Athos is a lesser-known deity with a story largely lost to the sands of time. He is a primordial demi-god, personifying Mount Athos in Greece. This god doesn’t often appear in Greek mythology. In fact, the one surviving story is a source of confusion among scholars due to contradictions in his origins and identity.
Despite the confusion, Athos’ existence is very important to Greek mythology at large. Like many gods and goddesses of his era, Athos represented something natural. His existence explained the fundamentals of nature, making it easier for early humans to understand the world around them.
The Origins of Athos
Athos is just one of ten Ourea. The Ourea is a group of demi-gods who represented the various mountains throughout Greece. They were born from Gaia, one of the first beings to exist.
According to “Theogony” by Hesiod, the universe was nothing but an empty void before Gaia came to be. The state of existence was known as Chaos, and it lacked life or any structure. Gaia sprung forth from Chaos to create the world. She’s the personification of the Earth, and every piece of Greek mythology that follows is a result of her arrival. Many consider Gaia to be the ultimate mother figure. Even in other cultures, she’s often referred to as “Mother Nature” or “Mother Gaia.”
Gaia would eventually create the first generation of Titans. They’d kick off the Succession Myth, paving the way for the Twelve Olympians to rise to the throne. But before all of that, Gaia gave birth to the Ourea.
Athos is the god of Mount Athos in Thrace. It’s considered a “Holy Mountain” to the modern Autonomous Monastic State. But even in antiquity, Mount Athos was an important place. Many writers mention it in their works. The most notable examples come from Homer, Hesiod, Herodotus, Strabo, and more.
The Ourea rarely appear in their demi-god form. In the few artistic depictions that exist, they’re usually older men who live on their respective mountains. The Ourea don’t interact much with other figures except for a few instances. They’re background characters who occasionally offer the counsel of judgment over events that occur in their domain.
Athos the Gigante
Some accounts say that Athos was a Gigante. The Gigante were a race of beings with super strength and noticeable aggression. The jury is still out when it comes to size. While they’re often referred to as “The Giants,” not all versions of their tale say that they are considerably large.
Theoretically, Athos could be a Gigante. The Gigante came from Gaia like the Ourea and existed before the Titans and Olympians.
However, the issue comes in the formation of Mount Athos. Most records of Greek mythology say that the Ourea were personifications of their mountains. For Athos to be a Gigante would throw the entire concept of the Ourea out the window.
Regardless, the tale of Athos as a Gigante is a fascinating one. There are several versions of events.
The first is that Athos created Mount Athos during the Gigantomachy. This was a battle with the Olympians after they rose to power in the aftermath of the Titanomachy. The Olympians fought against the Gigantes, who used their brute strength to put up a formidable fight.
The legend says that Athos hurled a massive rock at Poseidon, the god of the sea. He missed, but the rock fell into the Aegean sea to create Mount Athos.
It’s not clear how Athos fell. But the Gigantes fell when Heracles entered the fight. No matter how he died, some versions of this story say that Poseidon punished Athos by burying him beneath the very mountain he created!
Another iteration of the Athos tale says that the Gigante fought against Zeus instead of Poseidon. Here, Athos tried to storm the heavens! He didn’t make it very far, as Zeus quickly intervened before he could progress into the immortals’ domain. The king of the gods blocked his entrance. However, Athos again used his strength to fling a mountain in Zeus’ direction.
The actions of the Gigante were futile, and Zeus made the mountain fall off the coast of Macedonia. It landed to create Mount Athos.
Athos didn’t reappear in Greek mythology in his demi-god form or Gigante form. However, Mount Athos served as the background for many stories.
Homer talks about the mountain in the “Iliad.” Herodotus brings up the mountain, too. In his story, the Persian commander Mardonius lost about 20,000 men and 300 ships as he guided his forces around the coast of Mount Athos. Strong north winds devastated his fleet.
Later, the mountain became the source of many legends. After the death of Alexander the Great, his architect, Dinocrates, wanted to carve the mountain to look like his fallen leader. Thankfully, he abandoned that idea.
Eventually, the mountain became shrouded in mystery due to inaccurate historical accounts. Many rumors swirled, with Pliny the Elder famously stating that inhabitants of the mountain could live for 400 years because they ate the skin of vipers.
All the while, Athos remained silent and unseen.
Athos is a mountain demi-god.
He rules over Mount Athos in Thrace. It stands approximately 2,033 meters tall.
Athos is one of the ten Ourea.
Some accounts say that Athos is also a Gigante.
He is the son of Gaia.
As a Gigante, Athos reportedly fought with Poseidon or Zeus.
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