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Metis (mythology)

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In Greek mythology, Metis (Greek: Μῆτις, "wisdom," "skill," or "craft") was of the Titan generation and, like several primordial figures, an Oceanid, in the sense that Mètis was born of Oceanus and Tethys, of an earlier age than Zeus and his siblings. Mètis was the first great spouse of Zeus, indeed his equal (Hesiod, Theogony 896) and the mother of Athena, Zeus' first daughter, the goddess of the war and wisdom. By the era of Greek philosophy in the fifth century BCE, Mètis had become the goddess of wisdom and deep thought, but her name originally connoted "magical cunning" and was as easily equated with the trickster powers of Prometheus as with the "royal metis" of Zeus.[1] The Stoic commentators allegorized Metis as the embodiment of "prudence", "wisdom" or "wise counsel", in which form she was inherited by the Renaissance.[2]

The word mètis was also the ordinary Greek word for a quality that combined wisdom and cunning, this quality was considered to be highly admirable and was regarded by Athenians as one of the notable characteristics of the Athenian character. Metis was the one who gave Zeus a potion for Cronus to vomit out all his siblings.[3]

Mètis was both a threat to Zeus and an indispensable aid (Brown 1952:133):

Zeus lay with Metis but immediately feared the consequences. It had been prophesied that Metis would bear extremely powerful children: the first, Athena and the second, a son more powerful than Zeus himself, who would eventually overthrow Zeus.[4]

In order to forestall these dire consequences, Zeus tricked her into turning herself into a fly and promptly swallowed her.[5] He was too late: Mètis had already conceived a child. In time she began making a helmet and robe for her fetal daughter. The hammering as she made the helmet caused Zeus great pain, and Hephaestus either clove Zeus's head with an axe,[6] or hit it with a hammer at the river Triton, giving rise to Athena's epithet Tritogeneia. Athena leaped from Zeus's head, fully grown, armed, and armored, and Zeus was none the worse for the experience. The similarities between Zeus swallowing Metis and Cronus swallowing his children have been noted by several scholars.

The second consort taken by Zeus, according to the Theogony was Themis, "right order".

Hesiod's account is followed by Acusilaus and the Orphic tradition, which enthroned Mètis side by side with Eros as primal cosmogenic forces. Plato makes Porus, or "creative ingenuity", the child of Mètis.[7]

Metis in astronomy

  • The asteroid, 9 Metis, named in 1848.
  • The minor moon of Jupiter, Metis named in 1979.

References

  • M. Detienne and J.-P. Vernant, Les Ruses de l'intelligence: la Mètis des Grecs (Paris, 1974). ISBN 2080810367.
  1. Norman O. Brown, "The Birth of Athena" Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association 83 (1952), pp. 130–143.
  2. A.B. Cook, Zeus (1914) 1940, noted in Brown 1952:133 note.
  3. Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheke (Apollod. 1.2.1; Hesiod. Theogony 471.
  4. Hesiod's Theogony, 886–900 Available on Wikisource
  5. The Birth of Athena; Greek Goddess Athena.
  6. Pindar, Seventh Olympian Ode the first written appearance of this iconic image, which A.B. Cook showed first appears in sixth-century vase-painting; previously the Eilithyiaa attend Zeus at the birthing.
  7. Plato's Symposium.

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