivers; second-generation Titans themselves participated in the war either.  All the Titanesses and Olympian goddesses took shelter on his banks during the ten year conflagration.   Nereus and the other sons of Pontus took no part in the war. The sole exception to the Pontides neutrality was the daughters of Thaumas: Iris and Arce.   


Hesiod says at Theogony [881] that it was after the Titanomachy that the blessed gods “pressed far-seeing Olympian Zeus to reign and to rule over them…So he divided their dignities amongst them.”   The gods of the sea, great Thaumas and proud Phorcus, and their brother truthful Nereus seemed to retain their honors, but it is noteworthy that the Olympian Poseidon became “ruler of the deep, briny-swirling seas”.  Presumably all the victorious gods and their allies came to Mecone as they do to other divine gatherings; “There was no river that came not, save only Oceanus, nor any nymph, of all that haunt the fair copses, the springs that feed the rivers, and the grassy meadows. (Iliad 20.5)     

The Rivers

Oceanus’ Titan-brothers fade from view or end up in Tartarus.  He seems to remain a major deity. But he and his sons seem to be second class citizens as witnessed by;  

"Not powerful [river-god] Achelous matches his strength against Zeus, not the enormous strength of Oceanus with his deep-running waters, Okeanos, from whom all rivers are and the entire sea and all springs and all deep wells have their waters of him, yet even Okeanos is afraid of the lightning of great Zeus and the dangerous thunderbolt when it breaks from the sky crashing."  Homer, Iliad 21. 194 

Witness too the harsh treatment of Xanthus in the Iliad, “Asopus, heavy-kneed, for he was marred by a thunderbolt."[i] Ares threat against Peneus, Poseidon’s drying up of the Peloponnesian rivers, Apollos’……. 

In an odd way the Olympians treatment of the River Styx indicates an adversarial position between the two entities.  The goddess Styx is one of the Olympians first allies in the Titanomachy.   

"Nike, Kratos, Zelos, and Bia were born to Pallas and Styx. Zeus instituted and oath to be sworn by the waters of Styx that flowed from a rock in Haides' realm, an honor granted in return for the help she and her children gave him against the Titanes."  Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 1. 9  

Being the oath keeper of the Olympians seems like a great honor, but you generally appoint a neutral third party to such roles.  Someone in this case who was not part of the Olympian circle.  Additional, her children all remain sterile and infertile.  There are no recorded grandchildren for the goddess Styx, widow of Pallas.  


According to Hesiod, to Nereus and his wife were born in the barren sea fifty daughters greatly beautiful even among goddesses including “Ploto and Eukrante and Amphitrite and Sao, Eudora and Thetis…” (Theogony 240)  Thetis’ father Nereus was the proverbial “Old Man of the Sea” and son of Pontus the primordial sea.  In contrast most of the divine monsters in Greek Mythology are descended from Pontus.  In the same source Clay states the Pontides; “can be considered anti-gods.”    

Clay suggest that through “intermarriage, the Pontides are rapidly integrated into the Ouranid clan.”   The rapid part of intermarriage would consist of Poseidon taking Nereid mates to add legitimacy to his lordship over the sea.  In fact for all the talk of the Poseidon and Zeus competing for Thetis’s hand, none of the other deathless gods who lived upon Olympus chose a lover or a bride from this bevy of prophetic beauties.  In fact Thetis was married off to a second-rate mortal hero who lost a wrestling match to a girl.  Helios and Selene refused to attend, possibly as the most “skyish” of the Ouranides they most represent this racial bias against the children of Pontus.   

Water Gods on Mt Olympus 

Athena’s re-birth from Zeus head disguises the fact that she is the daughter of the water nymph Metis.  Athena put great effort in distancing herself from her watery ancestry going so far as to say she was totally for the father (Eumenides).    

 Hera was the foster daughter of Tethys (Iliad 14) and in turn she fostered Thetis (Iliad 24.59.  Hera was by adoption a water goddess. He calls Oceanus and Tethys      Hence her alliance with the vast non-symmetric sons and daughters of the Pontides. As a matter of face refers to Pontus’ nine-headed great-grandchild; “the evil-minded Hydra of Lerna, whom the goddess, white-armed Hera nourished.” 

Thus were they gathered within the house of Zeus; nor did the Shaker of Earth fail to heed the call of the goddess, but came forth from the sea to join their company; and he sate him in the midst” (Iliad 20.12) It seems odd to mention Poseidon’s arrival and not Hades who would have come further, unless there was a possibility of Poseidon, a sea-god, not coming.  There seems to be a really dislike for Poseidon, King of the Sea as witness how commonly he was rejected as a city patron; Athens as judged by the populace, the Argos as judged by the local rivers, Corinth to Helios as judged by Briareus and Trozezen as judged by Zeus.  (The Fates gave him the island of Cos.)  

