METIS was one of the elder Okeanides and the Titan-goddess of good counsel, planning, cunning and wisdom. She was a counsellor of Zeus during the Titan War and hatched the plan through which Kronos (Cronus) was forced to regurgitate his devoured children. In an odd reversal of fortune, Zeus swallowed Metis whole when a prophecy was revealed that she was destined to bear a son greater than his father. Metis afterwards bore a daughter, Athena, within the very belly of the god and equipped her with arms and armour before she was rebirthed from the god's head.
It should be noted that most poets and mythographers describe Athena as a "motherless goddess" and no mention is made of Metis. Zeus himself was titled Mêtieta "the Wise Counsellor" in the Homeric poems and in this sense Metis was probably regarded as an aspect of the god rather than a distinct figure. In any case, the Metis myth implies she was wholly subsumed by the devouring god.
FAMILY OF METIS
[1.1] OKEANOS & TETHYS (Hesiod Theogony 358,924; Apollodorus 1.6, 1.8; Hyginus Pref)
[1.1] ATHENE (by Zeus) (Hesiod Theogony 887, 924; Apollodorus 1.20)
[1.2] POROS (Plato Symposium 203)
METIS (Mêtis). The personification of prudence, is described as a daughter of Oceanus and Thetys. At the instigation of Zeus, she gave to Cronos a vomitive, whereupon he brought back his children whom he had devoured (Apollod. i. 2. § 1, &c.; Hes. Theog. 471). She was the first love and wife of Zeus, from whom she had at first endeavoured to withdraw by metamorphosing herself in various ways. She prophesied to him that she would give birth first to a girl and afterwards to a boy, to whom the rule of the world was destined by fate. For this reason Zeus devoured her, when she was pregnant with Athena, and afterwards he himself gave birth to a daughter, who issued from his head (Apollod. i. 3. § 6; Hes. Theog. 886). Plato (Sympos. p. 203, b.) speaks of Porus as a son of Metis, and according to Hesiod, Zeus devoured Metis on the advice of Uranus and Ge, who also revealed to him the destiny of his son.
Source: Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology.
CLASSICAL LITERATURE QUOTES
Hesiod, Theogony 346 ff (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C8th or C7th B.C.) :
"She [Tethys] brought forth also a race apart of daughters . . . They are . . . Europa, Metis and Eurynome [three in a long list of names] . . . Now these are the eldest of the daughters who were born to Tethys and Okeanos (Oceanus)."
Hesiod, Theogony 886 ff :
"Zeus, as king of the gods, took as his first wife Metis, and she knew more than all the gods or mortal people. But when she was about to be delivered of the goddess, gray-eyed Athene (Athena), then Zeus, deceiving her perception by treachery and by slippery speeches, put her away inside his own belly. This was by the advices of Gaia (Gaea, the Earth) and starry Ouranos (Uranus, the Sky), for so they counselled, in order that no other everlasting god, beside Zeus, should ever be given kingly position. For it had been arranged that, from her, children surpassing in wisdom should be born, first the gray-eyed girl, the Tritogeneia Athene . . . but then a son to be king over gods and mortals was to be born to her and his heart would be overmastering; but before this, Zeus put her away inside his own belly so that this goddess should think for him, for good and for evil."
Hesiod, Theogony 924 ff :
"[Zeus], apart from Hera, had lain in love with a fair-faced daughter of Okeanos (Oceanus) and lovley-haired Tethys, Metis, whom he deceived, for all she was so resourceful, for he snatched her up in his hands and put her inside his belly for fear that she might bring forth a thunderbolt stronger than his own; therefore the son of Kronos . . . swallowed her down of a sudden, but she then conceived Pallas Athene (Athena), but the father of gods and men gave birth to her near the summit of Triton beside the banks of the river. But Metis herself, hidden away under the vitals of Zeus, stayed there; she was Athene's mother; worker of right actions, beyond all the gods and beyond all mortal people in knowledge; and there Athene had given to her hands what made her supreme over all other immortals who have their homes on Olympos (Olympus); for Metis made that armor of Athene, terror of armies, in which Athene was born."
Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 1. 8 (trans. Aldrich) (Greek mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"The Titanes (Titans) had children. Those of Okeanos (Oceanus) and Tethys were called Okeanides (Oceanids) : Asia, Styx, Elektra, Doris, Eurynome, Amphitrite, and Metis."
Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 1. 6 :
"When Zeus was grown, he engaged Okeanos' (Oceanus') daughter Metis as a colleague. She gave Kronos (Cronus) a drug, by which he was forced to vomit forth first the stone and then the children he had swallowed."
Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 1. 20 :
"Zeus slept with Metis, although she turned herself into many forms in order to avoid having sex with him. When she was pregnant, Zeus took the precaution of swallowing her, because she had said that, after giving birth to the daughter presently in her womb, she would bear a son who would gain the lordship of the sky. In fear of this he swallowed her. When it came time for the birth, Prometheus--or Hephaistos (Hephaestus), according to some--by the river Triton struck the head of Zeus with an axe, and from his crown Athena sprang up, clad in her armour."
Plato, Symposium 178 (trans. Lamb) (Greek philosopher C4th B.C.) :
"The god Poros (Expediency), who is the son of Metis (Wisdom)."
[N.B. Plato's "Metis" was apparently derived from the primordial deity Thesis (Creation) of Alcman's cosmogony. Poros, the son of both, was a primogenial deity akin to Hesiod's Eros. In the Orphic Theogonies a bi-gendered creator spirit named Phanes is swallowed by Zeus in an apparent echo of the Metis myth.]
Pseudo-Hyginus, Preface (trans. Grant) (Roman mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"From Oceanus and Tethys the Okeanides--namely . . . Metis, Menippe, Argia . . . [amongst a list of names]."
- Hesiod, Theogony - Greek Epic C8th - 7th B.C.
- Plato, Symposium - Greek Philosophy C4th B.C.
- Apollodorus, The Library - Greek Mythography C2nd A.D.
- Hyginus, Fabulae - Latin Mythography C2nd A.D.
A complete bibliography of the translations quoted on this page.