Titan (mythology)

In Greek mythology, the Titans (Greek: Τιτάν Tītán; plural: Τιτᾶνες Tītânes) and Titanesses (Greek: Τιτάνης Tītánis; plural: Τιτᾶνίδες Titânídes) were members of the second order of divine beings, descending from the primordial gods and preceding the Olympian gods. Based on Mount Othrys, the Titans most famously included the first twelve children of the primordial Gaia (Mother Earth) and Uranus (Father Heaven). They were giant deities of incredible strength, who ruled during the legendary Golden Age, and also comprised the first pantheon of Greek gods and goddesses.

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

The Titans were overthrown by younger gods, including many of their own children—the Olympians—in the Titanomachy (or "War of the Titans"). The Greeks may have borrowed this mytheme from the Ancient Near East.[1]


  • Titanomachy 1
  • In Orphic sources 2
  • Modern interpretations 3
  • In popular culture 4
  • Notes 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7


Greeks of the classical age knew of several poems about the war between the Olympians 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 legendary blind Thracian bard Thamyris—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 throughout Europe and the Near East concerning a war in heaven, where one generation or group of gods largely opposes the dominant one. Sometimes the elders 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 Scandinavian mythology, the Babylonian epic Enuma Elish, the Hittite "Kingship in Heaven" narrative, the obscure generational conflict in Ugaritic fragments, Virabhadra's conquest of the early Vedic Gods, and the rebellion of Lucifer in Christianity. The Titanomachy lasted for ten years.

In Orphic sources

Rhea, Cronus' wife, one of the Titans

Hesiod does not 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 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 Neoplatonist 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". According to them, the body is the titanic part, while soul is the divine part of man. 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' 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' purpose.[3]

Modern interpretations

Cronus armed with sickle; after a carved gem (Aubin-Louis Millin de Grandmaison, Galerie mythologique, 1811).

Some 19th- and 20th-century scholars, including Jane Ellen Harrison, have argued that an initiatory or shamanic ritual underlies the myth of Dionysus' dismemberment and cannibalism by the Titans. She also asserts that the word "Titan" comes from the Greek τίτανος, 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. Martin Litchfield West also asserts this in relation to shamanistic initiatory rites of early Greek religious practices.[4]

According to Paul Faure, the name "Titan" can be found on Linear A written as "Tan" or "Ttan", which represents a single deity rather than a group.[5] Other scholars believe the word is related to the Greek verb τείνω (to stretch), through an epic variation τιταίνω, and τίσις (retribution, vengeance), a view Hesiod himself appears to share when he narrates: "But their father, great Ouranos, called them Titans by surname, rebuking his sons, whom he had begotten himself; for he said they had strained (τιταίνοντας) in their wickedness to perform a mighty deed, and at some later time there would be vengeance (τίσιν) for this."[6]

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. Something titanic is usually considered bigger than something gigantic.

The element titanium is named after the Titans, additionally, many of Saturn's moons are named after various Titans.

Many professional and amateur sports teams use a titan as their mascot. Most notably, the National Football League's Tennessee Titans, the New York Jets were originally known as the New York Titans, California State University, Fullerton and Ohio State University, Newark Campus's athletic teams are known as the Titans, and the Australian professional rugby league team Gold Coast is also known as the Titans.

The Titans have appeared as antagonists in the Disney Avenger's, Guardians of the Galaxy, Hercules and the Percy Jackson & the Olympians series and as both protagonists and antagonists in the God of War video game series and the Clash of the Titans movies; though the original and the 2010 remake do not actually feature any Titans, the 2012 sequel features Cronus as the main antagonist.

Monsters that are called Titans but are not actually the mythic beings themselves appear in the anime Attack on Titan.


  1. ^ Burkert, pp. 94f, 125–27.
  2. ^ Olympiodorus, In Plat. Phaededr. I.3–6.
  3. ^ West; 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.
  5. ^ "The Minoan Deities Named: An Archaeologist Gleans Goddesses and Gods from Linear A". Retrieved January 8, 2012. 
  6. ^ Hesiod, Theogony, 207–210.


External links

  • Theoi Project, Titans references to Titans in classical literature, in translation
  • Greek Mythology Link, Titans summary of the Titans myth