Definitions

aeos

Helios

[hee-lee-os]
In Greek mythology the sun was personified as Helios (Ἥλιος, Latinized as Helius). Homer often calls him simply Titan or Hyperion, while Hesiod (Theogony 371) and the Homeric Hymn separate him as a son of the Titans Hyperion and Theia (Hesiod) or Euryphaessa (Homeric Hymn) and brother of the goddesses Selene, the moon, and Eos, the dawn. The names of these three were also the common Greek words for sun, moon and dawn.

Helios was imagined as a handsome god crowned with the shining aureole of the sun, who drove the chariot of the sun across the sky each day to earth-circling Oceanus and through the world-ocean returned to the East at night. Homer described Helios's chariot as drawn by solar bulls (Iliad xvi.779); later Pindar described it as drawn by "fire-darting steeds" (Olympian Ode 7.71). Still later, the horses were given fiery names: Pyrios, Aeos, Aethon, and Phlegon.

As time passed, Helios was increasingly identified with the god of light, Apollo. The equivalent of Helios in Roman mythology was Sol, specifically Sol Invictus.

Greek mythology

The best known story involving Helios is that of his son Phaëton, who attempted to drive his father's chariot but lost control and set the earth on fire.

Helios was sometimes referred to with the epithet Helios Panoptes ("the all-seeing"). In the story told in the hall of Alcinous in the Odyssey (viii.300ff), Aphrodite, the consort of Hephaestus secretly beds Ares, but all-seeing Helios spies on them and tells Hephaestus, who ensnares the two lovers in nets invisibly fine, to punish them.

In the Odyssey, Odysseus and his surviving crew land on Thrinacia, an island sacred to the sun god, whom Circe names Hyperion rather than Helios. There, the sacred red cattle of the sun were kept:

Though Odysseus warns his men not to, they impiously kill and eat some of the cattle of the Sun. The guardians of the island, Helios' daughters, tell their father, and Helios appeals to Zeus, who destroys the ship and kills all the men except for Odysseus.

In one Greek vase painting, Helios appears riding across the sea in the cup of the Delphic tripod which appears to be a solar reference. Athenaeus in Deipnosophistae relates that, at the hour of sunset, Helios climbed into a great golden cup in which he passes from the Hesperides in the farthest west to the land of the Ethiops, with whom he passes the dark hours. While Heracles traveled to Erytheia to retrieve the cattle of Geryon, he crossed the Libyan desert and was so frustrated at the heat that he shot an arrow at Helios, the sun. Helios begged him to stop and Heracles demanded the golden cup which Helios used to sail across the sea every night, from the west to the east. Heracles used this golden cup to reach Erytheia.

By the Oceanid Perse, Helios became the father of Aeëtes, Circe, and Pasiphaë. His other children are Phaethusa ("radiant"), Lampetia ("shining").

Helios and Apollo

Helios is sometimes identified with Apollo; "Different names may refer to the same being," Walter Burkert observes, "or else they may be consciously equated, as in the case of Apollo and Helios.

In Homer, Apollo is clearly identified as a different god, a plague-dealer with a silver (not golden) bow and no solar features.

The earliest certain reference to Apollo identified with Helios appears in the surviving fragments of Euripides' play Phaethon in a speech near the end (fr 781 N²), Clymene, Phaethon's mother, laments that Helios has destroyed her child, that Helios whom men rightly call Apollo (the name Apollo is here understood to mean Apollon "Destroyer").

By Hellenistic times Apollo had become closely connected with the sun in cult. His epithet Phoebus "shining", drawn from Helios, was later also applied by Latin poets to the sun-god Sol. The identification became a commonplace in philosophic texts and appears in the writing of Parmenides, Empedocles, Plutarch and Crates of Thebes among others, as well as appearing in some Orphic texts. Pseudo-Eratosthenes writes about Orpheus in Catasterismi, section 24:

"But having gone down into Hades because of his wife and seeing what sort of things were there, he did not continue to worship Dionysus, because of whom he was famous, but he thought Helios to be the greatest of the gods, Helios whom he also addressed as Apollo. Rousing himself each night toward dawn and climbing the mountain called Pangaion, he would await the sun's rising, so that he might see it first. Therefore Dionysus, being angry with him, sent the Bassarides, as Aeschylus the tragedian says; they tore him apart and scattered the limbs."

