THE HEKATONKHEIRES (Hecatoncheires) or Hundred-Handed giants were three primordial sons of Ouranos (Uranus, the Sky) and Gaia (Gaea, the Earth). Each had a hundred hands for wielding clouds and fifty heads for blustering winds (theullai). Their three companion brothers, the Kyklopes (Cyclopes), were masters of thunder and lightning. Fearing the power of his gigantic sons, Ouranos promptly locked them away in the pit of Tartaros.
An age later, the six giants were released by Zeus during his war against the Titanes (Titans) and helped drive the elder gods from heaven down into the pit. The Hekatonkheires were then appointed as the prison's eternal wardens.
As deities the Hekatonkheires presided over the stormy season of ancient Greece which was heralded by the rising of the Constellation Atlar in November. This heavenly altar was forged by the Kyklopes at the start of the Titan War and the six giants sealed their pact with Zeus upon it. As part of the bargain the brothers were apparently granted free reign over the heavens for one season of the year when they would emerge from Tartaros bringing storms.
There were several other giants and gods which closely resemble the Hekatonkheires in function if not form. The first was Typhoeus, a monstrous giant representing destructive storms who was a son of Tartaros and enemy of Zeus. After being defeated by the god, he was bound in Tartaros and became the source of the Anemoi Thuellai or Storm-Winds. Another was Aigaios (Aegeaus), a storm-giant ally of the Titanes, who was also defeated by Zeus. And a third was the god Aiolos (Aeolus) who like the Hekatonkheires guarded a cavern of storms-winds (thuellai).
FAMILY OF THE HECATONCHEIRES
 BRIAREOS, KOTTOS, GYES (Hesiod Theogony 147, Apollodorus 1.1, Suidas s.v. Tritopatores)
 AMALKEIDES, PROTOKLES, PROTOKLEON (Suidas s.v. Tritopatores)
AEGAEON (Aigaiôn), a son of Uranus by Gaea. Aegaeon and his brothers Gyges and Cottus are known under the name of the Uranids (Hes. Theog. 502, &c.), and are described as huge monsters with a hundred arms (hekatoncheires) and fifty heads. (Apollod. i. 1. § 1; Hes. Theog. 149, &c.) Most writers mention the third Uranid under the name of Briareus instead of Aegaeon, which is explained in a passage of Homer (Il. i. 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. i. 398, &c.) According to Hesiod (Theog. 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. Theog. 617, &c. 815, &c.) According to a legend in Pansanias (ii. 1. § 6, ii. 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 (i. 1165) represents Aegaeon as a son of Gaea and Pontus and as living as a marine god in the Aegean sea. Ovid (Met. ii. 10) and Philostratus (Vit. Apollon. iv. 6) like-wise regard him as a marine god, while Virgil (Aen. x. 565) reckons him among the giants who stormed Olympus, and Callimachus (Hymn. in Del. 141, &c.), regarding him in the same light, places him under mount Aetna. The Scholiast on Theocritus (Idyll. i. 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.
Source: Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology.
CLASSICAL LITERATURE QUOTES
Hesiod, Theogony 147 ff (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C8th or C7th B.C.) :
"And again, she bare [Gaia (Gaea, Earth) to Ouranos (Uranus, Sky)] the Kyklopes (Cyclopes, Orb-Eyed), overbearing in spirit, Brontes (Thunder), and Steropes (Lightning Bolt) and stubborn-hearted Arges (Vivid Flash), who gave Zeus the thunder and made the thunderbolt : in all else they were like the gods, but one eye only was set in the midst of their fore-heads. And they were surnamed Kyklopes (Orb-eyed) because one orbed eye was set in their foreheads. Strength and might and craft were in their works. And again, three other sons [the Hekatonkheires (Hecatoncheires)] were born of Gaia (Earth) and Ouranos (Sky), great and doughty beyond telling, Kottos (Cottus) and Briareos (Briareus) and Gyes, presumptuous children. From their shoulders sprang a hundred arms, not to be approached, and each had fifty heads upon his shoulders on their strong limbs, and irresistible was the stubborn strength that was in their great forms. For of all the children that were born of Gaia (Earth) and Ouranos (Sky), these were the most terrible, and they were hated by their own father from the first. And he used to hide them all away in a secret place of Gaia (Earth) so soon as each was born, and would not suffer them to come up into the light: and Ouranos 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 Titanes (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; 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 (Cronus) the wily took courage and answered his dear mother : ‘Mother, I will undertake to do this deed, for I reverence not our father of evil name, for he first thought of doing shameful things.’
