The Titan Goddess Metis in Greek Mythology

Updated on December 10, 2016
Colin Quartermain profile image

Having travelled through Italy, Greece and the Aegean in his youth, Colin quickly became interested in the ancient mythology of the region.

Metis the Greek Goddess of Wisdom

In Greek mythology prophecies could be dangerous things. Those with the ability to tell the future could be revered or ridiculed; whilst those of whom a prophecy was told could spend their life trying to live up to it, or to circumvent it.

The danger of having a prophecy told about you though, was never more apparent than with the Titan goddess Metis.

Who Were Metis' Parents?

The goddess Metis was born to the Titan pairing of Oceanus and Tethys, the god and goddess of freshwater. As such, Metis was probably born at a similar time to Zeus and his siblings; Oceanus being brother to Cronus, the father of Zeus.

This parentage would make Metis an Oceanid, one of the 3000 daughters of Oceanus. Oceanids though, were normally classed as nymphs, minor figures in Greek mythology associated with lakes, springs and wells. Metis though was a much more important figure, and would be named as the Greek goddess of Wisdom.

Metis and the Oceanids

Gustave Doré (1832–1883) PD-art-100
Gustave Doré (1832–1883) PD-art-100 | Source

The Early Life of Metis

The time when Metis was born was a period when the Titans, under the leadership of Cronus, ruled the cosmos; the period being known as the “Golden Age”.

The rule of the Titans would come to an end when Zeus and his siblings rebelled against their father.

In several versions of the myth, it is Metis who concocted and gave the drug to Cronus, which caused the Titan to regurgitate the imprisoned siblings of Zeus. It is more commonly written though, that the drug was made by Gaia.

The rebellion of Zeus would lead to a 10 year war, the Titanomachy; in general terms, the war would pit the first and second generation Titans against Zeus and his allies.

Oceanus and Tethys, the parents of Metis, though, would remain neutral during the war; their children though were not always neutral. Metis’ sister Styx, was one of the first to ally themselves with Zeus, and during the war Metis is occasionally mentioned as providing counsel to Zeus.

Metis

Сергей Панасенко-Михалкин CC-BY-SA-3.0
Сергей Панасенко-Михалкин CC-BY-SA-3.0 | Source

Metis and Zeus

Metis’ reputation for wisdom and knowledge would increase after Zeus’ successful completion of the Titanomachy, and soon it was said that she knew more than any god or mortal. Zeus would then take Metis as his first wife.

Metis would make the mistake of telling Zeus of a prophecy concerning them both. Metis proclaimed that she would give birth to a son of Zeus, who would be more powerful than his father. It was a prophecy that was also retold by both Gaia and Ouranus.

Zeus was not going to allow a challenger to his position as supreme ruler so soon after he had claimed the title himself.

To try and circumvent the prophecy, Zeus would swallow Metis, possibly when the goddess was in the form of a fly. The swallowing of Metis would imprison her within him, just as Cronus had done to Zeus’ siblings.

Athena Daughter of Metis

TheBernFiles Released into PD
TheBernFiles Released into PD | Source

The Birth of Athena

By the time that Zeus had swallowed Metis though, he had already slept with her, and she was pregnant with his child.

Imprisoned within Zeus, Metis would set about creating clothes and armour for her soon to be born child. The hammering of the armour would cause Zeus much pain, and in the end he sought relief from it; and at his behest Hephaestus (or sometimes Prometheus) took up an axe and hit Zeus on his head.

From the head wound, a child would be born fully clothed and armoured. Thankfully for Zeus though, the child born to him and Metis was a girl, the goddess Athena.

Metis’s title of Greek goddess of Wisdom would pass down to Athena, who became goddess of arts and wisdom.

Metis and Thetis

The prophecy told of Metis’ son is very similar to one told of the son of Thetis. When Zeus was chasing after the water nymph Thetis, a prophecy was told that the son of Thetis would be more powerful than its father. Zeus again circumvented the dangers by having Thetis marry the mortal Peleus, and although the son born of the marriage was Achilles, the son was more powerful than his father but no threat to Zeus.

The Story of Metis Continues

After Metis, Zeus was said to have been married the Themis, and then more famously, Hera.

Metis though was not dead, and it was written that the goddess would continue to counsel Zeus from within, providing the supreme god with guidance when required. Metis though could not get pregnant by Zeus again, and so Zeus had managed to successfully circumvent the prophecy.

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