Metis (mythology)

Metis (/ˈmtɪs/; Ancient Greek: Μῆτις, romanizedMêtis, lit.'wisdom', 'skill', or 'craft'), in ancient Greek religion and mythology, was the goddess of good counsel[citation needed] and one of the Oceanids, the daughters of the Titans Oceanus and Tethys.[1] She is notable for helping a young Zeus free his siblings from his father Cronus' belly by supplying him with a special drug. After Zeus became king of the cosmos, he and Metis were married, but after hearing a prophecy stating that after Metis gave birth to a daughter, she would have a son mightier than Zeus who would overthrow him, Zeus tricked the still pregnant Metis and swallowed her whole. Metis still managed to bear their daughter Athena, the goddess of wisdom.

Goddess of good counsel[citation needed]
Member of the Oceanids
Winged goddess Louvre F32.jpg
A winged goddess depicted under Zeus' throne, possibly Metis.
Personal information
ParentsOceanus and Tethys
SiblingsOceanids, Potamoi
OffspringAthena, Poros


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, using with Polyphemus, son of Poseidon. In the Classical era, metis was regarded by Athenians as one of the notable characteristics of the Athenian character.[4]


Hesiod's accountEdit

Metis was an Oceanid, one of the daughters of Oceanus and his sister-wife Tethys, who were 3000 in number.[5] She was a sister of the Potamoi (river-gods), sons of Oceanus and Tethys, who also numbered 3000. Metis was the one who gave Zeus a potion to cause Cronus to vomit out his siblings.[6] She became Zeus' first great spouse,[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 extremely powerful children: the first, a daughter who would be wiser than her mother, and the second, 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 dire consequences, he tricked her into turning herself into a fly and promptly swallowed her.[10] He was too late however, for she was already pregnant with their first and only child, Athena. Metis crafted armor, a spear, and a shield for her daughter, and raised her in Zeus' mind. Athena began to use the spear and shield her mother had made, banging them together to give her father a headache. Soon, he couldn't take his headache anymore and had Hephaestus cut his head open to let out whatever was in there. Athena emerged from Zeus's mind in full glory, wearing the armor her mother made her. Athena 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 versionsEdit

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 legacyEdit

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 legacyEdit

In sociologyEdit

In his 1998 book Seeing Like a State, James C. Scott used “metis” to describe the knowhow, experience and wisdom that people acquire in building expertise, as a key contributor to success in society that is not accounted for by the high modernist approach to central administration.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c In accusative.


  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.
  4. ^ "METIS – TITAN OF WISDOM".{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  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.


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