So he said : and vast Gaia 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 [i.e. to castrate and dethrone Ouranos, and free her sons from their bondage]."
Hesiod, Theogony 617 ff :
"But when first their father [Ouranos (Uranus)] was vexed in his heart with Obriareos (Briareus) and Kottos (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 Kronion (Cronion) [Zeus] and the other deathless gods whom rich-haired Rhea bare from union with Kronos (Cronus), brought them up again to the light at Gaia's (Gaea's, Earth's) advising. For she herself recounted all things to the gods fully, how that with these they would gain victory and a glorious cause to vaunt themselves. For the Titan gods and as many as sprang from Kronos (Cronus) had long been fighting together in stubborn war . . . 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 [the Hekatonkheires (Hecatoncheires)] 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 Gaia (Gaea) and Ouranos (Uranus), that I may say what my heart within me bids. A long while now have we, who are sprung from Kronos (Cronus) and the Titan gods, fought with each other every day to get victory and to prevail. But do you show your great might and unconquerable strength, and face the Titanes (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.’
So he said. And blameless Kottos (Cottus) [the Hekatonkheir (Hecatoncheir)] answered him again : ‘Divine one, you speak that which we know well: nay, even of ourselves we know that your wisdom and understanding is exceeding, and that you became a defender of the deathless ones from chill doom. And through your devising we are come back again from the murky gloom and from our merciless bonds, enjoying what we looked not for, O lord, son of Kronos. And so now with fixed purpose and deliberate counsel we will aid your power in dreadful strife and will fight against the Titanes in hard battle.’
So he said : and the gods, givers of good things, applauded when they heard his word, and their spirit longed for war even more than before, and they all, both male and female, stirred up hated battle that day, the Titan gods, and all that were born of Kronos together with those dread, mighty ones of overwhelming strength whom Zeus brought up to the light from Erebos (Erebus) beneath the earth. A hundred arms sprang from the shoulders of all alike, and each had fifty heads growing upon his shoulders upon stout limbs. These, then, stood against the Titanes in grim strife, holding huge rocks in their strong hands. And on the other part the Titanes eagerly strengthened their ranks, and both sides at one time showed the work of their hands and their might. The boundless sea rang terribly around, and the earth crashed loudly : wide Heaven was shaken and groaned, and high Olympos reeled from its foundation under the charge of the undying gods, and a heavy quaking reached dim Tartaros and the deep sound of their feet in the fearful onset and of their hard missiles. So, then, they launched their grievous shafts upon one another, and the cry of both armies as they shouted reached to starry heaven; and they met together with a great battle-cry . . .
And amongst the foremost [in the battle were the Hekatonkheires (Hecatoncheires)] Kottos (Cottus) and Briareos (Briareus) and Gyes insatiate for war raised fierce fighting: three hundred rocks, one upon another, they launched from their strong hands and overshadowed the Titanes (TItans) with their missiles, and buried them beneath the wide-pathed earth, and bound them in bitter chains when they had conquered them by their strength for all their great spirit, as far beneath the earth to Tartaros (Tartarus). For a brazen anvil falling down from heaven nine nights and days would reach the earth upon the tenth: and again, a brazen anvil falling from earth nine nights and days would reach Tartaros upon the tenth. Round it runs a fence of bronze, and night spreads in triple line all about it like a neck-circlet, while above grow the roots of the earth and unfruitful sea. There by the counsel of Zeus who drives the clouds the Titan gods are hidden under misty gloom, in a dank place where are the ends of the huge earth. And they may not go out; for Poseidon fixed gates of bronze upon it, and a wall runs all round it on every side. There Gyes and Kottos and great-souled Obriareos live, trusty warders of Zeus who holds the aigis . . . And there, all in their order, are the sources and ends of gloomy earth and misty Tartaros and the unfruitful sea and starry heaven, loathsome and dank, which even the gods abhor. It is a great gulf, and if once a man were within the gates, he would not reach the floor until a whole year had reached its end, but cruel blast (thuella) upon blast (thuella) would carry him this way and that. And this marvel is awful even to the deathless gods. There stands the awful home of Nyx (Night) wrapped in black clouds."
