One of the first twelve Titans in Greek mythology Phoebe was the daughter of the primordial deities Gaia and Uranus. With her brother Coeus, Phoebe had two daughters, Astaria and Leto. She was also the grandmother of Apollo and Aphrodite, powerful deities in the Olympian pantheon.
The name “Phoebe” was derived from the ancient Greek phoibos, meaning “bright,” or “shining,” and was also applied to Phoebe’s grandson, who was commonly referred to as Apollo Phoebus, or “Shining Apollo.”1
While Phoebe’s precise attributes remain unclear, her etymology suggests she may have possessed a certain mental acuity—a trait she shared with her grandson Apollo.
The daughter of earth mother Gaia and heavenly father Uranus, Phoebe was part of a brood of Titans that included Coeus, Crius, Hyperion, Rhea, Oceanus, Iapetus, Thea, Themis, Menmosyne, Tethys, and Cronus. Phoebe’s other siblings included the one-eyed monsters known as the Cyclopes and the Hecatoncheires, horrible creatures said to have a hundred hands each.
Phoebe fell in love with her brother, Coeus, and the relationship produced two children. One, Asteria, was a star goddess who eventually transformed herself into an island to avoid Zeus’s sexual advances. The other, Leto, mated with Zeus and bore Artemis and Apollo, Phoebe’s famous grandchildren. Phoebe had another, less celebrated grandchild as well: Hecate, daughter of Asteria and goddess of liminal spaces, crossroads, and witchcraft.
Like many Titans, Phoebe was seldom mentioned in Greek texts. Her role in the Titanomachy and its aftermath, for example, remains unknown. The poet Hesiod mentioned her only twice in his Theogony, the most complete source of early Greek mythology. She was first mentioned in a list of the children of Gaia and Uranus, where Hesiod wrote that Gaia bore “deep-swirling Oceanus, Coeus and Crius and Hyperion and Iapetus, Theia and Rhea, Themis and Mnemosyne and gold-crowned Phoebe.”2
Her second appearance came during Hesiod’s discussion of the Titans’ children:
Again, Phoebe came to the desired embrace of Coeus. Then the goddess through the love of the god conceived and brought forth dark-gowned Leto, always mild, kind to men and to the deathless gods, mild from the beginning, gentlest in all Olympus. Also she bare Asteria of happy name, whom Perses once led to his great house to be called his dear wife.3
Phoebe’s influence continues to resonate in popular culture thanks to the many people and fictional characters named after her. Commonly used in Greek and Latin, her name has remained so in languages descended from them.
Hesiod. Theogony. Translated by Hugh Evelyn-White. Internet Sacred Text Archive. Accessed on March 6, 2020. https://www.sacred-texts.com/cla/hesiod/theogony.htm.
“Phoebe.” Online Etymology Dictionary. Accessed on March 6, 2020. https://www.etymonline.com/word/Phoebe.
“Phoebe.” Wikipedia. Accessed on March 6, 2020. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mnemosyne.
“Phoebe,” Online Etymology Dictionary, https://www.etymonline.com/word/Phoebe. ↩
Hesiod, Theogony, translated by Hugh Evelyn-White, 116-138. https://www.sacred-texts.com/cla/hesiod/theogony.htm. ↩
Ibid., 404-452. ↩