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Titanomachy, war of Greek gods versus giant Titans (matiasdelcarmine / Adobe Stock)

Battle of the Gods, When Titans Took on Zeus

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When discussing the creation myths of the ancient Greek gods, as told by the poet Hesiod (750-650 BC), it is best to imagine an audience huddled around a single speaker by way of a fire pit in the darkest of night. It is only Hesiod who could account for the beginnings of creation, the lineage of gods and Titans, the rise of Zeus, and the emergence of humanity.

Hesiod gives testament to all of these in his various works. His most memorable were two works: "Theogony," which depicted the 10-year battle between Zeus and the Titans; and "Works and Days," which extensively discussed the creation of humanity during the five ages of man.

He alluded that human beings were created by the Titans and gifted with the knowledge of fire. But in their destruction, humanity was left the victim to the disdain of Zeus, who resented them at first and tried to exterminate them off the face of the earth. Humanity prevailed and eventually remained to tell the gods' tale as they retreated into a distant memory.

Whether these Titans and gods existed, the tales of their turbulent nature revealed them to be more human than any mortal could ever be. Though most of what was mentioned currently exists as fragments from folklore and poems, we will still attempt to analyze and depict the Titanomachy alongside the rise of humanity.

The Age of Chaos and the Age of Ouranos

The origins of the gods began with the void known as the ‘Age of Chaos’ to which no light existed. From the void came Gaea the Earth, the first female being who asexually birthed Pontus the sea and Ouranos (Uranus) the sky.

Gaea the Earth, the first female of the Greek creation myth. (Dmytro Tolokonov / Adobe Stock)

Gaea the Earth, the first female of the Greek creation myth. ( Dmytro Tolokonov / Adobe Stock)

Ouranos became both Gaea’s son and husband. He was the first ruler of the universe bringing forth the 'Age of Ouranos’. Ouranos desired to create other beings whom he wished to be beautiful and loyal in their worship of him.

With Gaea, he first fathered Briareus, Cotos, and Gyes. They were monstrous hundred-handers known as the Hecatonchires. Though they were unsurpassable in both size and strength, they were too grotesque and uncontrollable to be trusted. Ouranos imprisoned them in the farthest place of infernal darkness known as Tartaros.

Ouranos and Gaea then created the Cyclopes Hum, Arges, Steropes, and Brontes, who were all large in stature and less deformed; however, they had only one eye in the middle of their faces and therefore were imperfect. The Cyclopes shared the same fate as the Hecatonchires and were also banished to Tartaros.

The Cyclopes were banished to Tartaros because they were imperfect. (Sebastian Wallroth / Public Domain)

The Cyclopes were banished to Tartaros because they were imperfect. (Sebastian Wallroth / Public Domain )

Gaea felt remorse for the banishment of her children and grew reluctant to conceive more offspring with Ouranos. Eventually, she succumbed to Ouranos’s desires and created the Titans, who were closer to perfection than the others.

The Titan Revolt

Angered by the imprisonment of the Hecatonchires and Cyclopes in Tataros, Gaea conspired with the Titans to attack Ouranos. She first approached Oceanos, the oldest to rally the other siblings, but he was too afraid.

Gaea found strength from Cronos, the youngest of her Titans, and asked him to fight against his father and take the throne of all creation. In return, she asked for the freeing of his imprisoned siblings from Tartaros. Cronos agreed.

Gaea crafted an adamantine sickle and gifted it to Cronos to rally the courage of his brothers and sisters. With one fell swoop, Cronos and his siblings attacked Ouranos, severed Ouranos’s genitals, and threw them towards the sea.

In part of the creation myth Cronus castrates his father Ouranos. (Dodo / Public Domain)

In part of the creation myth Cronus castrates his father Ouranos. (Dodo / Public Domain )

From the blood that fell to the earth, three sets of children emerged: the Gigantes, the Furies; and the Meliae. From the drops of blood that flowed out of the severed genitals that sank to the bottom of the sea, birthed the goddess Aphrodite.

As Ouranos fell, he whispered into Cronos’s ear that he would share the same fate. Honoring the wishes of his mother, Gaea, he freed the Hecatonchires and the Cyclopes and then took the throne as Lord of all Creation and married his sister Rhea.

The Age of Cronos

In the 'Age of Cronos BC,’ the Titans hoped that the world would be better, but Cronos was no different than Ouranos. Cronos swallowed his offspring the moment they were born in fear they would one day overthrow him. Under suspicion of rebellion, he re-imprisoned the Hecatonchires and Cyclopes he had promised to let free.

