Coeus was one of the Titans of Greek mythology. Born of Gaia and Uranus, he was part of the first generation of gods.
This made him an illustrious and revered figure, but it also made him one about which little is really known. After Zeus and the Olympians took power, the Titans were imprisoned and little more was said about them.
Historians are able to interpret Coeus as a god of knowledge, however. By looking at both the Titan himself and his descendents, his true importance in the Greek pantheon is clear.
In Greek mythology, Coeus was one of the twelve Titans.
The Titans were the first generation of gods, the children of the primordial earth goddess Gaia and the god of the heavens, Uranus. They were the first deities to have physical forms apart from their primordial, elemental nature.
Little is known about most of the Titans because they played little part in most myths of ancient Greece.
There were six males and six females. Those who did not marry one another married the children born in the next generation of gods, their nieces and nephews.
Coeus married Phoebe, one of his sisters. They had two daughters, according to most legends, Leto and Asteria.
Aside from his marriage to Phoebe, little is ever said about Coeus as an individual being. Instead, he is typically grouped with his brothers in stories about the Titans in general.
At the behest of Gaia, who was angered when Uranus imprisoned her more monstrous children, the Titans rebelled against their father. Cronos became their king because he had offered to attack Uranus when Coeus and their other brothers declined.
Cronos attacked Uranus when he lowered himself toward Gaia, castrating him and taking away his power.
According to some stories, four of the Titans held Uranus in the air to keep him away from Gaia until four pillars could be erected to keep the heavens aloft. Coeus was known by the name Polus in Latin, leading most experts to believe that at least by that time he was thought to have held the northern side of the sky.
After Cronos became king, he held power in much the same way as his father had. He was typically portrayed as a tyrant who attempted to kill his own children rather than risk one of them growing strong enough to ever challenge him.
He failed in this, however, when one of his babies was hidden from him. Zeus grew up in secret and returned to overthrow his father’s reign and free his siblings from their father’s stomach.
The resulting war between the Titans and the younger gods, the Titanomachy, lasted for ten years. While Coeus was not mentioned specifically, like most Titans, it is assumed that he fought alongside his brother and their allies.
When the Titans were defeated Zeus imprisoned them in Tartarus. According to most sources, they remained there for thousands of tortuous years.
In the Argonautica, Coeus is mentioned specifically as being badly affected by the tortures of Tartarus. It was said that he went mad and attempted to break free of the pit, but ultimately failed in his efforts and was pushed back by Cerberus.
Some ancient writers said that Zeus eventually had mercy toward his father and uncles. After many years of imprisonment they were finally freed when they no longer posed a threat to his rule.
Unfortunately the play that is known to have recounted this legend, Prometheus Unbound, has not survived into the modern era. If any details of the story, or Coeus’ place in it, once existed they have been lost and will likely remain unknown.
Ancient sources provide little information about the Titans. Their domains and importance are largely interpreted based on both their names and their relationships to more well-attested gods.
Coeus’ name in Greek, Koios, translates as “questioning” or “query.” Historians generally interpret this as relating to intelligence or, perhaps, foreknowledge.
His marriage to Phoebe seems to support this interpretation. She was given dominion over oracles, specifically the oracle of Delphi, by the Titaness of knowledge Themis.
Like many Titans, Coeus’ importance was most clearly seen through his descendants. Themes of knowledge and answering questions were constant in his grandchildren.
According to some sources, his daughter Asteria had only one child. Her daughter, Hecate, was the goddess of the secret and dangerous knowledge of witchcraft.
Coeus’s other grandchildren were held in higher regard, however.
His other daughter, Leto, was one of Zeus’s many mistresses. Their children, Apollo and Artemis, were two of the most powerful deities of the Olympian pantheon.
Leto inherited the oracle of Delphi from her mother and in turn passed control of it to her son. Apollo remained the god of the oracle and had knowledge of the future and hidden truths beyond those of any other god.
Based on the meaning of his name, it seems likely that his grandchildren’s prophetic powers stemmed from Coeus. He was the god who could answer questions, a trait that he passed on in a positive way to Apollo and in a more menacing manner through Hecate.
While his Roman name, Polus, has typically led to Coeus being viewed as the Titan of the North, some historians believe that he was also closely aligned with the axis around which both the earth and the heavens revolved.
This pole, from which he took his Roman name, was a place of great power. The ancient Greeks believed that Delphi was at its center, a position that gave it such great power.
Apollo embodied both the knowledge associated with Coeus and the “shining” nature of Phoebe. From Delphi, the place where their powers were at their strongest, great truths could be revealed.
Coeus was one of the twelve Titans in Greek mythology. The first generation of gods, the six male and six female Titans were the children of Gaia and Uranus.
While the Titans were the direct ancestors of the Olympian gods, little was written about them. Their only true mythology is in the succession myth that tells how they took power from their father, then had it taken in turn by a younger generation of gods.
In this myth, Coeus is one of the Titans who holds Uranus, the heavens, in the sky after he is stripped of his power by Cronos. He is usually interpreted as the Titan who held the northern part of the heavens and as the power of the earth’s axis based largely on his Roman name, Polus.
After losing their war against Zeus and the Olympians, Coeus and his brothers were imprisoned in Tartarus. According to the Argonautica, Coeus was driven mad there and attempted to escape.
While there are few myths about Coeus and the other Titans, historians interpret him both through his name and through his descendants.
Coeus, meaning “query” or knowledge, was the father of Leto. Her famous son Apollo, along with his twin sister Artemis, were affiliated with the oracle at Delphi and powers of prophecy.
This has led most historians to interpret Coeus as the root of prophetic and otherwise secret knowledge. Although little is written about him, he was an important early god because of the strengths and actions of his descendants.