In Greek mythology, Tithonus or Tithonos was the lover of Eos, Titan of the dawn. He was a Trojan by birth, the son of King Laomedon of Troy by a water nymph named Strymo ("harsh"). In the mythology known to the fifth-century vase-painters of Athens, Tithonus was envisaged as a rhapsode, as the lyre in his hand, on an oinochoe of the Achilles Painter, ca. 470 BC–460 BCE (illustration) attests. Competitive singing, as in the Contest of Homer and Hesiod, is also depicted vividly in the Homeric Hymn to Apollo and mentioned in the two Hymns to Aphrodite.
Eos kidnapped Ganymede and Tithonus, both from the royal house of Troy, to be her lovers. The mytheme of the goddess's immortal lover is an archaic one; when a role for Zeus was inserted, a bitter new twist appeared: According to the Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite, when Eos asked Zeus for Tithonus to be immortal, she forgot to ask for eternal youth (218-38). Tithonus indeed lived forever
In later tellings he eventually turned into a cicada, eternally living, but begging for death to overcome him. In the Olympian system, the "queenly" and "golden-throned" Eos can no longer grant immortality to her lover as Selene had done, but must ask it of Zeus, as a boon.
Eos bore Tithonus two sons, Memnon and Emathion. In the Epic Cycle that revolved around the Trojan War, Tithonus, who has travelled east from Troy into Assyria and is the founder of Susa, is bribed to send his son Memnon to fight at Troy with a golden grapevine. Memnon was called "King of the East" by Hesiod, but he was killed on the plain of Troy by Achilles. Aeschylus says in passing that Tithonus also had a mortal wife, named Cissia (otherwise unknown).
A newly-found poem on Tithonus is the fourth extant complete poem by ancient Greek lyrical poetess Sappho. The poem was published for the first time by Martin West in the Times Literary Supplement, 21 or 24 June 2005. Eos and Tithonus (inscribed Tinthu or Tinthun) provided a pictorial motif that was inscribed on Etruscan bronze hand-mirrorbacks, or cast in low relief.
The poem is a dramatic monologue in blank verse from the point-of-view of Tithonus. Unlike the original myth, it is Tithonus who asks for immortality, and it is Aurora, not Zeus, who grants this imperfect gift. As narrator, Tithonus laments his unnatural longevity, which separates him from the mortal world as well as from the immortal but beautiful Aurora.
An episode of the television show The X-Files is titled "Tithonus." It concerns a man who cheated Death, but eventually came to see his immortality as a curse rather than a gift. The man is able to "sense" death coming for people and attempts to catch the face of Death in photographs, believing that if he sees his face, he will finally die.
In the television show Doctor Who and the spin-off show Torchwood, the character Jack Harkness faces the same fate as Tithonus in that when brought back from the dead, he discovers he is both now immortal and still aging.