Web Theoi
KETEA
 
Greek Name Transliteration Latin Name Translation
Κητος
Κητεα
Kêtos
Kêtea
Cetus
Cetea
Sea-Monster, Whale
(kêtos)
Θηρ Θαλασσιος
Θηρες Θαλλασιοι
Thêr Thalassios
Thêres Thalassioi
Belua Ponti Monsters of the
Deep

THE KETEA (or Cetea) were monsters of the Sea. The two greatest of which were the Ketos killed by Perseus in Aithiopia and the Ketos slain by Herakles in the Troad.
Ketea were usually depicted as serpentine fish withlong rows of sharp teeth. The Nereides were often depicted riding side-saddle on the backs of these creatures.

PARENTS
Probably PHORKYS & KETO, though nowhere stated
LIST OF KETEA

KETOS AITHIOPIOS The Sea-Monster sent by Poseidon to devour princess Andromeda of Troy. It was slain by the hero Perseus.

KETOS TROIAS The Sea-Monster sent by Poseidon to terrorise Troy. It was slain by Herakles.

Aeschylus, Libation Bearers 585 ff (trans. Weir Smyth) (Greek tragedy C5th B.C.) :
"Many are the horrors, dread and appalling, bred of earth, and the arms of the deep teem with hateful monsters."

Quintus Smyrnaeus, Fall of Troy 2. 418 ff (trans. Way) (Greek epic C4th A.D.) :
"She [Thetis] sits in barren crypts of brine: she dwells glorying mid dumb Ketea (Sea-monsters) and mid fish."

Quintus Smyrnaeus, Fall of Troy 3. 590 ff :
"As rushed their troop [the Nereides] up silver paths of sea, the flood disported round them as they came [to the funeral of Akhilleus] . . . Moaned the Ketea (Monsters of the Deep) plaintively round that train of mourners."

Quintus Smyrnaeus, Fall of Troy 5. 334 ff :
"Into the great deep Thetis plunged, and all the Nereides with her. Round them swam Ketea (Sea-monsters) many, children of the brine"

Quintus Smyrnaeus, Fall of Troy 12. 444 :
"Shuddered the very Ketea Pontos (Monsters of the Deep) [when the Sea-Serpent sons of Typhon emerged from their underwater cave]."

Antoninus Liberalis, Metamorphoses 3 (trans. Celoria) (Greek mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"When the Teukrians omitted neglectfully to make sacrifices to Poseidon at the due season, the god became angry and destroyed the crops of the goddess [i.e. the grain of Demeter]. And he set on them a prodigious Ketos (Sea-Monster) that came out of the sea. Unable to endure the Ketos and the famine, the Teukrians sent a message to Hierax begging him to save from the famine. He sent them barley as well as wheat and other foods."

Philostratus the Elder, Imagines 1. 8 (trans. Fairbanks) (Greek rhetorician C3rd A.D.) :
"[From a description of an ancient Greek painting at Neapolis (Naples) :] Poseidon’s journey over the sea I think you have come upon in Homer, when he sets forth from Aigai to join the Akhaians, and the sea is calm, escorting him with its sea horses and its Ketea (sea-monsters); for in Homer they follow Poseidon and fawn upon him as they do here in the painting."

Philostratus the Elder, Imagines 1. 19 :
"[From a description of an ancient Greek painting :] The pirate ship sails with warlike mien; for it is equipped with prow-beams and beak, and on board are grappling-irons and spears and poles armed with scythes. And, in order that it may strike terror into those they meet and may look to them like some sort of monster [i.e. a ketos], it is painted with bright colours, and it seems to see with grim eyes set into its prow, and the stern curves up in a thin crescent like the end of a fish’s tail."


Heracles & the Sea-Monster | Greek vase
P28.1 KETOS,
HERAKLES
Heracles & the Sea-Monster | Greek vase
P28.2 KETOS,
HERAKLES
Nereid riding Sea-Monster | Greek vase
P12.4D KETOS,
NEREIS
Perseus, Andromeda & the Sea-Monster | Greek vase
P28.3 KETOS,
PERSEUS

Perseus, Andromeda & the Sea-Monster | Roman fresco
F47.4 KETOS,
PERSEUS
Nereid riding Sea-Monster | Roman mosaic
Z33.9B KETOS,
NEREIS
Nereid riding Sea-Monster | Greek vase
P12.8 KETOS,
NEREIS
 