 "Achilles addresses his mother Thetis ‘You only among the immortals beat aside a shameful destruction from Cronus' son Zeus the dark-misted that time when all the other Olympians sought to bind him, Hera and Poseidon and Pallas Athene.”  Homer, Iliad 1. 393 ff 

Interesting that the rebelling Olympians are a water-god and two Oceanides


There was racism on Mt. Olympus.  It is clear from the battle lines in the Titanomachy, the lack of new honors presented to the water-gods at Mecone and Oceanus refusal to attend, the subsequent abuse of the river gods and maintenance of distance between the Olympians and the river-goddess Styx, the abhorrence of intermarriage with the Pontides and the racially drawn battle lines in the revolt on Mt. Olympus at the beginning of the Iliad.  Apparently racism has been around for a long time and sadly you know what they say, “As above, so below.” 


Maya,  Brought up the notion that the sea gods are “colored”  So I did a little research on; sea-blue Doris[i] , sea-green Galatea,[ii] Proteus’ sea-blue beard,&the sea-blue the Naiad Cyrene, [iii]Proteus, of sea-green hue,[iv] the sea-blue throng of Nereides[v], and ye too, Nereides, sea-blue horde of ocean,[vi]  Glaucus…bronze-green beard and sea-blue arms,[vii]  Zeus’ sea-blue brother Poseidon,[viii]  the wave-blue water-nymph Liriope, [ix] Father Ismenos with a dark-blue beard, [x] Arethusa her green tresses drying[xi]  and the sky-blue Tiber[xii]    All the sources for the “colored” water gods are Roman, not Greek.

To Bed a Sea Monster

“Who would go to bed with a sea monster if he could help it?” Menelaus asks rhetorically at  Od 4:443.  Of course the immediate answer was; he did,  laying down with Proteus.  If in fact the Cronides have an abhorrence to sleeping with “sea monsters” that is Pontides, Oceanides and other water gods, it might explain “Maya’s Law”.  
"And Prometheus had a son Deucalion. He reigning in the regions about Phthia, married Pyrrha, the daughter of Epimetheus and Pandora . . . Deukalion had children by Pyrrha, first (a son) Hellen...Hellen had (sons) Dorus, Xuthus, and Aeolus by a nymph Orseis. Those who were called Greeks he named Hellenes after himself, and divided the country among his sons” Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 1. 7. 2 – 3 

Maya’s Law simple put states, “Zeus doesn’t like real women!”  By real women, Maya meant Greek women, descendants of Hellen.  These women being descended from a water nymph, it only make sense that Zeus would not mate with them.  Further analysis discovered that “Maya’s Law” more spefically meant that the Olympian male had a marked preference for Ionian and Barabarian women. Probably ones whose pure blood line were untainted by the ichor of Pontides, Oceanides or Posideon. 

[i] Ovid, Metamorphoses 13. 742
[ii] ." Statius, Silvae 2. 2. 14  "
[iii] Ovid, Fasti 1. 363 ff   
[iv] Virgil, Georgics 4. 387 ff    
[v] Seneca, Phaedra 335 ff :
[vi] Statius, Silvae 3. 2. 1 ff :
[vii] Ovid, Metamorphoses 13. 949  
[viii] Ovid, Metamorphoses 1. 275 & 332  
[ix] Ovid, Metamorphoses 3. 342 ff
[x] Statius, Thebaid 9. 404  
[xii] “ Aeneid 8

[i] Callimachus, Hymn 4 to Delos 75 ff (trans. Mair)


  1. Apparently, John Updike in his "Centaur" had a reason to make the characters corresponding to water deities black.

  2. Maya,

    I thought about that, at some point in western mythology water deities got blue skin and green hair. Maybe on vases they didn't met the standard coloring, plus the rivers and Old men of the sea often had horns. Thanks for the next step.

  3. You did nice research on Roman sources!

    My water deities are whiter than terrestrial ones, because their insulating layer of subcutaneous fat is better developed. This is acclimatization, not evolution (2-3 generations are too short time for evolution, esp. if nobody dies). Your research prompted me to check whether such changes have been described in real humans. I found this brand new article:

    Daanen et al. (2016) "Human whole body cold adaptation"

    Its abstract states that "human cold adaptation in the form of increased metabolism and insulation seems to have occurred during recent evolution in populations, but cannot be developed during a lifetime in cold conditions as encountered in temperate and arctic regions. Therefore, we mainly depend on our behavioral skills to live in and survive the cold."

