Thetis in Greek Mythology

Thetis

Thetis in Greek Mythology

In Greek mythology, Thetis was the famous nymph and the mother of Achilles, the Trojan War hero. Thetis is most famous for making Achilles close to immortal by dipping him in the River Styx, the river of death.

Aside from being a very protective mother, Thetis was regarded as a kind and very compassionate deity.

Thetis is also famed in Greek mythology for preventing a civil war from erupting on Mount Olympus, as she foiled an attempt by some Olympian gods to overthrow Zeus, the king of the Greek gods.

The article presents everything that you need to know about Thetis in Greek mythology.

Birth and Family

Thetis was born to Nereus (a sea nymph) and Doris (fertility of the ocean). It is believed that she had several sisters and was one of the the fifty Nereids – daughters of the sea god Nereus and Doris. It has also been stated that Thetis was not only the most notable of the Nereids, she was also the leader of the Nereids.

Her father Nereus had the ability to shapeshift. Nereus parents were Gaia (the primordial goddess of the earth) and Pontos (an ocean deity).

Thetis’ mother Doris, on the other hand, was an Oceanid and the daughter of the Titan siblings Oceanus and Tethys (a river deity). This meant that Thetis was the granddaughter of Tethys, who she shared many characteristics with.

The prophecy about Thetis’ son

Upon reaching the age of maturity, Thetis got married to Peleus, a mortal king.

The marriage between Peleus and Thetis was arranged by Zeus. It was done against Thetis’ wishes. Initially Zeus and Poseidon made huge advances at Thetis; however upon hearing the prophecy (from either Themis or Prometheus) that Thetis’ son was destined to be greater than his father, the two Olympian gods stopped chasing her. They decided to marry her of to a mortal Peleus.

Who was Peleus?

The Greek hero Peleus was chosen for Thetis. He was the son of Aeacus, the king of the island of Aegina, and Queen Endeis. Peleus also had a brother called Telamon, a warrior and close friend of the demigod Heracles (known as Hercules in the Roman pantheon).

It has been stated that the inhabitants of the island of the northern Sporades revered Peleus as the “king of the Myrmidons”.

Thetis and Peleus

After Zeus and Poseidon had ruled that Peleus and Thetis be married, Peleus went to great lengths to woe his bride-to-be.

In order to escape the advances of the mortal Peleus, Thetis shapeshifted into a tigress and the scared Peleus off. Peleus then sought the wise counsel of the wise centaur Chiron who told him to bind Thetis fast.

After Thetis was bound, she shifted into several shapes, including water, a serpent and then an angry lioness. Ultimately she calmed down and gave in to Peleus’ proposal.

Thetis’ marriage to Peleus

Thetis in Greek mythology | “The Wedding of Peleus and Thetis” (1636)

During the marriage ceremony atop Mt. Pelion, the goddess of discord Eris threw an apple into the ceremony and stated that the apple should only go to the most beautiful goddess. Three Olympian goddesses – Athena, Hera, and Aphrodite – went on to fight over the apple. It was this discord that spiraled into the Trojan War.

Thetis and Peleus fathered a child called Achilles. Wanting to make her son Achilles immortal, Thetis dipped Achilles into a river called Styx (one of the five rivers that went through the Underworld/Hades).

According to the myth, Thetis held the baby Achilles by his ankle and dipped his entire body into the river. The body places that river touched became invulnerable, except his ankles.

Some versions of the myths claim that Thetis intended to submerge the entire body Achilles in the river; however, her husband Peleus showed up and halted the entire proceeding. This left the ankles of Achilles untouched by the river.

Shortly after that incident, an enraged Thetis left Peleus. She thought of him as an unworthy partner.

Besides she had grown frustrated by the constant mortal children that she kept giving birth to. She attributed this to mortal traits of her husband. Thetis reasoned that had she married a god, she would have bore immortal children.

Thetis and Achilles

In Homer’s Iliad, Thetis tasked Hephaestus to make a very strong military gear (i.e. shield, helmet, breastplate, and greaves) for her son Achilles. Hephaestus was obliged to do so because he owed Thetis a lot.

Her son Achilles was destined to either live a long and boring life or a short and legendary life.

Achilles went on to achieve fame and glory in the Trojan War. However, his life was cut short, just as Thetis had prophesied. His death came at the hands of Trojan prince Paris, who shot an arrow into Achilles only vulnerable body part – his heel.

