On the web I find that her name means Disposer but this is doubtful as there are no related classical Greek words. This makes more likely the fact that her name comes from Minoan Crete and the language that the Minoans spoke. The Minoan culture includes many images of fish so she may have been a goddess of fish originally. But another interpretation is possible: Θέτις — Thetis — ‘Soul of the wave’ from Indo-European ‘dheu-‘, ‘To rise in a cloud’ and ‘teue’, ‘To swell’.
For classical Greece Thetis was a minor goddess, a Nereid, who dwells in the sea. Zeus and
Poseidon were rivals for her hand, but when they found out that her son was
destined to be greater than his father, they let Peleus try for her. Thetis
tried various transformations to avoid him, but he persisted and he finally
married her. Her marriage, just prior to the Trojan war, as an important
affair with most of the deities attending. It was at this wedding that
the golden apple was thrown and the Judgement of Paris followed.
wedding of Peleus and Thetis, Tampa Museum of Art, Tampa 81.5.1
The relation between Achilles and his mother Thetis is strained by the fact that she is a goddess and can see his fate but she can do nothing about it. He is aware of his fate through his mother but seems to choose glory and action over anything that his mother wants.
Thetis helps her son. Thetis, Achilles’ mother, arranges with Zeus that
Agamemnon will lose battles until he begs Achilles to fight. When his armour
is lost she arranges more for him from Hephaistos.
Thetis wearing a belted peplos, Louvre G 482, Musée du Louvre.
Here are some images of Thetis:
- Thetis carrying shield to Achilles, on hippocamp, The J. Paul Getty Museum of Art, Malibu 86.AE.611
- Peleus and Thetis, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston 1972.850
In spite of the complex appearance of the outfit of Thetis, it is really
quite simple in construction. It consists of two rectangles of cloth bound
together on one end in two places so the head can fit between the two bindings.
The garment is then place over the shoulders and bound around the waist. The
complex appearance comes from the way the garment is folded and tied. The
length of the rectangle is about shoulder high while the width is at least the
width of the outstreched arms. The garment can be much bigger with the
extra material used in the folds. The folding can be both horizontal
More Images of Thetis from ancient Greece
- Thetis, Würzburg L 540
- Mourning of Achilles , Louvre E643, Musée du Louvre, Paris, France.
- Thetis and Peleus, Douris CdM 539, Vulci, Etruria. Paris
- Achilles, Louvre E869, Paris.
- Pelike Pioneer group, Louvre G65, Paris.
- Thetis and Peleus, Louvre G373, Paris.
- Thetis and Peleus, Louvre CA2569, Paris.
- Rape of Thetis. Side A of an Attic red-figure kylix, 480-470 BC. From Vulci.,Staatliche Antikensammlungen, Munich, Germany.
To ask a question about this topic note the topic (Thetis) and
Questions and Answers
Question: In the Iliad, in what ways is Achilles’ mother
Thetis powerful on one hand, and helpless on the other?
Answer: As with other Deities, Thetis can act within her own
realm but she is powerles to act in the realm of others. For
example, as a goddess she would know what the Fates had forecast,
but she was powerless to change that forecast. One power she
displays in the Iliad is the ability to hear her sons prayers,
and to come visit him wherever he was. She was also able to
petition Zeus for a favor, and visit Hephaetus who made divine
armour for her son Achilles. There is a wonderful passage, that
bears on this question, which also contains a wonderful list of
Nereid names: (Homer, book XVIII)
“Suddenly Achilles gave a loud and dreadful cry, and his
lady Mother heard him where she sat in the depths of the sea
beside her ancient Father. Then she herself took up the cry of
grief, and there gathered round her every goddess, every Nereid
that was in the deep salt sea. Glauce was there and Thaleia and
Cymodoce; Nesea, Speio, Thoe and ox-eyed Halie; Cymothoe, Actaee
and Limnoreia; Melite, Iaera, Amphithoe and Agaue; Doto, Proto,
Pherusa and Dynamene; Dexamene, Amphinome and Callianeira; Doris,
Panope and far-sung Galatea; Nemertes, Apseudes and Calianassa.
Clymene came too, with Ianeira, Ianassa, Maera, Oreithuia,
Amatheia of the Lovely Locks, and other Neireids of the salt sea
depths (there are 15 others). The silvery cave was full of nymphs.
With one accord they beat their breasts, and Thetis lead them in
lamantations: ‘Attend to me sister Nereids: I wish every one of
you to know all the sorrows of my heart. Ah misery me, the
unhappy mother of the best of men! I brought into the world a
flawless child to be a mighty hero and eclipse his peers. I
nursed him as one tends a little plant in a garden bed, and he
shot up like a sapling. I sent him to Ilium with his beaked ships
to fight against the Trojans; and never again now shall I welcome
him to Peleus’ house. And yet he has to suffer, every day he
lives and sees the sun; and I can do no good by his side. But I will
go, none the less, to see my darling child and hear what grief
has come to him, although he has abstained from fighting.”
