The Titans (Greek: Τιτάν, Titán, plural: Τiτᾶνες, Titânes) and Titanesses (or Titanides; Greek: Τιτανίς, Titanís, plural: Τιτανίδες, Titanídes) are a race of deities originally worshiped as part of Ancient Greek religion. They were often considered to be the second generation of divine beings, succeeding the primordial deities and preceding the Olympians, but also included certain descendants of the second generation. The Titans include the first twelve children of Gaia (Mother Earth) and Uranus (Father Sky), who ruled during the legendary Golden Age, and also comprised the first pantheon of Greek deities.
Beekes connects the word "Titan" with τιτώ (a now-obscure word for "day"). Other scholars connect the word to the Greek verb τείνω ("teino", to stretch), through an epic variation τιταίνω and τίσις (titaino and tisis, "retribution" and "vengeance"). Hesiod appears to share that view when he narrates:
The Titans play a key role in an important part of Greek mythology, the succession myth. It told how the Titan Cronus overthrew Uranus, and how in turn Zeus, by waging and winning a great ten-year war pitting the new gods against the old gods, called the Titanomachy ("Titan war"), overthrew Cronus and his fellow Titans, and was eventually established as the final and permanent ruler of the cosmos.
According to the standard version of the succession myth, given in Hesiod's Theogony, Uranus initially produced eighteen children with Gaia: the twelve Titans, the three Cyclopes, and the three Hecatoncheires (Hundred-Handers), but hating them, he hid them away somewhere inside Gaia. Angry and in distress, Gaia fashioned a sickle made of adamant and urged her children to punish their father. Only her son Cronus was willing. So Gaia hid Cronus in "ambush" gave him the adamantine sickle, and when Uranus came to lie with Gaia, Cronus reached out and castrated his father. This enabled the Titans to be born and Cronus to assume supreme command of the cosmos, with the Titans as his subordinates.
Cronus, having now taken over control of the cosmos from Uranus, wanted to ensure that he maintained control. Uranus and Gaia had prophesied to Cronus that one of Cronus' own children would overthrow him, so when Cronus married Rhea, he made sure to swallow each of the children she birthed: Hestia, Demeter, Hera, Hades, Poseidon, and Zeus (in that order), to Rhea's great sorrow. However, when Rhea was pregnant with Zeus, Rhea begged her parents Gaia and Uranus to help her save Zeus. So they sent Rhea to Lyctus on Crete to bear Zeus, and Gaia took the newborn Zeus to raise, hiding him deep in a cave beneath Mount Aigaion. Meanwhile, Rhea gave Cronus a huge stone wrapped in baby's clothes which he swallowed thinking that it was another of Rhea's children.
Zeus, now grown, forced Cronus (using some unspecified trickery of Gaia) to disgorge his other five children. Zeus then released his uncles the Cyclopes (apparently still imprisoned beneath the earth, along with the Hundred-Handers, where Uranus had originally confined them) who then provide Zeus with his great weapon, the thunderbolt, which had been hidden by Gaia. A great war was begun, the Titanomachy, for control of the cosmos. The Titans fought from Mount Othrys, while the Olympians fought from Mount Olympus. In the tenth year of that great war, following Gaia's counsel, Zeus released the Hundred-Handers, who joined the war against the Titans, helping Zeus to gain the upper hand. Zeus cast the fury of his thunderbolt at the Titans, defeating them and throwing them into Tartarus, with the Hundred-Handers as their guards.
Only brief references to the Titans and the succession myth are found in Homer. Homer tells us that "the gods ... that are called Titans" reside in Tartarus. Specifically, Homer says that "Iapetus and Cronos ... have joy neither in the rays of Helios Hyperion nor in any breeze, but deep Tartarus is round about them", and further, that Zeus "thrust Cronos down to dwell beneath earth and the unresting sea."
The mythographer Apollodorus, gives a similar account of the succession myth to Hesiod's, but with a few significant differences. According to Apollodorus, there were thirteen original Titans, adding the Titanide Dione to Hesiod's list. The Titans (instead of being Uranus' firstborn as in Hesiod) were born after the three Hundred-Handers and the three Cyclopes, and while Uranus imprisoned these first six of his offspring, he apparently left the Titans free. Not just Cronus, but all the Titans, except Oceanus, attacked Uranus. After Cronus castrated Uranus, the Titans freed the Hundred-Handers and Cyclopes (unlike in Hesiod, where they apparently remained imprisoned), and made Cronus their sovereign, who then reimprisoned the Hundred-Handers and Cyclopes in Tartarus.
Although Hesiod does not say how Zeus was eventually able to free his siblings, according to Apollodorus, Zeus was aided by Oceanus' daughter Metis, who gave Cronus an emetic which forced him to disgorge his children that he had swallowed. According to Apollodorus, in the tenth year of the ensuing war, Zeus learned from Gaia, that he would be victorious if he had the Hundred-Handers and the Cyclopes as allies. So Zeus slew their warder Campe (a detail not found in Hesiod) and released them, and in addition to giving Zeus his thunderbolt (as in Hesiod), the Cyclopes also gave Poseidon his trident, and Hades a helmet, and "with these weapons the gods overcame the Titans, shut them up in Tartarus, and appointed the Hundred-handers their guards".
The Greeks may have borrowed this mytheme from the Ancient Near East. The classical 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 in Scandinavian mythology, the Babylonian epic Enuma Elish, the Hittite "Kingship in Heaven" narrative, the obscure generational conflict in Ugaritic fragments, and the rebellion of the Sons of God in Genesis found in Christianity.
According to Hesiod, the twelve Titan offspring of Gaia and Uranus were Oceanus, Coeus, Crius, Hyperion, Iapetus, Theia, Rhea, Themis, Mnemosyne, Phoebe, Tethys and Cronus. These twelve Titans produced several offspring, who were themselves sometimes considered to be a second generation of Titans: Hyperion's children Helios, Selene, and Eos; Coeus' children Leto and Asteria; Iapetus' sons Atlas, Prometheus, Epimetheus, and Menoetius; Oceanus' daughter Metis; and Crius' sons Astraeus, Pallas, and Perses.
In Orphic literature
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. Surviving fragments of poetry ascribed to Orpheus preserve variations on the mythology of the Titans. In one 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 revolves around Dionysus. At some point in his reign, Zeus decides to give up the throne in favor of his infant son 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.
Creation of humans
Several sources from Late Antiquity concern the role of the Titans in the creation of the human race. The Neoplatonist philosopher Olympiodorus recounted in his commentary of Plato's Phaedo, affirms that humanity sprang up out of the fatty smoke of the burning Titan corpses. Pindar, Plato, and Oppian refer offhandedly to the "Titanic nature" of humans. According to them, the body is the titanic part, while soul is the divine part of humans. 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.
Some 19th- and 20th-century scholars, including Jane Ellen Harrison, have argued that an initiatory or shamanic ritual underlies the myth of the dismemberment and cannibalism of Dionysus 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.
The planet Saturn is named for the Roman equivalent of the Titan Cronus. Saturn's largest moon, Titan, is named after the Titans generally, and the other moons of Saturn are named after individual titans, specifically Tethys, Phoebe, Rhea, Hyperion, and Iapetus. Astronomer William Henry Pickering claimed to discover another moon of Saturn which he named Themis, but this discovery was never confirmed, and the name Themis was given to an asteroid, 24 Themis. Asteroid 57 Mnemosyne was also named for a titan.
A proto-planet Theia is hypothesized to have been involved in a collision in the early solar system, forming the Earth's moon.