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Etching by Tommaso Piroli (1795) after a drawing of John Flaxman
The Hecatoncheir Briareus used as an allegory of the multiple threat of labour unrest to Capital in a political cartoon, 1890

The Hecatoncheires[1] (in English, stress on the fourth syllable;[2][3] singular: Hecatoncheir /ˈhɛkəˌtɒŋkər/; Greek: Ἑκατόγχειρες, translit. Hekatoncheires, lit. 'Hundred-Handed Ones'), also called the Centimanes[4] (/ˈsɛntɪˌmnz/; Latin: Centimani) or Hundred-Handers, were figures in the archaic, pre-Olympian era within Greek mythology, three giants of incredible strength and ferocity that surpassed all of the Titans, whom they helped overthrow. Their name derives from the Greek ἑκατόν (hekaton, "hundred") and χείρ (cheir, "hand"), "each of them having a hundred hands and fifty heads".[5]



According to the Theogony of Hesiod, Uranus (Sky) mated with Gaia (Earth) and produced eighteen children.[6] First came the twelve Titans, next the three one-eyed Cyclopes, and finally the three monstrous brothers Cottus,[7] Briareus[8] and Gyges.[9] As Hesiod describes it:

Then from Earth and Sky came forth three more sons, great and strong, unspeakable, Cottus and Briareus and Gyges, presumptuous children. A hundred arms sprang forth from their shoulders, unapproachable, and upon their massive limbs grew fifty heads out of each one’s shoulders; and the mighty strength in their great forms was immense.[10]

Uranus hated his children,[11] including the Hundred-Handers, and as soon as each was born, he imprisoned them underground, somewhere deep inside Gaia.[12] According to Hesiod, Uranus bound the Hundred-Handers

... with a mighty bond, for he was indignant at their defiant manhood and their form and size; and he settled them under the broad-pathed earth. Dwelling there, under the earth, in pain, they sat at the edge, at the limits of the great earth, suffering greatly for a long time, with much grief in their hearts.[13]

Eventually Uranus' son, the Titan Cronus, castrated Uranus, freeing his fellow Titans (but not, apparently, the Hundred-Handers), and Cronus became the new ruler of the cosmos.[14] Cronus married his sister Rhea, and together they produced five children, whom Cronus swallowed as each was born, but the sixth child, Zeus, was saved by Rhea and hidden away to be raised by his grandmother Gaia. When Zeus grew up, he caused Cronus to disgorge his children, and a great war was begun, the Titanomachy, between Zeus and his siblings, and Cronus and the Titans, for control of the cosmos.[15]

Gaia had foretold that Zeus would be victorious with the help of the Hundred-Handers, so Zeus released the Hundred-Handers from their bondage under the earth, and brought them up again into the light.[16] Zeus restored their strength by feeding them nectar and ambrosia, and then asked the Hundred-Handers to "manifest your great strength and your untouchable hands" and join in the war against the Titans.[17]

And Cottus, speaking for the Hundred-Handers, agreed saying:

... It is by your prudent plans that we have once again come back out from under the murky gloom, from implacable bonds—something, Lord, Cronus’ son, that we no longer hoped to experience. For that reason, with ardent thought and eager spirit we in turn shall now rescue your supremacy in the dread battle-strife, fighting against the Titans in mighty combats.[18]

And so the Hundred-Handers "took up their positions against the Titans ... holding enormous boulders in their massive hands",[19] and a final great battle was fought.[20] Striding forth from Olympus, Zeus unleashed the full fury of his thunderbolt, blinding the Titans,[21] while the Hundred-handers pelted them with enormous bolders:

...among the foremost Cottus and Briareus and Gyges, insatiable of war, roused up bitter battle; and they hurled three hundred boulders from their massive hands one after another and overshadowed the Titans with their missiles. They sent them down under the broad-pathed earth and bound them in distressful bonds after they had gained victory over them with their hands, high-spirited though they were, as far down beneath the earth as the sky is above the earth.[22]

Thus the Titans were finally defeated and cast into Tartarus, where they were imprisoned.[23] The Hundred-Handers returned to Tartarus, to live nearby the "bronze gates" of the Titan's prison, presumably as their warders.[24] Briareus became the son-in-law of Poseidon, who gave him "Cymopoliea his daughter to wed".[25]


Homer briefly mentions Briareus, in the Iliad, referring to Briareus having aided Zeus in a conflict with the other Olympians. Achilles, while asking his mother the goddess Thetis to intercede with Zeus on his behalf, reminds her of a frequent boast of hers, that, at a time when the other Olympians wished to bind Zeus, she saved him by fetching the hundred-handed Briareus to Olympus:

But you came, goddess, and freed [Zeus] from his bonds, when you had quickly called to high Olympus him of the hundred hands, whom the gods call Briareus, but all men Aegaeon; for he is mightier than his father. He sat down by the side of the son of Cronos, exulting in his glory, and the blessed gods were seized with fear of him, and did not bind Zeus.[26]


