8th Century BC: His Heart was Filled with Fury and He Showed Forth All his Strength

Cornelis van Haarlem - The Fall of the Titans - 1588 until 1590

You’ll remember from your Greek mythology that the Titans were the sons and daughters of the primordial gods Gaia and Uranus. They were thus gods themselves, ruling (after one of them, Kronos, overthrew Uranus with Gaia’s help) during the peaceful and idyllic Golden Age—when humans lived “without sorrow of heart, remote and free from toil and grief.” This second generation of gods gave birth to a third, among whom were Kronos’ children—Zeus, Hades, Poseidon, Hestia, Hera and Demeter—who eventually decide to challenge Kronos and all the other gods for control of the cosmos. The ten-year battle that ensues is called the Titanomachy.

Kronos sees it coming; Uranus and Gaia prophesied that one of his children would overthrow him, so he swallows all of his children—but Zeus’s mother Rhea tricks him by giving him a stone wrapped in a blanket and saying it’s Zeus; she also somehow tricks him into regurgitating all the others.

Hesiod tells the story in his Theogony; after ten years of fighting with the sides evenly matched, Zeus calls a war council, and says, after serving his siblings some nectar and ambrosia:

“Hear me, bright children of Earth and Heaven, that I may say what my heart within me bids. A long while now have we, who are sprung from Cronos and the Titan gods, fought with each other every day to get victory and to prevail. But show your great might and unconquerable strength, and face the Titans in bitter strife; for remember our friendly kindness, and from what sufferings you are come back to the light from your cruel bondage under misty gloom through our counsels.”

So he said. And blameless Cottus answered him again: “Divine one, you speak that which we know well: no, even of ourselves we know that your wisdom and understanding is exceeding, and that you became a defender of the deathless ones from chill doom. And through your devising we have come back again from the murky gloom and from our merciless bonds, enjoying what we looked not for, O lord, son of Cronos. And so now with fixed purpose and deliberate counsel we will aid your power in dreadful strife and will fight against the Titans in hard battle.”

So he said: and the gods, givers of good things, applauded when they heard his word, and their spirit longed for war even more than before, and they all, both male and female, stirred up hated battle that day, the Titan gods, and all that were born of Cronos together with those dread, mighty ones of overwhelming strength whom Zeus brought up to the light from Erebus beneath the earth. A hundred arms sprang from the shoulders of all alike, and each had fifty heads growing from his shoulders upon stout limbs. These, then, stood against the Titans in grim strife, holding huge rocks in their strong hands. And on the other part the Titans eagerly strengthened their ranks, and both sides at one time showed the work of their hands and their might.

The boundless sea rang terribly around, and the earth crashed loudly: wide Heaven was shaken and groaned, and high Olympus reeled from its foundation under the charge of the undying gods, and a heavy quaking reached dim Tartarus and the deep sound of their feet in the fearful onset and of their hard missiles. So, then, they launched their grievous shafts upon one another, and the cry of both armies as they shouted reached to starry heaven; and they met together with a great battle-cry.

Then Zeus no longer held back his might; but straight his heart was filled with fury and he showed forth all his strength. From Heaven and from Olympus he came immediately, hurling his lightning: the bolts flew thick and fast from his strong hand together with thunder and lightning, whirling an awesome flame. The life-giving earth crashed around in burning, and the vast wood crackled loud with fire all about. All the land seethed, and Ocean’s streams and the unfruitful sea. The hot vapor lapped round the earthborn Titans: flame unspeakable rose to the bright upper air: the flashing glare of the thunderstone and lightning blinded their eyes for all that they were strong.

Astounding heat seized Chaos: and to see with eyes and to hear the sound with ears it seemed even as if Earth and wide Heaven above came together; for such a mighty crash would have arisen if Earth were being hurled to ruin, and Heaven from on high were hurling her down; so great a crash was there while the gods were meeting together in strife. Also the winds brought rumbling earthquake and duststorm, thunder and lightning and the lurid thunderbolt, which are the shafts of great Zeus, and carried the clangor and the warcry into the midst of the two hosts.

A horrible uproar of terrible strife arose: mighty deeds were shown and the battle inclined. But until then, they kept at one another and fought continually in cruel war. And amongst the foremost Cottus and Briareos and Gyes insatiate for war raised fierce fighting: three hundred rocks, one upon another, they launched from their strong hands and overshadowed the Titans with their missiles, and hurled them beneath the wide-pathed earth, and bound them in bitter chains when they had conquered them by their strength for all their great spirit, as far beneath the earth as heaven is above earth; for so far is it from earth to Tartarus. For a brazen anvil falling down from heaven nine nights and days would reach the earth upon the tenth: and again, a brazen anvil falling from earth nine nights and days would reach Tartarus upon the tenth. Round it runs a fence of bronze, and night spreads in triple line all about it like a neck-circlet, while above grow the roots of the earth and unfruitful sea. (Hugh G. Evelyn-White, trans. Full text here.)

Image: Cornelis Cornelisz van Haarlem: The Fall of the Titans (1596-98)

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1 Response to 8th Century BC: His Heart was Filled with Fury and He Showed Forth All his Strength

  1. Pingback: 1875: Modern Cyclopes | corvusfugit.com

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