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Oceanus the Titan Sea God: Mythology & Stories

Instructor: Brittney Clere

Brittney, a National Board Certified Teacher, has taught social studies at the middle school level for 15 years.

When thinking about sea gods in Greek mythology, perhaps the one that comes to mind immediately is Poseidon. But did you know there was a Greek god that ruled before him? In this lesson, you will learn about Oceanus, the Greek god of fresh water.

Who was Oceanus?

Imagine a large half-man, half-serpent with bull horns and wild hair towering over you from the depths of the ocean. Scary right? Well, to the ancient Greeks, it wouldn't have been. This frightening-sounding character was actually one of the most peaceful and gentle souls of all the gods. Oceanus, the god of fresh water, controlled the large backward-flowing river that was believed to encircle the earth in ancient times. From it, sprang all the rivers, seas, springs, and streams of the world.

An ancient world map depicting the great river of Oceanus encircling it.
An ancient world map depicting the great river of Oceanus encircling it.

Meet the Family

Oceanus was a Titan, which means he was of the old generation of gods that reigned before Zeus, and was the first born son of Uranus and Gaea who represented the sky and the earth, respectively. They went on to bear many more Titan gods and goddesses, including Tethys who would later become the wife of Oceanus. (Yes, that's right; she married her brother.)

Unfortunately, Oceanus did not grow up inside a big, happy family. In fact, his mother and some of his siblings were the masterminds of their own father's downfall. Gaea was distraught over the fact that Uranus hated some of their children, the Cyclops (who were one-eyed giants) and the Hectanochires (who had fifty heads and one hundred hands,) and, out of fear, shame, and jealousy, had them locked away in Tartarus, a dreary region of the Underworld.

As some versions of the story remind us, since Gaea was the earth, this meant they were hidden away inside their mother. So out of sadness, and one can assume, great discomfort, she turned to her children for help. Cronus, the youngest son and most cunning, took to the task and attacked his father, and, while his brothers held him down, castrated him. Absent from his father's attack, however, was Oceanus. Proving himself to be a peaceful god, he refused to aid in holding Uranus down and withdrew himself from the conflict.

Titanomachy

With Uranus now gone, Cronus took control. Cronus named his four brothers who helped him in the attack as the Four Pillars of the Earth. And, while he had not helped, Oceanus was given control of all the world's water. Cronus's power was soon threatened, however, when his own son, Zeus, gathered a new generation of gods together to overthrow him.

This display of karma became known as the Titanomachy, or War of the Titans, and lasted ten years. It ended with Zeus taking control of Mount Olympus and becoming the king of all gods. Just as Oceanus had refused to help Cronus take down his father, he also refused to help him fight against his son. And while he tried to stay out of the fight as much as possible, he did convince his daughter, the River Styx, to become an ally to Zeus. He and Tethys also allowed Hera, the wife of Zeus, to stay with them in their oceanic domain for protection during the decade-long battle.

A drawing of Hera with Oceanus and Tethys.
A drawing of Hera with Oceanus and Tethys.

Oceanus' Reign under Zeus

With Zeus's win, the younger god, Poseidon, was given supreme rule over earth's water. However, due to his loyalty, Oceanus was allowed to continue to rule the kingdom beyond the Pillars of Heracles. Geographically speaking, this refers to the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. Because the skies appear to rise and end in the realm of his kingdom, he was considered the regulator of the heavenly bodies. It was believed that the stars would race across the sky in chariots to Oceanus's kingdom, then race back on the surface of the water to start again the next day.

Married Life

Oceanus and Tethys, known as the mother of the rain clouds, had many children during their time together: six thousand, in fact. The three thousand sons were called Potamoi, and were the river gods. Their daughters were named the Oceanids and were the fresh-water nymphs of all lakes, ponds, and rain clouds. While they rejoiced in their many offspring, they realized that perhaps they were just a little too fertile. The abundance of new water would often lead to floods, so to control the problem, Oceanus and Tethys decided to divorce to prevent themselves from having more children.

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