Who was Coeus in Greek Mythology?
COEUS, in Greek mythology, was the son of Uranus and Gaia and the Titan god of Intelligence. His name means “query, questioning” or “intelligence”, and he represented one of the four pillars that hold the earth and the heavens, with him being the pillar of the North.
It is understood in Greek mythology that when Cronus castrated and disposed of his father, Uranus, three of his brothers assisted him in holding him down. Without them, we are led to believe that Cronus would not have been successful, and the reign of the awful Uranus would have continued.
Amongst those brothers who restrained Uranus was Coeus. He who was something of a curious Titan; his very name meaning to query or to question. Coeus was also thought to have been a symbol of intelligence and the north pillar of the four cornerstones that separated the heavens from the earth—a duty he shared with his brothers Iapetus, Crius, and Hyperion.
As these four pillars supporting the earth, their importance went without saying, and there are suggestions that without their involvement, Cronus’s rule would not have been enabled.
Like many of the titans, Coeus played no active role in the original Greek religion and appeared only as a source for more famous descendants—those being his Titan daughter Leto and his godly grandchildren Artemis and Apollo.
Coeus also existed through his roman counterpart Polus—he who was the embodiment of the celestial axis, around which the heavens revolved. This is in the same vein as being one of the pillars supporting the earth, for, without his existence, the heavens themselves would have no structure.
His intelligence is another trait that he is often remembered for, despite not necessarily demonstrating this intelligence in the myths. We understand, though, that this intelligence goes hand in hand with his sister-wife Phoebe, who was considered prophetic wisdom.
Coeus’ Lover and Children
Together, this married couple could likely have been thought of as the celestial power couple, who were knowledgeable above all others. In their union, their intellect was something that cut them out from their Titan peers. It is also with Phoebe that Coeus would come to father the Titanesses Leto and Asteria—the former who would give birth to Artemis and Apollo, and the latter would give birth to Hecate.
Leto was the goddess of modesty and motherhood—two elements that were often associated with light and heaven’s prophetic power. At the same time, Asteria was considered more involved with the predictive power of the night and the dead.
This makes sense given that Leto’s child, Apollo, would inherit associations with the sun; hence, the power of light, while Asteria’s child, Hecate, would come to inherit associations with witchcraft and the power of darkness.
Another thought is that both Coeus and Phoebe possessed the gift of prophecy, an ability they would pass down to their grandson Apollo.
According to early myths, the office of the oracle was initially operated by Phoebe and fellow Titaness Themis, but long after the events of the Titanomachy, Apollo seized the temple and took over. Other ideas suggest that Phoebe had given Apollo the site on the account that she recognized he had inherited her and her husband’s gift.
However, there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of Coeus’ prophetic gift when we consider the original mythology. Some later ideas put forward that Coeus was able to channel the voice of his father, Uranus, and that Phoebe was able to channel the voice of her mother, Gaia. Still, neither of these voices appears to guide them correctly when it came to the later conflict between the Titans and the Olympians.
Despite being a couple who were thought to be personifications of intelligence, wisdom and wit, and despite being these very characters who were gifted with the ability of foretelling prophecy, it would appear that they were not able to foresee the rise of Zeus and even when it was upon them, they did not choose to side with him during the Titanomachy.
The Titanomachy and Punishment of Coeus
The Titanomachy was a ten-year war between the Titans and the usurping Olympians—those who had been freed from the guts of Cronus after he ate his children out of fear that they would one day usurp him. It was Zeus who had escaped Cronus consumption and would later return with a concoction that would see Cronus regurgitate his children.
There, the conflict ensued, and a series of battles were fought in Thessaly. Of course, as we know, Zeus and the Olympians were triumphant against Cronus, and most of the titans who ward against Zeus were thrown into Tartarus—if not outright destroyed.
Whilst we may never know in what capacity Coeus fought against Zeus, we know that he and his brothers shared the same fate and were cast down into the depths of the Greek underworld, where they were deemed to spend eternity.
For the most part, this is where the tale of Coeus ends, as far as the original mythology goes. But in additional texts, such as Valerius Flaccus’s Argonautica, Coeus was able to escape his imprisonment and broke free of the adamantine chains that he’d been bound with.
It’s understood that in his imprisonment, he descended into madness and what was once a Titan, who was the epitome of knowledge and intellect, had now become a mindless, ravenous creature that saw only the blood of Zeus. Gone were his practical and profound thoughts, and in their place, became a blind and desperate fury.
It’s unlikely that he was able to perceive any kind of prophecy in this state of mind, but instead, he was consumed only by a bloodlust that saw him embody a strength to tear his manacles like paper. But despite this newfound rage, Coeus was quickly thoughted about by Cerberus—the three-headed beast that guarded the gates of the underworld and prevented anyone from leaving.
Coeus attempts to fight Cerberus in some accounts, perhaps, in this new maddened and agitated state. But he was ultimately put down by the beast and returned to confinement.
In other ideas, he was able to free his brothers first, and the siblings’ race for the exit, only to double back in fear when they see the horror of Cerberus guarding their escape.
Coeus returned to his imprisonment in both instances, where he remains for eternity along with his brothers. But in some ideas, by the ancient Greek tragedian Aeschylus, Coeus and some of the other Titans were later released by Zeus after he deemed them harmless to his rule or simply took pity on them.
Like many of the Titans, with perhaps, the exception of Prometheus, Epimetheus and maybe Atlas, we simply do not have that much information concerning what each Titan might have been like, nor of their exploits.
We understand that they were a race of powerful giant deities. Those who were far bigger than the Olympian gods who would replace them and that they ruled during the golden age—a time of relative peace.
It’s something of a tragedy then that many of these old gods are lost to history. Their popularity and presence eroded after the Olympians’ emergence and after that shunted as the new gods were favoured.
Let me know if there are any tales about Coeus that you might have heard of and what you thought about today’s Titan. Do you think that he might have had an active role in the conflict with Zeus? Do you think that his intelligence was simply not enough to compensate for the strength and vitality of Zeus? Or maybe Coeus had become arrogant in his wisdom and that this had led him to think that he knew more than he did.
Was he indeed a prophetic god, capable of foreseeing the inevitable? And if so, why did he still choose to fight in favour of Cronus?
Image Sources: Iro Pagis