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Titanides, Mothers of the Gods

There are six Titanides, Theia, Rhea, Themis, Mnemosyne, Phoebe, and Tethys. All are the children of Gaia and Uranus. Hesiod refers to them as deities but their realms are ambiguous or absent. For the Titanides the offspring seem most important. Theia is the mother of Leto and Asteria. Rhea is the mother of the Olympians. Themis is a goddess in the true sense and has as her realm the order of things. Her offspring are by Zeus and relate to the order of things such as Dike, the Hours, and the Fates. Mnemosyne is also a true goddess with the realm of memory. By Zeus she bore the Muses. Phoebe (the shining) was the mother of Helios, the god of the sun. Tethys produces the Oceanides. There are two other women with fair claim to being Titanides, Eurybia and Klymene. Both married Titans. Eurybia was the mother of the winds while Klymene was the mother of the ancestors of man. Klymene was the daughter of Oceanus and Tethys and so might be considered a second generation Titan. Eurybia is the daughter of Pontus and Gaia and so has an ancestry that is different from the other Titans.

Hecate is often styled as a Titan but her claim is not a good one. Some have assigned her to this status because her worship is an older one. But there is no real reason to believe the Titans are really older than the Olympians. Her realm is ambiguous only because it has changed from time to time. She is generally associated with luck and the underworld. Her parents are ambiguous too but Hesiod assigns her to Rhea and Uranus. The children of this pairing make half the 12 Olympians and each can also be paired: Zeus and Hera, Poseidon and Demeter, Hades and Hecate. Hades is not often paired with Hecate but they do go together. One has to wonder if the Titans have a corresponding pairing which also divides up the realms of the world. The following is proposed for the Titans but not proved: Cronus and Rhea for Earth, Crius and Eurybia for air, Hyperion and Theia for Fire, Oceanus and Tethys for water, Cronus and Rhea for spirit, and Iapetus and Klymene for mankind. It would be interesting to see what data could be found to support this. The number of twelve naturally suggests itself from the number of synodic months in a year; in other words, the extent of a zodiacal sign corresponds to the path covered by the Sun between two new moons. There is the suggestion that such a pantheon formed a calendar with months named after Titans but no record of this is known. Though there is a 12 Olympian pantheon it does not correspond to a division of the world. Hades is not even a member of that pantheon. But the 12 Titan pantheon does seem to correspond to such a division. This does seem consistent with the structure of Indo-European religion.

The Titans seem mainly to be personifications of natural forces. They show that natural forces must be tamed if good for man is to result. That the women do not participate in the struggle is further indication that the struggle is not ideological. There is some indication in Greek mythology that male gods overtake female ones but that is not part of the Titanomachy (battle of the Olympians and the Titans). They may have tried to rule the Universe but they could not. They have the law, Themis, but they have not applied it to themselves. The Olympians each have a realm which they can organize for the good of mankind. It is inevitable that the Olympians and Titans will clash and the result is a higher structuring of the Universe.

In Myth it looks like the Titans came before the Olympians and the battle may be a taking over of one pantheon by another. Guthrie supports this idea in his book “The Greeks and Their Gods”. He states that the original inhabitants of the Aegean region were agricultural and had a religion based on fertility. Within that religion the concept of a holy marriage was important to renew the fertility of the earth and so there were goddesses and their consorts. This goes along with the pairing of the Titans. An ethnic group of herders and hunters then cam and conquered. Their religion was more focused on hunting and fighting. Eventually the new culture took over the old and there was a merger of the religions. Zeus took over the role of consort in each case of the more agrarian religion. This is one reason why Zeus has so many marriage partners.

One problem with this theory is that it suggests that all the Titanides are agrarian goddesses related to fertility. Rhea can be cast in this role but the others are harder to cast. The situation of Themis might be important here. It would seem that the concept of boundaries may be more important to the agrarian peoples than to the herding ones. And the nature of these boundaries is unique to the Greeks. The notion of the wall around the land transforms to one of the law around the collection of concepts. Originally the realm of the deity seems to have meant a physical boundary around the temple of the deity. Later the realm transforms to more of a personification of a concept. Aphrodite as the goddess of Cyprus is transform to Aphrodite the goddess of love. The importance of the boundary is often expressed in Greek Mythology as a limitation on a deity. Deities are not allowed to cross into others realms. They have to negotiate action across the boundary. For example Athena had to call on Aphrodite to get Ariadne to fall in love with Theseus. The same happened for Jason and Medea. Furthermore each deity seems to be able to set up rules within their realm. In fact knowing the goddess meant learning the rules that applied to the realm of the goddess. The notion of ancient Greek prayer sets up a situation where the deity holds court and adjudicates actions against laws. This whole system represents a social system of a universe ruled by law which man must learn. Not only is this a big step into a society ruled by law but also a big step toward science. What we might see is the remains of a revolution where two systems cam together and resulted in a sense of law in Greek society and in their physical environment. The revolution could have been so dramatic that it obscured what came before.

