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Before the Olympians, there were the Titans. Powerful rulers of the universe, the Titans were eventually overthrown by the Olympians and many were imprisoned in Tartarus. Here’s their story.
Origins of the Titans
The Titans were a group of gods that ruled the universe before the Olympians. They were the children of Gaia (earth) and Uranus (sky) and were strong, powerful beings. According to Hesiod, there were twelve Titans who were:
- Oceanus: father of the river gods and goddesses as well as being the river that was believed to surround the entire earth.
- Tethys: sister and wife of Oceanus and mother of the Oceanids and river gods. Tethys was the goddess of fresh water.
- Hyperion: father of Helios (sun), Selene (moon) and Eos (dawn), he was the Titan god of light and observation.
- Theia: goddess of sight and wife and sister of Hyperion, Theia is often described as being the most beautiful of the Titanesses.
- Coeus: father of Leto and Asteria and god of wisdom and foresight.
- Phoebe: sister and wife of Coeus, her name means the shining one. Phoebewas associated with Diana, the Roman moon-goddess
- Themis: an extremely important figure, Themis is the Titaness of divine law and order. After the Titan war, Themis married Zeus and was the main goddess of the oracle at Delphi. She’s known today as Lady Justice.
- Crius: not a well-known Titan, Crius was overthrown during the Titanomachy and was imprisoned in Tartarus
- Iapetus: father of Atlas, Prometheus, Epimetheus and Menoetius, Iapetus was the Titan of death or craftsmanship, depending on the source.
- Mnemosyne: goddess of memory, Mnemosyne didn’t marry one of her brothers. Instead, she slept with her nephew Zeus for nine consecutive days and bore the nine Muses.
- Rhea: wife and sister of Cronus, Rhea is the mother of the Olympians and therefore ‘the mother of the gods’.
- Cronus: The youngest and strongest of the first generation of Titans, Cronus would become the leader by overthrowing their father, Uranus. He’s the father of the Zeus and the other Olympians. His rule is known as the Golden Age as there were no vices and complete peace and harmony prevailed.
Titans Become the Rulers
Uranus was needlessly cruel to Gaia and their children, forcing Gaia to hide the children somewhere within her without giving birth to them. This caused her pain and so Gaia planned to punish him.
From all her children, only the youngest Titan Cronus, was willing to help her in this plan. When Uranus came to lie with Gaia, Cronus castrated him using an adamantine sickle.
The Titans could now leave Gaia and Cronus became the supreme ruler of the universe. However, Uranus had prophesied that one of Cronus’ children would overthrow him and become the ruler, as Cronus had done to Uranus. In an attempt to stop this happening, Cronus famously swallowed all his children, including the Olympians – Hestia, Demeter, Hera, Hades and Poseidon. However, he wasn’t able to swallow his youngest son, the Olympian Zeus, as Rhea had hidden him.
Fall of the Titans – Titanomachy
Because of Cronus’ cruelty to her and her children, Rhea then planned to have him overthrown. Zeus, the only child of Cronus and Rhea who hadn’t been swallowed, tricked his father into disgorging the other Olympians.
The Olympians then battled the Titans for rule over the universe in a ten-year war known as the Titanomachy. In the end, the Olympians prevailed. The Titans were imprisoned in Tartarus and the Olympians took over the universe, ending the age of the Titans.
After the Titanomachy
According to some sources, the Titans were later released by Zeus except for Atlas who continued to carry the celestial sphere on his shoulders. Several of the Titanesses remained free, with Themis, Mnemosyne and Leto becoming wives of Zeus.
Oceanus and Tethys famously did not participate during the war but assisted Hera during the war when she needed refuge. Because of this, Zeus allowed them to remain as gods of freshwater after the war, while the Olympian Poseidon took over the seas.
What Do the Titans Symbolize?
The Titans symbolize an uncontrollable force as strong, primitive yet powerful beings. Even today, the word titanic is used as a synonym for exceptional strength, size and power, while the word titan is used to signify greatness of achievement.
Several of the Titans were known for their fighting spirit and defiance of the gods, most notably Prometheus who stole fire against Zeus wishes and gave it to humanity. In this way, the Titans also represent the spirit of rebellion against authority, first against Uranus and later against Zeus.
The fall of the Titans also represent a recurring theme in Greek mythology – namely that you can’t avoid your destiny. What is to be will be.
The Titans remain one of the most important figures of Greek mythology. Children of the primordial deities, Uranus and Gaia, the Titans were a strong, hard-to-control force whose subjugation only proves the power and might of the Olympians.