IAPETOS (or Iapetus) was one of the Titan gods, sons of Ouranos (Heaven) and Gaia (Earth). Led by Kronos, Iapetos and his brothers conspired against their father, preparing an ambush for him as he descended to lie with Earth. Krios, Koios, Hyperion and Iapetos were posted at the four corners of the world where they seized hold of the Sky-god and held him fast, while Kronos, hidden in the centre, castrated him with a sickle.
In this myth, Iapetos and the three brothers represent the four cosmic pillars which appear in Near-Eastern cosmogonies holding heaven and earth apart. Iapetos himself was no doubt the pillar of the west, a position which was later and more obviously held by his son Atlas.
Iapetos "the piercer" may also have been regarded as the Titan god of the mortal life-span. Indeed, his sons Prometheus and Epimetheus were represented as the creators of mankind and other mortal creatures.
The Titanes were eventually deposed by Zeus and cast into the pit of Tartaros. Hesiod describes this as a void lying beneath the foundations of the cosmos, where earth, sea and sky all have their roots. Here the Titanes shift in cosmological terms from being holders of heaven to bearers of the entire cosmos. According to Pindar and Aeschylus (in his lost play Prometheus Unbound) the Titanes were eventually released from the pit through the clemency of Zeus.
[1.1] OURANOS & GAIA (Hesiod Theogony 132, Apollodorus 1.8, Diodorus Siculus 5.66.1)
[1.2] GAIA (Virgil Georgics 1.276)
[2.1] TARTAROS & GAIA (listed as a Gigante) (Hyginus Preface)
|[1.1] ATLAS, PROMETHEUS, EPIMETHEUS, MENOITIOS (by Klymene) (Hesiod Theogony 371)
[1.2] ATLAS, PROMETHEUS, EPIMETHEUS, MENOITIOS (by Asie) (Apollodorus 1.9)
[1.3] ATLAS, PROMETHEUS, EPIMETHEUS (by Klymene) (Hyginus Preface)
[2.1] BOUPHAGOS (by Thornax) (Pausanias 8.27.15)
[3.1] ANKHIALE (Stephenus Byzantium 'Anchiale')
IA′PETUS (Iapetos), a son of Uranus and Ge, a Titan and brother of Cronus, Oceanus, Coeus, Hyperion, Tethys, Rhea, &c. (Apollod. i. 1. § 3; Diod. v. 66.) According to Apollodorus (i. 2. § 3) he married Asia, the daughter of his brother Oceanus, and became by her the father of Atlas, Prometheus, Epimetheus, and Menoetius, who was slain by Zeus in the war against the Titans, and shut up in Tartarus. Other traditions call the wife of Iapetus Clymene, who was likewise a daughter of Oceanus, and others again Tethys, Asopis, or Libya. (Hes. Theog. 507, &c.; Tzetz. ad Lycoph. 1277; Orph. Fragm. viii. 21, &c.; Virg. Georg. i. 279.) Hyginus, who confounds the Titans and Gigantes, makes Iapetus a Giant, and calls him a son of Tartarus. According to Homer (Il. viii. 479) Iapetus is imprisoned with Cronus in Tartarus, and Silius Italicus (xii. 148, &c.) relates that he is buried under the island of Inarime. Being the father of Prometheus, he was regarded by the Greeks as the ancestor of the human race. His descendants, Prometheus, Atlas, and others, are often designated by the patronymic forms Iapelidae (es), Iapetionidae (es), and the feminine Iapetionis. (Hes. Theog. 528; Ov. Met. iv. 631; Pind. Ol. ix. 59.)
Source: Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology.
Homer, Iliad 8. 479 ff (trans. Lattimore) (Greek epic C8th B.C.) :
"The undermost limits of earth and sea, where Iapetos and Kronos seated have no shining of the sun god Hyperion to delight them nor winds’ delight, but Tartaros stands deeply about them."
Hesiod, Theogony 133 & 207 (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C8th or C7th B.C.) :
"She [Gaia the Earth] lay with Ouranos (Sky) and bare deep-swirling Okeanos, Koios and Krios and Hyperion and Iapetos, Theia and Rhea, Themis and Mnemosyne and gold-crowned Phoibe and lovely Tethys. After them was born Kronos the wily, youngest and most terrible of her children, and he hated his lusty sire . . . And he [Ouranos] used to hide them all [Hekatonkheires and Kyklopes, brothers of the Titanes] away in a secret place of Earth (Gaia) so soon as each was born, and would not suffer them to come up into the light : and Ouranos (Sky) rejoiced in his evil doing. But vast Gaia (Earth) groaned within, being straitened, and she made the element of grey flint and shaped a great sickle, and told her plan to her dear sons [the six Titanes]. 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; 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 Kronos the wily took courage and answered his dear mother : `Mother, I will undertake to do this deed.'
