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Titan (mythology)

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In Greek mythology, the Titans (Greek: Τιτάν - Ti-tan; plural: Τιτᾶνες - Ti-tânes) were a race of powerful deities, descendants of Gaia and Uranus, that ruled during the legendary Golden Age.

In the first generation of twelve Titans, the males were Oceanus, Hyperion, Coeus, Cronus, Crius and Iapetus and the females were Mnemosyne, Tethys, Theia, Phoebe, Rhea and Themis. The second generation of Titans consisted of Hyperion's children Eos, Helios, and Selene; Coeus's daughters Leto and Asteria; Iapetus's sons Atlas, Prometheus, Epimetheus, and Menoetius; and Crius's sons Astraeus, Pallas, and Perses.

The role of the Titans as Elder Gods was overthrown by a race of younger gods, the Olympians, in the Titanomachy ("War of the Titans") which effected a mythological paradigm shift that the Greeks may have borrowed from the Ancient Near East.[1]

Titanomachy

Greeks of the classical age knew of several poems about the war between the gods and Titans. The dominant one, and the only one that has survived, was in the Theogony attributed to Hesiod. A lost epic, Titanomachia – attributed to the blind Thracian bard Thamyris, himself a legendary figure – was mentioned in passing in an essay On Music that was once attributed to Plutarch. The Titans also played a prominent role in the poems attributed to Orpheus. Although only scraps of the Orphic narratives survive, they show interesting differences with the Hesiodic tradition. The Greek myths of the Titanomachy fall into a class of similar myths concerning a War in Heaven throughout Europe and the Near East, where one generation or group of gods largely opposes the dominant one. Sometimes the Elder Gods are supplanted, and sometimes the rebels lose and are either cast out of power entirely or incorporated into the pantheon. Other examples might include the wars of the Æsir with the Vanir and Jotuns in Norse mythology, the Babylonian epic Enuma Elish, the Hittite "Kingship in Heaven" narrative, the obscure generational conflict in Ugaritic fragments, and the rebellion of Lucifer in Christian tradition.

In Orphic sources

Hesiod does not, however, have the last word on the Titans. Surviving fragments of poetry ascribed to Orpheus preserve some variations on the myth. In such text, Zeus does not simply set upon his father violently. Instead, Rhea spreads out a banquet for Cronus so that he becomes drunk upon fermented honey. Rather than being consigned to Tartarus, Cronus is dragged — still drunk — to the cave of Nyx (Night), where he continues to dream throughout eternity.

Another myth concerning the Titans power that is not in Hesiod revolves around Dionysus. At some point in his reign, Zeus decides to give up the throne in favor of the infant Dionysus, who like the infant Zeus is guarded by the Kouretes. The Titans decide to slay the child and claim the throne for themselves; they paint their faces white with gypsum, distract Dionysus with toys, then dismember him and boil and roast his limbs. Zeus, enraged, slays the Titans with his thunderbolt; Athena preserves the heart in a gypsum doll, out of which a new Dionysus is made. This story is told by the poets Callimachus and Nonnus, who call this Dionysus "Zagreus", and in a number of Orphic texts, which do not.

One iteration of this story, that of the Late Antique NeoPlationist philosopher Olympiodorus, recounted in his commentary of Plato's Phaedrus,[2] affirms that humanity sprang up out of the fatty smoke of the burning Titan corpses. Pindar, Plato and Oppian refer offhandedly to man's "Titanic nature". Other early writers imply that humanity was born out of the malevolent blood shed by the Titans in their war against Zeus. Some scholars consider that Olympiodorus's report, the only surviving explicit expression of this mythic connection, embodied a tradition that dated to the Bronze Age, while Radcliffe Edmonds has suggested an element of innovative allegorized improvisation to suit Olympiodorus's purpose.[3]

Modern interpretations

Some scholars of the past century or so, including Jane Ellen Harrison, have argued that an initiatory or shamanic ritual underlies the myth of Dionysus's dismemberment and cannibalism by the Titans. She also asserts that the word "Titan" comes from the Greek τιτανος, signifying white earth, clay or gypsum, and that the Titans were "white clay men", or men covered by white clay or gypsum dust in their rituals. M. L. West also asserts this in relation to shamanistic initiatory rites of early Greek religious practices.[4]

Other scholars believe the word to be related to the Greek verb τέμνω (to stretch), a view which Hesiod himself appears to share: "But their father Ouranos, who himself begot them, bitterly gave to them to those others, his sons, the name of Titans, the Stretchers, for they stretched out their power outrageously."[5]

In popular culture

Out of conflation with the Gigantes, various large things have been named after the Titans, for their "titanic" size, for example the RMS Titanic or the giant predatory bird Titanis walleri. The familiar name and large size of the Titans have made them dramatic figures suited to market-oriented popular culture.

The element titanium is named for the titans, and one of Saturn's moons, Titan is named after the Titans.

References

Notes

  1. See Walter Burkert, The Orientalizing Revolution: Near Eastern Influence on Greek Culture in the Early Archaic Age (Harvard University Press) 1992:94f, 125-27.
  2. Olympiodorus, In Plat. Phaededr. I.3-6.
  3. M.L. West, The Orphic Poems (Oxford, 1983); Albert Bernabé, "La toile de Pénélope: a-t-il existé un mythe orphique sur Dionysos et les Titans?", Revue de l'histoire des religions (2002:401-33), noted by Radcliffe G. Edmonds III, "A Curious concoction: tradition and innovation in Olympiodorus' creation of mankind".
  4. West, The Orphic Poems 1983.
  5. Hesiod, Theogony, 207-210. Jane Ellen Harrison, Themis, p. 16ff. "The Titans then, the white-clay-men, are real men dressed up as bogies to perform initiation rites. It is only later when their meaning is forgotten that they are explained as Titanes, mythological giants."Uchicago.edu

Bibliography

  • Jane Ellen Harrison, Themis: A Study of the Social Origins of Greek Religion, 1912. Uchicago.edu
  • Smith, William, Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology, 1870, Ancientlibrary.com, article on "Titan"
  • Martin Litchfield West, The Orphic Poems, 1983.

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