Thetis  

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Image:Jupiter and Thetis.jpg
Jupiter and Thetis (1811) by Ingres, Thetis is depicted in the painting by Ingres as pleading at the knees of Zeus: "She sank to the ground beside him, put her left arm round his knees, raised her right hand to touch his chin, and so made her petition to the Royal Son of Cronos" (Iliad, I).

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

In Greek mythology, silver-footed Thetis is a sea nymph, one of the fifty Nereids, daughters of "the ancient one of the seas" and mother of Achilles.

When described as a Nereid, Thetis was the daughter of Nereus and Doris (Hesiod, Theogony), and a granddaughter of Tethys. It is likely, however, that she was one of the earliest of deities worshiped in Archaic Greece, about whom written records do not exist except for one fragment, an early Alcman hymn which identifies Thetis as the creator of the universe and worship of Thetis as the goddess is documented to have persisted in some regions.

Marriage to Peleus and the Trojan War

Judgement of Paris

An essential subordinate motif later occurring in the nature of Thetis, as a Nereid, one that links her with the dawn Titan Eos and with Aphrodite, is her liaison with a mortal lover which occurs with the rise of the Olympian deities. Reportedly most attracted to the goddess, but fearful of losing his hold on the deities, because Zeus had received a prophecy that Thetis's son would become greater than his father, the familiar mytheme of the Succession Prophecy. Zeus had dethroned his father to lead the succeeding pantheon, therefore, in order to ensure a mortal father for her eventual offspring, Zeus and his brother Poseidon made arrangements for her marriage to a human, Peleus, son of Aeacus, but she refused him.

Chiron, the centaur, who later would be tutor to her son by Peleus, Achilles, advised Peleus to find the sea nymph when she was asleep and bind her tightly to keep her from escaping by changing forms. She did shift shapes, becoming flame, water, a raging lioness, and a serpent This ability was shared with many of the primordial deities of Archaic Greece (compare the early sea-god Proteus), but Peleus held fast. Subdued, she then consented to marry him. Thetis is the mother of Achilles by Peleus, who became king of the Myrmidons.

According to classical mythology, the wedding of Thetis and Peleus was celebrated on Mount Pelion outside the cave of Chiron and attended by the deities: there they celebrated the marriage with feasting. Apollo played the lyre and the Muses sang, Pindar claimed. At the wedding Chiron gave Peleus an ashen spear that had been polished by Athene and had a blade forged by Hephaestus, and Poseidon gave him the immortal horses, Balius and Xanthus. Eris, the goddess of discord, had not been invited, however. In spite, she threw a golden apple into the midst of the goddesses that was to be awarded only "to the fairest." (In most interpretations, the award was made during the Judgement of Paris and eventually occasioned the Trojan War; by others such as Robert Graves, the imagery is considered misinterpreted and it is thought that it should reflect the selection of a king to be sacrificed in a sacred ritual).

In the later classical myths Thetis worked her magic on the baby Achilles by night, burning away his mortality in the hall fire and anointing the child with ambrosia during the day, Apollonius tells. When Peleus caught her searing the baby, he let out a cry.

"Thetis heard him, and catching up the child threw him screaming to the ground, and she like a breath of wind passed swiftly from the hall as a dream and leapt into the sea, exceeding angry, and thereafter returned never again."

In a variant of the myth, Thetis tried to make Achilles invulnerable by dipping him in the waters of the Styx (the river of Hades). However, the heel by which she held him was not touched by the Styx's waters, and failed to be protected. In the story of Achilles in the Trojan War in the Iliad, Homer does not mention this weakness of Achilles' heel.

A similar myth of immortalizing a child in fire is connected to Demeter; compare the myth of Meleager. Some myths relate that because she had been interrupted by Peleus, Thetis had not made her son physically invulnerable. His heel, which she was about to burn away when her husband stopped her, had not been protected. Alternative interpretations assert that substitutes for the sacred king were sacrificed by fire (or water), putting off their ritual sacrifice for various numbers of years.

Peleus gave the boy to Chiron to raise. Prophecy said that the son of Thetis would have either a long but dull life, or a glorious but brief life. When the Trojan War broke out, Thetis was anxious and concealed Achilles, disguised as a girl, at the court of Lycomedes. When Odysseus found that one of the girls at court was not a girl, but Achilles, he dressed as a merchant and set up a table of vanity items and jewellery and called to the group.

Only Achilles picked up the golden sword that lay to one side, and Odysseus quickly revealed him to be male. Seeing that she could no longer prevent her son from realizing his destiny, Thetis then had Hephaestus make a shield and armor.

When Achilles was killed by Paris [1], Thetis came from the sea with the Nereids to mourn him, and she collected his ashes in a golden urn, raised a monument to his memory, and instituted commemorative festivals. According to alternative interpretations suggesting archaic traditions, Paris would have been the succeeding sacred king who was selected next by the three goddesses.




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Thetis" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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