Classical Mythology: A Titanic Struggle

A Titanic Struggle

After gaining their own freedom, the Titans made Cronus their king and freed the Cyclopes and their Hundred-Handed brothers from Tartarus. But Cronus proved no more benevolent a ruler than his father. The Cyclopes and the Hundred-Handed Giants—as powerful, arrogant, and resistant to authority as before—had hardly tasted liberty when Cronus once again imprisoned all six in Tartarus.

The New Generation

The 12 Titans and Titanesses, however, retained their liberty—and began pairing off and breeding a new generation of Titans. Of the dozen, at least eight—four brothers and four sisters—married and had children:

What a Life!

In gratitude for her nurturing, Zeus later transformed the goat nymph Amaltheia into the constellation Capricorn. Zeus also fashioned one of her horns into the famed Cornucopia. This “horn of plenty” always contains the food or drink its owner most desires. What's more, no matter how much anyone takes from it, the Cornucopia never becomes empty.

  • Theia and Hyperion—both associated with the sun—fell in love and married each other. Theia soon gave birth to a son—actually the sun (Helius)—and two daughters, Selene (the moon) and Eos (the dawn).
  • Phoebe and Coeus—brought together by the moon—conceived two daughters: Leto, the sweetest and most gentle of the goddesses, and Asteria.
  • Oceanus and Tethys—the Titans associated with the sea—joined in a most prolific union. Their offspring included all the 3,000 rivers—each with its own (usually male) god—and the 3,000 female Oceanids.
  • The most impressive union of all—that between Cronus and Rhea, the father and mother of the gods—produced six divine children. All three daughters—Hestia, Demeter, and Hera—and all three sons—Hades, Poseidon, and Zeus—would soon take their place as gods on Mount Olympus.

A Tale That's Hard to Swallow

Mythed by a Mile

When Rhea substituted a stone for her youngest son Zeus, it may not have been the first time she got away with this kind of trick. Some storytellers say Rhea spared her son Poseidon from her husband's digestive tract using a similar ruse. When Cronus demanded that she give up her newborn son, Rhea presented him with a foal in Poseidon's place.

As lord of the immortals, Cronus became even more of a tyrant than his father. His parents, Gaia and Uranus, had warned him when he first seized the heavenly throne that despite his great power, he would one day be overthrown by his own son. But Cronus relished his power and would not tolerate any potential challengers to his position as king of the immortals.

To secure his power, Cronus came up with a dastardly scheme. Recalling that he and his Titanic siblings had escaped from the darkest depths of Mother Earth only because she became unwilling to bear the burden of keeping them inside her, Cronus decided to assume the burden of his own children himself. With the birth of each of his children—one a year—Cronus scooped up the child just as he or she emerged from Rhea's womb and immediately swallowed the child whole.

What a Life!

When war between the Titans and the future Olympians seemed certain, Zeus promised the other immortals to restore any rights denied them by Cronus if only they would stand by his side in the battle ahead. Styx, a daughter of Oceanus and Tethys, and her children volunteered first—despite her marriage to the second-generation Titan, Pallas. Zeus rewarded her not only with great honors and gifts, but by inviting her children to live forever with him. Zeus later decreed that the gods should swear their greatest oaths by Styx, who had sworn an oath to him.

Rhea, grieving for her lost children, built up a tremendous rage toward her husband. When she conceived her sixth child, Zeus, Rhea pleaded with her parents to devise some scheme to conceal the child's birth. Gaia and Uranus, who foretold the future of both father and son, quickly consented to their daughter's request.

Gaia and Uranus quietly sent their daughter to Lyktos in Crete. In the dead of night, Rhea gave birth to Zeus and immediately turned him over to her Mother Earth. Gaia hid her grandchild in a cave on Mount Dicte, and nourished him with both food and love.

Meanwhile, Rhea returned to Cronus bearing a large stone wrapped in swaddling clothes. Without bothering to examine this bundle, Cronus swallowed it whole.

Zeus grew up on Crete in the care of the ash nymphs Adrasteia and Io and the goat nymph Amaltheia, who nursed him with her own milk. By the time he attained manhood, Zeus had become invincibly strong and swift.

'Scuse Me, I Burped

Before confronting his father, the young Zeus traveled to the Ocean stream—the waters that circled around the edge of the earth—to find his cousin Metis, a wise Oceanid. Metis advised him to go first to his mother Rhea and volunteer to serve as Cronus's cupbearer. She then outlined a scheme that would allow Zeus to wreak vengeance on his father and release his brothers and sisters.


A cupbearer served his or her master food or drink. In essence, a cup-bearer was nothing more than a private waiter.

When Zeus approached his mother, she eagerly embraced the plan. Rhea prepared an emetic potion to make her husband vomit. Zeus then mixed the emetic into a honeyed drink and humbly carried it to Cronus.

As soon as Cronus had taken a long draft of this noxious drink, he began throwing up. First came the stone that Rhea had substituted for her youngest child, then Zeus's five brothers and sisters followed. All emerged unharmed. By acclamation, the siblings immediately chose Zeus to lead them in a war against Cronus and the Titans.

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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Classical Mythology © 2004 by Kevin Osborn and Dana L. Burgess, Ph.D.. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

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