Wednesday, 25 February 2015

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

Today we are going to learn about the second generation of Titans and look at some of the myths in which they appear.  According to Hesiod’s Theogony:

Iapetos led the daughter of Okeanos, beautiful-ankled
Klymene and went with her up to the same bed.
She gave birth to Atlas and produced
The exceedingly glorious Menoitios and Prometheus,
Changeful, slippery-counseled, and erring minded Epimetheus
Who proved an evil for men who each what the soil yields.
Prometheus Creating Man from Clay by Constantin Hansen

Prometheus is probably the most well-known second generation Titan, first appearing in Hesiod’s Theogony and Works and Days, and is credited by Apollodorus for the creation of man from clay.  As the Theogony tells us, Prometheus, meaning ‘forethought’, was born of Iapetos and Klymene, also spelled Clymene, or Themis.  Unlike most of the Titans, he fought with the gods and was rewarded for his part in the war.  Hesiod tells us that Prometheus helped to establish sacrifice amongst mankind by tricking Zeus: 

For when gods and mortal men were making a settlement
at Mekone, at that time Prometheus divided with eager spirit
a great ox and set it before him, seeking to beguile the mind of Zeus.

For him, Prometheus covered flesh and innards rich in fat
with the ox’s stomach and set them down wrapped in the hide.
For them, he covered the ox’s white bones with shining fat
and, well arranging them for his cunning trick, set them down.
Then the father of men and gods addressed him:
‘Son of Iapetos, most conspicuous of all lords,
dear sir, how partially you divide the portions.’
Thus spoke Zeus who knows imperishable counsels, chiding him.
Again, Prometheus of crooked counsel addressed him,
smiling slightly, and he did not forget his cunning trick:
‘Very noble Zeus, greatest of the gods who are for always,
choose whichever of these the spirit in your breast bids you.’
He spoke, planning cunning.  Zeus who knows imperishable counsels
recognized and was not ignorant of the cunning, but he eyed evils
with his mind for mortal men, that he intended to fulfil.
With both hands, he took the white fat,
and grew angry around his breast, and bitter bile entered his mind
when he saw the ox’s white bones in a cunning trick.
From then on, for the immortals the tribes of men on earth
burn white bones on fragrant altars.

Prometheus by Jean Delville
Zeus is infuriated by Prometheus’ trickery, but does not punish him until Prometheus steals fire for humans.

From this time, always mindful of his wrath,
He would not give the strength of weariless fire
To the ash trees for mortal men who dwell on earth.
But good son of Iapetos deceived him,
Stealing the far-seen beam of weariless fire
In a hollow fennel stalk.  It stung anew Zeus
High thunderer in his spirit, and he raged in his heart
When he saw among men the far-seen beam of fire.

The theft of fire was a wrong that Zeus could not ignore and he sought to punish Prometheus, who was chained and repeatedly attacked by an eagle, which pecked out his liver.  Being immortal, Prometheus' liver regrew, allowing the eagle to remove it again and again.

  He bound
The changeful-planning Prometheus with unbreakable fetters,
Painful bonds, and drove them through the middle of a pillar.
And he sent a long-winged eagle upon him.  Further, it ate
His deathless liver, but there grew back all over during the night
As much as the bird of long wings had eater during the whole day.

The Liberation of Prometheus by Carl Bloch
Prometheus is later granted his freedom when he helps Heracles in his eleventh labour:

The stout son of Alkmene of the beautiful ankles,
Heracles, slew it, and warded off the evil sickness
For Iapetos’s son and released him from troubles,
Not against Olympian Zeus’s will, who was contriving on high
In order that the renown of Theban-born Heracles
Might be more than before over the much-nourishing earth.
So respecting him, he honoured his conspicuous son.
Although angry, he let off the wrath he had before against
Prometheus because he rivalled the very mighty Kronios in designs.

The following myth tells us of Prometheus’ theft of fire.

Prometheus and the Theft of Fire

There once lived a race of huge giants called Titans.  These giants were fierce, turbulent, and lawless – always fighting among themselves and against Jupiter, the king of the gods.
One of the Titans, whose name was Prometheus, was wiser than the rest.  He often thought about what would be likely to happen in the future.
The Battle Between the Gods and the Titans 1600 - Joachim Wtewael
One day, Prometheus said to his brother Titans: ‘What is the use of wasting so much strength?  In the end, wisdom and forethought will win.  If we are going to fight against the gods, let us choose a leader and stop quarrelling among ourselves.’