Like his father before him, Cronos wished to create the perfect being that would love and worship him. And so, he created humans out of gold. To his children, Cronos was a cannibal tyrant. But to the golden humans, Cronos was a doting protector.

The golden humans lived like gods, never knowing toil or suffering. Though they lived a long time, they were still mortals and inevitably died. When they died, they remained on the earth as spirits known as daimons (demons). Cronos made their home a never-ending season of joyous spring.

But as Cronos distracted himself with his golden humans, Rhea escaped to a cave on Mount Dicte to secretly give birth to Zeus and left him to be reared by the nymphs Adasteia and Ida and protected by the Curetes who beat their spears against their shields to mute the sounds of the child so they would not be heard by Cronos.

When Rhea returned, she carried a rounded stone wrapped in cloth and presented it to Cronos. Cronos gave it no thought and swallowed it in haste.

Rhea gave Cronos a stone instead of newly born Zeus. (Shakko / Public Domain)

Rhea gave Cronos a stone instead of newly born Zeus. (Shakko / Public Domain )

When Zeus came of age, he returned to Cronos's kingdom in the guise of a servant. He gained favor with Metis, the daughter of Oceanos, who concocted a mixture of wine and mustard for Zeus to use on Cronos in order cause him to vomit and free his siblings.

When the time was right, Zeus slipped the mixture into Cronos’s cup and caused him to dispel all of Zeus’s siblings in one giant vomit. Once Zeus’s brothers and sisters were freed, they escaped to take refuge in Mount Olympus.

The Titanomachy

The Titanomachy was a vicious decade long war between the Titans, led by Cronos, and the gods, under the command of Zeus, who now referred to themselves the Olympians. This conflict would eventually result in the defeat of Cronos and the establishment of Zeus’s dominance through his cunning in politics and warfare.

To defeat the Titans, Zeus needed help from deities who were twice as strong. There were only two groups that brought fear to both Ouranos and Chronos. These were the hundred handed Hecatonchires and the one eyed Cyclopes, who were banished by both Ouranos and then Cronos. Zeus trekked to Tartarus to free the Hecatonchires and the Cyclopes and killed Campe, who guarded them at Tartaros. Once he had released them, Zeus asked for their aid in overthrowing Cronos.

They agreed to help as long Zeus promised to imprison the Titans at Tartarus and leave them in control of their demise. Zeus complied and the Hecatonchires and Cyclopes assisted the Olympians.

With their help, Zeus gained artillery, made by the Hecatonchires, able to dispel thousands of rocks against the Titans, as well gifted with an endless volley of thunderbolts fashioned by the Cyclopes. The Cyclopes also crafted a helmet for Hades and a trident for Poseidon. Later on, Zeus gained the Titans Themis and Prometheus as allies to join his side.

The battle between the gods and the Titans. (JarektUploadBot / Public Domain)

The battle between the gods and the Titans. (JarektUploadBot / Public Domain )

The Olympians and their allies eventually overpowered the Titans and imprisoned them in Tartaros. Zeus then appointed the Hecatonchires to be their jailers.

Zeus took reign over all creation. His brother Poseidon took reign over the sea, and Hades took reign of the underworld. It was then that Zeus married Metis and made her his first wife.

Zeus’s first act as supreme god of Olympus was to destroy all the remaining golden humans. However, Prometheus took pity on them.

The Betrayal of Prometheus and the Age of Olympus

Titans had an affinity for humans, for they were the balance of tragedy and perfection, which Ouranos originally wanted. Because of this fact, Zeus and the Olympians saw them as symbols of the past harkening to the former glories of the Age of Cronos.

Prometheus secretly created humanity once again from the earth and water. Prometheus desired to preserve the human legacy that Cronos had started.

Prometheus created humans from earth and water. (Jastrow / Public Domain )

Though Prometheus’s humans were not as great as those originally fashioned by Cronos, they appeared just as interesting. These humans were of silver rather than gold and significantly feeble-minded compared to Cronos’s versions.

Prometheus taught his silver humans every skill from medicine to arithmetic, to navigation, and prophecy. Prometheus then gave the secret of fire to which he had hidden in a fennel stalk to keep it secret from Zeus.

The silver humans were grateful for the gift of fire, and in honor of Prometheus, they sacrificed a large animal. But when they gave their thanks Zeus heard them and realized Prometheus’s betrayal.

