The Titans (Greek: Τιτάν, Titán, plural: Τiτᾶνες, Titânes) and Titanesses (or Titanides; Greek: Τιτανίς, Titanís, plural: Τιτανίδες, Titanídes) are a race of deities originally worshiped as part of Ancient Greek religion. They were often considered to be the second generation of divine beings, succeeding the primordial deities and preceding the Olympians, but also included certain descendants of the second generation. The Titans include the first twelve children of Gaia (Mother Earth) and Uranus (Father Sky), who ruled during the legendary Golden Age, and also comprised the first pantheon of Greek deities.
Beekes connects the word "Titan" with τιτώ (a now-obscure word for "day"). Other scholars connect the word to the Greek verb τείνω ("teino", to stretch), through an epic variation τιταίνω and τίσις (titaino and tisis, "retribution" and "vengeance"). Hesiod appears to share that view 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.— Hesiod, Theogony, 207–210.
According to Greek mythology, the youngest male Titan, Cronus, overthrew his father Uranus. Gaia opposed her husband, after he forced her to keep her children within her. With Gaia in a lot of pain, she retaliated by giving Cronus a sickle to remove the genitals of his father, Uranus. This resulted in the Titans becoming the new rulers of the heavens. However, Cronus was told that his children would overthrow him as well, so he ate them in order to prevent the overthrow from happening. Rhea, Cronus' sister-wife, did not like the idea of Cronus eating their children, so she saved Zeus, by feeding Cronus a rock instead of Zeus. Eventually Zeus grew older, and released his siblings. In turn, the Titans were overthrown by Cronus' children (Zeus, Hades, Poseidon, Hestia, Hera and Demeter), in an event known as the Titanomachy ("War of the Titans"). This was a ten-year war that raged between the Olympians (Zeus, Hades, Poseidon, Hestia, Hera, and Demeter) and the Titans, which resulted in the Olympians winning. The Titans were imprisoned in Tartarus after the war ended. Tartarus is said to be the deepest part of the Underworld and the place where the most evil beings are tortured for all eternity. The Greeks may have borrowed this mytheme from the Ancient Near East.
Greeks of the classical age knew 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 the Sons of God in Genesis found in Christianity.
According to Hesiod, the twelve Titan offspring of Gaia and Uranus were Oceanus, Coeus, Crius, Hyperion, Iapetus, Theia, Rhea, Themis, Mnemosyne, Phoebe, Tethys and Cronus. These twelve Titans produced several offspring, who were themselves sometimes considered to be a second generation of Titans: Hyperion's children Helios, Selene, and Eos; Coeus' children Leto and Asteria; Iapetus' sons Atlas, Prometheus, Epimetheus, and Menoetius; Oceanus' daughter Metis; and Crius' sons Astraeus, Pallas, and Perses.
Surviving fragments of poetry ascribed to Orpheus preserve variations on the mythology of the Titans. In one 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 revolves around Dionysus. At some point in his reign, Zeus decides to give up the throne in favor of his infant son 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.
Creation of humans
Several sources from Late Antique concern the role of the Titans in the creation of the human race. The Neoplatonist philosopher Olympiodorus recounted in his commentary of Plato's Phaedo, 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.
The planet Saturn is named for the Roman equivalent of the Titan Cronus. Saturn's largest moon, Titan, is named after the Titans generally, and the other moons of Saturn are named after individual titans, specifically Tethys, Phoebe, Rhea, Hyperion, and Iapetus. Astronomer William Henry Pickering claimed to discover another moon of Saturn which he named Themis, but this discovery was never confirmed, and the name Themis was given to an asteroid, 24 Themis. Asteroid 57 Mnemosyne was also named for a titan.
A proto-planet Theia is hypothesized to have been involved in a collision in the early solar system, forming the Earth's moon.
In popular culture
- Beekes 2010 Etymological Dictionary of Greek, sv. τιτώ
- "Titan (mythology) | Encyclopedia.com". www.encyclopedia.com. Retrieved 2019-05-03.
- Burkert, pp. 94f, 125–27.
- Hesiod, Theogony 132–138, 337–411, 453–520, 901–906, 915–920; Caldwell, pp. 8–11, tables 11–14.
- Although usually the daughter of Hyperion and Theia, as in Hesiod, Theogony 371–374, in the Homeric Hymn to Hermes (4), 99–100, Selene is instead made the daughter of Pallas the son of Megamedes.
- According to Hesiod, Theogony 507–511, Clymene, one of the Oceanids, the daughters of Oceanus and Tethys, at Hesiod, Theogony 351, was the mother by Iapetus of Atlas, Menoetius, Prometheus, and Epimetheus, while according to Apollodorus, 1.2.3, another Oceanid, Asia was their mother by Iapetus.
- According to Plato, Critias, 113d–114a, Atlas was the son of Poseidon and the mortal Cleito.
- In Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound 18, 211, 873 (Sommerstein, pp. 444–445 n. 2, 446–447 n. 24, 538–539 n. 113) Prometheus is made to be the son of Themis.
- Olympiodorus, In Plat. Phaedr. 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.
- Apollodorus, Apollodorus, The Library, with an English Translation by Sir James George Frazer, F.B.A., F.R.S. in 2 Volumes. Cambridge, Massachusetts, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1921. Online version at the Perseus Digital Library.
- 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 from 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. Greek text available from the same website.
- Smith, William, Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology, 1870, Ancientlibrary.com, article on "Titan"
- West, Martin Litchfield, The Orphic Poems, Clarendon Press, 1983. ISBN 978-0-19-814854-8.