Oppian, Halieutica 1. 360 ff (trans. Mair) (Greek poet C3rd A.D.) :
"The Ketea (Sea-Monsters) mighty of limb and huge, the wonders of the sea, heavy with strength invincible, a terror for the eyes to behold and ever armed with deadly rage--many of these thee be that roam the spacious seas, where are the unmapped prospects of Poseidon, but few of them come night the shore, those only whose weight the beaches can bear and whom the salt water does not fail. Among these [and he lists various unidentified species of sharks, whales, and seals] are the terrible Lion and the truculent Hammer-head and the deadly Leopard and the dashing Physalos (Sperm whale); amomg them also is the impetuous black race of the Tunny and the deadly Saw-fish and the dread gave of the woeful Lamna and the Maltha, named not from soft feebleness, and the terrible Ramas and the awful weight of the Hyaena, and the ravenous and shameless Dog-fish. Of the Dog-fish there are three races; one fierce race in the deep seas is numbered among the terrible Ketea (Sea-monsters); two other races among the mightiest fishes dwell in the deep mud."

Oppian, Halieutica 5. 20 ff :
"The huge Ketea (Sea-Monsters) that are bred in the habitations of Poseidon are, I declare, no whit meaner than the ravening children of the land, but both in strength and size the dauntless terrors of the sea excel . . . The Ketea that are nurtured in the midst of the seas are very many in number and of exceeding size. And not often do they come up out of the brine, but by reason of their heaviness they keep the bottom of the sea below. And they rave for food with unceasing frenzy, being always anhungered and never abating the gluttony of their terrible maw : for what food shall be sufficient to fill the void of their belly or enough to satisfy and give a respite to their insatiable jaws? Moreover, they themselves also destroy one another, the mightier in valour slaying the weaker, and one for the other is food and feast. Often too they bring terror to ships when they meet them in the Iberian Sea in the West, where chiefly, leaving the infinite waters of the neighbouring Okeanos, they roll upon their way, like unto ships of twenty oars. Often also they stray and come night the beach where the water is deep inshore; and there one may attack them . . . [Oppian goes on to describe whale-hunting]."

Oppian, Halieutica 1. 394 ff :
"There are also those among the stern Ketea (Sea-Monsters) which leave the salt water and come forth upon the life-giving soil of the dry land. For a long space do Eels consort with the shores and the fields beside the sea; so too the shielded Turtle and the woeful, lamentable Castorids (Beavers), which utter on the shores their grievous voice of evil omen. He who receives in his ears their voice of sorrow, shall soon be not far from death, but that dread sound prophesies for him doom and death. Nay, even the shameless Whale, they say, leaves the sea for the dry land and basks in the sun. And Seals in the night-time always leave the sea, and often in the day-time they abide at their ease on the rocks and on the sands and take their sleep outside the sea."

Seneca, Hercules Furens 1204 ff (trans. Miller) (Roman tragedy C1st A.D.) :
"Come now, savage monsters of the deep (ponti monstra) [Ketea], now, vast sea, and whatever Proteus has hidden away in the furthest hollow of his waters, and hurry me off, me who felt triumph in crime so great, to your deep pools."

Statius, Achilleid 1. 55 ff (trans. Mozley) (Roman epic C1st A.D.) :
"[In the train of Poseidon] the winds and tempest are silent and with tranquil song proceed the Tritones who bear his armour and the rock-like Cete (Sea-Monsters) and the Tyrrhenian herds [seals], and gambol around and blow him, saluting their king."

Suidas s.v. Ketos (trans. Suda On Line) (Byzantine Greek Lexicon C10th A.D.) :
"Ketos (Sea-monster, huge fish, whale): A marine beast with many forms. `'For it is a lion, a shark, a pard, a puffer-fish,] a saw-fish which is called malle, which is hard to struggle against; and a ram, an animal hateful to see.'"


Sources:

  • Aeschylus, Libation Bearers - Greek Tragedy C5th B.C.
  • Quintus Smyrnaeus, Fall of Troy - Greek Epic C4th A.D.
  • Antoninus Liberalis, Metamorphoses - Greek Mythography C2nd A.D.
  • Philostratus the Elder, Imagines - Greek Rhetoric C3rd A.D.
  • Oppian, Halieutica - Greek Poetry C3rd A.D.
  • Seneca, Phaedra - Latin Tragedy C1st A.D.
  • Statius, Achilleid - Latin Epic C1st A.D.
  • Suidas - Byzantine Greek Lexicon C10th A.D.