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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]

During the War of the Titans the Hecatoncheires fought against the Titans—the first twelve of whom, like the Hecatoncheires, were the offspring of Gaia and Uranus—throwing rocks as big as mountains, one hundred at a time, and overwhelming them. After this, the Hecatoncheires became the guards of Tartarus. Briareus became the son-in-law of Poseidon, who gave him "Kymopoliea his daughter to wed".[11]

Hesiod's Theogony (624, 639, 714, 734–35) reports that the three Hecatoncheires became the guards of the gates of Tartarus.


The mythographer Apollodorus, says that the Hecatoncheires were the first offspring of Uranus and Gaia, and that they were "unsurpassed in size and might".[12]



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.[13]


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.[14] In Ovid's Metamorphoses and in Philostratus' Life of Apollonius of Tyana he is a marine deity.[15]

Other accounts make Briareus (or Aegaeon) one of the assailants of Olympus. After his defeat, he was buried under Mount Aetna.[16]

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[17] and then again as an example of pride, carved into the pavement of the first terrace of Purgatory.[18]
  • In Rabelais' five-part novel Gargantua and Pantagruel (finished 1564) it is mentioned that a waiter needs as many hands as "Briareus".[19]
  • 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.
  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.
  11. ^ Hesiod, Theogony 817.
  12. ^ Apollodorus, 1.1.1.
  13. ^ Pausanias, Description of Greece 2.1.6 and 2.4.7
  14. ^ Apollonius, Argonautica 1,1165
  15. ^ Ovid, Metamorphoses 2.10; Philostratus, Life of Apollonius 4.6
  16. ^ Callimachus. Hymn to Delos, 141
  17. ^ Dante, Inferno XXXI.99.
  18. ^ Dante, Purgatorio XII.28.
  19. ^ Rabelais, Francois (1955). "5". Gargantua and Pantagruel. Great Britain: Penguin Classics. p. 50. ISBN 014044047X.