About
Greek Titan

Asteria

Asteria, wife of Perses and mother of Hecate, was a Titan associated with celestial bodies. Relentlessly pursued by Zeus and Poseidon, she transformed into a quail and ultimately an island to escape their unwanted advances.

By Avi Kapach4 min read • Last updated on Apr. 22nd, 2022
  • Yes. Though she was not one of the original twelve Titans born to Gaia and Uranus, Asteria was a child of two of those Titans (Coeus and Phoebe) and was thus often called a Titan as well.

  • According to the common tradition, Asteria had only one daughter, Hecate. However, there was another tradition in which she was also the mother of a certain Heracles (perhaps a different figure from the famous hero Heracles).

  • “Asteria” is the name of an Amazon champion in the DC extended comics universe. This character is not based on any figure from ancient Greek mythology and is distinct from the Titan Asteria.

Asteria was the daughter of two of the original twelve Titans, Coeus and Phoebe, and was often numbered among the Titans herself. According to the standard tradition, she married Perses, another second-generation Titan, and gave birth to Hecate, a goddess of witchcraft. Through her sister Leto, Asteria was the aunt of the Olympians Apollo and Artemis; like them, she was sometimes associated with celestial bodies (her name is related to the Greek word for “star”).

Some mythological sources tell of how Asteria was loved by Zeus and/or Poseidon. Wanting to escape these voracious gods, she transformed herself into a quail, threw herself into the sea, and ultimately became the island of Delos.

#Etymology

The etymology of the name “Asteria” (Greek Ἀστερία, translit. Astería) is fairly straightforward: it is presumably connected to the Greek word ἀστήρ (astḗr, “star”), itself derived from the Proto-Indo-European root *h₂ster- (“star”).1

#Pronunciation

  • English
    Greek

    Asteria

    Ἀστερία (translit. Astería)

  • Phonetic
    IPA

    [uh-STEER-ee-uh]

    /əˈstir i ə/

#Attributes

Asteria’s name—which comes from the Greek word for “star”—suggests that she was connected with celestial bodies. Though she was almost never depicted in ancient art, Asteria does appear on a relief of the famous Pergamon Altar (second century BCE), where she is shown wielding a torch and fighting the Giants alongside the Olympian gods and her daughter Hecate.2

Detail of Asteria within the Pergamon Altar - 2nd century BCE

Asteria (labelled) taking part in the Gigantomachy. Detail of the sculpted relief of the Pergamon Altar (2nd century BCE).

Miguel Hermoso Cuesta / CC BY-SA 4.0

In some traditions, Asteria was eventually transformed into the island of Delos, where Leto gave birth to Apollo and Artemis (see below). It is possible that a figure named as “Delos,” sometimes depicted alongside Apollo and Artemis in ancient art, represents this altered form of Asteria.3

#Family

Asteria was a daughter of Coeus and Phoebe, two of the original twelve Titans born to Gaia and Uranus. She had one sister, Leto, the mother of Apollo and Artemis. Asteria married Perses, who, like her, was a second-generation Titan.4

Latona and her children Apollo and Diana by William Henry Rinehart-Met Museum

Latona and Her Children by William Henry Rinehart (1874).

Metropolitan Museum of Art / Public Domain

Asteria was usually regarded as the mother of Hecate, a goddess associated with witchcraft and the Underworld. The standard tradition seems to have viewed Perses, Asteria’s husband, as the father.5 But there was another account in which Asteria had Hecate with Zeus rather than Perses.6 According to some sources, Asteria and Zeus were also the parents of Heracles (possibly not the same as the famous hero).7

#Family Tree

#Mythology

According to Hesiod’s Theogony, Asteria “of happy name”8 was born from the union of the Titans Coeus and Phoebe. She went on to marry Perses and give birth to Hecate. 

Very few myths about Asteria have survived, though there is one story in which she became a target of Zeus’ lust (or Poseidon’s, in other versions). Asteria tried to flee by metamorphosing into a quail and throwing herself into the sea. When Zeus (or Poseidon) continued his pursuit, Asteria transformed again, this time into a floating island. The island was first simply called Asteria, then Ortygia (from the Greek word ortyx, meaning “quail”), then finally Delos.9

Marco Liberi - Jupiter and Asteria

Jupiter and Asteria by Marco Liberi (second half of 17th century). Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest, Hungary.

Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

Later, when Asteria’s sister Leto was in labor with her children by Zeus, Zeus’ jealous wife Hera forbade any land from receiving Leto. Because of this, Leto was forced to wander the earth in desperation until she came to the floating island of Delos, which had once been her sister. There, she was finally able to rest and give birth to her children, Apollo and Artemis. As a reward, Apollo rooted Delos in place and made it his sacred island.

#Worship

Asteria, like the other Titans, was rarely worshipped in the Greek world. One source, however, claimed that the Phoenicians sacrificed quails to Asteria due to one of Heracles’ adventures. As the story goes, when the hero Heracles traveled to Libya and was killed by the monster Typhoeus, his nephew Iolaus brought him a quail, which resurrected him as soon as he smelled it.10 

#Further Reading

#Primary Sources

Greek

  • Hesiod (eighth/seventh century BCE): Asteria’s genealogy is outlined in Hesiod’s Theogony.

  • Pindar (ca. 518–ca. 438 BCE): There are references to Asteria’s transformations in Pindar’s Paeans.

  • Callimachus (ca. 310–ca. 240 BCE): The fourth Hymn alludes to how Asteria became the island of Delos.

  • Apollodorus (first century BCE or first few centuries CE): The genealogy and mythology of Asteria are summarized in the Library.

  • Antoninus Liberalis (second or third century CE): The myth of Asteria’s transformations is retold in the Metamorphoses.

Roman

  • Hyginus (first or second century CE): The Fabulae, a Latin mythological handbook, makes references to the myths of Asteria.

#Secondary Sources

Brown, Andrew. “Asteria.” In The Oxford Classical Dictionary, 4th ed., edited by Simon Hornblower, Antony Spawforth, and Esther Eidinow, 187. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.

Gantz, Timothy. Early Greek Myth: A Guide to Literary and Artistic Sources. 2 vols. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996.

Graf, Fritz. “Asteria.” In Brill’s New Pauly, edited by Hubert Cancik, Helmuth Schneider, Christine F. Salazar, Manfred Landfester, and Francis G. Gentry. Published online 2006. http://dx.doi.org/10.1163/1574-9347_bnp_e204450.

Papastavrou, Helen. “Asteria I.” In Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae, vol. 2, 903–4. Zurich: Artemis, 1984.

Smith, William. “Asteria.” In A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology. London: Spottiswoode and Company, 1873. Perseus Digital Library. Accessed November 2, 2021. https://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.04.0104%3Aalphabetic+letter%3DA%3Aentry+group%3D50%3Aentry%3Dasteria-bio-1.

Theoi Project. “Asteria.” Published online 2000–2017. https://www.theoi.com/Titan/TitanisAsteria.html.

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