Metis (/ˈmtɪs/; Ancient Greek: Μῆτις, romanizedMêtis, lit.'Wisdom', 'Skill', or 'Craft'), in ancient Greek religion and mythology, was one of the Oceanids.[1] She is notable for being the first wife and advisor of Zeus, the King of the Gods. She helped him to free his siblings from their father Cronus' stomach by giving him an emetic and, when she was swallowed by Zeus after it was foretold that she would bear a son mightier than his father, helped their daughter Athena to escape from his forehead.

Member of the Oceanids
A winged goddess depicted under Zeus' throne, possibly Metis.
Personal information
ParentsOceanus and Tethys
SiblingsOceanids, Potamoi
OffspringAthena, Porus

Function edit

By the era of Greek philosophy in the 5th century BC, Metis had become the first deity of wisdom and deep thought, but her name originally connoted "magical cunning" and was as easily equated with the trickster powers of Prometheus as with the "royal metis" of Zeus.[2] The Stoic commentators allegorised Metis as the embodiment of "prudence", "wisdom" or "wise counsel", in which form she was inherited by the Renaissance.[3]

The Greek word metis meant a quality that combined wisdom and cunning. This quality was considered to be highly admirable, the hero Odysseus being the embodiment of it, for example using such a strategy against Polyphemus, son of Poseidon. In the Classical era, metis was regarded by Athenians as one of the notable characteristics of the Athenian character.[4]

Mythology edit

Hesiod's account edit

Metis was an Oceanid nymph, one of the 3000 daughters of the Titans Oceanus and his sister-wife Tethys,[5] and a sister of the Potamoi (river-gods), which also numbered 3000. Metis gave her cousin Zeus a potion to cause his father Cronus, the supreme ruler of the cosmos, to vomit out his siblings their father had swallowed out of fear of being overthrown.[6] After the Titanomachy, the 10-year war among the immortals, she was pursued by Zeus and they got married.[7][2] Zeus himself is titled Metieta (Ancient Greek: Μητίετα, lit.'the wise counsellor'), in the Homeric poems.

Metis was both a threat to Zeus and an indispensable aid.[8] He lay with her, but immediately feared the consequences. It had been prophesied that she would bear a daughter who would be wiser than her mother, and then a son more powerful than his father, who would eventually overthrow Zeus and become king of the cosmos in his place.[9] In order to forestall these consequences, Zeus tricked Metis into turning herself into a fly and promptly swallowed her.[10] However, she was already pregnant with their first and only child, Athena. Metis crafted armor, a spear, and a shield for her daughter, whom she raised in Zeus' mind. Athena eventually used her spear and shield, banging them together to give her father a headache. Soon, he could not take his headache anymore and had the smith god Hephaestus, one of his sister-wife Hera's sons, cut his head open to let out whatever was in there on the river Trito's banks. Athena emerged from Zeus's mind full grown, wearing the armor her mother made her. She was made the goddess of wisdom, warfare, and crafts.

But Zeus lay with the fair-cheeked daughter of Ocean and Tethys apart from Hera [..] deceiving Metis although she was full wise. But he seized her with his hands and put her in his belly, for fear that she might bring forth something stronger than his thunderbolt: therefore did Zeus, who sits on high and dwells in the aether, swallow her down suddenly. But she straightway conceived Pallas Athena: and the father of men and gods gave her birth by way of his head on the banks of the river Trito. And she remained hidden beneath the inward parts of Zeus, even Metis, Athena's mother, worker of righteousness, who was wiser than gods and mortal men.[11]

Other versions edit

According to a scholiast on the Theogony, Metis had the ability of changing her shape at will. Zeus tricked her and swallowed his pregnant wife when she transformed into a πικρὰν[a] (pikràn).[12] As Keightley notes, πικρὰ ("bitter") makes little or no sense in that context, and it has been variously corrected to μυῖαν[a] (muîan, meaning "fly") or μικρὰν[a] (mikràn, meaning "small thing") instead.[13]

According to Apollodorus, Metis was raped by Zeus, and changed many forms in order to escape him, after he pursued her.[14]

An alternative version of the same myth makes the Cyclops Brontes rather than Zeus the father of Athena before Metis is swallowed.[15]

Hesiod's account is followed by Acusilaus and the Orphic tradition, which enthroned Metis side by side with Eros as primal cosmogenic forces. Plato makes Poros, or "creative ingenuity", a son of Metis.[16]

Ancient legacy edit

The similarities between Zeus swallowing Metis and Cronus swallowing his children have been noted by several scholars. This also caused some controversy in regard to reproduction myths.[17][18]

Modern legacy edit

See also edit

Footnotes edit

  1. ^ a b c In accusative.

Notes edit

  1. ^ Hesiod, Theogony 357; Smith, s.v. Metis.
  2. ^ a b Norman O. Brown, "The Birth of Athena" Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association 83 (1952), pp. 130–143.
  3. ^ A.B. Cook, Zeus (1914) 1940, noted in Brown 1952:133 note.
  5. ^ Bane, Theresa (2013). Encyclopedia of Fairies in World Folklore and Mythology. McFarland, Incorporated, Publishers. p. 232. ISBN 9780786471119.
  6. ^ Hesiod, Theogony 471; Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 1.2.1; Grimal, s.v. Metis.
  7. ^ M. Detienne and J.-P. Vernant, Les Ruses de l'intelligence: la Mètis des Grecs (Paris, 1974). ISBN 2-08-081036-7.
  8. ^ Brown 1952:133
  9. ^ Hesiod, Theogony, 886–900; Hard, p. 77; Caldwell, p. 16; Tripp, s.v. Metis.
  10. ^ Lang, Andrew (1901). Myth, Ritual and Religion. Vol. 2. Longmans, Green. pp. 194, 262–263. OCLC 13809803. Retrieved 2018-04-10.
  11. ^ Hesiod, Theogony 929
  12. ^ Scholia on Hesiod's Theogony 886
  13. ^ Keightley, p. 153, note b.
  14. ^ Apollodorus, 1.3.6.
  15. ^ Gantz, p. 51; Scholia on Homer, Iliad 8.39.
  16. ^ Plato, Symposium 203b; Morford, p. 133–134.
  17. ^ King, Helen. "Reproduction Myths". Retrieved 2020-07-12.
  18. ^ Leeming, s.v. Metis.

References edit

External links edit