Achilles prayed to her to restore his honor after Agamemnon, king of Mycenae and the commander of the Achaens, stole Briseis from him. Briseis (also known as Hippodameia) was a beautiful woman Achilles took as his prize of war when he sacked her city.

Thetis and Hephaestus

After the Greek god Hephaestus was born, his mother Hera cast him from Mt. Olympus down to earth. According to the myth, Hera was felt embarrassed by Hephaestus’ deformities.

By casting him out of heaven, Hera hoped the baby Hephaestus would either die from the fall or starve to death on earth. However, that was not the case. The baby Hephaestus was taken in by Thetis and her Nereid sisters. They secretly cared for him in a cave. It is believed that Hephaestus honed his talents in forgery and sculpting while under the care of Thetis.

Note: Hephaestus was not the only Olympian god Thetis rescued from the sea; the sea goddess also rescued Dionysus, the Greek god of wine, pleasure and fertility.

How Thetis foiled a plot to overthrow Zeus

Thetis and Zeus

Thetis is often praised for her effort in preventing a civil war from breaking out on Mt. Olympus. The sea goddess solicited the help of help of Briareus – one of the Hekatonkheires and cousin of Cronus, Zeus’ father – to break Zeus free from the hundred-knotted  thongs that he was bound to.

The inspiration to overthrow Zeus came from three Olympian deities – Poseidon, Hera and Apollo – who had grown very frustrated over Zeus’ increased authoritarian rule. The rebelling Olympian gods bound =Zeus to a very twisted knot while he was asleep. The knots were so twisted that not even Zeus could break free; only a Hekatonkheires like Briareus could use his hundred hands to untie the hundred-knotted thongs.

Once free, Zeus went ahead to punish Hera by hanging the queen of the gods from the sky. With regard to Apollo and Poseidon, their punishment came in the form of serving as slaves in the palace of King Laomedon.

Ever since that incident, Zeus remained forever indebted to Thetis; the king of the gods even supported her during the Trojan War.

Other interesting facts about Thetis

Thetis

Thetis in Greek mythology | The goddess Thetis dipping the baby Achilles into the river Styx (one of the five rivers of Hades). Image: Peter Paul Reubens (1630/1635)

  • Thetis was seen as the leader of the 50 Nereids (daughters of the sea-goddess Nereus).
  • She was sometimes revered as sea goddess with worshipers predominantly in archaic Greece era.
  • Thetis’ grandmother was Tethys, the goddess of the sea and daughter of Uranus and Gaia.
  • Both Poseidon and Zeus took interest in Thetis. However, the two Olympians proceeded not to have any dealings with Thetis. A prophecy once stated that were any of them to have a child with Thetis that child was bound to be more powerful than Zeus or Poseidon. The prophecy came from the Titan Prometheus – the mischievous deity who gave the race of men fire.
  • According to some Greek myths, there was no prophecy. Instead, Thetis was the one who rejected Zeus. She did so because she did not want to anger Hera, Zeus’ wife/sister. Angered by the rejection, Zeus proceeded to set up a marriage between Thetis and Peleus.
  • She was generally known for coming to the aid of many Greek heroes and deities. For example, she once saved the god Dionysus from people that intended to harm. This story can be found in Homer’s Iliad.
  • Thetis’ husband – a mortal – was the son of Aeacus, the King of Aegina.
  • In addition to Achilles, Thetis had several children. However, all of them perished during the process of trying to make them immortal by fire. It has been stated that the only child of Thetis to survive was Achilles.
  • Thetis has been associated with a number of Greek deities, including Metis, a member of the second generation of Titans. Metis was also known as the mother of wisdom deep thought. She had similar cunning traits and wisdom as the trickster Titan Prometheus.
  • In some accounts, Thetis was considered as one of the first generation of deities that Archaic Greece worshiped. At some point in time, she was even revered as the creator of the universe, according to the early Alcman hymn.
  • She had a very famous sanctuary at Sparta.
  • According to some myths, Thetis was raised by Hera, the queen of Mt. Olympus. Both Homer and Greek historian and grammarian Apollodorus described Thetis as the stepdaughter of Hera.
  • Although not categorically stated, Thetis symbols are possibly knots and fire.

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