Dionysus and Asclepius are sometimes also identified with this Apollo Helios.

Classical Latin poets also used Phoebus as a byname for the sun-god, whence come common references in later European poetry to Phoebus and his car ("chariot") as a metaphor for the sun. But in particular instances in myth, Apollo and Helios are distinct. The sun-god, the son of Hyperion, with his sun chariot, though often called Phoebus ("shining") is not called Apollo except in purposeful non-traditional identifications. Roman poets often referred to the sun god as Titan.

Despite these identifications, Apollo was never actually described by the Greek poets driving the chariot of the sun. Therefore, Helios is still known as the 'sun god' - the one who drives the sun chariot across the sky each day.

Cult of Helios

L.R. Farnell assumed "that sun-worship had once been prevalent and powerful among the people of the pre-Hellenic culture, but that very few of the communities of the later historic period retained it as a potent factor of the state religion. Our largely Attic literary sources tend to give us an unavoidable Athenian bias when we look at ancient Greek religion, and "no Athenian could be expected to worship Helios or Selene," J. Burnet observes, "but he might think them to be gods, since Helios was the great god of Rhodes and Selene was worshiped at Elis and elsewhere. James A. Notopoulos considers Burnet's an artificial distinction: "To believe in the existence of the gods involves acknowledgment through worship, as Laws 87 D, E shows" (note, p. 264). Aristophanes' Peace (406-13) contrasts the worship of Helios and Selene with that of the more essentially Greek Twelve Olympians, as the representative gods of the Achaemenid Persians; all the evidence shows that Helios and Selene were minor gods to the Greeks.

"The island of Rhodes is almost the only place where Helios enjoys an important cult", Burkert asserts (p 174), instancing a spectacular rite in which a quadriga, a chariot drawn by four horses, is driven over a precipice into the sea, with its overtones of the plight of Phaethon noted. There annual gymnastic tournaments were held in his honor. The Colossus of Rhodes was dedicated to him. Helios also had a significant cult on the acropolis of Corinth on the Greek mainland.

The tension between the mainstream traditional religious veneration of Helios, which had become enriched with ethical values and poetical symbolism in Pindar, Aeschylus and Sophocles, and the Ionian proto-scientific examination of Helios the Sun, a phenomenon of the study Greeks termed meteora, clashed in the trial of Anaxagoras ca 450 BCE, a forerunner of the culturally traumatic trial of Socrates for irreligion, in 399.

In Plato's Republic (516B), Helios, the Sun, is the symbolic offspring of the idea of the Good.

Helios Megistos

In Late Antiquity a cult of Helios Megistos ("Great Helios") drew to the image of Helios a number of syncretic elements, which have been analysed in detail by Wilhelm Fauth by means of a series of late Greek texts, namely: an Orphic Hymn to Helios; the so-called Mithras Liturgy, where Helios rules the elements; spells and incantations invoking Helios among the Greek Magical Papyri; a Hymn to Helios by Proclus; Julian's Oration to Helios, the last stand of official paganism; and an episode in Nonnus' Dionysiaca.

Consorts/Children

Epithets

See also

Notes

References

  • Walter Burkert, 1982. Greek Religion.
  • Konrad Schauenburg, 1955. Helios: Archäologisch-mythologische Studien über den antiken (Mann)
  • Karl Kerenyi. Apollo: The Wind, the Spirit, and the God: Four Studies
  • Karl Kerenyi, 1951. The Gods of the Greeks, "The Sun, the Moon and their Family" pp 190-94 et passim.

External links

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