Hesiod, Theogony 807 ff :
"And there [at the very ends of earth, sea and sky] are shining gates [to the pit of Tartaros (Tartarus)] and an immoveable threshold of bronze having unending roots and it is grown of itself. And beyond, away from all the gods, live the Titanes (Titans), beyond gloomy Khaos (Chaos, Air). But the glorious allies [the Hekatonkheires (Hecatoncheires) of loud-crashing Zeus have their dwelling upon Okeanos' (Oceanus') foundations, even Kottos (Cottus) and Gyes; but Briareos (Briareus), being goodly, the deep-roaring Earth-Shaker [Poseidon] made his son-in-law, giving him Kymopoleia (Cymopoleia) his daughter to wed."
Eumelus or Arctinus, Titanomachia Fragment 1 (from Proclus, Chrestomathy) (Greek epic C8th B.C.) :
"The Epic Cycle begins with the fabled union of Ouranos (Uranus, Heaven) and Ge (Gaea, Earth), by which they make three Hekatontakheiroi (Hecatoncheires) sons and three Kyklopes (Cyclopes) to be born to him."
Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 1. 1 - 7 (trans. Aldrich) (Greek mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"Ouranos (Uranus, Heaven) was the first to rule over the entire world. He married Ge (Gaea, Earth) and sired first the Hekatonkheires (Hecatoncheires), who were names Briareos (Briareus), Gyes and Kottos (Cottus). They were unsurpassed in both size and power, and each had a hundred hands and fifty heads. After these he sired the Kyklopes (Cyclopes), by name Arges, Steropes, and Brontes, each of whom had one eye in his forehead. But Ouranos bound these and threw them into Tartaros (Tartarus), a place in Haides' realm as dark as Erebos (Erebus), and as far away from the earth as the earth is from the sky . . .
Now Ge, distressed by the loss of her children into Tartaros, persuaded the Titanes (Titans) to attack their father, and she gave Kronos a sickle made of adamant. So all of them except Okeanos (Oceanus) set upon Ouranos, and Kronos (Cronus) cut off his genitals, tossing them into the sea. From the drops of the flowing blood Erinyes were born, named Alekto (Alecto), Tisiphone, Megaira (Megaera). Thus having overthrown Ouranos' rule the Titanes retrieved their brothers from Tartaros and gave the power to Kronos. But Kronos once again bound the Kyklopes and confined them in Tartaros.
After ten years of fighting Ge prophesied a victory for Zeus if he were to secure the prisoners down in Tartaros as his allies. He thereupon slew their jail-keeper Kampe (Campe), and freed them from their bonds. In return the Kyklopes gave Zeus thunder, lightning, and a thunderbolt, as well as a helmet for Plouton [Haides] and a trident for Poseidon. Armed with these the three gods overpowered the Titanes, confined them in Tartaros, and put the Hekatonkheires in charge of guarding them."
Pseudo-Hyginus, Preface (trans. Grant) (Roman mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"From Aether and Terra [were born various abstractions] . . .
[From Caelum (Ouranos, Sky) and Terra (Gaia, Earth) were born ?] Oceanus, Themis, Tartarus, Pontus; the Titanes : Briareus, Gyes, Steropes, Atlas, Hyperion, and Polus [Koios], Saturnus [Kronos], Ops [Rhea], Moneta [Mnemosyne], Dione."
