Saturday, 21 February 2015

Mythical Creatures: The Giants of Greece and Rome - Part One

Today we are going to learn about the giants of Greek and Roman mythology.  Let us begin with the Titans rebellion against the tyranny of their father, Ouranos, or Uranus and then the rebellion of the gods against their father, Cronus.  This myth gives us a good starting point when exploring the giants of ancient Greece, including the hundred-handed giants, the Titans and the Cyclopes.  I first touched on these mythical beings in Greek Creation Mythology.  Here I will cover them in more detail.

Gaia and Uranus by esurio08
The Rebellious Titans and Gods

Before the beginning of time, there was nothing but emptiness called Chaos.  Out of the darkness emerged three beings who became known as Gaea, Tartarus and Eros.
Gaea, the earth goddess wished for some company, so she gave birth to Uranus, the god of the sky, and he surrounded her on all sides.  Next, the mountains and the sea sprang from Gaea, shaping the landscape of the world.
Soon, Gaea and Uranus created three children together – giants, each with fifty heads and one hundred arms!  Shortly after, three more children were born to them – again giants.  But this time, they each had just one eye in the middle of their forehead.  They came to be known as the Cyclopes.
With such immense strength and power, Uranus became fearful that the children would eventually try to overthrow him and take control of the universe themselves.  So one by one, Uranus seized them, throwing them down into the depths of Tartarus, the underworld, from where they could not possibly threaten him.
Furious and devastated, Gaea began to hate Uranus for him cold-hearted, ruthless actions.  With time, she gave birth to thirteen more children – the immortal Titans.  Among them were the god of the sun Helios, the goddess of the moon Selene, the god of the waters Oceanus, the goddess of prophecy Themis, the strongest Titan Atlas, and finally Prometheus – the most intelligent Titan, who created the human race out of soft clay.
Yet Gaea’s bitterness towards Uranus only increased with time.  The day came when she put a mighty, curved sickle into the hands of her youngest Titan son, Cronus.  ‘I want to punish your cruel father and free your brothers and sisters from their underground banishment,’ she explained.  ‘If you kill your father, you can rule in his place.’
His eyes gleaming greedily, Cronus did what he was told.  Across the universe echoed his father’s cries of agony.  Rivers of blood flowed from his wounds, and from this stream of wickedness sprang forth three evil creatures, the Furies, and a race of terrifying warrior giants.
Being immortal, Uranus couldn’t die, so Cronus threw his father’s body into the ocean.  ‘Now I reign over all things!’ Cronus roared.
To Gaea’s despair, Cronus proved to be just as much a tyrant as her husband.  Relishing his control over the universe, he refused to free the hundred-handed giants and the Cyclopes from Tartarus.
Outraged, Gaea warned, ‘Your cruelty will come full circle!  The day will come when your children will destroy you, just as you have destroyed your own father.’
Cronus simply sneered.  In his arrogance, he thought that he could cheat the prophecy.  He would make sure that he had no children.  If he had none, then how could they vanquish him?

Cronus devouring one of his children by Peter Paul Rubens
Cronus was married to his sister, Rhea.  In due course, a baby daughter Hestia was born.  Cronus didn’t hesitate in swallowing her whole.  To Rhea’s horror and misery, Cronus did exactly the same with the next four babies – Demeter, Hera, Hades, and Poseidon.  By the time Rhea was due to give birth to the fifth child, her heart was breaking with grief.  She went to Gaea and begged for help.  ‘Mother,’ she sobbed, ‘how can I fool Cronus so I can keep my baby?  I can’t stand to lose another!’