So he said: and vast Gaia (Earth) rejoiced greatly in spirit, and set and hid him in an ambush, and put in his hands a jagged sickle, and revealed to him the whole plot.
And Ouranos (Sky) came, bringing on night and longing for love, and he lay about Gaia (Earth) spreading himself full upon her. Then the son from his ambush stretched forth his left hand and in his right took the great long sickle with jagged teeth, and swiftly lopped off his own father's members and cast them away to fall behind him . . . These sons whom be begot himself great Ouranos (Sky) used to call Titenes (Strainers) in reproach, for he said that they strained and did presumptuously a fearful deed, and that vengeance for it would come afterwards." [N.B. Hesiod in the last few lines says that all six brothers were involved in the ambush and castration of Ouranos : five straining to hold him fast, while the sixth, Kronos, cut off his genitals.]
Hesiod, Theogony 507 ff :
"Now Iapetos took to wife the neat-ankled maid Klymene, daughter of Okeanos, and went up with her into one bed. And she bare him a stout-hearted son, Atlas: also she bare very glorious Menoitios and clever Prometheus, full of various wiles, and scatter-brained Epimetheus."
Pindar, Olympian Ode 9. 54 ff (trans. Conway) (Greek lyric C5th B.C.) :
"And of that race were sprung your ancestors, bearers of brazen shields, sons of the maids of the stock of Iapetos [i.e. the descendants of Deukalion & Pyrrha, grandchildren of Iapetos], and from the sublime sons of great Kronos."
Aeschylus, Prometheus Unbound (lost play) :
In Aeschylus' lost play Prometheus Unbound the chorus consisted of the Titan sons of Ouranos--Krios, Koios, Iapetos and Hyperion (and perhaps also Kronos)--released by Zeus from Tartaros. It is not known if the brothers were named in the play or individualised in any way.
Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 1. 2 - 3 (trans. Aldrich) (Greek mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"Ouranos (Sky) . . . fathered other sons on Ge (Earth), namely the Titanes : Okeanos, Koios, Hyperion, Kreios, Iapetos, and Kronos the youngest; also daughters called Titanides: Tethys, Rhea, Themis, Mnemosyne, Phoibe, Dione, and Theia . . . Now Ge (Earth), distressed by the loss of her children into Tartaros [the Kyklopes and Hekatonkheires], persuaded the Titanes [Koios, Hyperion, Kreios, Iapetos and Kronos] to attack their father, and she gave Kronos a sickle made of adamant. So all of them except Okeanos set upon Ouranos (Heaven), and Kronos cut off his genitals, tossing them into the sea . . . Thus having overthrown Ouranos’ rule the Titanes retrieved their brothers from Tartaros and gave the power to Kronos."
Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 1. 8 - 9 :
"The Titanes had children . . . Atlas (who holds the sky on his shoulders), Prometheus, Epimetheus, and Menoitios, whom Zeus struck with a thunderbolt in the Titan battle and confined to Tartaros, were all sons of Iapetos and Asia."
Diodorus Siculus, Library of History 5. 66. 1 (trans. Oldfather) (Greek historian C1st B.C.) :
"The Titanes numbered six men and five women, being born, as certain writers of myths relate, of Ouranos and Ge, but according to others, of one of the Kouretes and Titaia, from whom as their mother they derive the name they have. The males were Kronos, Hyperion, Koios, Iapetos, Krios and Okeanos, and their sisters were Rhea, Themis, Mnemosyne, Phoibe and Tethys. [N.B. He omits Theia.] Each one of them was the discover of things of benefit to mankind, and because of the benefaction they conferred upon all men they were accorded honours and everlasting fame."
Diodorus Siculus, Library of History 5. 67. 1 :
"To Iapetos was born Prometheus."
Pausanias, Description of Greece 8. 27. 15 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.) :
"The river [Bouphagos in southern Arkadia]] got its name, they say, from the hero Bouphagos (Cow-Eater), the son of Iapetos [either the Titan or a king of the same name] and Thornax. This is what they call her in Lakonia also. They also say that Artemis shot Bouphagos on Mount Pholoe because he attempted an unholy sin against her godhead."
Pseudo-Hyginus, Preface (trans. Grant) (Roman mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"From Iapetus and Clymene [were born] : Atlas, Epimetheus, Prometheus."
Pseudo-Hyginus, Preface (trans. Grant) (Roman mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"From Terra [Gaia] and Tartarus [were born] : Gigantes--Enceladus, Coeus, elentes, mophius, Astraeus, Pelorus, Pallas, Emphytus, Rhoecus, ienios, Agrius, alemone, Ephialtes, Eurytus, effracordon, Theomises, Theodamas, Otus, Typhon, Polybotes, meephriarus, abesus, colophonus, Iapetus." [N.B. Several Titanes--Iapetos, Koios, Pallas and Astraios --appear in this list of Gigantes.]
