Greek Mythology >> Greek Gods >> Titans >> Elder Titans >> Coeus (Koios)


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Query (poios, koios)

Axis or Pole of Heaven

KOIOS (Coeus) was one of the elder Titanes (Titans), sons of Ouranos (Uranus, Sky) and Gaia (Gaea, Earth). He and his brothers conspired against their father, laying an ambush for him as he descended to lie with Earth. Four of the siblings were posted at the corners of the world, where they seized hold of him and held him fast, while Kronos (Cronus) castrated him with a sickle.

In this myth the brothers apparently personified the great pillars which occur in near-Eastern cosmologies holding heaven and earth apart, or sometimes the whole cosmos aloft. Koios' alternate name, Polos ("of the northern pole"), suggests he was the Titan of the pillar of the north. His brothers Hyperion, Iapetos (Iapetus), and Krios (Crius), on the other hand, presided over the west, east, and south respectively. Koios, as god of the axis of heaven around which the constellations revolved, was probably also a god of heavenly oracles, just as his wife Phoibe (Phoebe) presided over the oracles of the axis of earth Delphi,--a role inherited by their grandson Apollon.

The Titanes were eventually deposed by Zeus and cast into the pit of Tartaros. Hesiod describes this as a void located beneath the foundations of all, where earth, sea and sky 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, Hyginus Preface)
[1.2] AITHER (or OURANOS) & GAIA (Hyginus Preface)
[1.3] GAIA (Virgil Aeneid 4.174, Virgil Georgics 1.276)


[1.1] LETO, ASTERIA (by Phoibe) (Hesiod Theogony 404, Apollodorus 1.9, Hyginus Preface)
[1.2] LETO (by Phoibe) (Diodorus Siculus 5.67.1)
[1.3] LETO (Homeric Hymn 3.61, Pindar Processional Song on Delos, Sappho Frag 44A, Orphic Hymn 35, Ovid Metamorphoses 6.186, Hyginus Fabulae 140)


Hesiod, Theogony 133 & 207 (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C8th or C7th B.C.) :
"She [Gaia, Earth] lay with Ouranos (Uranus, Sky) and bare deep-swirling Okeanos (Oceanus), Koios (Coeus) and Krios (Crius) and Hyperion and Iapetos (Iapetus), Theia and Rhea, Themis and Mnemosyne and gold-crowned Phoibe (Phoebe) and lovely Tethys. After them was born Kronos (Cronus) the wily, youngest and most terrible of her children, and he hated his lusty sire . . . And he [Ouranos] used to hide them all [Hekatonkheires (Hecatoncheires) and Kyklopes (Cyclopes), 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 (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 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 (Titans, 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 404 ff :
"Again, Phoibe (Phoebe) came to the desired embrace of Koios (Coeus). Then the goddess through the love of the god conceived and brought forth dark-gowned Leto . . . Also she bare Asteria."

Homeric Hymn 3 to Delian Apollo 61 ff (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C7th - 4th B.C.) :
"Leto, most glorious daughter of great Koios (Coeus)."

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 (Uranus, Sky) . . . fathered other sons on Ge (Earth), namely the Titanes (Titans) : Okeanos (Oceanus), Koios (Coeus), Hyperion, Kreios (Crius), Iapetos (Iapetus), and Kronos (Cronus) the youngest; also daughters called Titanides (Titanesses) : Tethys, Rhea, Themis, Mnemosyne, Phoibe (Phoebe), Dione, and Theia . . . Now Ge (Earth), distressed by the loss of her children into Tartaros [the Kyklopes (Cyclopes) and Hekatonkheires (Hecatoncheires)], 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 :
"The Titanes (Titans) had children . . . The children of Koios (Coeus) and Phoibe (Phoebe) were Asteria and Leto."

Orphic Hymn 35 to Leto (trans. Taylor) (Greek hymns C3rd B.C. to 2nd A.D.) :
"Dark-veiled Leto, much invoked queen, twin-bearing Goddess, of noble mien; Koiantis (Coeantis) (Daughter of Koios) great, a mighty mind is thine, offspring prolific, blest."

