Who are the Hecatoncheires creatures in Greek mythology?
The battle between the Titans and the Olympians is one of the most pivotal moments in Greek mythology. It shaped Ancient Greeks’ lives and led to a wealth of captivating stories that continue to inspire works of art. While most are familiar with iconic figures like Zeus and Cronus, some lesser-known characters played a big part in the battle for the cosmos. Take, for example, the Hecatoncheires.
The Hecatoncheires were a group of three enormous giants. Thanks to their sheer size and brute strength, these giants were feared by both humans in Greece and gods. They were so menacing that their father ended up locking them away in fear. Upon their release, the giants would participate in the Titanomachy, leading to the fall of the Titans and the rise of the Olympians.
There are a few different versions of the Hecatoncheires’ tale. The most commonly retold Greek myth from Hesiod’s “Theogony.” In this version, the Hecatoncheires are the progeny of Uranus and Gaia.
Uranus, sometimes spelled Ouranos, is the god and personification of the sky. Gaia, or Gaea, was the goddess of the Earth. Both Uranus and Gaia were primordial deities, so they were among the first being to exist.
The couple gave birth to many children, and the Hecatoncheires were just three of them. According to Hesiod, the Hecatoncheires were the last three children to come from Uranus and Gaia. However, the mythographer Apollodorus stated that they were the first.
Whatever the case may be, the three giants had many famous siblings. They had three Cyclops brothers and were all related to the 12 Titans.
The legend says that the Hecatoncheires, along with their many siblings, were imprisoned by Uranus. Some versions state that they were sent to the depths of Tartarus, a gloomy place in Hades. Others recall them living in the deepest wells of Gaia. Some accounts even say that Uranus pushed the Hecatoncheires back into Gaia’s whom! Many scholars attribute two latter versions as a representation of earthquakes and other underground forces of nature.
Uranus reportedly locked the giants away out of pure hate. Not only did he think the Hecatoncheires were ugly and unfit to live among the other deities, but he had hatred for all his children. Uranus and Gaia eventually had 18 offspring, and they were all locked up for years.
The Hecatoncheire Giants
The Hecatoncheires are usually spoken about collectively. Each one had a similar offputting look. They reportedly had 50 heads and 100 arms, leading to their many colorful nicknames. For example, they’re often called “Hundred Handed Ones.”
In many depictions, the Hecatoncheires also wielded clouds to the blustering winds. Some works of art also portrayed them alongside a trio of Cyclops, their brothers, and wielders of thunder and lightning.
Even though most retellings group them as one entity, the Hecatoncheires all had distinct names.
The first brother, Cottus, took a common Thracian moniker. Some scholars believe that his name came from a Thracian goddess named Kotys. His name translates to “The Striker.”
Gyges was likely inspired by the mythical King of Attica called Ogyes. In some texts, this brother’s name is simplified to Gyes.
Finally, there’s Briareus. Briareus, also spelled “Obriareus” or “Briareos, “is one of the more complex giants. In “Theogony,” Briareus was singled out for being the “good” giant of the trio. He was even rewarded by the god of the sea, Poseidon. Poseidon reportedly gave Briareus his daughter, Cymopolea the sea nymph, for marriage.
Briareus also appears in Homer’s “Iliad” poem. In this tale, Homer states that the giant was called Biareus or Aegaeon. Biareus was the name used by the gods and goddesses. But to humankind, the giant was referred to as Aegaeon. In “Iliad,” he was called upon by Thetis to quell a revolt against Zeus.
The spelling was altered to Aigaion for the “Titanomachy” epic. The connection to Poseidon and the sea resulted in a unique appearance in “Metamorphoses” by Ovid. In Ovid’s tale, Briareus is only referred to as Aegaeon. He’s also called a sea god that inspired the name of the Aegean Sea.
The Story of the Hecatoncheires
The Hecatoncheires’ tale is one of shifting power dynamics. It’s one of the greatest stories in Greek Mythology, as it involves the succession of deities through time. The most common version of this story comes from Hesiod’s “Theogony.”
As mentioned earlier, the Hecatoncheires were imprisoned alongside the 12 Titans and the rest of Uranus’ and Gaia’s children. There, they were guarded by a great dragon called Campe.
Hesiod went into great detail describing the horror Uranus saw upon their birth. A hundred arms springing from their shoulder made them unapproachable, and the mighty strength of their forms was immense!
After Uranus locked all 18 of his children up, Gaia hatched a plan. She induced her final child, Cronus, to castrate Uranus. He was successful, and Uranus eventually receded into the background of Greek Mythology. Cronus took over, releasing the 12 Titans from their imprisonment to rule the cosmos.
However, Cronus did not release the Hecatoncheires. He left them imprisoned along with their three Cyclops brothers. The Titans left them behind, forgetting about them as they continued to lead.
Cronus eventually married his sister, Rhea. The two bore six children. In fear of getting overthrown, much like his father, Cronus swallowed the first five. In secret, Rhea saved the fifth child. Rhea hid him away, allowing Gaia to raise him. That child was Zeus, the first of the Olympians!
Once Zeus became old enough, he confronted Cronus, forcing him to disgorge the children he swallowed. This event triggered the Titanomachy, a ten-year war between the Titans and the Olympians.
The Hecatoncheires come back into the story during this destructive war. All this time, they were locked away in despair, feeling betrayed by their brother Cronus who failed to release them from their imprisonment. Gaia foretold that Zeus would be victorious with assistance from the Hecatoncheires and the Cyclops.
So, Zeus went to release the big-limbed giant, finally bringing them out of the depths of imprisonment and into the light. The leader of the Olympian gods worked to restore their strength, providing ambrosia and nectar. He then asked for their assistance, which the Hecatoncheires eagerly obliged.
The Hecatoncheires took their positions, holding massive boulders in their hundred hands. As Zeus left Olympus, he unleashed a fury of thunderbolts on Mount Othrys and the Titans. The Hecatoncheires then pelted the Titans with boulders. The Titans fell and were cast into Tartarus for eternity as punishment.
What happened to the Hecatoncheires after the great war varies between retellings. Most say that the giants returned to Tartarus, living near the gates to watch the Titans and ensure that they never escape!
Other accounts say that Cottus and Gyges retired to mansions upon the “foundations of the Oceans.” Meanwhile, Briareus became the son-in-law of Poseidon due to his marriage to Cymopoliea.
- The Hecatoncheires comprised of three giants named Cottus, Briareus, and Gyges.
- Other spellings for this trio of giants include “Hekatonkheires” and “Hecatonchires”
- Common nicknames for the Hecatoncheires include the “Hundred-Handers” and “Hundred-Handed Ones.” The Latinized version of their name is “Centimanes.”
- The Hecatoncheires had 50 heads and 100 arms.
- The Hecatoncheires were only three of the 18 offspring from parents Uranus and Gaia.
- Siblings of the Hecatoncheires include three cyclops and the original 12 Titans.
- The Hecatoncheires played a significant role in the succession myth, eventually paving the way for the Greek Pantheon to take over.
- The giants became guards of the Titans in Tartarus.
- The Hecatoncheires appeared in works by Virgil, Ion of Chios, Ovid, Apollodorus, and more.
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