The mythographer Apollodorus, gives an account of the Hundred-Handers similar to that of Hesiod's, but with several significant differences.[27] According to Apollodorus, they were the first offspring of Uranus and Gaia, (unlike Hesiod who makes the Titans the eldest) followed by the Cyclopes, and the Titans.[28]

Apollodorus describes the Hundred-Handers as "unsurpassed in size and might, each of them having a hundred hands and fifty heads."[29]

Uranus bound the Hundred-Handers (and the Cyclopes), and cast them all into Tartarus, "a gloomy place in Hades as far distant from earth as earth is distant from the sky." But (unlike in Hesiod) the Titans are, apparently, allowed to remain free.[30] When the Titans overthrew Uranus, (unlike in Hesiod) they freed the Hundred-Handers (and Cyclopes), and made Cronus their sovereign.[31] But Cronus once again bound the Hundred-Handers, and reimprisoned them in Tartarus.[32]

But in the tenth year of the Titanomachy, Zeus learned from Gaia, that to win the war he needed the Hundred-Handers and Cycopes, so Zeus slew their warder Campe and released them:

They fought for ten years, and Earth prophesied victory to Zeus if he should have as allies those who had been hurled down to Tartarus. So he slew their jailoress Campe, and loosed their bonds. And ... the gods overcame the Titans, shut them up in Tartarus, and appointed the Hundred-handers their guards.[33]



In Virgil's Aeneid (10.566–67), in which Aeneas is likened to one of them (Briareus, known here as Aegaeon), they fought on the side of the Titans rather than the Olympians; in this, Virgil was following the lost Corinthian epic Titanomachy rather than the more familiar account in Hesiod.


In a Corinthian myth related in the second century AD to Pausanias, Briareus was the arbitrator in a dispute between Poseidon and Helios, between sea and sun: he adjudged the Isthmus of Corinth to belong to Poseidon and the acropolis of Corinth (Acrocorinth) sacred to Helios.[34]


Scholia (manuscript notes) on Apollonius of Rhodes represent Aegaeon as a son of Gaea and Pontos, the Sea, ruling the fabulous Aegaea in Euboea, an enemy of Poseidon and the inventor of warships.[35] In Ovid's Metamorphoses and in Philostratus' Life of Apollonius of Tyana he is a marine deity.[36]

Other accounts make Briareus (or Aegaeon) one of the assailants of Olympus. After his defeat, he was buried under Mount Aetna.[37]

They played no known part in cult.[citation needed]

In literature[edit]

  • In the first book of Homer's Iliad (c. 700 BC), Achilles asks his mother to appeal to Zeus on account of a previous interaction with Briareus, or Aegaeon.
  • Briareus is mentioned twice in Dante Alighieri's Divine Comedy (completed 1320); he is first found as a giant inhabiting the ninth circle of Hell[38] and then again as an example of pride, carved into the pavement of the first terrace of Purgatory.[39]
  • In Rabelais' five-part novel Gargantua and Pantagruel (finished 1564) it is mentioned that a waiter needs as many hands as "Briareus".[40]
  • Briareus is also mentioned in Cervantes' Don Quixote (1615), in the famous episode of the windmills.
  • Briareus is mentioned in Book I of John Milton's Paradise Lost (1667) alongside Typhon as an analog to the fallen Satan.
  • Briareus is mentioned in The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling (1749), by Henry Fielding, in a conversation between Tom Jones and Mr. Partridge (Book 8, Chapter IX).
  • Briareus, styled as Briares, is a supporting character in the Percy Jackson & the Olympians novel The Battle of the Labyrinth (2008).
  • Kottos, styled as Cottus, is mentioned in John Keats' fragment Hyperion (1819) as a brooding deity in the aftermath of the Titanomachy.
  • In Canto VI of his satiric poem Don Juan (completed in 1824), Byron makes a slightly crude joke, musing whether "enviable Briareus […] with thy hands and heads […] hadn't all things multiplied in proportion" (this thought arising from Byron's assertion of his love of all womankind in the previous canto).

