The Hecatonchires, or Hekatonkheires (), were three gargantuan figures of an archaic stage of Greek mythology. According to Hesiod they were children of Gaia and Uranus, simply the issue of Earth and Sky, or of Earth and Sea thus part of the very beginning of things (Kerenyi 1951:19) in the submerged prehistory of Greek myth, though they played no part in cult. They were known as Briareus the Vigorous, also called Aigaion (Latinized as Aegaeon) the "sea goat", Cottus the Striker or the Furious, and Gyges (or Gyes) the Big-Limbed. Their name derives from the Greek (hekaton; "hundred") and (kheir; "hand"), "each of them having a hundred hands and fifty heads" (Bibliotheca). They were giants of incredible strength and ferocity, even superior to that of the Titans, whom they helped overthrow, and the Cyclopes. In Latin poetry, the Hecatonchires were known as the Centimani, which simply translates "Hundred-Handed Ones."
It would be difficult to determine exactly what natural phenomena are symbolized by the Hecatonchires. They may represent the gigantic forces of nature which appear in earthquakes and other convulsions, or the multitudinous motion of the 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 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.
The Hecatonchires remained there, guarded by the dragon Campe, until Zeus rescued them, advised by Gaia that they would serve as good allies against Cronus. During the War of the Titans, the Hecatonchires threw rocks as big as mountains, one hundred at a time, at the Titans, overwhelming them. Hesiod, in continuing the Theogony (624, 639, 714, 734-35) reports the three Hecatonchires became the guards of the gates of Tartarus. Other accounts make Briareus one of the assailants of Olympus, who, after his defeat, was buried under Mount Aetna (Callimachus, Hymn to Delos, 141).
Briareos as the "sea-goat" AigaionThe sea-goat Aigaion "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:
- ...the monster of the hundred arms whom the gods call Briareus, but mankind Aegaeon, a giant more powerful even than his father."
This episode, alluded to in Iliad (i.399ff), is found nowhere else in Greek mythology: 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, him whom the gods call Briareios but men call Aigaion ("goatish" Iliad i.403). Hesiod reconciles the archaic Hecatonchires with the Olympian pantheon by making of Briareos the son-in-law of Poseidon, he "giving him Kymopoliea his daughter to wed." (Theogony 817).
In a Corinthian 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 Corinth to belong to Poseidon and the acropolis of Corinth (Acrocorinth) sacred to Helios.
In Virgil's Aeneid (10.566-67), Aeneas is likened in a simile to "Aegaeon," though in Virgil's account Aegaeon 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.
AdaptationsBriareus 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.
Briareos is the name of one of the combat partners who are the protagonists of the Appleseed manga series and its several film adaptations. Most of the characters in the series are named for entities from Greek mythology; in Briareos' case the significance appears to be fairly superficial, referring to his strength and command of the Hecatonchires armour suit.
Briareos plays a part in the children's novel The Battle of the Labyrinth, where his name is spelled Briares.
Briareus in Asturian: Hecatónquiros
Briareus in Breton: Hekatonc'hired
Briareus in Bulgarian: Хекатонхейри
Briareus in Catalan: Hecatonquir
Briareus in Czech: Hekatoncheirové
Briareus in Danish: De hundredarmede
Briareus in German: Hekatoncheiren
Briareus in Estonian: Hekatonheirid
Briareus in Modern Greek (1453-): Εκατόγχειρες
Briareus in Spanish: Hecatónquiros
Briareus in Esperanto: Hekatonkiroj
Briareus in Persian: هکاتونکایر
Briareus in French: Hécatonchires
Briareus in Galician: Hecatonquiros
Briareus in Croatian: Hekatonhiri
Briareus in Italian: Ecatonchiri
Briareus in Georgian: ჰეკატონხეირები
Briareus in Luxembourgish: Hekatoncheires
Briareus in Lithuanian: Hekatonkheirai
Briareus in Hungarian: Hekatonkheirek
Briareus in Dutch: Hecatonchiren
Briareus in Japanese: ヘカトンケイル
Briareus in Polish: Hekatonchejr
Briareus in Portuguese: Hecatônquiros
Briareus in Russian: Гекатонхейры
Briareus in Serbian: Хекатонхири
Briareus in Finnish: Hekatonkheires
Briareus in Swedish: Hekatoncheirer
Briareus in Ukrainian: Гекатонхейри
Briareus in Chinese: 百臂巨人