In Greek mythology, the Titans (in ancient Greek Τιτάν / Titan and Τιτᾶνες / Titánes in the plural – in feminine Τιτανίς / Titanís and Τιτανίδες / Titanídes respectively) are the giant primordial divinities that preceded the gods of Olympus. They were the sons of Ouranos and Gaia.
Based on Mount Othrys, the most famous Titans include the first twelve children (Themis, Phoebe, Coeus, Cronus, Crius, Mnemosyne, Ocean, Tethys, Iapetus, Hyperion, Theia and Rhea) of the primordial Gaia (Mother Earth) and Ouranos (Father Sky).
Giant deities of incredible strength, they ruled during the legendary Golden Age and also composed the first pantheon of Greek deities.
There is little information about the Titans because their participation in Greco-Roman mythology is marginal, but this is not the case for their descendants.
Cronus and Rhea generated the first six Olympians, including Zeus who led the fight against the Titans (the Titanomachy). The children of Cronos entrenched on Olympus and helped by the Cyclops, the Hecatonchires, Ocean, Prometheus and other divinities, were the winners, and Zeus threw the Titans into the Tartarus.
This struggle, during which the mountains of Thessaly were shaken, could, according to one interpretation, symbolize geological upheavals in this region
With their help, the god fought against the Titans, who armed themselves with gigantic rocks torn from the mountains and stationed themselves in Thessaly on Mount Othrys, while the children of Cronus settled on Olympus. The struggle, the Titanomachy, was frightening and on the scale of the belligerents. But Zeus succeeded in securing victory thanks to the help of the Cyclops (with the unique eye) lightning forgers and the Hecatonchires (with a hundred arms).
Some Titans, such as Mnemosyne and Themis had rallied to Zeus’ cause, others, such as Ocean or Helios, preferred to remain out of the conflict; the defeated were thrown to the bottom of Tartarus. However, victory was not definitively achieved; other monsters, the Giant and Typhon, were preparing to lead the assault against Olympus. It was the Gigantomachy.
The reign of the Titans
The overthrow of Ouranos
The first master of the world, Ouranos considering his crown, sent the Hecatonchires and Cyclops to Tartarus, the lowest region of the Underworld.
According to a first version, he wanted to unite with Gaia once again but finally, remaining in her, prevented her new children, the Titans, from coming out of their mother’s womb.
Furious, Gaia incited the Titans to overthrow Ouranos, but only Cronos (the youngest) reacted. He cut his father’s penis with a sickle that Gaia had made in his belly. Ouranos then detached himself from Gaia, and his sex fell into the sea. From there Aphrodite was born and the drops of blood gave birth to the Erinyes, Giants and Melias (a Nymphs).
According to a second version, Gaia complained to her son Cronus about Ouranos’ abuse; Cronus, to avenge his mother, waiting for his father to come to bed next to his wife to emasculate him.
In any case, in order to fight Ouranos, Cronus freed his brothers and sisters: the Hecatonchires and the Cyclops prisoners in Tartarus by their father. Cronus overthrew Ouranos and thus became master of the world and the heavens; but quickly, he became as brutal as his father and sent back the giants with 100 arms and the Cyclops to Tartarus to prevent them from taking his place in their turn.
Reign of Cronos: the Golden Age
In Hesiod’s poem The Works and Days, two verses present the reign of Cronos as a Golden Age, a happy time when men lived in peace and abundance, in harmony with the gods: “Gold was the first race of perishable men created by the Immortals, inhabitants of Olympus. It was in the time of Cronos when he still ruled in heaven. »
For Plato, in The Politics, the initial perfection of the world under the reign of Cronus is explained by the presence of the god on earth. This one regulated the lives of men according to the most perfect justice, in a world of peace and abundance. Here is how in Politics, the Stranger describes to Socrates the birth and life of men under Cronos:
“He is God himself who watched over them and made them feed, just as today men, a different and more divine race, feed other races inferior to them. Under his leadership, there were no states or possessions of women and children; for it was from the bosom of the earth that all came back to life, without keeping any memory of their past. They, therefore, knew none of these institutions; on the other hand, they had a profusion of fruits from trees and many other plants, fruits that grew without crops and that the earth produced on its own. Most of the time they lived outdoors without clothes and beds; because the seasons were so well tempered that they suffered no discomfort and they found soft beds in the thick grass that came out of the ground. »
Struggle for power and Titanomachy
The fall of the Titans
© Prado Museum
However, Ouranos and Gaia had predicted to Cronos that one day he would also be dethroned by his own son. To prevent the prophecy from being fulfilled, Cronos swallowed his children as soon as Rhea (his sister and wife) gave birth to them. Thus, he successively swallowed Hestia, Demeter, Hera, Hades, and Poseidon.
Once again pregnant, Rhea took refuge in Crete and gave birth to her last child, Zeus, in a cave on Mount Ida and, in order to protect him from his father, she gave him a stone wrapped in a diaper, claiming that it was the last child. Baby Zeus was fed by Amalthea the goat and raised by the Ida and Adrasteia nymphs. The Curts had to make a permanent noise so that Cronos would not hear his son crying.
Zeus grew and rebelled against his father’s tyranny. First, he asked the Metis Oceanid to help him; she made Cronus swallow a powerful vomitive potion and he began to return the stone first and then the children he had swallowed. Then, with the help of his brothers, Zeus engaged and won the Titanomachy, the war against Cronus and the Titans who had remained loyal to him. During this war, Zeus also saved the Hecatonchires and Cyclops, still held in Tartarus. Thankful for this deliverance, the Cyclops Arges, Brontes and Steropes provided him with the lightning that allowed him, among other things, to win this war.
After his victory, Zeus shared the world with his brothers Poseidon and Hades. Zeus obtained Heaven, Poseidon the Sea and Hades the World of Shadows. Cronus and his brothers (with the notable exception of Oceanus, Zeus’ ally) were sent to Tartarus.
Filiation and genealogy