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The Hecatonchire Briareos used as an allegory in a political cartoon.
The Hecatonchires, or Hekatonkheires ( ; ( "Hundred-Handed Ones," Latinized Centimani), were figures in an archaic stage of Greek mythology, three giants of incredible strength and ferocity, even superior to that of the Titans whom they helped overthrow. Their name derives from the Greek (hekaton; "hundred") and (kheir; "hand"), "each of them having a hundred hands and fifty heads" (Bibliotheca). Hesiod's Theogony (624, 639, 714, 734–35) reports that the three Hecatonchires became the guards of the gates of Tartarus.

In Virgil's Aeneid (10.566-67), in which Aeneas is likened to one of them, Briareus (known here as Aegaeon), they fought on the side of the Titans rather than the Olympians; in this Virgil was following the lost Corinthian epic Titanomachy rather than the more familiar account in Hesiod.

Other accounts make Briareus or Aegaeon one of the assailants of Olympus, who, after his defeat, was buried under Mount Aetna (Callimachus, Hymn to Delos, 141).

In Hesiod

According to Hesiod the Hecatonchires were children of Gaia (Earth) and Uranus (Heaven). They were thus part of the very beginning of things (Kerenyi 1951:19) in the submerged prehistory of Greek myth, though they played no known part in cult. Their names were Briareus Βριάρεως the Vigorous, also called Aigaion Αιγαίων (Latinized as Aegaeon) the "sea goat", Cottus Κόττος the Striker or the Furious, and Gyges Γύγης (or Gyes) the Big-Limbed. If some natural phenomena are symbolized by the Hecatonchires then they may represent the gigantic forces of nature that appear in earthquakes and other convulsions or in the motion of sea waves (Mayer, Die Giganten und Titanen, 1887).

Soon after they were born their father Uranus threw them into the depths of Tartarus because he saw them as hideous monsters. In some versions Uranus saw how ugly the Hecatonchires were at their birth and pushed them back into Gaia's womb, upsetting Gaia greatly, causing her great pain and setting into motion the overthrow of Uranus by Cronus, who later imprisoned them in Tartarus.

The Hecatonchires remained there, guarded by the dragon Kampe, until Zeus rescued them, advised by Gaia that they would serve as good allies against Cronus and the Titans. During the War of the Titans the Hecatonchires threw rocks as big as mountains, one hundred at a time, at the Titans, overwhelming them.

Briareus as the "sea-goat" Aegaeon

The sea-goat Aegaeon "cannot be distinguished from Hesiod's Briareos", according to M.L. West. They are already explicitly linked in Iliad I.402-04, though they must have had separate origins: Achilles speaks to his mother the sea nymph Thetis of "the monster of the hundred arms whom the gods call Briareus, but mankind Aegaeon, a giant more powerful even than his father." The episode is found nowhere else in Greek mythology. The Olympian gods were trying to overthrow Zeus but were stopped when Thetis brought Aegaeon to his aid -"at one time he must have shared with the goddess dominion over the depths of the Aegean Seamarker". (Kerenyi 1951:24). "He squatted by the Son of Cronos with such a show of force that the blessed gods slunk off in terror, leaving Zeus free."

Scholia on Apollonius of Rhodes (i. 1165) represent Aegaeon as a son of Gaea and Pontus, the Sea, ruling the fabulous Aegaea in Euboea, an enemy of Poseidon and the inventor of warships. In Ovid (Metamorphoses (ii. 10) and in Philostratus' Life of Apollonius of Tyana (iv. 6) ( he is a marine deity. Hesiod reconciles the archaic Hecatonchires with the Olympian pantheon by making Briareos the son-in-law of Poseidon who gave him "Kymopoliea his daughter to wed." (Theogony 817).

In a Corinthianmarker myth related in the second century CE to Pausanias (Description of Greece ii. 1.6 and 4.7), Briareus was the arbitrator in a dispute between Poseidon and Helios, between sea and sun: he adjudged the Isthmus of Corinthmarker to belong to Poseidon and the acropolis of Corinth (Acrocorinthmarker) sacred to Helios.


Briareus is mentioned in the Divine Comedy as one of the Titans who attacked Jove on Olympus. He is in the pit of the giants in the ninth circle of hell (Inferno XXXI.99). The giant is also mentioned in Cervantes' Don Quixote, in the famous episode of the windmills.

See also


  1. Hesiod calls them the "Ouranids" (Theogony 502).
  2. A scholia on Apollonius Rhodius 1.1165c notes "Eumelos in the Titanomachy says that Aigaion was the son of Earth and Sea, lived in the sea, and fought on the side of the Titans"; noted in M.L. West "'Eumelos': A Corinthian Epic Cycle?" The Journal of Hellenic Studies 122 (2002, pp. 109-133) p 111.
  3. West 2002:111.
  4. Homer: The Iliad, E.V. Rieu, translator.


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