It might have been that only Rhea and Ouranous represent the holy marriage of fertility. The other pairings were made in that established pattern. The other deities may have been assigned in pairs to the natural realm as suggested previously. When the new way was established the pairings were no longer appropriate. But the two goddesses Themis and Memnosyne, continued in their old role. This represented the contribution of the old religion to the new one.

One problem with the overthrow of the Titans reflecting a conquering of the indigenous peoples by the Indo-European Mycenaeans (Achaeans) is that the conquerors seem to have only imposed one deity Zeus, on the conquered. None of the other Deities can be translated and so they may have belonged to indigenous peoples. Why have the Titanides been displaced by Athena, Aphrodite, Artemis, Hera, Demeter, Persephone, etc. One explanation for the tripling of deities that occurs is that the Mycenaeans did this so that different deities are appropriate for different levels of society. Then each triple should have a Titanide and that corresponds to the lower level conquered people. But the tripled deities are not interpreted that way. More likely is that the religion of the conquered people already contained these deities in similar roles and that the battle of the Titans reflect a revolution within the indigenous religion.

Another problem with this theory is that as personifications of Nature the Titanides seem more consitent with the religion of the Indo-Europeans as it is currently described. (General characteristics of Indo-European Religion) It seems more likely that the Titans are what the Mycenaeans gave up from their Indo-European Past. This would suggest that Athena, Aphrodite, Artemis, Hera derive from the agrarian predecessors in a better fashion since they are not so related to the personification of nature. If we think about the judgement of Paris being about the beauty of these goddesses then the concept of beauty may have become more important than the concept of fertility. In the Titanomachy the Titans are only represented by the males. The sisters of Zeus help him immediately after they are released from Cronus. Styx and her children Nike, Zelos, Cratos, and Bia, were the first to Olympus the help Zeus. It was Zeus aided by Athena, Apollo, and Artemis, who cast the Titans back to Tartarus. The concept of the battle of the gods is a concept among the Indo-Europeans and the battle may be no more than a remnant of those tales. That there was a merging of religions there can be no doubt. But the victors did not impose their religion. Rather the religion of the vanguished seem to have had a dramatic effect on the victors.

Jane Ellen Harrison suggests the battle of the Titans was not a battle at all. Rather it is a dance. It is a ritual initiation dance and the Titans represent sacred spirits. She finds some similarities between the titanomachy and the dance of the Kouretes.

Outline of Titan Geneology in terms of an Indo-European Division of the World into Natural Realms

