The story of the rise of the Titans begins with the god of the sky, Uranus. Uranus (the sky) and Gaia (the earth) were spouses, lovers and, together, parented the Hecatonchires, the Cyclopes, the Echidna and the Titans.
Uranus and Gaia’s love affair was the stuff of legend (forgive the pun.) Uranus so loved Gaia that at night, he embraced her on all sides, mating with her. He was a devoted spouse, but was obsessed with power.
While Uranus was affectionate toward Gaia, and favored those that he would come to call Titans, he feared and despised the Hecatonchires, the Giants and the Cyclopes. He imprisoned them all in Tartarus, deep within Gaia.
The imprisonment of her children caused Gaia great pain emotionally and physically. In order to reap vengeance on her consort Uranus for what he had done to her and her children, Gaia fashioned a sickle made of flint and approached her Titan children for help. The plan was to castrate Uranus.
None of the Titans were willing to risk a confrontation with Uranus with the exception of the youngest and the most ambitious Titan. His name was Cronus.
Cronus took the sickle and laid in wait for his father to arrive. When Uranus came, Cronus ambushed him and succeeded in castrating him. Cronus cast the severed genitals into the sea, the blood of which would create the giants, the meliae and the erinyes. When the genitals washed up to shore, Aphrodite was created.
Uranus cursed his children and called them Titanes theoi, or “straining gods.” There are differing legends on what happened to the sickle at this point. Some claimed that the sickle was buried in Sicily. Others would claim that the sickle had been cast into the sea. One Greek historian claimed to have found the sickle at Corcyra.
With Uranus out of the picture as ruler, Cronus came to power. Although his mother Gaia had intended for her other children, the Cyclopes and the hundred-handed ones to be released from their captivity, Cronus left them prisoners inside Tartarus. Along with them, he also imprisoned the giants. Having now angered both of his parents, Gaia and Uranus prophesied that Cronus would be himself overthrown by one of his children.
Cronus had married his sister Rhea and, fearing the prophecy of the earth and the sky, he took upon himself a desperate plan to preserve his power. When Rhea began to bear children, Cronus immediately devoured them. Although his children were immortal like him, they would, in their turn, be imprisoned within his belly.
Each of his children, the first of those who would come to be the gods of Olympus, were devoured by Cronus in this manner with the exception of the youngest child. Rhea was fed up with Cronus’s actions and when she was about to bear her sixth and final child, she hid away and, once her child was born, she hid him in a cave on Mount Ida in Crete. This child’s name was Zeus.
Knowing that Cronus would insist upon devouring the child, Rhea took a stone and wrapped it in swaddling clothes. Cronus devoured the stone, thinking it to be his child.
Despite Cronus’s treatment of his children, the time during the rule of Cronus and Rhea was referred to as The Golden Age of the Gods. The earth was devoid of immorality. The inhabitants of the earth were moral on their own, and so did not require laws to keep them in line. This was before the existence of humankind.
There are different myths as to how Zeus was raised. One has him being raised by Gaia herself. Another has him being raised by a nymph named Adamanthea who, in order to protect the child, suspended him from a tree between the sky, the sea, and the earth, therefore keeping him just outside his father’s kingdom and therefore outside of his perception. Another myth has Zeus being raised by a shepherd family in exchange for the protection of their flocks. In another telling, he was raised by a different nymph named Cynosura. In this myth, Zeus’s gratitude would lead him to place Cynosura among the stars.
Yet another, and one of the more popular myths of the time, has Zeus being raised by a goat. His cries are said to have been covered by a group of armored dancers who would bang their shields together, shout and clap in order to mask the child’s cries, thus keeping him outside the knowledge of Cronus.
Regardless the differing myths associated with his infancy, Zeus grew to become very powerful. When he reached manhood, he was set on overthrowing his father Cronus, and releasing his siblings from within the ruler’s body. He met with Metis, a Titan of deep knowledge and wisdom. She gave him an emetic (a substance which causes one to purge) potion to give to his father.
According to one myth, Zeus slipped the concoction into Cronus’s nightly drink of mead. Upon drinking the mixture, Cronus began to grow violently ill. He first vomited up the stone which he had thought to be Zeus, and then the children whom he had eaten. These children of Cronus and Rhea were quick to ally themselves with Zeus. They were Demeter, Hades, Hera, Hestia and Poseidon.
What followed is often referred to as the Titanomachy or War of the Titans. This conflict between the Titans on Mount Othrys, and the children of Cronus from Mount Olympus would last for ten years. Zeus, in search of more allies against the Titans travelled deep into Gaia to Tartarus and freed the Hecatonchires, the Giants and the Cyclopes. In gratitude for their release, the Cyclopes forged thunder and lightning and gave them to Zeus.
The Olympians would face nearly all of the Titans in this war with the exception of Themis and her son Prometheus; these two allied themselves with Zeus.
With his new allies and powers, the Olympians would defeat the Titans. Upon victory, Zeus imprisoned the Titans in Tartarus as Uranus and Cronus had imprisoned the Hecatonchires and the Cyclopes.
Zeus forced Atlas, one of the leaders of the Titan army, to hold up Uranus at the western edge of Gaia by his shoulders in order to prevent the mating of the two, and the possibility of further Titan births. It’s commonly thought that Atlas was forced to hold up the earth, and is often pictured as supporting the globe on his back. However, this is a more modern interpretation, and the actual myth was that of separating Uranus and Gaia.
The Titan rule had come to an end, and the rule of Olympus had started.