Sea Goddess


Roman mosaic possibly showing Ceto with Phorcys, Thaumas, and Triton

Roman mosaic from Trajan’s Baths of Acholla, perhaps showing Phorcys (center), Ceto (right), and Triton or Thaumas (left)

Bardo National Museum, Tunis / Dennis JarvisCC BY-SA 2.0


The name “Ceto” (Greek Κητώ, translit. Kētṓ) is likely connected to the Greek word κῆτος (kêtos), meaning “sea monster.” However, the origins of this word are obscure (and perhaps even pre-Greek).[1]


  • English
    CetoΚητώ (Kētṓ)
  • Phonetic
    [KEE-toh]/ˈki toʊ/


Despite her association with terrifying monsters, Ceto’s defining attribute was her beauty. The poet Hesiod described her as “fair-cheeked.”[2] Likewise, in the only definitive depiction of Ceto from ancient art—on the frieze of the Pergamon Altar (180/160 BCE)—she cuts a stately figure, with attractive features and an ornate hairstyle.[3]

Detail from the Pergamon Altar showing Ceto fighting against the Giants

Detail from the Pergamon Altar (ca. 180/160 BCE) showing Ceto fighting against the Giants

Pergamon Museum, Berlin / Miguel Hermoso CuestaCC BY-SA 4.0


Ceto was the daughter of Gaia, the primordial embodiment of the earth, and Pontus, the embodiment of the sea. Her siblings were the sea deities Phorcys, Nereus, Thaumas, and Eurybia.[4]

Ceto married her brother Phorcys. Their children—collectively known as the “Phorcides” (after their father)—were some of the most dreaded monsters of Greek mythology. Among these offspring were the eternally gray Graeae, the stony Gorgons, the snake monster Echidna, and the gigantic serpent who guarded the Garden of the Hesperides (sometimes called Ladon, but other times unnamed).[5]

In a later tradition, Ceto was also said to be the mother of the Hesperides.[6]


Our only evidence for an ancient cult of Ceto is a vague reference made by the Roman writer Pliny the Elder: he mentioned a “famous Ceto” worshipped in the Near Eastern city of Joppa (modern-day Jaffa, Israel).[7]



  1. Robert S. P. Beekes, Etymological Dictionary of Greek (Leiden: Brill, 2009), 1:690–91.

  2. Hesiod, Theogony 238, trans. H. G. Evelyn-White.

  3. See also Erika Simon, “Keto,” in Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae (Zurich: Artemis, 1992), 6.1:41.

  4. Hesiod, Theogony 233–39; Apollodorus, Library 1.2.6.

  5. Hesiod, Theogony 270–336; see also Apollodorus, Library 1.2.6, 2.4.2ff; Hyginus, Fabulae pref.9. Hesiod may have also made Ceto the mother of the Chimera, the Nemean Lion, and the Sphinx (the text is syntactically ambiguous, making different interpretations possible). But in the more common reading, Typhoeus and Echidna were the parents of the Chimera, while Orthus and Echidna were the parents of the Nemean Lion and the Sphinx.

  6. Scholia on Apollonius of Rhodes’ Argonautica 4.1399d.

  7. Pliny the Elder, Natural History 5.14.69.

Primary Sources

Our main literary source for Ceto is Hesiod (eighth/seventh century BCE), who first outlined her genealogy in his Theogony (233–336). Apollodorus or “Pseudo-Apollodorus” (first century BCE or later) also referred to Ceto’s genealogy in his Library.

Ceto is even more obscure in Roman literature, though Pliny the Elder (23/24–79 CE) did make a passing reference to an ancient Near Eastern cult of Ceto in his Natural History (5.14.69).

Additional information on Ceto, including her role in works that are now lost, can be found in texts, reference works, and commentaries produced during the Byzantine and medieval periods. For further references, see the notes.

Secondary Sources

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

  • Hard, Robin. The Routledge Handbook of Greek Mythology. 8th ed. New York: Routledge, 2020.

  • Latte, Kurt. “Keto (1).” In Paulys Realencyclopädie der classischen Altertumswissenschaft, edited by Georg Wissowa and August Friedrich Pauly, vol. 11.1, 364. Stuttgart: Metzler, 1941.

  • Michel, Raphael. “Ceto.” In Brill’s New Pauly, edited by Hubert Cancik, Helmuth Schneider, Christine F. Salazar, Manfred Landfester, and Francis G. Gentry. Published online 2006.

  • Simon, Erika. “Keto.” In Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae, vol. 6.1, 41. Zurich: Artemis, 1992.

  • Stoll, H. W. “Keto (1).” In Ausführliches Lexikon der griechischen und römischen Mythologie, edited by W. H. Roscher, vol. 2, 1178. Leipzig: Teubner, 1890–1897.

  • Theoi Project. “Keto.” Published online 2000–2017.


Kapach, Avi. “Ceto.” Mythopedia, September 04, 2023.

Kapach, Avi. “Ceto.” Mythopedia, 4 Sep. 2023. Accessed on 13 Dec. 2023.

Kapach, A. (2023, September 4). Ceto. Mythopedia.


  • Avi Kapach

    Avi Kapach is a writer, scholar, and educator who received his PhD in Classics from Brown University

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