Greek Titan

Coeus

Coeus, a Greek Titan whose name meant “inquiry,” was grandfather to the Olympians Apollo and Artemis. After he and the other Titans were banished to Tartarus, Coeus led an escape attempt, but he was ultimately driven back by Cerberus, the three-headed guard dog of the Underworld.

Top Questions

  • Which Titan did Coeus marry?

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

  • How many descendants did Coeus have?

    In addition to his daughters Leto and Asteria, Coeus had three divine grandchildren. A multitude of further descendants can be traced to him through his grandson Apollo, who was especially fruitful.

Overview

Coeus, son of the primordial deities Gaia and Uranus, was one of the original twelve Titans of Greek mythology. With his sister and lover Phoebe, Coeus fathered the goddesses Asteria and Leto, both of whom were courted by Zeus. Leto went on to give birth (by Zeus) to the Olympians  Artemis and Apollo. Following the war between the Titans and the Olympians, Coeus and the other Titans were imprisoned in Tartarus.

Etymology

The etymology of the name “Coeus” (Greek Κοῖος, translit. Koîos) is mysterious. In fact, he may have simply been an invention of early Greek poets who wanted to raise the number of Titans to twelve, the same as the total number of Olympians.[1]

Pronunciation

  • English
    Greek
    CoeusΚοῖος (translit. Koîos)
  • Phonetic
    IPA
    [SEE-ehs]/ˈsiːəs/

Attributes

Coeus’ attributes were never explicitly defined. However, like the other male Titans, 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.[2] 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 RaddatoCC 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.[3]

Family Tree

Mythology

As with many secondary Titans, Coeus is rarely mentioned in Greek texts. In Hesiod’s Theogony, for example, he is named only twice: once as a child of Gaia and Uranus,[4] and again as Phoebe’s consort and the father of “dark-gowned” Leto and Asteria “of happy name.”[5] Elsewhere in Greek literature, Coeus appears almost exclusively in lists of Titans, with no particular myths of his own.[6]

There is one slightly more substantial tale involving Coeus 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. However, this would-be prison break ended in failure:

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.[7]

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.

Adding to the mystery, there were apparently traditions in antiquity in which Zeus eventually released the Titans (including Coeus), but those texts have been lost.[8] Ultimately, there is little information on the mythology of the Titans in our surviving sources for Greek mythology.

Pop Culture

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

References

Notes

  1. Cf. Martin L. West, “Hesiod's Titans,” Journal of Hellenic Studies 105 (1985): 174–175.

  2. Hesiod, Theogony 134; Apollodorus, Library 1.1.3. Cf. Plato, Timaeus 40e, where Theia seems to be counted as a daughter of Oceanus and Tethys.

  3. In other traditions, however, Hecate had different parents (and so was not necessarily Coeus’ granddaughter).

  4. Hesiod, Theogony 134.

  5. Hesiod, Theogony 405–9, translated by H. G. Evelyn-White.

  6. Diodorus of Sicily, Library of History 5.66.3; Apollodorus, Library 1.1.3; Clement of Alexandria, Recognitions 31.

  7. Valerius Flaccus, Argonautica 3.244–48, translated by J. H. Mozley.

  8. Pindar, Pythian Ode 4.289–91. The Titans were apparently also freed in Aeschylus’ tragedy Prometheus Unbound, which unfortunately has been lost.

Primary Sources

Greek

  • Hesiod (eighth/seventh century BCE): Coeus’ genealogy is outlined in the epic poem the Theogony.

  • Homeric Hymns (seventh/sixth century BCE): In the second Homeric Hymn, which is dedicated to Apollo, Coeus is named as the father of Apollo’s mother Leto.

  • Aeschylus (ca. 525/524–ca. 456/455 BCE): The tragedy Prometheus Unbound had a chorus of freed Titans that may have included Coeus, but unfortunately this work has been lost.

  • Diodorus of Sicily (ca. 90–ca. 30 BCE): The Library of History, a work of universal history covering events from the creation of the cosmos to Diodorus’ own time, contains references to Coeus.

  • Apollodorus (first century BCE/first few centuries CE): The Library contains references to Coeus.

Roman

  • Virgil (70–19 BCE): There are brief references to Coeus in Book 1 of Virgil’s Georgics and Book 4 of the Aeneid.

  • Ovid (43 BCE–17/18 CE): In Book 6 of the Metamorphoses, Coeus is called the father of Leto.

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

  • Hyginus (first/second century CE): The Fabulae makes references to Coeus.

Secondary Sources

Citation

Kapach, Avi. “Coeus.” Mythopedia, November 29, 2022. https://mythopedia.com/topics/coeus.

Kapach, Avi. “Coeus.” Mythopedia, 29 Nov. 2022. https://mythopedia.com/topics/coeus. Accessed on 29 Nov. 2022.

Kapach, A. (2022, November 29). Coeus. Mythopedia. https://mythopedia.com/topics/coeus

Authors

  • Avi Kapach

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

    Avi Kapach Profile Photo