As punishment, Zeus ordered Hephaistos to nail Prometheus to Mount Caucasos where each day an eagle would feed on his liver until it was gone, only for it to grow back in the evening for the eagle to return and eat it once more. This punishment continued until the arrival of Heracles during the Age of Heroes.

The torture of Prometheus as told by Hesiod. (Alonso de Mendoza / Public Domain)

The torture of Prometheus as told by Hesiod. (Alonso de Mendoza / Public Domain )

Zeus proceeded to torment the silver humans. He divided the year into four seasons, which caused humanity to farm grain and seek shelter. When they died, Zeus sent their souls to Hades rather than let them become demon spirits on earth. However, their suffering would not end there.

Zeus ordered Hephaistos to make one more human being that was altered to contain deceptiveness and unpleasantness from within. This human would be known as Pandora.

Before Prometheus was nailed to Mount Caucos, he had feared Zeus would find out about his human creations and advised his brother Epimetheus to care for the silver humans in his absence and to be wary of any gifts given by the Olympian gods. However, Hermes tricked Epimetheus and brought him Pandora, who, piecing together the versions of Babrios of the 2nd century AD and Hesiod of the 4th century BC, Pandora held a large storage jar filled with both good and evil things.

Once the jar was opened, all the evils escaped into the world while all the good became lost. All that remained was hope, left to aid the silver humans in avoiding the unseen evil all around.

After witnessing the fate of Prometheus and the evils released by Pandora, the silver humans refused to honor Zeus in an act of defiance. Zeus then destroyed them all.

Zeus’s Humans of Bronze and the Flood

During the Age of Olympus, Zeus decided to recreate humanity in his image. He felt it was more fitting than those of the Titans. He created humanity from the hardwood of ash trees. They were strong and warlike.

They knew of metallurgy and fire and made their houses and armor from bronze. They hungered only for meat and war. Unlike the previous humans, they honored Zeus as their creator and hated the Titans.

However, the bronze humans could not stop consuming all the animals, metals, and lands. They overpopulated the earth and kept the Olympians up with constant chatter. Zeus grew tired of the bronze humans’ tenacity and decided to cleanse the world by bringing forth a flood.

Before Prometheus's judgment, he had a son named Deucalion. Deucalion married Pyrrhea, the daughter of Pandora, and together they ruled the kingdom of Phthia. They received word of Zeus’s plan to flood the world and fashioned a large chest filled with provisions.

When the rains began, Deucalion and Phyrrhea climbed in and sealed the box from within. Zeus flooded the world with an abundance of rain not seen since the time of Pontus, the sea’s conception.

Deucalion and Pyrrhea were carried across the sea for nine full days until they landed on the shores of Parnassos. It was then that the rains stopped and Deucalion and Pyrrhea came out of their chest. Grateful to be alive, Deucalion prayed to Zeus and sacrificed an animal.

Zeus was moved by their sacrifice and gifted both Deucalion and Pyrrhea with one wish to be granted. Both Deucalion and Pyrrhea took pity on the bronze humans after nine whole days of hearing their screams as they drowned during the flood. They both wished to recreate humans once more.

Although surprised by their wish Zeus was bound by honor to grant it. And so, Deucalion and Pyrrhea created humans from the stones on the shore. This group would become synonymous with the Age of Heroes, which was at time when demigods co-existed with humans. After the demise of the heroes came the humans of the Iron Age to which all modern humans originate from.

Deucalion and Pyrrha created humans from stones. (Dornicke / Public Domain)

Deucalion and Pyrrha created humans from stones. (Dornicke / Public Domain )

Hesiod Chronicled the Greek Creation Myth

In the darkest days of antiquity, the muses inspired a sheepherder named Hesiod to write these tales for humanity to remember. If the tale of the Titanomachy was true, then the gods were a family of usurpers who were forever in conflict.

Hesiod spoke of the Titans who created humanity. From Cronos to Prometheus and finally to Deucalion and Pyrrhea, it seemed that humanity grew worse and further distant from the gods themselves. After all, humanity was created in the image of the Titans who loved them and not in the likings of the Olympians who resented them.

Top image: Titanomachy, war of Greek gods versus giant Titans ( matiasdelcarmine / Adobe Stock )

By B.B. Wagner

References

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Gill, N. 2019. Hesoid’s Five Ages of Man . Thoughtco. [Online] Available at: https://www.thoughtco.com/the-five-ages-of-man-111776

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