The Titans answered him by a shower of great rocks and uprooted trees.
Prometheus, after escaping unhurt, said to his youngest brother: ‘Come, Epimetheus, we can do nothing among these Titans.  If they keep on, they will tear the earth to pieces.  Let us go and help Jupiter overcome them.’
Epimetheus agreed to this, and the two brothers went over to Jupiter, who called the gods together and began a terrible battle.  The Titans tore up enormous boulders and cast them at the gods, while Jupiter hurled his thunderbolts and his lightnings in all directions.  Soon the sky was a sheet of flame, the sea boiled, the earth trembled, and the forests took fire and began to burn.
At last the gods – partly by the help of the wise counsel of Prometheus – conquered the Titans, took them to the ends of the earth, and imprisoned them in a deep underground cavern.  Neptune, the sea-god, made strong bronze gates with heavy bolts and bars, to keep the giants down, while Jupiter sent Briareus and his brothers, three giants with fifty heads and a hundred hands each, to stand guard over them.
All but one of the Titans who had fought against the gods were imprisoned in this cavern.  This one who was not shut in with the others was Atlas, whose enormous strength was greater than that of his brothers, while his disposition was less quarrelsome.  He was made to stand and hold up the sky on his head and hands.
As the Titans could now make no more trouble, there was comparative peace and quiet on the earth.  Nevertheless, Jupiter said that, although the men who remained on the earth were not so strong as the Titans, they were a foolish and wicked race.  He declared that he would destroy them - sweep them away, and have done with them, forever.
When their king said this, none of the gods dared to say a word defence of mankind.  But Prometheus, the Titan, who was earth-born himself, and loved these men of the earth, begged Jupiter so earnestly to spare them, that Jupiter consented to do so.
Gift of the Titans by alprz
At this time, men lived in dark, gloomy caves.  Their friend, Prometheus, taught them to build simple houses, which were much more comfortable than the caves had been.  This was a great step forward, but men needed more help yet from the Titan.  The beasts of the forest, and the great birds that built their nests on the rocks, were strong but men were weak.  The lion had sharp claws and teeth; the eagle had wings; the turtle had a hard shell; but man, although he stood upright with his face towards the stars, had no weapon with which he could defend himself.

Prometheus said that man should have Jupiter’s wonderful flower of fire, which shone so brightly in the sky.  So he took a hollow reed, went up to Olympus, stole the red flower of fire, and brought it down to earth in his reed.
After this, all the other creatures were afraid of man, for this red flower had made him stronger than they.  Man dug iron out of the earth, and by the help of his new fire made weapons that were sharper than the lion’s teeth; he tamed the wild cattle by the fear of it, yoked them together, and taught them how to draw the plough; he sharpened strong stakes, hardening them in its heat, and set them around his house as a defence from his enemies; he did many other things besides with the red flower that Prometheus had made to blossom at the end of the reed.

Prometheus by midoriharada
Jupiter, sitting on his throne, saw with alarm how strong man was becoming.  One day he discovered the theft of his shining red flower, and knew that Prometheus was the thief.  He was greatly displeased at this act.

‘Prometheus loves man too well,’ said he.  ‘He shall be punished.’  Then he called his two slaves, Strength and Force, and told them to take Prometheus and bind him fast to a great rock in the lonely Caucasian Mountains.  At the same time he ordered Vulcan, the lame smith-god, to rivet the Titan’s chains – in a cunning way that only Vulcan knew.
There Prometheus hung on the rock for hundreds of years.  The sun shone on him pitilessly, by day – only the kindly night gave him shade.  He heard the rushing wings of the sea-gulls, as they came to feed their young who cried from the rocks below.  The sea-nymphs floated up to his rock to give him their pity.  A vulture, cruel as the king of the gods, came daily and tore him with its claws and beak.
But this frightful punishment did not last forever.  Prometheus himself knew that some day he should be set free, and this knowledge made him strong to endure.
At last the time came when Jupiter’s throne was in danger, and Prometheus, pitying his enemy, told him a secret which helped him to make everything safe again.  After this, Jupiter sent Hercules to shoot the vulture and to break the Titan’s chains.  So Prometheus was set free.

Atlas, meaning ‘the Bearer’ or ‘Daring’ or ‘Sufferer’, was the son of Iapetus and Clymene and himself fathered the Pleiades, Hyades, and Hesperides by Aethra, a daughter of Oceanos.  During the war between the Titans and the gods, Atlas was the ruler of Atlantis, which was flooded and destroyed by the newly emerging gods.  In vengeance, Atlas fought against the gods and, when the Titans lost, Zeus punished Atlas by ordering him to bear the weight of the world on his shoulders.

Atlas holds wide Heaven beneath powerful necessity,
Standing on the boundaries of the Gaia before the clear-toned
Hesperides, on his head and weariless arms.  This portion
Counsellor Zeus distributed to him.

