The Hecatonchires, or Hekatonkheires, were three gargantuan figures of Greek mythology.
Their name derives from the Ancient Greek ʽεκατόν (hekaton; "hundred") and χείρ (kheir; "hand"), and means "Hundred-Handed", "each of them having a hundred hands and fifty heads" (Bibliotheca). In Latin poetry, the Hecatonchires were known as the Centimani, which also means "Hundred-Handed Ones."
The Hecatonchires were of the same parents as the Titans and the Cyclopes, Uranus and Gaea (the Earth).
They were known as :
- Briareus or Aegaeon the Vigorous,
- Cottus the Furious,
- Gyges (or Gyes) the Big-Limbed.
A fourth was Typhon, a god of destructive storms. Unlike the Hecatonchires, he was a son of Tartaros, rather than Ouranos, and an enemy of Zeus. After being defeated by the god, he was bound in Tartaros as the primal source of all Anemoi Thuellai (Hurricanes and Storm-Winds). He was similar to another Titan ally named Aigaios, a storm-giant sometimes identified with Briareus.
The Hekatonkheires, as storm-spirit sons of Sky (Ouranos) trapped in the Tartarean pit, bear a resemblance to Aiolos (Sparkling) and his cavern-bound storm-winds (thuellai) as well as Astraios and his three wind-god sons.
The Scholiast on Apollonius Rhodius (i. 1165) represents Aegaeon as a son of Gaea and Pontus and as living as a marine god in the Aegean sea. Ovid (Met. ii. 10) and Philostratus (Vit. Apollon. iv. 6) like-wise regard him as a marine god, while Virgil (Aen. x. 565) reckons him among the giants who stormed Olympus, and Callimachus (Hymn. in Del. 141, &c.), regarding him in the same light, places him under mount Aetna. The Scholiast on Theocritus (Idyll. i. 65) calls Briareus one of the Cyclops. The opinion which regards Aegaeon and his brothers as only personifications of the extraordinary powers of nature, such as are manifested in the violent commotions of the earth, as earth-quakes, volcanic eruptions and the like, seems to explain best the various accounts about them.
They were gigantic and had fifty heads and one hundred arms each of great strength, even superior to that of the Titans and the Cyclopes.
They were associated with the crashing of waves and earthquakes. of violent storms and hurricanes (theullai) summoned forth from the stormy pit of Tartaros. Their brothers were the Kyklopes, crafters of the thunder and lightning of Zeus. The six were connected with the stormy season in Greece which followed the rise of the Constellation Altar in November.
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 of this myth, 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. In this version of the myth, they were only later imprisoned in Tartarus by Cronus. Another version of the legend seems to say that Gaia wanted Cronus to free the Hecatonchires, but that he didn't, which possibly made them bitter at the Titans.
The Hecatonchires remained there, guarded by the dragon Campe, until Zeus rescued them, hoping they would serve as good allies against Cronus. For this reason they fought with Zeus against the Titans. With their hundred hands and tremendous strength and dexterity, they were able to hurl three hundred stones at one time at the Titans. Being unable to overcome such a barrage, the Titans soon surrendered to Zeus. Zeus assigned the Hecatonchires to guard the Titans in Tartarus. Later, Kottos and Gyes were given palaces in the River Okeanos and, Briareos, a home in the depths of the Aegean Sea.
In the Iliad, there is a story, found nowhere else in mythology, that at one time the Olympian gods were trying to overthrow Zeus but were stopped when the sea nymph Thetis brought one of the Hecatonchires to his aid. Homer also referred to Briareus as aegaeon ("goatish"), and said he was a marine deity and son of Poseidon.
In Virgil's Aeneid (10.566-67), Aeneas is likened in a simile to "Aegaeon," which is the Latin name of Briareus, though in Virgil's account Aegaeon fought on the side of the Titans rather than the Olympians.
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, l. 99).
- Homer, The Iliad - Greek Epic C9th-8th BC
- Hesiod, Theogony - Greek Epic C8th-7th BC
- Homerica, The Titanomachia - Greek Epic C8th BC
- Greek Lyric IV Ion of Chios, Fragments - Greek Lyric C5th BC
- Apollodorus, The Library - Greek Mythography C2nd BC
- Apollonius Rhodius, The Argonautica - Greek Epic C3rd BC
- Quintus Smyrnaeus, Fall of Troy - Greek Epic C4th AD
- Pausanias, Guide to Greece - Greek Geography C2nd AD
- Hyginus, Astronomica - Latin Mythography C2nd AD
- Ovid, Metamorphoses - Latin Epic C1st BC - C1st AD
- Statius, Achilleid - Latin Epic C1st AD
- Nonnos, Dionysiaca - Greek Epic C5th AD
- Suidas - Byzantine Lexicographer C10th AD