The silvery cave filled with weeping Nereids beating their
breasts. Does this not make a fascinating picture? Imagine the
flowing hair and diaphanous gowns of these lovely young women. Or
perhaps they were dressed in sea weeds or even nothing at all in
the dim depths of the salt sea. They formed a procession and went
to Achilles “and on either side of them the surging sea fell
back. When they reached the deep-soiled land of Troy, they came
up one by one on to the beach…” I certainly would have
wanted to be there to see this spectacle. One of the powers of
Thetis must have been to bring it about.
Question: How was Thetis contradictory, relating to her being
powerful and helpless at the same time? please help!
Answer: I answered a question earlier on this page which you
should read, because it is relevant. The contradiction that you
mention is not real but relates to the nature of her power. She
has the power to live under water, but that power is of no use to
her son Achilles. She has the power to persuade Hephaestus to
make her son impenetrable armour, but of what use is this if the
Fates are going to kill him any way? One of the insights that the
Greeks had was that even the Gods were limited. They expressed
this limitaion in terms of fate and right(dike). Later this
notion was turned into logic. We might say that the deities can
do anything, as long as it is logical. This restriction is very
severe. It eliminates the possibility of Deus ex machina in real
life. Thetis, for all her devinity, is reduced to an ordinary
woman. She is able to create life, a miracle, but once the child
is an adult she cannot control that life and must passively
witness it. And when we witness a life as a whole what we get is
a tragedy. If the life is a good one it is a good tragedy, but
still a tragedy. Thetis makes the mistake of focusing on the end
of the tragedy and not what leads up to it. Her power would be
more obvious if she focused on her son’s accomplishments before
his death instead of only thinking of his death.
Question: what is thetis’s roman name?
Question: What is Thetis’ symbol?
Question: does archilles have a symbol
Answer: Achilles was a mortal and had no symbol.
Question: why was thestis force to marry Peleus
Answer: Zeus forced her to marry a mortal but she was not forced to marry
Peleus. She tested Peleus by changing shape. When he passed the test she
agreed to marry him.
Question: what was thetis’ relationship to mortals on one hand and gods on the other?
Answer: Thetis related to mortals only for about one year when she lived
in the palace of Peleus. But the marriage broke up and she returned to the
sea. For a Nereid she was very active with the major gods and goddesses.
Normally she spent her time with other Nereids under the sea.
Question: what is Achilles’ symbol?
Answer: Mortals like Achilles have no symbols.
Question: How did Thetis save Hephaestus?
Answer: She was hospitable to Hephaestus when he was thrown out of heaven.
Question: how did she protect Archilles
Answer: Once the fates determined that Achilles would have a short but
glorius life, there was nothing Thetis could do to protect him. She may have
tried a number of methods. She was able to protect most of him, but she never
was able to protect his heels. And this was his undoing.
Question: Did Hephaestus and Achilles consider themselves brother?
Answer: Not that I know of. Thetis was always an intermediary between these
Question: Describe the two possible fates of Achilles that Thetis mentions?
Answer: This is found by reading the Iliad.
Question: What is Thetis’ emblem
Answer: This image of Thetis on Hippocamp is the best emblem I have found:
Question: who was not invited to her wedding?
Answer: Eris, the goddess of discord.
Question: Why was Thetis important to the trojan war?
Answer: Read about Thetis in the Iliad.
Question: I’m writing a paper on a sculpture of Thetis (1861) by William Henry Rinehart 1825-1874. I’ve been searching all over about information about a fish at her side draping down to the ground beneath her. It seems to me that this fish is quite important, but maybe it is simply to associate her with water.
Is the fish at Thetis’ side on the sculpture of Thetis 1861 by William H. Rinehart significant in such a way that it must be included in my research paper or is the fish just a fish?
Answer: “Many American painters and sculptors of this time visited or lived in Italy where they studied the work of the Old Masters. The work of William Henry Rinehart exemplfies this. His marble nude Thetis (c. 1861), 45 3/4 x 17 x 12 1/2 inches, is found at the Smithsonian Art Museum, Accession Number: 1970.335.12. In this case Thetis is a mythological figure whose elegance and grace defines the classical style.” (Click Here). One can see that the artist has depicted a modest young women revealing her charms. The piece may have no more import than that. In this case the fish reference may be a reference to Aphrodite rising from the foam and a reference to the fact that Thetis is just another mermaid. One has to wonder about the influence if Hiram Powers and his Greek Slave” (1847). This statue seems like a more acceptable pose. But there is also the influence of greek culture on education. Is there any reason to believe that the sculpture relates to the Greek myths. It important to note that Thetis is not portrayed nude by the ancient Greeks. In the painting by Ingres (“Jupiter and Thetis” Jean-Auguste Ingres Oil on canvas, 1811, Musée Granet, Aix-en-Provence) Thetis is nude. Was she nude because custom would not allow nudes except if the subject was a Greek myth. The fish supports an answer of yes to this question.
Question: I was under the understanding that Thitis symbol was a pile of coins. Is it the coins or seaweed and why?
Answer: There is nothing in the myths of Thetis ‘Θέτις’ suggesting coins. There are images of seaweed and reference to it in the myths. Seaweed is a symbol of her undersea nature. In other cases like this the symbol comes by relating the name to a similar sounding word without mythical signifcance. This word could be ‘Θητεία’ , ‘hired service’. The connection of coins to that word is fairly obvious.