While Atlas was punished for his role in the war, he does gain brief freedom from his duties when he appears in the eleventh labour of Heracles, in which Heracles is given the task of obtaining the golden apples of the Herperides.

Heracles by Jumbod
Eleventh Labour: the apples of the Hesperides

The eleventh task imposed by Eurystheus was to bring him the golden apples of the Hesperides, which grew on a tree presented by Gaea to Hera, on the occasion of her marriage with Zeus.  This sacred tree was guarded by four maidens, daughters of Night, called the Herperides, who were assisted in their task by a terrible hundred-headed dragon.  This dragon never slept, and out of his hundred throats came a constant hissing sound, which effectually warned off all intruders.  But what rendered the undertaking still more difficult was the complete ignorance of the hero as to the locality of the garden, and he was forced, in consequence, to make many fruitless journeys and to undergo many trials before he could find it.
Apples of Hesperides by RavenclawRadiance
He first travelled through Thessaly and arrived at the river Echedorus, when he met the giant Cycnus, the son of Ares and Pyrene, who challenged him to single combat.  In this encounter Heracles completely vanquished his opponent, who was killed in the contest; but now mightier adversary appeared on the scene, for the war-god himself came to avenge his son.  A terrible struggle ensued, which had lasted some time, when Zeus interfered between the brothers, and put an end to the strife by hurling a thunderbolt between them.  Heracles proceeded on his journey, and reached the banks of the river Eridanus, where dwelt the Nymphs, daughters of Zeus and Themis.  On seeking advice from them as to his route, they directed him to the old sea-god Nereus, who alone knew the way to the Garden of the Hesperides.  Heracles found him asleep, and seizing the opportunity, held him so firmly in his powerful grasp that he could not possibly escape, so that notwithstanding his various metamorphoses he was at last compelled to give the information required.  The hero then crossed over to Libya, where he engaged in a wrestling-match with king Anteos, son of Poseidon and Gaea, which terminated fatally for his antagonist.

Hercules.2 by LauraTolton
From thence he proceeded to Egypt, where reigned Busiris, another son of Poseidon, who (acting on the advice given by an oracle during a time of great scarcity) sacrificed all strangers to Zeus.  When Heracles arrived he was seized and dragged to the altar, but the powerful demi-god burst asunder his bonds, and then slew Busiris and his son.
Resuming his journey he now wandered on through Arabia until he arrived at Mount Caucasus, where Prometheus groaned in unceasing agony.  It was at this time that Heracles… shot the eagle which had so long tortured the noble and devoted friend of mankind.  Full of gratitude for his deliverance, Prometheus instructed him how to find his way to that remote region in the far West where Atlas supported the heavens on his shoulders, near which lay the Garden of the Hesperides.  He also warned Heracles not to attempt to secure the precious fruit himself, but to assume for a time the duties of Atlas and to despatch him for the apples.
On arriving at his destination Heracles followed the advice of Prometheus.  Atlas, who willingly entered into the arrangement, contrived to put the dragon to sleep, and then, having cunningly outwitted the
The Golden Apples of the Hesperides by Jun-Pierre Shiozawa
Herperides, carried off three of the golden apples, which he brought to Heracles.  But when the latter was prepared to relinquish his burden, Atlas, having once tasted the delights of freedom, declined to resume his post, and announced his intention of being himself the bearer of the apples to Eurystheus, leaving Heracles to fill his place.  To this proposal the hero feigned assent, merely begging that Atlas would be kind enough to support the heavens for a few moments whilst he contrived a pad for his head.  Atlas good-naturedly threw down the apples and once more resumed his load, upon which Heracles bade him adieu, and departed.

When Heracles conveyed the golden appled to Eurystheus the latter presented them to the hero, whereupon Heracles placed the sacred fruit on the altar of Pallas-Athene, who restored them to the garden of the Hesperides.

Menoitius, during the War of the Titans - artist unknown

Like Atlas, Menoitios fought against the gods in the war against the Titans.  This titan is somewhat obscure.  Very little is known about him and the little that is known comes from Hesiod's Theogony.  The Theogony tells us that Zeus punishes him for his role in the war, by sending condemning him to the eternal darkness of Erebus.  Most scholars tend to assume that Menoitios' imprisonment was due to his part in the war between the gods and the Titans.  Unfortunately later authors haven't provided any further information.

  Wide-seeing Zeus sent insolent Menoitios down
Into Erebos, striking him with smoldering lightning,
Because of his rashness and excessive manliness.


Epimetheus is credited with having endowed the creatures of the earth with certain attributes, such as speed and strength.  He also helped his brother Prometheus with forming the attributes of humans, as well as encouraging Prometheus to steal fire from the gods.  Epimetheus was married to Pandora and, according to Hesiod, was in part responsible for the damage wrought by Pandora's curiosity.
...changeful, slippery-counselled, and erring-minder Epimetheus
who proved an evil for men who eat what the soil yields.
He was first to receive under his roof Zeus's molded woman

Epimetheus Receiving Pandora by Henry Howard
Epimetheus can be found in the following myth of Pandora and the box of troubles.