Virgil, Georgics 1. 276 ff (trans. Fairclough) (Roman bucolic C1st B.C.) :
"Luna [Selene the Moon] herself has ordained various days in various grades as lucky for work. Shun the fifth . . . then in monstrous labour Terra [Gaia the Earth] bore Coeus, and Iapetus and fierce Typhoeus, and the brethren [Gigantes] who were banded to break down Heaven."
Valerius Flaccus, Argonautica 1. 563 ff (trans. Mozley) (Roman epic C1st A.D.) :
"It was only after the battle with fierce Iapetus [general of the Titanes] and the toils of Phlegra [against the Gigantes] that Olympus’ palace set me [Zeus] over the universe."
Valerius Flaccus, Argonautica 4. 60 ff :
"[When Leto, Artemis, Apollon cry out to Zeus for the release of Prometheus from his torture on Mt Kaukasos :] Then too from [the underworld river] Acheron up to heaven’s heights is heard the cry of Iapetus himself [begging Zeus to release his son Prometheus]; sternly, as he pleads, does Erinys [the jailkeeper of Tartaros] thrust him aside, looking to the law of lofty Jove [Zeus]."
Statius, Thebaid 10. 192 ff (trans. Mozley) (Roman epic C1st A.D.) :
"The heavenly palace itself thunders [through Zeus], though no sign is given, the clouds themselves gather an the storms collect without the blast of any wind: one would think Iapetus had burst his Stygian chains."
Nonnus, Dionysiaca 1. 378 ff (trans. Rouse) (Greek epic C5th A.D.) :
"[Zeus speaks :] `What will my aigis [storm-cloud] do fighting with Typhon’s thunderbolt? I fear old Kronos may laugh aloud, I am shy of the proud neck of my lordly adversary Iapetos.'"
Nonnus, Dionysiaca 2. 298 ff :
"[Typhoeus boasts of his intentions once he has seized the throne of heaven :] `I will keep the chains of Iapetos for Poseidon [i.e. he will free Iapetos from his chains and replace him with Poseidon in Tartaros].'"
Nonnus, Dionysiaca 36. 110 ff :
"Let there not be internecine war in heaven once gain, after that conflict with Kronos which threatened Olympos : let me not see another war after the affray with Iapetos."
Iapetos may have been the Titan god who presided over the mortal life-span who assigned mortal creatures their finite lot. Like his brother Titanes, he was a god of time, one of the sons of Ouranos, the great dome of heaven which measured all of time. Iapetos, as one of the more destructive Titanes, is described by Homer seated beside Kronos (all-devouring time) in the depths of the Tartarean pit.
Iapetos and his bride Klymene might have been conceived with a variety of functions. Firstly, as the god of mortality, Iapetos is "the piercer" (from iaptô), the god of violent death. His wife Klymene, in this sense, would naturally be a chthonian (or netherworld) goddess, and indeed, the masculine form of her name "Klymenos," commonly occurs as an euphemistic title of the god Haides. Furthermore, the abstract Klymene "Fame" was a concept associated with renown in death, achieved through glorious actions in life.
Iapetos and Klymene might also have been gods of craftmanship. Iapetos' name "the piercer," for example, imagines the spear, a tool born of craft. Klymene, on the other hand, shares her name with the craftsman-god Hephaistos, who was titled Klymenos "the famous one" in Homeric poetry.
The powers of mortality and craftsmanship appear in the characters of the sons of Iapetos, Prometheus and Epimetheus, gods who crafted mortal creatures out of clay.
The sons of Iapetos were also described as possessing some of the worst of human traits : on an intellectual level, Prometheus is overly sly and crafty, Epimetheus a guileless fool, Atlas overly daring, and arrogant Menoitios prone to rash and violent actions. Their natural traits led each to their downfall. Iapetos and his family were regarded as the ancestors of mankind, a race which inherited the worst qualities of these four sons : crafty scheming, foolish stupidity, excessive daring, and rash violence.
Iapetos may be the same as Keuthonymos, a mysterious underworld daimon named as the father of Menoites, herdsman of Haides. It is reasonable to assume that this Menoites is identical to Menoitios, son of Iapetos.
- Homer, The Iliad - Greek Epic C8th B.C.
- Hesiod, Theogony - Greek Epic C8th-7th B.C.
- Pindar, Odes - Greek Lyric C5th B.C.
- Aeschylus, Fragments - Greek Tragedy C5th B.C.
- Apollodorus, The Library - Greek Mythography C2nd A.D.
- Pausanias, Description of Greece - Greek Travelogue C2nd A.D.
- Diodorus Siculus, The Library of History - Greek History C1st B.C.
- Hyginus, Fabulae - Latin Mythography C2nd A.D.
- Virgil, Georgics - Latin Bucolic C1st B.C.
- Valerius Flaccus, The Argonautica - Latin Epic C1st A.D.
- Statius, Thebaid - Latin Epic C1st A.D.
- Nonnos, Dionysiaca - Greek Epic C5th A.D.