You may know the famous twelve Olympian Greek Gods and Goddesses, but they were not the first rulers in Greek mythology. So, who were the Titans?
You certainly know of the Greek Gods and Goddesses, like Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades. But what about the Greek Titans? They play an important role in Greek mythology yet have not been popularized in modern culture. Read on to learn more about the 12 Greek titans and how they fit into the Greek mythology you’re familiar with.
Out of the empty space of Chaos came Gaea, the earth, Tartarus, the underworld, and Eros, desire. Gaea gave birth to the mountains, the sky, and the sea. She took her son the sky, Uranus, as her husband, and with him, she mothered the twelve Titans, the very first gods and goddesses, taller than the mountains they used as thrones. However, Uranus was disgusted by their next children, the three cyclopes and three monstrous sons, each with fifty heads and one hundred arms, and he threw them into Tartarus, the underworld prison of suffering.
Genealogy of the Olympians in Greek Mythology, via Classic Wisdom
Yet Gaea loved all of her children, and she could not forgive Uranus for his cruelty. She made a diamond sickle for her youngest son, Cronus, and with it he defeated his father. Gaea later married her son Pontus, the ocean, and the Titans took charge of the universe. They were the ancestors or parents of most of the twelve Olympians discussed here below, though it was through their children that they too were eventually overthrown.
1. Oceanus: Titan God Of The Sea & Water
Oceanus depicted on the Trevi Fountain in Rome
The eldest of the Titans, Oceanus was married to his sister Thetis. Together the two produced over 6000 spirits of the oceans and streams, known as the Oceanids. In fact, Oceanus and Thetis were far too fertile, and their union began to cause floods so they divorced to stop all the damage they were causing. He gave over his realm to Poseidon after the rise of the Olympians, but Zeus allowed him to continue to live as a simple god of the ocean.
2. Thetis: Titan Goddess Of Fresh Water
Oceanus and Thetis, mosaic in Zeugma Mosaic Museum, Turkey
When Cronus became paranoid and his wife, Rhea, wished to protect her children, she brought Hera to her sister Thetis who raised her as her daughter. Later, as a favor to Hera, Thetis punished Callisto and Arcas, a lover and child of Zeus, by forbidding their constellations from touching the sea. They were forced to continuously circle the sky without rest. We know those constellations as Ursa Major and Ursa Minor, or the big and little dippers.
3. Hyperion: Titan God Of Light & Observation
Helios, Selene, and Eos, following the sun carriage, in the mural above the stage of the Friedrich von Thiersch hall in the Kurhaus Wiesbaden, Germany
Hyperion was the Titan god of light, wisdom, and vigilance. He married his sister Thea, and they gave birth to Helios, the sun, Selene, the moon, and Eos, the dawn. Hyperion and three of his other brothers, Coeus, Crius, and Iapetus, formed the four pillars that separated and held the heavens above one another. According to one of the more horrifying Greek traditions, the same four pillars pinned their father down while Cronus castrated Uranus with his sickle.
4. Thea: Titan Goddess Of The Sun & Light
Marble sarcophagus with the myth of Selene and Endymion, via TheMet
Thea, the goddess of light, was also a ravishing beauty, perhaps the loveliest of the six Titan daughters. She was the goddess of light, and therefore the perfect match for her brother, Hyperion. She also imbued gold, silver, and precious gems with their radiant shine, and spoke through an oracle at Phthiotis in Thessaly.
5. Coeus: Titan God Of The Oracles, Wisdom, And Foresight
Coeus was the keeper of the pillar of the north. He was the Titan god of intellect, and married his sister Phoebe. Their children, Asteria and Leto, were foundational figures in later mythology. Both daughters were pursued by Zeus. Asteria turned into a quail and drowned herself in the Aegean Sea, but Leto bore Zeus two children, the twins Apollo and Artemis who became powerful Olympians.
6. Phoebe: Titan Goddess Of Prophecy & Intellect
Phoebe and daughter Asteria depicted on the south frieze of the Pergamon Altar, Pergamon Museum, Germany
Since Phoebe was the grandmother of Apollo and Artemis, the twins’ were sometimes called Phoebus and Phoebe as alternative names. Phoebe also had some association with the moon, as did Artemis. Her most integral power was that of prophecy, and she was heavily associated with the famous Oracle at Delphi, later connected to Apollo.