Diodorus Siculus, Library of History 5. 66. 1 (trans. Oldfather) (Greek historian C1st B.C.) :
"The Titanes (Titans) numbered six men and five women, being born, as certain writers of myths relate, of Ouranos (Uranus) and Ge, but according to others, of one of the Kouretes (Curetes) and Titaia (Titaea), from whom as their mother they derive the name they have. The males were Kronos (Cronus), Hyperion, Koios (Coeus), Iapetos (Iapetus), Krios (Crius) and Okeanos (Oceanus), and their sisters were Rhea, Themis, Mnemosyne, Phoibe (Phoebe) and Tethys. 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 Koios (Coeus) and Phoibe (Phoebe) was born Leto."

Pausanias, Description of Greece 4. 33. 6 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.) :
"One the road from Andania towards Kyparissiai (Cyparissiae) is Polikhne (Polichne) [in Messenia], as it is called, and the streams of Elektra (Electra) and Koios (Coeus). The names perhaps are to be connected with Elektra the daughter of Atlas and Koios the father of Leto."

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 (Coeus)], Saturnus [Kronos (Cronus)], Ops [Rhea], Moneta [Mnemosyne], Dione."
[N.B. Hyginus' Preface survives only in summary. The Titanes 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.]

Pseudo-Hyginus, Preface (trans. Grant) :
"From Terra [Gaia, Earth] and Tartarus [were born] : Gigantes (Giants)--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.]

Pseudo-Hyginus, Preface :
"From Polus [Koios (Coeus)] and Phoebe [were born] : Latone, Asterie."

Ovid, Metamorphoses 6. 185 ff (trans. Melville) (Roman epic C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"Latona [Leto] that Titanis [she-Titan], whom Coeus sired, whoever he may be."

Virgil, Aeneid 4. 174 (trans. Day-Lewis) (Roman epic C1st B.C.) :
"The legend is that enraged with the gods, Terra [Gaia, Earth] produced this creature [Pheme] her last child, as a sister to Enceladus and Coeus."

Virgil, Georgics 1. 276 ff (trans. Fairclough) (Roman bucolic C1st B.C.) :
"Luna [Selene, Moon] herself has ordained various days in various grades as lucky for work. Shun the fifth . . . then in monstrous labour Terra [Gaia, Earth] bore Coeus, and Iapetus and fierce Typhoeus, and the brethren [Gigantes (Giants)] who were banded to break down Heaven."

Valerius Flaccus, Argonautica 3. 224 ff (trans. Mozley) (Roman epic C1st A.D.) :
"Coeus in the lowest pit [of Tartaros] burst the adamantine bonds and trailing Jove's [Zeus'] fettering chains invokes Saturnus [Kronos (Cronus)] and Tityus, and in his madness conceives a hope of scaling heaven, yet though he repass the rivers and the gloom the hound [Kerberos (Cerberus)] of the Furiai [Erinyes] and the sprawling Hydra's crest repel him."


Koios (Coeus) was the Titan-god of the inquisitive mind, his name meaning "query" or "questioning". His wife, Phoibe (Phoebe), was the goddesss of the prophetic mind. Together, the couple may have functioned as the primal font of all knowledge, both that born of heaven (Krios son of Heaven) and derived from earth (Phoibe daughter of Earth).

Also known as Polos, this son of Ouranos (the Heavens) was probably the god of the northern axis of heaven around which the constellations revolved (the Greeks called this heavenly axis polos). In ancient times this point in the heavens was marked by the star alpha Dra in the constellation Draco. His wife, Phoibe, was the complimentary goddess of the navel of the earth, which stood at the centre of the flat world-disc. Clearly Koios functioned as the prophetic voice of his father Heaven, just as Phoibe was the prophetic voice of her mother Earth. Like Delphoi, navel of the earth, the axis of heaven was also guarded by a Drakon: the constellation Draco.

The daughters of Koios appear to have represented the two main branches of prophecy: Leto and her son Apollon presided over the prophetic power of light and heaven, whereas Asteria and her daughter Hekate presided over the prophetic powers of night, chthonian darkness and the ghosts of the dead.

His grandson, Apollon the god of prophecy and light, divided his time between Delphoi, the shrine at the centre of earth previously held by Koios' wife Phoibe, and--during the winter months--Hyperborea, the land beneath the axis of heaven in the far north, represented by his grandfather Koios.

Koios' name sometimes appears in the list of Gigantes (Giants), suggesting that he played a role in the Gigantomakhia or War of the Giants.





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