In Greek mythology, the Titans (Greek: Τιτάν Titán; plural: Τiτᾶνες Titânes) and Titanesses (or Titanides; Greek: Τιτανίς Titanís; plural: Τιτανίδες Titanídes) were members of the second generation of divine beings, descending from the primordial deities and preceding the Olympian deities. Based on Mount Othrys, the Titans most famously included the first twelve children of the primordial Gaia (Mother Earth) and Uranus (Father Sky). They were giant deities of incredible strength, who ruled during the legendary Golden Age, and also comprised the first pantheon of Greek deities.
A second set of Titans consisted of Hyperion's children Helios, Selene, and Eos; Coeus' children Lelantos, Leto, and Asteria; Iapetus' sons Atlas, Prometheus, Epimetheus, and Menoetius; Oceanus' daughter Metis; and Crius' sons Astraeus, Pallas, and Perses.
Like Cronus overthrowing his father Uranus, the Titans were overthrown by Cronus' children (Zeus, Hades, Poseidon, Hestia, Hera and Demeter), in the Titanomachy (or "War of the Titans"). The Greeks may have borrowed this mytheme from the Ancient Near East.
Greeks of the classical age knew of several poems about the war between the Olympians and Titans. The dominant one, and the only one that has survived, was in the Theogony attributed to Hesiod. A lost epic, Titanomachia (attributed to the legendary blind Thracian bard Thamyris) was mentioned in passing in an essay On Music that was once attributed to Plutarch. The Titans also played a prominent role in the poems attributed to Orpheus. Although only scraps of the Orphic narratives survive, they show interesting differences with the Hesiodic tradition.
The classical Greek myths of the Titanomachy fall into a class of similar myths throughout Europe and the Near East concerning a war in heaven, where one generation or group of gods largely opposes the dominant one. Sometimes the elders are supplanted, and sometimes the rebels lose and are either cast out of power entirely or incorporated into the pantheon. Other examples might include the wars of the Æsir with the Vanir in Scandinavian mythology, the Babylonian epic Enuma Elish, the Hittite "Kingship in Heaven" narrative, the obscure generational conflict in Ugaritic fragments, Virabhadra's conquest of the early Vedic Gods, and the rebellion of Lucifer in Christianity. The Titanomachy lasted for ten years. The Titans were imprisoned in Tartarus after the war had ended. Tartarus is the deepest spot known in the Underworld, where the most evil beings would be cast into to be tortured for all eternity.
In Orphic sources
Hesiod does not have the last word on the Titans. Surviving fragments of poetry ascribed to Orpheus preserve some variations on the myth. In such text, Zeus does not simply set upon his father violently. Instead, Rhea spreads out a banquet for Cronus so that he becomes drunk upon fermented honey. Rather than being consigned to Tartarus, Cronus is dragged—still drunk—to the cave of Nyx (Night), where he continues to dream throughout eternity.
Another myth concerning the Titans that is not in Hesiod revolves around Dionysus. At some point in his reign, Zeus decides to give up the throne in favor of the infant Dionysus, who like the infant Zeus, is guarded by the Kouretes. The Titans decide to slay the child and claim the throne for themselves; they paint their faces white with gypsum, distract Dionysus with toys, then dismember him and boil and roast his limbs. Zeus, enraged, slays the Titans with his thunderbolt; Athena preserves the heart in a gypsum doll, out of which a new Dionysus is made. This story is told by the poets Callimachus and Nonnus, who call this Dionysus "Zagreus", and in a number of Orphic texts, which do not.
One iteration of this story, of the Late Antique Neoplatonist philosopher Olympiodorus, recounted in his commentary of Plato's Phaedrus, affirms that humanity sprang up out of the fatty smoke of the burning Titan corpses. Pindar, Plato, and Oppian refer offhandedly to the "Titanic nature" of humans. According to them, the body is the titanic part, while soul is the divine part of humans. Other early writers imply that humanity was born out of the malevolent blood shed by the Titans in their war against Zeus. Some scholars consider that Olympiodorus' report, the only surviving explicit expression of this mythic connection, embodied a tradition that dated to the Bronze Age, while Radcliffe Edmonds has suggested an element of innovative allegorized improvisation to suit Olympiodorus' purpose.
Some 19th- and 20th-century scholars, including Jane Ellen Harrison, have argued that an initiatory or shamanic ritual underlies the myth of the dismemberment and cannibalism of Dionysus by the Titans. She also asserts that the word "Titan" comes from the Greek τίτανος, signifying white "earth, clay or gypsum," and that the Titans were "white clay men", or men covered by white clay or gypsum dust in their rituals. Martin Litchfield West also asserts this in relation to shamanistic initiatory rites of early Greek religious practices.
Other scholars connect the word to the Greek verb τείνω ("teino", to stretch), through an epic variation τιταίνω ("titaino"), and τίσις ("tisis", retribution, vengeance), a view Hesiod appears to share when he narrates: "But their father, great Ouranos, called them Titans by surname, rebuking his sons, whom he had begotten himself; for he said they had strained (τιταίνοντας, "titainontas") in their wickedness to perform a mighty deed, and at some later time there would be vengeance (τίσιν, "tisin") for this." Beekes connects the word with τιτώ (an obscure word for "day").
In popular culture
- Burkert, pp. 94f, 125–27.
- About.com's Ancient/Classical History section; Hesiod, Theogony, 617–643: "So they, with bitter wrath, were fighting continually with one another at that time for ten full years, and the hard strife had no close or end for either side..."
- Olympiodorus, In Plat. Phaededr. I.3–6.
- West; Albert Bernabé, "La toile de Pénélope: a-t-il existé un mythe orphique sur Dionysos et les Titans?", Revue de l'histoire des religions (2002:401–33), noted by Radcliffe G. Edmonds III, "A Curious concoction: tradition and innovation in Olympiodorus' creation of mankind".
- Harrison, Jane Ellen (1908). Proleoromena to the Study of Greek Religion (2nd ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 490.
- Harrison, Jane Ellen (1908). Proleoromena to the Study of Greek Religion (2nd ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 491ff.
- Hesiod, Theogony, 207–210.
- Beekes 2010 Etymological Dictionary of Greek, sv. τιτώ
- Burket, Walter, The Orientalizing Revolution: Near Eastern Influence on Greek Culture in the Early Archaic Age, Harvard University Press, 1995. ISBN 978-0-674-64364-2.
- Harrison, Jane Ellen, Themis: A Study of the Social Origins of Greek Religion, 1913.
- Hesiod, Theogony, in The Homeric Hymns and Homerica with an English Translation by Hugh G. Evelyn-White, Cambridge, MA., Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1914. Online version at the Perseus Digital Library.
- Smith, William, Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology, 1870, Ancientlibrary.com, article on "Titan"[dead link]
- West, Martin Litchfield, The Orphic Poems, Clarendon Press, 1983. ISBN 978-0-19-814854-8.
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