- Pronunciation: Mee-tiss
- Origin: Greek
- Cult Center: None
- Role: Titan
- Spouse: Zeus
- Children: Athena
Who is Metis?
The Titans of the oceans and fresh waters of the world, Oceanus and Tethys, bore many female offspring who were known as the Oceanids. They were guardians of springs, rivers, ponds, lakes, and even pastures. Their daughter Metis was one of the elder Oceanids and because of this she also has the distinction of being a Titan, and is considered to be the wisest of all beings in creation. She counseled Zeus during the war on Cronus with a cunning that would boost him to the ultimate victory and leadership of the gods.
Tethys and Oceanus had their hands full. They had created heavenly bodies to control and move water through the Earth, and a great river encircling the world, but they needed a way to protect the waters as well. Together, they conceived over 6,000 children in the Golden Age of the gods under Cronus: the Potamoi, the Oceanids, and the Nephelai. Among the first of the Oceanids was Metis, who stood out from the others as rare and exceptional.
Metis was one of this second generation of Titans, born of Oceanus and his sister Tethys before other Titans such as Zeus, her cousin who would ultimately be her husband. Tethys’ daughters Europa, Telesto, Erynome, and Metis were the first to be born in this new generation. Metis would go on to bear Athena, another goddess of wisdom and creativity.
Metis became well known as the goddess of good counsel, deep thinking, and cunning through several events involving planning and betrayal, something seen commonly among the gods. She would play a role in a prophecy, and would become a part of Zeus’ mind later on, adding temperance to his decisions.
Metis as Counselor
Zeus was troubled. He knew that he had to find some way to defeat Cronus. But how was he to rescue his devoured siblings within Cronus? And then, how could he defeat someone as great as Cronus, when he couldn’t even think how to complete the first part of the rescue?
A graceful, silent figure entered the great hall, a female silhouette cast as a shadow on the wall. Metis had joined him, and he took some comfort as he gazed at her loveliness. He became even more enamored with her when she spoke of a most brilliant plan. Metis told of a simple way to accomplish the task of rescue, in a way that would severely humiliate Cronus as well as defeat him. From a store of ingredients with properties she had studied, Metis gave Zeus a small glass flask filled with a curious liquid that she had crafted. In her other hand was a bottle of wine.
Metis directed him to pour the flask into the wine that Cronus had grown to love to drink in excess. He would not notice it by taste, color, or smell, as she had designed it with a cloak of mystery to hide its true properties. This potion would cause him to release his children in a great torrent of embarrassing sickness never before seen by the gods. Metis was pleased with this plan for, in the back of her mind, she remembered her studies of the history of the gods and that this terrible fate of being devoured had happened once before. Perhaps the sight of one as mighty as Cronus becoming green with sickness and vomiting up the imprisoned children before the other gods would somehow become a deterrent to this sort of thing happening again.
Zeus quietly laughed. He could never have thought of something as funny and treacherous as this. But who cares about that, he thought. Cronus would get what he deserved after his cruelty and broken promises, along with humiliations galore. That worked for him… that was enough.
Metis advised that when Cronus was poisoned and the children released, Zeus should seek her counsel again to plan the Titanomachy, using his allies to find a way to once and for all defeat Cronus. But before this, and before poisoning Cronus, Metis told Zeus he must seek out those monsters within Tartarus, the misshapen children of Gaia. Metis knew that they were dangerous but in time they would help Zeus in the great battle. She reasoned that the best way to gain their support would be to offer them their long-sought freedom in exchange for their assistance. Metis told Zeus that, in order to be able trust them and the value of their help, he should require them to perform tasks proving that they had control of both their bodies and their rage.
Metis as Wife
All would transpire as Zeus and Metis had planned. Cronus became sick after drinking the potion and the children were released, the enemies defeated, and Cronus was wounded and imprisoned. Now that the war was over, this was a time to rejoice and a time for Zeus to seek what would be his in power and in love. Metis became wed to Zeus in a grand celebration. Her beauty and wisdom, greater than that of any mortal or immortal before, was a good complement to the personality of her husband. At first, it seemed she would be among the best and most trusted advisors of Zeus, but then she became an unexpected threat to him through a prophecy uttered from the oracle of Gaia. The prophecy revealed that Metis would bear two very powerful children. The first would be Athena, and the second an unnamed mysterious son who would repeat the cycle of betrayal, overthrowing his father and seizing the throne of the gods. Zeus was no different from his ancestors when it came to his fear of being usurped by his own son. He had to find a way to outwit one of the most cunning and calculating thinkers the gods had ever known.
