In Greek mythology, Metis (Μῆτις, "wisdom," "skill," or "craft") was of the Titan generation and, like several primordial figures, an Oceanid, in the sense that Metis was born of Oceanus and his sister Tethys, of an earlier age than Zeus and his siblings. Metis was the first great spouse of Zeus, and also his cousin. Zeus is himself titled Mêtieta, "the wise counsellor," in the Homeric poems.
By the era of Greek philosophy in the fifth century BC, Metis had become the Titaness of wisdom and deep thought, but her name originally connoted "magical cunning" and was as easily equated with the trickster powers of Prometheus as with the "royal metis" of Zeus. The Stoic commentators allegorized Metis as the embodiment of "prudence", "wisdom" or "wise counsel", in which form she was inherited by the Renaissance.
The Greek word metis meant a quality that combined wisdom and cunning. This quality was considered to be highly admirable and was regarded by Athenians as one of the notable characteristics of the Athenian character. Metis was the one who gave Zeus a potion to cause Kronos to vomit out Zeus' siblings.
Metis was both a threat to Zeus and an indispensable aid (Brown 1952:133):
- "Zeus lay with Metis but immediately feared the consequences. It had been prophesied that Metis would bear extremely powerful children: the first, Athena and the second, a son more powerful than Zeus himself, who would eventually overthrow Zeus."
In order to forestall these dire consequences, Zeus tricked her into turning herself into a fly and promptly swallowed her. He was too late: Metis had already conceived a child. In time she began making a helmet and robe for her fetal daughter. The hammering as she made the helmet caused Zeus great pain, and Hephaestus either clove Zeus's head with an axe, or hit it with a hammer at the river Triton, giving rise to Athena's birth. Athena leaped from Zeus's head, fully grown, armed, and armored, and Zeus was none the worse for the experience.
The similarities between Zeus swallowing Metis and Cronus swallowing his children have been noted by several scholars. This also caused some controversy in regards to reproduction myths and the lack of a need for women as a means of reproduction. While medical texts of fourth and fifth centuries debated whether the male figure simply planted a seed within the female figure or whether the woman contributed to the seed formation of an embryo as well, Greek myths provide far more imaginative views on reproduction with intentions of denying the female figure and involving a "first man" figure.
Hesiod's account is followed by Acusilaus and the Orphic tradition, which enthroned Metis side by side with Eros as primal cosmogenic forces. Plato makes Poros, or "creative ingenuity", the child of Metis.
Genealogy of the Olympians in Greek mythology
- M. Detienne and J.-P. Vernant, Les Ruses de l'intelligence: la Mètis des Grecs (Paris, 1974). ISBN 2-08-081036-7.
- Norman O. Brown, "The Birth of Athena" Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association 83 (1952), pp. 130–143.
- A.B. Cook, Zeus (1914) 1940, noted in Brown 1952:133 note.
- Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheke (Apollod. 1.2.1; Hesiod. Theogony 471.
- Hesiod's Theogony, 886–900 Available at wikisource
- The Birth of Athena; Greek Goddess Athena.
- Pindar, Seventh Olympian Ode the first written appearance of this iconic image, which A.B. Cook showed first appears in sixth-century vase-painting; previously the Eilithyiaa attend Zeus at the birthing.
- H. King, "Reproduction Myths". The Oxford University Press, 2001. Oxford University Press Online. York University. 24 October 2011 
- D. Leeming, "Metis, The Oxford Companion to World Mythology". The Oxford University Press, 2004. York University. 24 October 2011 
- J. Bolen, "Goddesses In Everywoman: Powerful Archetypes in Women's Lives". Google Books Online. HarperCollins, 2004. 24 October 2011 
- G. Livingstone, "PaGaian Cosmology: Re-inventing Earth Based Goddess Religion". Google Books Online. iUniverse, 2005. 24 October 2011 
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