    However, the article cites another study claiming otherwise:
    "Imamura... exposed Japanese women to the cold Japanese winter with mini-skirts or long skirts. In mini-skirts the legs were more exposed to cold than in long skirts. Using MRI she showed that the subjects with mini-skirts developed more fat at the legs at the end of the winter period."

    So, based on Imamura's findings, I am fully allowed to give Thetis nice smooth white skin, and to say that the "silver-footed" epithet is backed by science!

  4. Maya,

    Well just how "Rubenesque" were these lovely Nereids?


    1. An insulating layer of fat does not necessarily mean "overweight". My Thetis is agile. It would be another matter if we had true evolution; all aquatic mammals I know are well rounded.

      Most ancient images of Thetis portray her as slim, but as times come closer, she seems to evolve in the predicted direction and become more Rubenesque :-).

      Homer's Thetis seems able to fly when nobody is looking, but we are not told the principle of this flight, so cannot make any conclusions.

  5. Maya,

    I worried that my analysis above is too selective of data. What if I chose another genetic marker? Could I justify an argument of racial bias around that? Like what? Ionian women! Wow! if I recall aversion to associating with the children of the Night, abhorrence at wedding a water god and Maya's Law, exploring the genealogical tables could be really interesting. I will let you know what I come up with


    1. Ancient Greeks seemed to value blond hair. Aphrodite is golden-haired, and so are a lot of other gods and high-ranking mortals. I'd say, much more than we expect at this latitude. On the other hand, Poseidon is dark-haired; this epithet sometimes even replaces his name.

  6. Maya,

    As I recall Poseidon is a non-Greek name. Dionysus has black hair which should reflect his Phoenician ancestry and descent from Zeus. Is Apollo a blond?


  7. Dionysus has mixed references. My brief check at shows that his Homeric Hymn describes a "rich, dark hair" but an Orphic hymn calls him "fair-haired" and Euripides gives him "hair with golden curls".

    I imagine Apollo blond, as a god with a solar aspect, but most vase paintings (with some exceptions) show him dark-haired.

    Wikipedia's "Blond" article has curious remarks about ancient Greeks and Romans. A quote from there: "The following Roman gods are said to have had blond hair: Amor, Apollo, Aurora, Bacchus, Ceres, Diana, Jupiter, Mars, Mercury, Minerva and Venus."

  8. Maya,

    Apollo wasn't considered a solar deity until the Roman took over. And based on what we discussed about the water gods, the Roman had all sorts of ideas about how they looked. I think we will find conflicting accounts every where.


  9. OT: the philosopher who allegedly manipulated the market was Thales, and it was olives rather than apples. From Wikipedia:

    "Several anecdotes suggest Thales was not solely a philosopher, but also involved in business.

    A story, with different versions, recounts how Thales achieved riches from an olive harvest by prediction of the weather.

    In one version, he bought all the olive presses in Miletus after predicting the weather and a good harvest for a particular year. Another version of the story has Aristotle explain Thales had reserved presses ahead of time at a discount only to rent them out at a high price when demand peaked, following his predictions of a particularly good harvest. Aristotle explains that Thales' objective in doing this was not to enrich himself but to prove to his fellow Milesians that philosophy could be useful, contrary to what they thought,[16] or alternatively, Thales had made his foray into enterprise because of a personal challenge put to him by an individual who had asked why if Thales were intelligent, by way of being a reputed philosopher, he had yet to attain wealth."

    I admit I do not believe a word of this anecdote.

  10. OT: from the page of Deucalion:

    "Hesiod, Catalogues of Women Fragment 3 (from Constantinus Porphyrogenitus, de Them. 2. 48B) :
    "The district Makedonia (Macedonia) took its name from Makedon (Macedon) the son of Zeus and Thyia, Deukalion's (Deucalion's) daughter, as Hesiod says : ‘And she conceived and bare to Zeus who delights in the thunderbolt two sons, Magnes and Makedon, rejoicing in horses, who dwell round about Pieria and Olympos.’""

    There is a long (and I believe unsolvable) controversy about whether the ancient Macedonians were Greeks. I find funny the zeal of modern Greeks to "prove" this; it must make Demosthenes roll in his grave. If I were a Greek, I'd happily give away Alexander of Macedon to any nation that would want him.