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It may be counterproductive for a writer to downplay the relevance of her own work, but I want to begin this page by stating very clearly that the Titans were not a central part of ancient Greek polytheism. In Hesiod’s Theogony, and other theogonic literature, they play an important role as the predecessors of the Olympian gods, but this importance is atypical in the broader religious culture. Even in Hesiod, there is little lore about individual Titans, beyond only a few, and other sources neither supplement his accounts nor build on them to any significant degree.
The point should not be overstated, admittedly. There were epic poems, along the lines of the Theogony, but focussed entirely on the Titanomachy, the war in which the Titans under Kronos were overcome by the Olympian gods under Zeus. Yet these do not survive, and their impact on the wider culture was limited. In fact, much of the ancient response to them was negative – by depicting a conflict in which the gods were at any risk of defeat, they were often seen as impious. Nor can we assume that this was a gradual process, whereby once important stories about the Titanic war were gradually marginalized. The shadowy character of most of the Titans in surviving sources of all periods rather points in the opposite direction, that this was a minor story which only a few poets attempted to elaborate on. Although they did not fail to find an audience, neither did they succeed in entrenching their inventions in Greco-Roman culture.
In other words, we have no reason to think that there was ever a point in antiquity when the Titans constituted a fleshed out counter-“pantheon” to the Olympians, neither one that was actually worshipped but later supplanted (a wholly ungrounded theory, despite its continuing popularity, which dates back only to the 19th century), nor one that coexisted with them, in practice or in the imagination. Rather, to the extent that we want to speak about a Greco-Roman “pantheon” at all, both individual Titans and the Titans as a collective are entirely integrated into it, not indendent from it – and the roles of the group and the individuals are fairly disconnected. For instance, the Titanid Themis was worshipped as a heavenly goddess enthroned beside Zeus, while the anonymous Titans surrounding Kronos were located in the underworld or Elysium, as chthonic deities.
With all that said, it is precisely the marginal, ambivalent position of the Titans that makes them especially interesting, and furthermore, the late Neoplatonic philosophers managed to develop the ‘Titanic gods’, as they called them, into a distinct metaphysical class of gods as well as a mythical one. So, it seems worthwhile for multiple reasons to treat the Titans together, and thereby perhaps to stimulate the production of original theology responsive to ancient sources, such as was produced by the Neoplatonists.
To discover the limits of our knowledge, and on that basis to introduce conscious innovations in theology, would at least be much more honest than repeating unfounded claims, such as one finds on theoi.com, that some utterly obscure deity is such a grandiose and peculiar thing as the “Titan goddess of the power of the sea” or the “Titan god of mortality and the allotment of the mortal life-span”. Instead of grasping for such fanciful descriptors, we should confront what it means that for gods to have an identity independent of any ‘domain’, or even to have no personal identity at all (like the unnamed Titans worshipped with Kronos).
2 What are the Titans? A mythical answer
Aelianus Herodianus, an ancient Greek grammarian, defines “Titā́n, Titā́nos (as) a kind of Giants” (Partitions, p. 132, ed. Boissonade). This is not so much because ‘Giant’ is an umbrella that includes Titans, as because mythology describes both Titans and Giants as children of the Earth opposed to Zeus. Specifically, “the Titans are the children of Heaven and Earth” (Commenta Bernensia in Lucanum 3.40), or rather one group of their children.
According to Hesiod, they were born after the Hecatonchiri (Briareus, Gyges, Cottus) who had hundred hands and fifty heads, and after the Cyclopes (Arges, Steropes, Brontes) who had only one eye. Heaven, their father, banished these to Tartarus, but their subsequent “sons, who were named the Titans – namely Oceanus, Coeus, Hyperion, Crius, Iapetus and Kronos, the youngest of all – and their daughters, called Titanids – namely Tethys, Rhea, Themis, Mnemosyne, Phoebe, Dione and Theia –” were persuaded by the Earth to dethrone their father and release the Hecatonchiri and Cyclopes (Pseudo-Apollodorus, Library 1.1.2–4).
According to some, they Titans are named from this act of avenging (tínō) their siblings, as in this fragment from Orpheus (Athenagoras, Plea for the Christians 18.6):
“But Lady Earth gave birth to children, Ouraniones,
Whom they call by the name of Titans,
Because they took revenge on great, star-spangled Heaven.”
(Ouraníōnes may here mean ‘sons of Heaven’ or ‘heavenly gods’.)
Aelius Herodianus, On Orthography
In a looser sense, Briareus, Gyges and Cottus (the Hecatonchiri) are also termed Titans (Hyginus, Genealogies pr.3). I have not found the same for the Cyclopes.
Heaven, according to myth, was replaced by Kronos as king of the gods
Ophion & Eurynome
Antoninus Liberalis (Tithnas)
Hesiod, Homeric Hymn
Scholia on Homer, Scholia on Hesiod, Glossae in theogoniam (Titan and Tithn)
Pindar. Works & Days / Hesiod generally
Titan = Sun; Titanis / Titô
Circe as Titania or Titanis
Euctenius, Oppian, Nicander (Tithnwn)
3 Who are the Titans?
Ithas / Ithax (Aelius Herodianus, Hesychius)
Sukea ena tina twn Titanwn
Thrake- nymphe- Titani-
Aelius Aristides, Athena – Rwmhs egkwmion
Dioscorides Pedanius – PGM
(Anonymi Exegesis in Hesiodi Theogoniam)
Etymologicum Gudianum; Magnum
Anonymi in Oppiani Opera
Lexicon Artis Grammaticae
Scholia in Aeschylum
Scholia in Apollonium
Scholia in Aratum
Scholia in Euripidem
Scholia in Lycophronem (also Tithn)
Scholia in Nicandrum (also Tithn)
Scholia in Oppianum
Scholia in Pindarum
Pseudo-Plutarch, De Musica
Proclus, Simplicius, Olympiodorus, Damascius. Synesius? Psellus? Servius?
Scholia on Theogony: 640.1 <τά περ θεοὶ αὐτοὶ ἔδουσι:> τὸ ἀΐδιον τοῖς 640.2 οὐρανίοις δέδοται σώμασι· καὶ οὕτω νικῶσι τοὺς ἄλλους Τιτᾶνας, τὴν μεριστὴν φύσιν. R2WLZNsv
Alexander against the Manichaeans
Who is and isn’t a Titan