Gaea eagerly came up with a plan.  She hid Rhea away in a mountainside cave on the island of Crete.  There, unseen, Rhea gave birth to a baby boy called Zeus.  Rhea left Zeus in Gaea’s care, and hurried home.  Then she wrapped a rock in a blue blanket and presented it to Cronus.  ‘Here is your new born son!’ she proclaimed.  Cronus didn’t spare a second look at the infant.  He simply opened his jaws and gulped the bundle down.  Smirking with satisfaction, he thought of how he had defeated his destiny once again…
And so, unknown to his father, Zeus grew up safely into a strong, courageous god.  When he came of age, he disguised himself as one of Cronus’ servants and waited.  Then, when one day Cronus called for a drink to be brought to him, the disguised Zeus carefully took him a chalice of sweet-tasting poison instead.
In one gulp, Cronus drained the drink – and immediately realized that something was wrong.  Clutching and clawing at his stomach, cramps and spasms stabbed inside him.  Suddenly, up came the rock he had swallowed, followed by Poseidon, Hades, Hera, Demeter, and Hestia – who were all fully grown – and furious!
‘Behold your son, Zeus, and all your other children!’ Rhea said proudly.  ‘They are ready to rule in your place, with justice and wisdom, instead of cruelty and tyranny.  Your fate has come!’
‘You will regret this because this means war!’ bellowed Cronus, striding away to prepare for battle.
While Cronus was rousing all the other Titans to fight at his side, Zeus sped down to Tartarus with his brothers and sisters to release the hundred-handed giants and the Cyclopes.  Of course, the monsters were so grateful that they immediately pledged their allegiance to the gods and goddesses and vowed to fight for them.  Then the Cyclopes presented Zeus and his brothers with special gifts to help them in their mighty task.  To Zeus, they gave the weapons of thunder and lightning.  To Poseidon, they gave a magic trident for stirring up sea-storms and creating earthquakes.  To Hades, they gave a helmet of invisibility.
It was now time for the gods and goddesses to return to the upper world and begin the battle for the universe.
Zeus VS Kronos by ZollZwerg
Enraged, the Titans were ready and waiting, forming a formidable flank behind Cronus.  With blood-curdling war cries, they flung themselves forwards across the heavens into the attack.

As the Titans advanced, the hundred-handed giants tore great chunks of rock off the mountains and hurled them at the enemy.  The two sides clashed together, in an embroiled mass of arrows, spears, and swords.  The blows of the mighty warriors made the earth tremble and shake until the awful rumblings were heard down in the depths of Tartarus itself.  The cries and groans of the injured echoed around the mountains and across the heavens.  And still the Titans and the gods fought, inflicting terrible wounds on each other.  As immortals, none of them could die.
The Olympian Big Three - Zeus, Poseidon, Hades by tomzj1
When Zeus unleashed his ear-splitting thunderclaps and blinding lightning bolts, the stench of smouldering flesh filled the air as the Titans were set alight.  While the Titans threw themselves into the sea, trying to quench the burning flames, the hundred-handed giants saw their chance.  Seizing the howling Titans one by one, the giants dragged them below the earth down to the underworld.  There, they bound them in the strongest of chains and left them for all eternity.

How the victorious gods and goddesses rejoiced!  At last, tyranny had been overthrown and they would rule together, spreading fairness and heroism throughout the universe.  The gods decided upon their kingdoms – Hades won the underworld and became the king of the dead.  Poseidon won the sea and became the lord of the oceans.  And Zeus won the sky, and became ruler of the world.  All three leaders determined not only to keep peace and harmony among immortal beings, but also to teach humans how to live prosperous lives – to respect their fellow people, all other living creatures, and above all, the gods themselves.
Contented, the gods and goddesses made their own home on Mount Olympus.  And here they have ruled ever since.

Hecatoncheire by SolidSnakeVian
The Hundred-Handed Giants

The Hundred-Handed Giants were the three original sons of Gaia and Ouranos or Uranus.  Also known as Hecatoncheires in Greek and Centimanes in Roman, both meaning ‘having a hundred hands’, these beings were vast in size and were described as having fifty heads and a hundred arms and hands.  According to Hesiod’s Theogony, the original three hundred-handed giants were called Kottus (Cottus) and Briareos (Briareus) and Gyges, and they were ‘exceedingly arrogant children’.  The Theogony further says:

A hundred arms shot forth from their shoulders,
not to be molded into an image, and on each fifty heads
grew upon the fifty shoulders on sturdy limbs. 
Strong, immense, powerful in their shape.

At their birth, the Hundred-Handed Giants were imprisoned by their father, who they hated:

As soon as one of them was born,
Ouranos would conceal them all in hiding place in Gaia and
did not sent them back into the light, and he delighted in his
evil deed.

