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Updated on February 19, 2010

In Greek mythology, the Titans were the 12 divine children of Uranus (Sky) and Gaea (Earth). One of the Titans, Cronus, castrated his father Uranus and seized the over-lordship of the universe. To escape a similar fate Cronus then swallowed his own children, but the last of them, Zeus, eluded him and in his turn established supreme mastery on Mount Olympus. In a tremendous struggle, called the Titanomachy, the Titans attempted to dislodge Zeus and his fellow-Olympians, but were defeated and cast down into Tartarus far below the earth.

In another myth the Titans were incited by Hera to attack Zagreus, Zeus's child, who had been placed by his father on the throne of heaven. Whitening their faces, they stole into Olympus, dismembered the child, and prepared to eat him. But they were smitten to ashes by Zeus' thunderbolts.

The basically similar structure of both myths, the engulfment of the young by the old, indicates the probable origin of these stories in initiation ceremonies. The Titans are mythic counterparts of the older men of the tribe, who often mask or whiten themselves to impersonate death spirits and in this guise lead the boys through the death-and-rebirth rituals of initiation.


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