7. Crius: Titan God Of Constellations
Crius (or Krios) married his half-sister, Eurybia, who was not one of the original twelve Titans but the daughter of Gaea from her second husband, Pontus. They produced three children, Astraios, the god of dusk, Pallas, god of Warcraft, and Perses, the god of destruction. Crius fought with the Olympians during the Titans’ overthrow, and as a result, he was imprisoned in Tartarus.
8. Mnemosyne: Titan Goddess Of Memory
Mosaic of Mnemosyne, in the National Archaeological Museum of Tarragona
The goddess of memory and the voice of the underground Oracle of Trophonios in Boetia, Mnemosyne did not marry one of her brothers but still helped mother the next generation of deities. She slept with Zeus for nine consecutive days, and as a result, gave birth to the nine muses; Calliope, Clio, Erato, Euterpe, Melpomeni, Polymnia, Ourania, Terpsichore and Thalia whose roles were to give artists and philosophers inspiration for creation.
9. Iapetus: Titan God Of Mortal Life Or God Of Death
Farnese Atlas, son of Iapetus, holding the world on his shoulders, Roman copy of Greek original, in the National Archaeological Museum, Naples
The Titan Iapetus was the god of craftsmanship or mortality, varying between sources. He married one of his Oceanid nieces, Clymene, and they produced four sons, Atlas, Prometheus, Epimetheus, and Menoetius. These four sons were the ancestors of the first humans, and each passed a certain detrimental quality onto humanity; brash courage, scheming, stupidity, and violence, respectively.
10. Themis: Titan Goddess Of Law, Order, And Justice
Themis with scales, bas-relief plaster cast depicting the Goddess of Justice
The Titan goddess Themis represented natural and moral order and law. She became the second wife of Zeus, helped him hold power over the other gods and all the earth. She created the divine laws that even superseded the authority of the gods themselves. She manifested in multiple different forms, and mothered the Fates and the Hours. Themis was the main Titan goddess of the oracle at Delphi, but she was so fond of Apollo that she eventually offered the Oracle to him.
11. Cronus: Titan Ruler of the Universe
Cronus Carrying off Two Infants, circa 1742, via LACMA
Although he was the youngest son of Gaea and Uranus, Cronus was also the strongest of the Greek Titans. For a brief time, earth enjoyed a Golden Age under his rule. The vices had not yet been invented, and the earth was in total peace and harmony. Yet Cronus did not release his brothers as he had promised, and soon his mother grew angry with him and began to plot his downfall. Cronus learned of a prophecy which stated that, as Cronus had dethroned his father, so one of his children would dethrone him. He therefore took all of his children from his sister and wife, Rhea, as soon as they were born, and swallowed them.
12. Rhea: Titan Goddess Of Fertility
Rhea, Cronus and the Omphalos stone, Greco-Roman marble bas-relief, Capitoline Museums
Cronus was secure and happy, thinking he had subverted the threat, but Rhea was understandably upset. As the goddess responsible for the flow of Cronus’s kingdom, she was well-placed to interrupt that flow. When she learned she was expecting again, she asked her mother for advice. Gaea helped Rhea conceal her newborn baby, and Rhea swaddled a stone in baby clothes and gave the stone to Cronus to swallow. Cronus was fooled, but Gaea and Rhea carefully concealed little Zeus in a small cave on the island of Crete.
War of the Gods & Titans
The Battle Between the Gods and the Titans by Joachim Wtewael in the Art Institute of Chicago
Little Zeus grew up attended by nymphs and nursed by the fairy goat Amaltheia, who produced ambrosia and nectar, the food and drink of the deities. He married Metis, one of the Titan’s daughters and the goddess of prudence, who advised Zeus not to attack Cronus alone. Instead, she went to Cronus and convinced him to eat a magic herb that she claimed would make him unconquerable. The herb made him sick, and he vomited his other children; Hades, Poseidon, Hestia, Demeter, and Hera. They all joined Zeus and together they rose against their father. Powerless to resist their combined strength, Cronus fled in terror.
Several of the other Greek Titans did not give up their power so easily, however, and rose against the new gods and goddesses. Zeus freed his great-uncles from Tartarus, and after a mighty battle, the Olympians emerged victorious, and imprisoned the Titans in Tartarus instead. The Cyclopes built a beautiful palace for the new gods and goddesses atop the mountain of Olympus, and the famous Olympian Greek gods and goddesses of legend took up residence there to both aid and interfere in the affairs of mankind.