Thetis – Greek Mythology

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Thetis was an outstanding figure in Greek mythology for her prophecy, her offspring, and her aid to the gods. Her myths involve several Olympians and war conflicts for which she is famous among the minor deities. Here’s her story.

Who was Thetis?

Thetis was the daughter of Nereus, one of the sea gods, and his wife, Doris. Like her father, Thetis could morph into any shape, animal, or thing she wanted. She was also the leader of the Nereids, the fifty daughters of Nereus. Hera brought Thetis up, and once she was old enough, she left to live in the sea with her sisters. 

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Thetis’ Prophecy

Themis, the goddess of justice, prophesied that Thetis’ son would be greater than his father. This stopped both Zeus and Poseidon who had wanted to wed the nereid. They became afraid of the power that any offspring with her could have. Other sources say that Thetis refused Zeus due to her upbringing with Hera.

Because Zeus feared Thetis’ offspring, he gave the nereid to the mortal man, King Peleus of Thessal, thinking that the offspring of a mortal couldn’t challenge him. However, Thetis did not comply and to avoid being captured by the king, she morphed into many shapes to escape. However, Zeus helped Peleus find her, and after he had caught Thetis, they finally got married. Their offspring would be the great Greek hero Achilles.

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Thetis and Peleus’ Wedding

All the gods and other immortal beings went to the wedding of Thetis and Peleus and brought gifts for the newlyweds. However, they did not invite Eris, the goddess of discord, and for this, she was angry and wanted to disrupt the celebration. The myths say that Eris showed up with a golden apple from the garden of the Hesperides, known as the Apple of Discord. She threw the apple among the goddesses who were attending the wedding, stating that only the apple would be awarded to the fairest of the goddesses.

Athena, Hera, and Aphrodite each claimed the apple and requested Zeus to choose one of them to be the winner of the contest. Zeus did not want to intervene, so he asked Prince Paris of Troy to decide for him. The three goddesses offered different gifts to win Paris’ favor, and he finally selected Aphrodite, who offered him the most beautiful woman on earth if he chose her as the fairest. This woman happened to be King Menelaus’ wife, Queen Helen of Sparta.

Therefore, the conflict that would later lead to the Trojan War, one of ancient Greece’s most extraordinary epics, had its roots in Thetis’ wedding. 

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Thetis and Achilles

Thetis dipping Achilles
Thetis immerses son Achilles in water of the River Styx – Antoine Borel

Thetis’ most famous role is as Achilles’ mother. Achilles was born a mortal, but Thetis wanted him to be invincible and immortal. She took him to the River Styx and dipped the boy into it. The River Styx, one of the rivers that flowed through the underworld, was known for its magical powers.

Because of this, Thetis made Achilles invincible and impervious to injury. However, when Thetis submerged the boy into the river, she had grabbed him by the heel. This part of his body didn’t get submerged in the magical waters and remained mortal and vulnerable.  Achilles’ heel would be his weakest point and the reason he eventually dies.

It’s interesting that Zeus couldn’t stop Thetis from having a strong and invincible son, even though he tried. In this way, Thetis can be seen as an independent and also enterprising woman, who found a way to get things done.

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Thetis and the Gods

Thetis had encounters with several gods and helped them with the different problems they had. Her stories had to do wtih Dionysus, Hephaestus, and Zeus.

  • Dionysus

In one of Dionysus’ journeys, King Lycurgus of Thrace attacked the god and his companions. They sought refuge in the sea, and Thetis took them with her. For this, Dionysus gave her a golden urn crafted by Hephaestus. 

  • Hephaestus

When Hera threw Hephaestus out of Mount Olympus, he landed in the sea near the island of Lemnos, where Thetis and Eurynome would take care of him until his ascent to Mount Olympus. In Homer’s Iliad, the nereid goes to his workshop to ask him to build special armor and a shield for Achilles to fight in the Trojan War. During this episode, Hephaestus tells the story of how Thetis saved him as a baby.

  • Zeus

Some myths propose that the Olympians had revolted against Zeus, the god of thunder, and were planning to overthrow him as the king of the gods. Thetis knew about this and informed Zeus about the plans of the other gods. With the help of one of the Hecatonchires, Zeus was able to stop the revolt.  

When Zeus took the throne from Cronus, the Titan, Cronus cursed Zeus with the same prophecy he himself had received – one day, his son would dethrone him as the ruler of the universe. The only reason this prophecy was not fulfilled was due to Themis’ warning about the son of Thetis.

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Influence of Thetis

From her wedding to the birth of her son, Thetis was a noteworthy figure in the events of the Trojan War. Paris’ judgment, which would lead to Greek mythology’s most notable conflict, took place at her wedding. Her son Achilles was a central figure in the war, as the Greeks’ greatest fighter.

The most famous depictions of Thetis in art either portray the episode of her wedding, dipping Achilles in the River Styx, or her giving Hephaestus’ armor to Achilles. There are also vase paintings of her, and she appears in the writings of poets such as Homer and Hesiod.

Who is Thetis Greek mythology
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Thetis Facts

1- Who are Thetis’ parents?

Nereus and Doris were Thetis’ parents.

2- Is Thetis a god?

Thetis is sometimes described as a goddess of water, but she’s best known as a sea nymph.

3- Who is Thetis’ consort?

Thetis married the mortal hero Peleus.

4- Who is Thetis’ child?

Thetis’ son is Achilles, hero of the Trojan War.

5- Who are the Nereids?

The Nereids are the fifty daughters of Nereus and Doris. Thetis was the leader of the Nereids, her sisters.

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In Brief

Apart from her involvement in the Trojan War and her role as Achilles’ mother, Thetis’ had several important associations with the other gods. She played a significant role in Hephaestus’ life since without her, the baby god would have drowned. Her role was also significant in the myths of Dionysus and Zeus in keeping them safe. She remains a quieter figure but one that glides in and out of the Greek myths at crucial points.