[N.B. Hyginus' Preface survives only in summary. The Titanes (Titans), Kyklopes (Cyclopes) and Hekatonkheires (Hecatoncheires) should be listed as children of Ouranos (Caelum) and Gaia (Terra) not Aither and Gaia, but the notation to this effect seems to have been lost in the transcription.]
The Tritopatores were a group of three gods identified with the Hekatonkheires (Hecatoncheires) and perhaps also with the wind-gods Boreas, Notos and Zephyros.
Suidas s.v. Tritiopatores (from Harpocration s.v.) (trans. Suda On Line) (Byzantine Greek lexicon C10th A.D.) :
"Tritopatores : Demon in the Atthis says that the Tritopatores are winds (anemoi), Philochoros [Greek poet C4th B.C.] that the Tritopatores were born first of all. For the men of that time, he says, understood as their parents the earth (gê) and the sun (hêlios), whom then they called Apollon. Phanodemos [C4th B.C.] in [book] 6 maintains that only [the] Athenians both sacrifice to them and pray to them, when they are about to marry, for the conception of children. In the Physikos of Orpheus the Tritopatores are named Amalkeides (Amalcides) and Protokles (Protocles) and Protokleon (Protocleon), being doorkeepers and guardians of the winds (anemoi). But the author of Explanation claims that they are [the offspring] of Ouranos (Uranus, Heaven) and Ge (Gaea, Earth), and that their names are Kottos (Cottus), Briareos (Briareus) and Gyges."
HECATONCHEIRES & THE CONSTELLATION ALTAR
The rise of the constellation Ara (the Altar) marks the beginning of the stormy season in Greece. This altar was said to have been forged by the Kyklopes (Cyclopes) when the Gods first came together to forge their alliance against the Titanes (Titans). The eastern rising of the constellation probably marked the annual opening of the gates of Tartaros from which burst forth the Storm-Cloud Hekatonkheires (Hecatoncheires) and Lightning-and-Thunder Kyklopes (Cyclopes). Zeus probably swore an oath on the heavenly altar allowing these six Storm-Giants brothers dominon of the sky for one season each year.
Quintus Smyrnaeus, Fall of Troy 4. 550 ff (trans. Way) (Greek epic C4th A.D.) :
"Wild as the blasts of roaring Boreas (the North Wind) or shouting Notos (the South Wind), when with hurricane-swoop he heaves the wide sea high, when in the east uprises the disastrous Altar-Star bringing calamity to seafarers."
Pseudo-Hyginus, Astronomica 2. 39 (trans. Grant) (Roman mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"[Constellation] Altar. On this altar the gods are thought to have first made offerings and formed an alliance when they were about to oppose the Titanes (Titans). The Cyclopes made it. From this observance men established the custom that when they plan to do something, they make sacrifices before beginning the undertaking."
NAMES OF THE HECATONCHEIRES
Grudge, Rancour (kotos, koteô)
Of the Earth (guês)
Strong, Stout (briaros)
Strong, Stout (briaros)
Goatish, Stormy (aigis)
NAMES OF THE TRITOPATORES
Three-Fathers (tritos, patêr)
Bound to That Place (ama-, kleiô)
First Locked Away (prôtos, kleiô)
First Confined (prôtos, kleiô)
- Hesiod, Theogony - Greek Epic C8th - 7th B.C.
- Epic Cycle, Titanomachia Fragments - Greek Epic C8th B.C.
- Greek Lyric IV Ion of Chios, Fragments - Greek Lyric C5th B.C.
- Apollodorus, The Library - Greek Mythography C2nd A.D.
- Apollonius Rhodius, The Argonautica - Greek Epic C3rd B.C.
- Pausanias, Description of Greece - Greek Travelogue C2nd A.D.
- Quintus Smyrnaeus, Fall of Troy - Greek Epic C4th A.D.
- Nonnus, Dionysiaca - Greek Epic C5th A.D.
- Hyginus, Fabulae - Latin Mythography C2nd A.D.
- Ovid, Metamorphoses - Latin Epic C1st B.C. - C1st A.D.
- Statius, Achilleid - Latin Epic C1st A.D.
- Suidas, The Suda - Byzantine Greek Lexicon C10th A.D.