And then there was also this irritating new habit Metis developed in order to avoid Zeus’ bed. She was his first love, but had grown increasingly shy and reserved. Metis had learned, after observing Zeus’ transformations into animals, that he would sneak off with other lovers. She reasoned that she could do the same thing in order to avoid his advances, being an accomplished shape-shifter herself. To Metis, the best revenge for his infidelities was to transform into a different creature and then fly, slither, gallop, or swim away whenever he was directing his advances towards her. Zeus soon became angry at this ploy. There was a prophecy that she would have a son who would usurp him, but how could this even happen when his wife wouldn’t give him the time of day as she quacked, barked, bleated, neighed and then flitted away in animal form? Something had to be done about Metis.
One day, after she had escaped his advances yet again, he taunted Metis in order to trick her with her own game of shape shifting. Zeus challenged Metis to a shape-shifting duel, to which she readily agreed. After all, she had outwitted him thus far to spurn his advances; outwitting him for a game would be even easier.
The two transformed into magnificent creature after creature and fought with teeth, fangs, feathers, claws and scales. They trampled, stomped, and charged at each other; they bit and gored, each time ending in a stalemate as neither one could seem to win the game.
Finally, Zeus and Metis collapsed, exhausted. Complimenting her cleverness at keeping up with him thus far with large animals, he challenged her to find a way to beat him as a tiny insect. Metis, like so many of the gods, was proud and she knew that she was cleverer than Zeus. She accepted this boastful challenge and allowed him to turn her into a fly, but didn’t realize the extent of this mistake until she was grasped in his hand and went spiraling down, down into Zeus’ stomach. He had finally overcome Metis at her own game, two times over: once with shape shifting, and the other with wits. Maybe now he could seek another wife, or lover even, who wouldn’t reject him.
The Fate of Metis
Metis was furious. For the first time ever, she had allowed foolish pride to cloud her own mind and she knew that she had to escape her new prison inside of Zeus. Her tricks had backfired on her. And to make things worse, she was due to give birth to Zeus’ daughter, Athena, very soon. She realized she didn’t have much time, and gathered her wits. Using whatever she could find within Zeus’ gut, Metis began to build a forge with a great fire before her daughter was born. The fire had become hot within his belly, hot enough to create the helmet she had in mind for Athena.
Zeus began to feel the burning and pain deep within. At first he thought it was Metis’ fury at him. But the pain grew and grew. It was almost as though his insides were on fire. It reached a point where he thought he would go mad. And at the same time, Metis began to feel her own pain as Athena came into the world in the light of the forge flames.
Zeus clutched his belly, grimaced, and fell to the ground. How ironic that he would feel the pain that, not too long ago, Cronus had felt in his own gut. Would he suffer a similar fate? The pain grew and soon reached a crescendo of terrible suffering as the pain traveled to his head. The clanging of the hammer and forge rang out and Zeus fell with his skull in his hands.
Unable to bear the pounding and the resulting pain any longer, Zeus ordered Hephaestus to strike him in the head with his axe. Hephaestus reluctantly obliged, and the blow came down swiftly and sharply. Zeus would birth his new daughter with Metis on the shore of the river Triton through the wound in his head. Out sprang Athena, fully grown, clad in armor and wearing the helmet her mother had made for her. She was ready for battle. Zeus thrashed and gulped down the water from Triton, extinguishing the fire inside his belly. For a moment he lay silent, in shock at what had happened but realizing this wasn’t the end for him after all.
Although Athena escaped, Metis remained within Zeus’ belly. She had been weakened through her efforts and the birth of her child, and despite his transgressions against her, she still loved Zeus and wanted to be with him. So there in his belly she would stay, and would both willingly, and at times, unwillingly, think on his behalf and provide him with counsel. She could never bear any children again, and this would leave the prophecy unfulfilled, which was rare among immortals. And although Zeus would go on to marry other goddesses, she remained a permanent part of him, for the two had become one in mind, thought, and being.
When mortals plan their warfare, use cunning to gain revenge or advantage against a foe in order to defeat them, or seek out wisdom and deep thought, it is believed that Metis and her daughter Athena are by their side, whispering into their heads. Metis would be respected and revered by mortals in literature, myth, and poems far beyond her physical presence in Olympus.