  • Earth
    • Cronus — Κρόνον — The King of the Titans, and the god of destructive time–time which devours all.
    • Rhea — Ῥείαν — The Queen of the Titans and goddess of female fertility and the mountain wilds. Hesiod refers to her as “beautiful haired”
    • The parents of:
      • Zeus — Δία — God King and Storm God of the Earth
      • Hera — Ἥρην — Queen of heaven and wife of Zeus
      • Poseidon — Ποσειδάωνα — God of the Sea and of Earthquakes
      • Demeter — Goddess of the Crops
      • Hades — God of the underworld, the realm of minerals and the dead.
      • Hestia — Goddess of the Hearth
  • Air
    • Crius — Κρεῖόν — The Titan god of the heavenly constellations and the measure of the year. He was probably associated with the constellation Aries, the heavenly ram (which the Greeks called Crius). Its spring rising marked the start of the new year, and the other constellations were said to follow in its wake.
    • Eurybia — Εὐρυβίην — Her name means ‘ruling widely’ from Indo-European ‘wer-8’, ‘wide, broad’ and ‘bherg-2′, high’. Hesiod said of her that she, “has a heart of adamant in her breast” and also that she is “revered among the goddesses”. She is the mother of the winds. She was the daughter of Pontus and Gaea.
    • The parents of:
      • Astraeus —
      • Pallas —
      • Perses — (Πέρσης) A possible interpretation would be ‘alloting rain’ from Indo-European ‘per-4’, ‘To grant, allot’ and “seu-4′, ‘To take liquid’
  • Fire
    • Hyperion — Ὺπερίονά , Υπερίων — The Titan god of light, and of the cycles of time measured by the lights of heaven — the sun, the moon and the dawn. His name means ‘he that walks on high’ and it can be derived from Indo-European ‘uper’, ‘over’ and ‘ei-1’, ‘to go’,
    • Theia — also Ikhnaia — Θείαν, Θεία — The elder Titanis goddess of sight and the shining light of heaven (“aither”). She was the mother of Sun, Moon and Dawn. Her name is also connected with words meaning “foresight” and “prophecy”. Her name is derived from the Indo-European ‘dheu’, ‘To rise in a cloud’, and ‘ei-1’, ‘to go’. The name has come to mean devine inspiration but early on it meant ‘go to a cloud’
    • The parents of:
      • Helios — the Sun
      • Selene — the Moon
      • Eos — the Dawn
  • Water
    • Oceanus — Ωκεανός — The Titan god of the earth-encircling, fresh-water river Oceanus. As a Titan god he presided over the rising and setting of the heavenly bodies : the sun, the moon, the stars, and the dawn. His ever-flowing waters, encircling the edges of the cosmos were associated with the never ending flow of time.
    • Tethys — Τηθύς — The elder Titan-goddess of the sources of fresh-water. She was known as the great nurse (“tethis”) of life, and was sometimes equated with Thesis, the goddess “creation.” Tethys spawned the Rivers, Clouds and Springs. Though her name is taken taken to mean ‘aunt’ now a derivation from Indo-European is more likely. ‘dhes-‘ was taken in a religious context but a derivation from ‘dheu-‘ seems more likely. The proposed derivation is ‘ta-‘, ‘to melt or dissolve’ and ‘dhes-‘, ‘taken as meaning the same as ‘dheu-‘, ‘to rise in a cloud’. The relation between clouds and nurturing of plants is obvious. Hesiod refers to her as “lovely” and “queenly”.
    • Parents of the 3000 Oceanids.
  • Spirit
    • Coeus — Κοῖόν– The Titan god of the intellect. His name seems to be related to the Greek word ‘κοέω’, ‘mark, perceive,hear’. He was also known as Polus (the pole) and probably presided over the axis of heaven in the north around which the constellations revolve.
    • Phoebe — Φοίβην — This name means ‘bathed in light’ from Indo-European ‘bheigh-‘, ‘To shine’ and ‘bhe-‘, To warm’. Hesiod refers to her as ‘golden crowned’. She is the elder Titan-goddess of intellect and prophetic goddess of the great Oracle of Delphi. She became an island that Leto came to to give birth to Artemis and Apollo.
    • Parents of:
      • Asteria —
      • Leto —
  • Mankind
    • Iapetus — Ἰαπετόν — The Titan god of mortality and the allotment of the mortal life-span. His sons Prometheus and Epimetheus were the creators of animals and men.
    • Klymene — Κλυμένη — Her name means ‘fame and renown’ from Indo-European ‘kleu-‘, ‘to hear’ and ‘men-1’, ‘To think’. The younger Titanness, goddess of fame and renown, who was born as an Oceanid.
    • Parents of:
      • Promethius —
      • Epimethius —
      • Atlas —
      • Menoetius —

This sorting of the Titans seems consistent with what we know about the Titans. It is not perfect but more data could be gathered.

It would seem that in the Titan Pantheon that all the names of the goddesses have Indo-European roots. Yet among the gods only Hyperion has Indo-European roots. This would suggest that the concept of Titan was influenced by non-Indo-European cultures, perhaps the Minoan. But one would expect the goddess names to be more of an influence trom the Minoan Culture. The majority of the Greek goddesses seem meaningful in the reconstructed Indo-European language. It is in the Olympic pantheon that the goddesses are the hardest to translate. This suggests, oddly, that the Titanomachy was a war fought for the Minoan pantheon to put down the Indo-European pantheon brought to Greece by the Myceneans(Achaeans in Homer). We know through archeological evidence that the Mycenaeans ultimately took over the Minoans, but the Minoan deities may have taken over the Mycenaean ones.


Titanides, Mothers of the Gods

Questions and Answers

Question: Phoebe?

Answer: Phoebe is the elder Titan-goddess of intellect and prophetic goddess of the great Oracle of Delphi. Phoebe was pursued by Zeus but eluded him by changing into a quail and then into the island Asteria, later called Delos. Zeus fought against the Titans and defeated them. This reduced the status of the Titanides even though they did not participate. Some think that the Titans were a pantheon of a culture that was conquered by the culture that worshiped Zeus. But this is probably wrong. The Titans are more likely the pantheon of the conquering culture, while the conquered culture worshiped the Olympic pantheon except for Zeus.