Aegaeon & the Hecatoncheires from Greek Mythology

Aegaeon (Αἰγαίων), a son of Uranus by Gaea. Aegaeon and his brothers Gyges and Cottus are known under the name of the Uranids (Hes. Th. 502, &c.), and are described as huge monsters with a hundred arms [Hecatoncheires – ἑκατόγχειρες – in Greek] and fifty heads. (Apollod. 1.1.1; Hes. Th. 149, &c.)

Most writers mention the third Uranid under the name of Briareus instead of Aegaeon, which is explained in a passage of Homer (Hom. Il. 1.403, §c.), who says that men called him Aegaeon, but the gods Briareus.

On one occasion when the Olympian gods were about to put Zeus in chains, Thetis called in the assistance of Aegaeon, who compelled the gods to desist from their intention. (Hom. Il. 1.398, &c.)

According to Hesiod (Hes. Th. 154, &c. 617, &c.), Aegaeon and his brothers were hated by Uranus from the time of their birth, in consequence of which they were concealed in the depth of the earth, where they remained until the Titans began their war against Zeus.

On the advice of Gaea Zeus delivered the Uranids from their prison, that they might assist him. The hundred-armed giants conquered the Titans by hurling at them three hundred rocks at once, and secured the victory to Zeus, who thrust the Titans into Tartarus and placed the Hecatoncheires at its gates, or, according to others, in the depth of the ocean to guard them. (Hes. Th. 617, &c. 815, &c.)

According to a legend in Pansanias (2.1.6, 2.4.7), Briareus was chosen as arbitrator in the dispute between Poseidon and Helios, and adjudged the Isthmus to the former and the Acrocorinthus to the latter.

The Scholiast on Apollonius Rhodius (1.1165) represents Aegaeon as a son of Gaea and Pontus and as living as a marine god in the Aegean sea. Ovid (Ov. Met. 2.10) and Philostratus (Vit. Apollon. 4.6) like-wise regard him as a marine god, while Virgil (Aen. 10.565) reckons him among the giants who stormed Olympus, and Callimachus (Call. Del. 141, &c.), regarding him in the same light, places him under mount Aetna.

The Scholiast on Theocritus (Idyll. 1.65) calls Briareus one of the Cyclops. The opinion which regards Aegaeon and his brothers as only personifications of the extraordinary powers of nature, such as are manifested in the violent commotions of the earth, as earth-quakes, volcanic eruptions and the like, seems to explain best the various accounts about them.

Stories of Aegaeon

Gaia betrays Uranus for imprisoning Aegaeon and the other Hecatoncheires

Source: Hesiod, Theogony, 149

[…]three other sons were born of Earth and Heaven, great and doughty beyond telling, Cottus and Briareos [Aegaeon] and Gyes, presumptuous children.

From their shoulders sprang a hundred arms, not to be approached, and fifty heads grew from the shoulders upon the strong limbs of each, and irresistible was the stubborn strength that was in their great forms.

For of all the children that were born of Earth and Heaven, these [the Hecatoncheires] were the most terrible, and they were hated by their own father [Uranus] from the first [moment].

And he [Uranus] used to hide them all away in a secret place of Earth so soon as each was born, and would not suffer them to come up into the light: and Heaven [Uranus, the Primordial Deity of Heaven] rejoiced in his evil doing.

But vast Earth [Gaia, Primordial Deity of Earth] groaned within, being straitened, and she thought a crafty and an evil wile.

Forthwith she made the element of grey flint and shaped a great sickle, and told her plan to her dear sons [The Titans].

And she spoke, cheering them, while she was vexed in her dear heart: “My children, gotten of a sinful father, if you will obey me, we should punish the vile outrage of your father [Uranus]; for he first thought of doing shameful things.” So she said;

But fear seized them all, and none of them uttered a word. But great Cronos the wily took courage and answered his dear mother: “Mother, I will undertake to do this deed [mutilate his father, Uranus], for I reverence not our father of evil name, for he first thought of doing shameful things.”

Zeus releases the Aegaeon and the Hecatoncheires

Source: Hesiod, Theogony, 627

But when first their father [Uranus, Greek Primordial God] was vexed in his heart with Briareus [Aegaeon] and Cottus and Gyes, he bound them in cruel bonds, because he was jealous of their exceeding manhood and comeliness and great size.

And he made them live beneath the wide-pathed earth, where they were afflicted, being set to dwell under the ground, at the end of the earth, at its great borders, in bitter anguish for a long time and with great grief at heart.

But the son of Cronos [Zeus] and the other deathless gods [Demeter, Hera, Hestia, Hades & Poseidon] whom rich-haired Rhea [Titan, wife of Cronus] bore from union with Cronos, brought them up again to the light at Earth’s advising.

For she herself recounted all things to the gods fully, how with these they might gain victory and a glorious cause to vaunt themselves.

For the Titan gods and as many as sprang from Cronos had long been fighting together in stubborn war with heart-grieving toil, the lordly Titans from high Othrys, but the gods, givers of good, whom rich-haired Rhea bore in union with Cronos, from Olympus.

So they [Gods against Titans], with bitter wrath, were fighting continually with one another at that time for ten full years, and the hard strife had no close or end for either side, and the issue of the war hung evenly balanced.

But when he had provided those three [Aegaeon, Gyges and Cottus] with all things fitting, nectar and ambrosia which the gods themselves eat, and when their proud spirit revived within them all after they had fed on nectar and delicious ambrosia, then it was that the father of men and gods spoke amongst them:

“Hear me, bright children of Earth and Heaven, that I may say what my heart within me bids. A long while now have we, who are sprung from Cronos and the Titan gods, fought with each other every day to get victory and to prevail. But show your great might and unconquerable strength, and face the Titans in bitter strife; for remember our friendly kindness, and from what sufferings you are come back to the light from your cruel bondage under misty gloom through our counsels.”

Aegaeon protects Zeus from imprisonment by the other gods

Source: Homer, The Iliad, 1403

You [Aegaeon] alone among the immortals warded off shameful ruin from the son of Cronos [Zeus], lord of the dark clouds, on the day when the other Olympians [Greek Gods] wished to put him in bonds, even Hera and Poseidon and Pallas Athene.

But you came, goddess, and freed him [Zeus] from his bonds, when you had quickly called to high Olympus him of the hundred hands [this refers to Aegaeon and his physical appearance], whom the gods call Briareus, but all men Aegaeon; for he is mightier than his father.

He [Aegaeon] sat down by the side of the son of Cronos [Zeus], exulting in his glory, and the blessed gods were seized with fear of him, and did not bind Zeus. 

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