Hecatoncheires:Cottus by mad1ba
Despite their imprisonment, the Hundred-Handed Giants played a key part in the later defeat and imprisonment of the Titans, where they:

settled themselves against the Titans in the dire fray,
holding huge rocks in their sturdy hands.

As the battle commenced:

Three hundred rocks from their sturdy hands
they were hurling, one on another, and they cast shadows
over the Titans with missiles. 

Upon the defeat of the Titans, the Hundred-Handed Giants helped to imprison them in Tartaros, the Greek underworld. 

They sent them beneath
broad-wayed earth and bound them in painful bonds,
having conquered them by hands, though they were bold,
as far beneath the earth as Ouranos is above Gaia
so far from earth to murky Tartaros.

Once they helped to defeat and imprison the Titans, the Hecatoncheines were given the task of guarding Tartaros, where they are said to remain.

Coeus by chamakoso
The Titans and Titanides

The first generation of Titans, also the children of Gaia and Ouranos, or Uranus, were twelve in number, with six being male and six being female.  The sons, known as Titans, were named Coeus/Koios, Crius/Kreios, Cronus, Hyperion, Japetus/Iapetus, and Okeanus/Oceanus.  The daughters, known as Titanides, were called Mnemosyne, Phoebe/Phiobe, Rhea/Rheia, Tethys, Theia, and Themis.

Coeus, meaning ‘intelligent’, was the father of Leto, the mother of Apollo and Artemis.  Crius, meaning ‘ram’, had no children.  Cronus, meaning ‘crow’, was later wrongly associated with time and became known as ‘Old Father Time’.  As we have already seen, he castrated his father, Ouranos, and was later defeated by Zeus and his   Hyperion was the father of Eos of the dawn, Helios of the sun, and Silene of the moon as wells as the nymphs Lampetie and Phaethusa.  Japetus fathered a second generation of Titans – Atlas, Epimetheus, Mencetius, and Prometheus – who we will learn about it   Oceanus, meaning ‘swift’, fathered the nymphs, known as the Oceanids, and all the rivers of the world.  He often represents the cosmic waters.

Crius by SKcreation
Mnemosyne, meaning ‘memory’, bore the nine Muses by Zeus.  Phoebe, meaning ‘brightness’, bore Latona, Asteria, and Leto by her sibling Coeus.  Rhea, as we have already seen, was the mother of the Olympic gods, keeping Zeus safe so he could defeat his father, Cronus.  Tethys bore the Oceanids with her brother Oceanus.  Theia was the wife of Hyperion and mother to the gods Eosm Helios, and Silene.  Themis was the mother of the Parcae and the Horae.  She is often depicted as the bringer of justice, with her eyes blindfolded while holding scales in one hand and a sword in the other.

According to Theogony:

Father great Ouranos, quarrelling with the children
he sired himself, gave them the name Titans, Stretchers.
He said that they stretched with a great recklessness to accomplish
A huge deed, and for it retribution be laid up for the future.

Kronos by IvanSevic

The Titans and Titanides, like the Hundred-Handed Giants, were imprisoned by their father and eventually rebelled when Gaia gave the youngest Titan, Cronus, a sickle with which he castrates his father.

Monstrous Gaia was groaning within,
congested.  She conceived a cunning, evil trick.
Quickly, she made the element of grey adamant and
fashioned a great sickle and showed it to her children.
Then she spoke, encouraging them, though sorrowing in her heart.

Hyperion - Titan of Vision and Astral Fire by HernanFotografias

'My children with a reckless father, if only you agree
to obey me.  We would avenge the evil outrage of this father
of yours, for he first devised unseemly deeds.’

…Then great Kronos of crooked counsel,
embolden, quickly addressed his dear mother with words:
‘Mother, I promise that I will bring to completion,
Iapetus: Titan of the West by LeDemonDeRazgriz
this deed, since I do not care for that ill-named father
of ours…

She hid him in an ambush and placed in his hands
a serrated sickle, and apprised him of her whole cunning.

