Tethys (Gr. Τηθυς) that should not be confused with her granddaughter, the Nereid Thetis, was a Titanid, the youngest daughter of Gaia and Ouranos.
Ocean and Tethys
Gazantiep Archaeological Museum, Turkey
Its name has the same Greek root as “nurse”. She represented the fertile female element of the seas and rivers that feed the earth. It generally resided beyond the garden of the Hesperides, where the sun disappears.
Ocean and Tethys joined forces to give birth to very many sons, the gods-rivers and very many daughters, the Oceanides to the thin ankles. Hesiode in the Theogonie provides a long list but he specifies that more than 3000 should be added.
In Orphic hypermines it is also the mother of clouds.
It does not appear that she had a cult during the historical period.
Fact and myths about Tethys
Tethys gave to the Ocean of Rivers in the sinuous course, the Nile, the Alpheus, the Eridan in the deep chasms, the Strymon, the Meander, the Ister in the beautiful waters, the Phase, the Rhesus, the Acheloos in the silvery streams, the Nessus, the Rhodius, the Haliacmon, the Haliacmon, the Heptapore, the Granic, the Esopus, the divine Simois, the Penea, the Hermus, the graceful Caicos, the broad Sangarius, the Ladon, the Parthenius, the Évenus, the Ardesque and the divine Scamander.
Tethys also gave birth to the sacred troupe of these Nymphs who, with King Apollo and the Rivers, raised the childhood of the Heroes on earth; it was Zeus himself who charged them with this task: Pitho, Admit, Ianthe, Electra, Doris, Prymno, Urania similar to the gods, Hippo, Clymene, Rhodia, Callirhoë, Zeuxo, Clytie, Idye, Pasithoë, Plexaure, Galaxaure, the kind Dione, Melobosis, Thoë, the beautiful Polydore, Cerceis with sweet character, Pluto with big eyes, Perseis, Ianire, Acaste, Zanthe, the graceful Petrea, Menestho, Europe, Metis, Eurynome, Telestho with a purple veil, Crisia, Asia, the pleasant Calypso, Eudora, Tyche, Amphiro, Ocyroë and Styx who surpass them all, are the most ancient girls of the Ocean and Tethys; there are many more, because three thousand Oceanids with charming feet, scattered on all sides, inhabit the earth and the depths of the lakes, an illustrious and divine race! So many Rivers, born of the Ocean and the venerable Tethys, roll their noisy waves in the distance: it would be difficult for a mortal to remember all their names; only the peoples who inhabit their shores can know them.
(Hesiod, Theogony according to a Bignan translation)
– It was Tethys who raised Zeus and Hera whom Rhea had entrusted to her and as a token of her gratitude, Hera intervened effectively to reconcile her with Ocean with whom she was confused.
– To please Hera, Tethys prevented Callisto, Zeus’ lover, from reaching the ocean. That is why Callisto, which became the constellation of the Great Bear, revolves around the North Star without ever being able to land on the ocean.
– When Aesacus, son of Priam and Alexirrhoe, who interpreted the dream that Paris, newly born, would become the ruin of the country, jumped into the sea after his wife’s death, Tethys turned him into a diving bird.
Thetys in arts
The representation of Tethys is rare; she appears on the mosaics with her husband with two small wings on his forehead, probably for her role as the mother of clouds.
On Greek vases, she appears without any specific attribute in the company of her husband and the goddess of births, Ilithyie.