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Depending on the method of transliteration, the Ancient Greek ἑκατόν (hekaton) may be latinised as hecaton and χείρ (cheir) may be transliterated as kheir, chir or even khir.
  2. ^ Howatson, M.C. (2013). "Hecatoncheiʹres". The Oxford Companion to Classical Literature. Oxford University Press. p. 277.
  3. ^ Bulfinch, Thomas (1902). "Hec-atonchiʹres". The Classic Myths in English Literature. Ginn & Co. p. 508.
  4. ^ George Grote, History of Greece, Volume 12, Harper, 1875, p. 519.
  5. ^ Apollodorus, 1.1.1.
  6. ^ Hard, pp. 65–66; Gantz, p. 10; Hesiod, Theogony 126–153. Compare with Apollodorus, 1.1.1–3
  7. ^ The name Κόττος perhaps meaning "The Striker", as per Kerényi, p. 19, LSJ, s.v. κόσσος.
  8. ^ The name Βριάρεως perhaps meaning "The Strong", as per Kerényi, p. 19; LSJ, s.v. βριαρός. He was also called "Obriareus" by Hesiod at Theogony 617, 734.
  9. ^ According to West 1966, on line 149 "Γύγης", p. 210, although some manuscripts of the Theogony contain Gyes (Γύης), Gyges is the "correct form" of the name, "and should be preferred" as well in Apollodorus, 1.1.1, and Ovid, Tristia 4.7.18. Compare with Ovid, Fasti 4.593, which has "Gyges". West notes that the form Gyes perhaps came "from association" with "γυῖον" (limb, hand: LSJ, s.v. γυῖον) and "ἀμφιγύεις" (strong in both arms: Autenrieth, s.v. ἀμφι-γυήεις); see also Beekes, Etymological Dictionary of Ancient Greek, s.v. γύης.
  10. ^ Hesiod, Theogony 147–153; compare with 671–673.
  11. ^ Hesiod, Theogony 154–155. Exactly which of these eighteen children Hesiod meant that Uranus hated is not entirely clear, all eighteen, or perhaps just the Cyclopes and the Hundred-Handers. Hard, p. 67, West 1988, p. 7, and Caldwell, p. 37 on lines 154–160, make it all eighteen, while Gantz, p. 10, says "likely all eighteen", and Most, p. 15 n. 8, says "apparently only the ... Cyclopes and Hundred-Handers are meant" and not the twelve Titans. See also West 1966, p. 206 on lines 139–53, p. 213 line 154 γὰρ. Why Uranus hated his children is also not clear. Gantz, p. 10 says: "The reason for [Uranus'] hatred may be [his children's] horrible appearance, though Hesiod does not quite say this"; while Hard, p. 67 says: "Although Hesiod is vague about the cause of his hatred, it would seem that he took a dislike to them because they were terrible to behold". However, West 1966, p. 213 on line 155, says that Uranus hated his children because of their "fearsome nature".
  12. ^ Hesiod, Theogony 156–158. The hiding place inside Gaia is presumably her womb, see West 1966, p. 214 on line 158; Caldwell, p. 37 on lines 154–160; Gantz, p. 10. This place seems also to be the same place as Tartarus, see West 1966, p. 338 on line 618, and Caldwell, p. 37 on lines 154–160.
  13. ^ Hesiod, Theogony 617–623.
  14. ^ Hesiod, Theogony 173–182. Although the castration of Uranus results in the release of the Titans, it did not, apparently, also result in the release of the Hundred-Handers or Cyclopes, see Fowler 2013, p. 26; Hard, p. 67; West 1966, p. 214 on line 158.
  15. ^ Hesiod, Theogony 453–500.
  16. ^ Hesiod, Theogony 624–629. When exactly the Hundred-Handers were released from Tartarus and joined the battle is not entirely clear. Theogony 636 says that the Titanomachy raged for "ten full years". And although, for example, Hard, p. 68, and Caldwell, p. 65 on line 636, and West 1966, p.19, understand Hesiod as implying that the Hundred-Handers are released in the tenth year of the war, according to Gantz, p. 45, "Hesiod's account does not quite say whether the Hundred-Handers were freed before the conflict or only in the tenth year. ... Eventually, if not at the beginning, the Hundred-Handers are fighting".
  17. ^ Hesiod, Theogony 639–653.
  18. ^ Hesiod, Theogony 654–663.
  19. ^ Hesiod, Theogony 674–675.
  20. ^ Hesiod, Theogony 676–686.
  21. ^ Hesiod, Theogony 687–710.
  22. ^ Hesiod, Theogony 711–720.
  23. ^ Hesiod, Theogony 721–733.
  24. ^ Hesiod, Theogony 734–735; Hard, p. 68; Gantz, p. 45. According to West 1966, p. 363, "It is usually assumed that the Hundred-Handers are acting as prison guards" although the Theogony does not say this explicitly. Compare with Theogony 811–817.
  25. ^ Hesiod, Theogony 817–819.
  26. ^ Homer, Iliad 1.400–406.
  27. ^ Hard, pp. 68–69, which says that Apollodorus' version "derived from the lost Titanomachia, or from the Orphic literature".
  28. ^ Apollodorus, 1.1.1–3.
  29. ^ Apollodorus, 1.1.1.
  30. ^ Hard, p. 68; Apollodorus, 1.1.2.
  31. ^ Apollodorus, 1.1.4.
  32. ^ Apollodorus, 1.1.5.
  33. ^ Apollodorus, 1.2.1.
  34. ^ Pausanias, Description of Greece 2.1.6 and 2.4.7
  35. ^ Apollonius, Argonautica 1,1165
  36. ^ Ovid, Metamorphoses 2.10; Philostratus, Life of Apollonius 4.6
  37. ^ Callimachus. Hymn to Delos, 141
  38. ^ Dante, Inferno XXXI.99.
  39. ^ Dante, Purgatorio XII.28.
  40. ^ Rabelais, Francois (1955). "5". Gargantua and Pantagruel. Great Britain: Penguin Classics. p. 50. ISBN 014044047X.