Great Ouranos came…
  His son reach out from ambush
with his left hand, and in his right he held the sickle,
long and serrated and the genitals of his father
he quickly reaped and threw them behind his back
to be carried away.
But Cronus was no better than Ouranos and was determined that none of his children would rule.
Great Kronos kept swallowing them as each
arrived at his mother’s knees from her sacred womb,
intending that no other one of the illustrious children
of Ouranos hold the kingly province among the immortals
for he learned from Gaia and starry Ouranos
that it was fated for him to be subdued by his son, although
he himself was powerful, through the plans of great Zeus,
Therefore, he kept blind vigilance but awaiting each,
he would swallow his children.
While Cronus did all he could to prevent his loss of power, Rhea, his sister and wife, concealed the birth of Zeus with the help of Gaia and fooled Cronus into believing that he had swallowed his new-born son.

Holding him in her arms, she hid
him in a high cave, beneath the ways of divine Gaia,
on densely wooded Mount Aigiaon.

Mnemosyne - Mother of Muses by la-voisin
She wrapped a stone in swaddling clothes entrusted it
to Ouranos’ son and great lord, king of gods before,
He took it and put it down into his womb, cruel one, and
he did not realize it in his mind, so that in return for a stone,
his son remained unconquered and unconcerned,
who was going to subdue him by brute force and his hand and drive him from his province and lord among immortals.

Phoebe by Vladlena111
Zeus remained hidden until he was fully grown and strong.  At this point, with the help of Gaia, Zeus freed his brothers and sisters from the prison of their father, Cronus, before freeing his father’s brothers, the Hundred-Handed Giants and Cyclopes, who would help him to defeat Cronus.

Rapidly, the strength and the limbs in their glory
of the lord grew, and when the year in its cycle
came around, deceived by Gaia’s sagacious advice,
Kronos of crooked counsel sent up his offspring again,
conquered by the schemes and brute force of his son.
He vomited the stone first, swallowing it last.

He loosened his father’s brothers from destructive bonds,
sons of Ouranos, whom their father bound in his folly.
They remembered gratitude for his benefactions and
gave him thunder and gleaming lightning
and flash.

And so the final battle between the Titans and the offspring of Cronus commenced. 

Titaness Rhea by TouchofArtistry
Tethys by amethystmoonsongB
From the other side, the Titans strengthened their ranks
eagerly, and both sides were revealing the works of forceful
hands, and the boundless sea resounded dreadfully, and
the earth screamed loudly, and wide Ouranos groaned, when
heaved, and from the foundations lofty Olympus shook
beneath the fury of the immortals.  The heavy pounding
of their feet reached murky Tartaros, as did the shrill screams
of the terrible pursuit and powerful missiles.
Thus they hurled mournful darts at one another.
The sound of both reached starry Ouranos
as they cried out.  They clashed with a great war cry.
No longer did Zeus restrain his might but straightaway
his heart filled with might, and he showed all
his brute force.  From Ouranos and Olympus together
he came striding, flashing lighting constantly.  His bolts
were flying in close array with thunder and flash
from his sturdy hands, whirling the flame
thickly.  Life-bearing Gaia screamed as she burned, and
the immense forest crackled loudly all round.

Themis by karaat
All the earth was boiling as well the streams of Ouranos
and the unplowed sea.  His blasts encompassed
the nether Titans, and immense flame reached
the shining aether.  Although the Titans were stalwart,
the gleaming light of lightning and flash deprived
them of their eyes.  Ineffiable heat gripped Chawos.
It seemed to the eyes for the seeing and ears for the hearing
exactly as if Gaia and the wide Ouranos from above
 were drawing near one another.  Such a loud din would rise up
with Gaia being fallen upon and Ouranos falling from above.
Such was the din that sounded and whipped up dust, and
abetted thunder and flashing and gleaming lightning,
shafts of Great Zeus, and they carried swift uproar and clamor
into the midst of both sides.  A terrible din arose from their
dreadful wrath, and the work of power was revealed.

Theia by Kuldi
At this point the Titans are defeated when Kottos, Briareos and Gyges, the Hundred-Handed Giants take them to Tartaros and trap them there.  While the first generation of Titans were defeated, there was a second generation of Titans.  These we will cover in the next post, along with the Cyclopes and Gigantes. 

Useful Resources

Theogony by Hesiod
Giants, Monsters & Dragons: An Encyclopedia of Folklore, Legend, and Myth by Carol Rose

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