Tethys (mythology)

Tethys (mythology)

In Classical Greek mythology, Tethys (Greek "Τηθύς"), daughter of Uranus and Gaia (Hesiod, "Theogony" lines 136, 337 and "Bibliotheke" 1.2) is an aquatic sea goddess. Tethys was both sister and wife of Oceanus. [Tethys and Oceanus appear as a pair in Callimachus, "Hymn" 4.17, and in Apollonius, "Argonautica" 3.244. In Catullus 88, not even Tethys and Oceanus can wash away Gellius' stain of incest: "o Gelli, quantum non ultima Tethys/ nec genitor Nympharum abluit Oceanus." S. J. Harrison, in "Mythological Incest: Catullus 88" "The Classical Quarterly" New Series, 46.2 (1996), pp. 581-582, points out the irony of Catullus' allusion to the sibling couple in this context.] She was mother of the chief rivers of the world known to the Greeks, such as the Nile, the Alpheus, the Maeander, and about three thousand daughters called the Oceanids. [Hesiod, "Theogony" 337-70 gives an extensive list of their progeny, reflected in the list appended above.] Considered as an embodiment of the waters of the world she also may be seen as a counterpart of Thalassa, the embodiment of the sea.

Although these vestiges imply a strong role in earlier times, Tethys plays virtually no part in recorded Greek literary texts, or historical records of Greek religion or cults. Walter Burkert [Burkert 1992:92 states that "Tethys is in no way an active figure in Greek mythology".] notes the presence of Tethys in the episode of "Iliad" XIV that the Ancients called the "Deception of Zeus", where Hera, to mislead Zeus, says she wants to go to Oceanus, "origin of the gods" and Tethys "the mother". Burkert [Burkert 1992:93.] sees in the name a transformation of Akkadian "tiamtu" or "tâmtu", "the sea," which is recognizable in Tiamat.

One of the few representations of Tethys that is identified securely by an accompanying inscription is the Late Antique (fourth century CE) mosaic from the flooring of a "thermae" at Antioch, now at Dumbarton Oaks, in Washington, D.C. [Sara M. Wages, "A Note on the Dumbarton Oaks 'Tethys Mosaic'"Dumbarton Oaks Papers" 40 (1986), pp. 119-128. Wages notes a sixth-century Attic vase painted by Sophilos at the British Museum, where Tethys is identified among the guests, that included all of the deities, at the wedding of Peleus and Thetis. She appends a list of other similar, though [unidentified] images from the Greek east as far as Armenia, that can be taken for Tethys.] In the Dumbarton Oaks mosaic, the bust of Tethys—surrounded by fishes—is rising, bare-shouldered from the waters. Against her shoulder rests a golden ship's rudder. Gray wings sprout from her forehead, as in the mosaics illustrated above and below.

During the war against the Titans, Tethys raised Rhea as her god-child, but there are no records of active cults for Tethys in historic times.

Tethys has sometimes been confused [even in Antiquity (Burkert 1992:92)] with another sea goddess who became the sea-nymph Thetis, the wife of Peleus and mother of Achilles during Classical times. Some myths imply a second generation relationship between the two, a grandmother and granddaughter.

Indicative of the power exercised by Tethys, one myth [Pseudo-Hyginus, "Fabulae", 177: "For Tethys, wife of Oceanus, and foster mother of Juno [Hera] , forbids its setting in the Oceanus."] relates that the prominent goddess of the Olympians, Hera, was not pleased with the placement of Callisto and Arcas in the sky, as the constellations Ursa Major and Ursa Minor, so she asked her "nurse", Tethys, to help. Tethys, a marine goddess, caused the constellations forever to circle the sky and never drop below the horizon, hence explaining why they are circumpolar. Robert Graves interprets the use of the term "nurse" in Classical myths as identifying deities who once were goddesses of central importance in the periods before historical documentation. [Robert Graves, "The Greek Myths", 24.9, 164.1]

Tethys, a moon of the planet Saturn, and the prehistoric Tethys Ocean are named after this goddess.

Tethys in Modern Fiction

The book Greenwitch by Susan Cooper in the "Dark is Rising" Series features Tethys as a character. She appears as in the animated film Hercules and Xena: The Battle for Mount Olympus. She is a tall blue giantess and is exceptionally ruthless.

Children of Tethys

* Achelous
* Acheron
* Alpheus
* Amaltheia
* Amphitrite
* Asia
* Asopus
* Callirhoe
* Catillus
* Cebren
* Cephissus
* Circe
* Clitunno (Roman mythology)
* Clymene
* Clytia
* Crinisus
* Dione
* Doris
* Electra
* Enipeus
* Eurynome
* Inachus
* Lysithea
* Melia
* Meliboea
* Merope
* Metis
* Nilus
* The Oceanids
* Peneus
* Perse
* Pleione
* Rhode
* Scamander
* Styx
* Telesto
* Tiberinus (Roman mythology)
* Tibertus (Roman mythology)
* Tyche
* Volturnus (Roman mythology)



*Burkert, Walter "The Orientalizing Revolution: Near Eastern Influence on Greek Culture in the Early archaic Age" (Harvard University Press) 1992, pp 91-93.
* [http://www.theoi.com/Titan/TitanisTethys.html Theoi.com:] Tethys

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  • Tethys — can refer to:*Tethys (mythology), a Titaness in Greek mythology *Tethys (moon) a natural satellite of Saturn *Tethys Ocean, a Mesozoic era ocean between the continents of Gondwana and Laurasiaee also*Thetis …   Wikipedia

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  • Tethys — noun 1. (Greek mythology) a Titaness and sea goddess; wife of Oceanus • Topics: ↑Greek mythology • Instance Hypernyms: ↑Titaness 2. type genus of the family Aplysiidae • Syn: ↑Aplysia, ↑ …   Useful english dictionary

  • TETHYS —    in the Greek mythology a daughter of Uranus and Gaia, wife of OCEANUS (q.v.), and mother of the river gods …   The Nuttall Encyclopaedia

  • Tethys — I. /ˈtiθɪs/ (say teethis), /ˈtɛθ / (say teth ) noun Greek Mythology a Titan and sea goddess who was the wife and sister of Oceanus. II. /ˈtiθɪs/ (say teethis), /tɛθ / (say teth ) noun one of the planet Saturn s satellites. {named after Tethys1} …   Australian-English dictionary

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