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Who is Rhea in Greek Mythology?
In Greek Mythology, RHEA (Rheia) was the original Titan goddess of childbirth and motherhood. She was the daughter of Uranus and Gaia. As the wife of Cronus, she bore six children, the hearth goddess Hestia, the goddess of vegetation Demeter, the earth goddess Hera, the underworld god Hades, the sea god Poseidon and Zeus, the sky god.
Cronus, having learnt that one of his children would dethrone him, swallowed all of them except for Zeus, as they were born. Rhea substituted the baby Zeus with a stone wrapped in swaddling clothes. Zeus was then taken to the island of Crete, where the worship of Rhea was notable and was secretly raised.
It’s been quite a while since we last covered a Titan, and there are plenty that we’ve yet to cover. So, today’s article will be on the original goddess of childbirth, Rhea. Her name itself is believed to mean ease and flow, symbolizing the eternal flow of generations and time, further highlighted by her marriage to Cronus, the Titan god of time.
As a deity heavily associated with motherhood and fertility, some take the flow meaning from her name to symbolize the flow of birth waters, milk and menstrual blood—apologies for any graphic imagery.
Now, you’d assume the goddess of that time of the month would be somewhat cranky, but the ease part of her name symbolizes her comforting nature. Rhea, being one of the original Titans, meant that she was a child of Uranus and Gaia, and once she married Cronus, they became the god and goddess of the heavens, the rulers of Olympus.
She’s described as given birth to six splendid children, who we know as the original Olympians. However, Uranus and Gaia had prophesized that these children would one day overthrow their father, and so Cronus swallowed each one as they were born. First, it was Hestia, then Demeter and Hera, followed by Hades and Poseidon.
Rhea, of course, had one last child that she would do her best to conceal from her husband with the help of her parents. They sent her to the island of Crete, where she would stay until she was ready to give birth to Zeus. Once born, she would give Zeus to the nymphs of Mount Aegean, where they would raise him deep inside a cave.
Her cult may not have been the biggest, but she was worshipped in Arcadia and Crete, the birthplace of Zeus.
When we see Rhea depicted, she’s often shown as a woman wearing a turret crown on a throne, accompanied by a lion on each side of her. This association of lions could also be because the Greeks identified her with the Anatolian goddess Cybele.
Like Rhea, she was also considered the mother of gods and, at times, seen riding a lion; hence, the Greeks referring to her as Rhea Cybele.
The Stories Rhea was Featured in
Like many of the other Titans, Rhea’s involvement in the overall Greek mythos is relatively limited, but she appears in a few stories.
Persephone and Hades
When Persephone disappeared, Demeter left Olympus and refused to perform her duties. Zeus then called for her return so they could come to some kind of resolution, but she ignored him.
Rhea then visited her, comforting her and convincing her that there was no reason to be angry as she would soon see her daughter again. In some variations, Rhea also played a part in helping Demeter look for Persephone. Read the full story here: The Myth of Hades and Persephone
Cronus Caught Cheating on Rhea
There is also the story where Rhea caught Cronus mid-act during an affair—there isn’t a lot to this story. Cronus was having an affair with one of Oceanus’ many daughters when Rhea caught him mid-acts.
He then does what any god caught with his hand in the cookie jar would do. He transforms into a horse and slowly trots away like nothing ever happened.
What happened next—your guess is as good as mine, but I think it’s safe to say that that wasn’t the last he heard of it.
The Birth of Apollo and Artemis
When the Titan goddess Leto fled to the island of Delos (according to Greek mythology, Asteria turned to the island to get away from Zeus and Poseidon after their advancement towards her) to give birth to Apollo and Artemis, Rhea was one of the many goddesses present who went against the word of Hera, helping comfort Leto during the pregnancy.
It’s fairly apparent that Rhea is another deity who doesn’t care much for conflict. She seems to be more concerned in performing her duties and only really comes out of obscurity to help and comfort those in need.
Considering that she was once the queen of Olympus, she seems to have no ill intent towards her children; despite them effectively dethroning her.
We can also assume by how hard Rhea tried to keep her children away from Cronus that she wouldn’t have sided with the Titans during their conflict with the Olympians; as a result, it’s likely that she wouldn’t have been imprisoned in Tartarus after that, which could be why we still see her in a handful of stories.
Image Sources: Reddit