How Troubles Came into the World

A very long time ago, in the Golden Age, everyone was good and happy.  It was always spring; the earth was covered with flowers and only gentle winds blew to set the flowers dancing.
No one had any work to do.  People lived on mountain strawberries, which were always to be had for the gathering, and on wild grapes, blackberries, and sweet acorns, which grew plentifully in the oak forests.  Rivers flowed with milk and nectar.  Even the bees did not need to lay up honey, for it fell in tiny drops from the trees.  There was abundance everywhere.
In all the whole world, there was not a sword, nor any weapon by means of which men might fight with one another.  No one had ever heard of any such thing.  All the iron and the gold were buried deep underground.
Hermes bears Pandora to Epimetheus by Jean Alaux
Besides, people were never ill; they had no troubles of any kind; and never grew old.

The two brothers, Prometheus and Epimetheus, lived in those wonderful days.  After stealing the fire for man, Prometheus knowing that Jupiter would be angry, decided to go away for a time on a distant journey; but before he went, he warned Epimetheus not to receive any gifts from the gods.
One day, after Prometheus had been gone for some time, Mercury came to the cottage of Epimetheus, leading by the hand a beautiful young woman, whose name was Pandora.  She had a wreath of partly opened rosebuds on her head, a number of delicate gold chains twisted lightly around her neck, and wore a filmy veil which fell nearly to the hem of her tunic.  Mercury presented her to Epimetheus, saying the gods had sent this gift that he might not be lonesome.
Pandora had such a lovely face that Epimetheus could not help believing that the gods had sent her to him in good faith.  So he paid no heed to the warning of Prometheus, but took Pandora into his cottage, and found that the days passed much more quickly and pleasantly when she was with him.
Soon, the gods sent Epimetheus another gift.  This was a heavy box, which the satyrs brought to the cottage, with directions that it was not to be opened.  Epimetheus let it stand in a corner of his cottage; for by this time he had begun to think that the caution of Prometheus about receiving gifts from the gods was altogether unnecessary.
Pandora's Box by LMessecar
Often, Epimetheus was away all day, hunting or fishing or gathering grapes from the wild vines that grew along the river banks.  On such days, Pandora had nothing to do but to wonder what was in the mysterious box.  One day her curiosity was so great that she lifted the lid a very little and peeped in.  The result was similar to what would have happened had she lifted the cover of a beehive.  Out rushed a great swarm of little winged creatures, and before Pandora knew what had happened, she was stung.  She dropped the lid and ran out of the cottage, screaming.  Epimetheus, who was just coming in at the door, was well stung, too.

The little winged creatures that Pandora had let out of the box were Troubles, the first that had ever been seen in the world.  They soon flew about and spread themselves everywhere, pinching and stinging whenever they got the chance.
After this, people began to have headaches, rheumatism, and other illnesses; and instead of being always kind and pleasant to one another, as they had been before the Troubles were let out of the box, they became unfriendly and quarrelsome.  They began to grow old, too.
Nor was it always spring any longer.  The fresh young grasses that had clothed all the hillsides and the gay-coloured flowers that had given Epimetheus and Pandora so much pleasure, were scorched by hot summer suns, and bitten by the frosts of autumn.  Oh, it was a sad thing for the world, when all those wicked little Troubles were let loose!

Pandora's Hope by BloodMoonEquinox
All the Troubles escaped from the box, but when Pandora let the lid fall so hastily, she shut in one little winged creature, a kind of good fairy whose name was Hope.  This little Hope persuaded Pandora to let her out.  As soon as she was free, she flew about the world, undoing all the evil that the Troubles had done, that is, as fast as one good fairy could undo the evil work of such a swarm.  No matter what evil thing had happened to poor mortals, she always found some way to comfort them.  She fanned aching heads with her gossamer wings; she brought back the colour to pale cheeks; and, best of all, she whispered to those who were growing old that they should one day be young again.

So this is the way that Troubles came into the world, but we must not forget that Hope came with them.

That's all for today.  In the next post, we will look at the last of the giants of Greek mythology.

Useful Resources

Yetis, Sasquatch & Hairy Giants by David Hatcher Childress
Myths and Legends of Ancient Greece and Rome by E.M. Berens
Theogony by Hesoid
Ancient Greek Beliefs by Perry L. Westmoreland
Giants, Monsters, and Dragons: An Encyclopedia of Folklore, Legend, and Myth by Carol Rose

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