Greek Titan

Coeus

Coeus was the Greek Titan whose name meant “inquiry,” and grandfather to Olympians Apollo and Artemis. He led an escape attempt from Tartarus, but was repulsed by Cerberus, the three-headed dog guarding the underworld.

By Thomas Apel and Avi KapachLast updated on Nov. 21st, 2021
  • Which Titan did Coeus marry?

    Coeus married his sister Phoebe, the Titan of radiance and prophecy, and they had two daughters together.

  • How many descendants did Coeus have?

    In addition to his daughters Leto and Asteria, Coeus had three divine grandchildren and, through Apollo, a multitude of further descendants.

A Titan of Greek mythology, Coeus was the son of the primordial deities Gaia and Uranus. With his sister and lover Phoebe, Coeus fathered the goddesses Asteria and Leto; Zeus’s courtship of the latter resulted in the conception of Artemis and Apollo. Following the Titanomachy, Coeus and the other Titans were imprisoned in Tartarus.

Etymology

The etymology of the name “Coeus” is mysterious. The Titan himself may have simply been an invention of early Greek poets wanting to raise the number of the original Titans to twelve: that way, the total number of Titans would be equal to the total number of Olympians.1

Coeus’ name resembles the Greek word koion (“pledge”) and an interrogative pronoun used in the Ionic dialect of Greek, koios (“what; what kind”). How (if at all) these words are related is unknown.

Pronunciation

  • English
    Greek

    Coeus

    Κοῖος

  • Phonetic
    IPA

    [SEE-ehs]

    /ˈsiːəs/

Attributes

Coeus’ attributes were never explicitly defined; like the other male Titans, however, he appears to have been viewed as fantastically strong and ruthless.

Family

Coeus was the son of Gaia, the great earth mother, and Uranus, the father of the heavens. His siblings included the other Titans—CriusCronusHyperionIapetusOceanusTheaRheaThemisMnemosyne, Phoebe, and Tethys—as well as the Cyclopes and the Hecatoncheires.

With his sister Phoebe, Coeus fathered Asteria, a goddess said to have assumed the shape of an island in order to escape Zeus’s advances, and Leto, one of Zeus’ early lovers.

Phoebe and Asteria Gigantomachy Frieze Pergamon Altar Berlin

Phoebe, sister and partner to Coeus, is at left of the Gigantomachy frieze of the Pergamum Altar (2nd century BCE). She wields a torch to fight a winged giant with their daughter Asteria.

Carole Raddato / CC BY-SA 2.0

Through his daughter Leto, Coeus was the grandfather of Apollo, the god of wisdom and music, and Artemis, the goddess of the hunt and unspoiled nature; through his other daughter Asteria, Coeus was (in most traditions) the grandfather of Hecate, the goddess of boundaries and crossroads.2

Family Tree

Mythology

As with many secondary Titans, Coeus was only mentioned briefly in the Greek texts. In Hesiod’s Theogony, for example, Coeus was named only twice: once when he was listed as a child of Gaia and Uranus,3 and again when he was noted as Phoebe’s consort and the father of “dark-gowned” Leto and Asteria “of happy name.”4 1Elsewhere in Greek literature, Coeus is almost invariably mentioned only in lists of Titans.5

There is a somewhat more substantial myth involving Coeus alluded to in Valerius Flaccus’ Argonautica, a Roman epic of the first century CE. Here, Coeus is said to have attempted to escape Tartarus, where he and his Titan brethren had been imprisoned by Zeus after losing the Titanomachy. This would-be prison break ends in failure, however:

… Coeus in the lowest pit bursts the adamantine bonds and trailing Jove’s fettering chains invokes Saturn and Tityus, and in his madness conceives a hope of scaling heaven, yet though he repass the rivers and the gloom the hound of the Furies and the sprawling Hydra’s crest repel him.6

While this unique excerpt offers a tantalizing glimpse into a forgotten mythological tradition, it may have been little more than a fantastical story—one created to fill the void in our understanding of Coeus and the Titans as a whole.

To add further to the mystery, there were apparently traditions in antiquity in which Zeus eventually released the Titans.7 Alas, there is little information on the mythology of the Titans in our surviving sources for Greek mythology.

Pop Culture

Coeus made an appearance in The House of Hades, the fourth book in Rick Riordan’s The Heroes of Olympus series. In this iteration, “Koios” was a Titan anxious to reclaim the cosmos from Zeus and the Olympians.

Further Reading

Primary Sources

Greek

  • Hesiod: Coeus’ genealogy is outlined in the seventh-century BCE epic Theogony.

  • Homeric Hymns: In the 2nd Homeric Hymn (seventh or sixth century BCE), which is dedicated to Apollo, Coeus is named in line 62 as the father of Apollo’s mother Leto.

  • Aeschylus: The fifth-century BCE tragedy Prometheus Bound describes the sufferings of Iapetus’ son Prometheus. Another tragedy by Aeschylus, Prometheus Unbound, had a chorus of freed Titans which may have included Coeus, but unfortunately this work has been lost.

Roman

  • Virgil: There are brief references to Coeus in Book 1 of Virgil’s Georgics (29 BCE; from line 276) and Book 4 of the Aeneid (19 BCE; from line 174).

  • Ovid: In Book 6 of the Metamorphoses (ca. 8 CE; at line 176), Coeus is called the father of Leto.

  • Valerius Flaccus: In Book 3 of the first-century CE epic Argonautica, there is an allusion to a myth in which Coeus tries to break out of Tartarus. 

Mythological Handbooks (Greek and Roman)

  • Diodorus of Sicily, Library of History: a work of universal history, covering events from the creation of the cosmos to Diodorus’ own time (mid-first century BCE). Contains references to Coeus.

  • Apollodorus, Library: a mythological handbook from the first century BCE or the first few centuries CE with references to Coeus.

  • Hyginus, Fabulae: A Latin mythological handbook (first or second century CE) with references to Coeus.

Secondary Sources

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

  • Graves, Robert. The Greek Myths. London: Penguin, 1955.

  • Rose, H. J. A Handbook of Greek Mythology. London: Methuen, 1929.

  • Stoffel, Eliane. “Coeus” In Brill’s New Pauly. Edited by Hubert Cancik, Helmuth Schneider, Christine F. Salazar, Manfred Landfester, Francis G. Gentry. Published online 2006. Accessed June 3, 2021. http://dx.doi.org/10.1163/1574-9347_bnp_e618020.

  • Theoi Project. “Koios.” Published online 2000–2017. https://www.theoi.com/Titan/TitanKoios.html.

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