Personification of the Sun
|Symbol||chariot, horses, aureole|
|Parents||Hyperion and Theia|
|Siblings||Selene and Eos|
|Consort||Many including: Clymene, Klytie, Perse, Rhodos, and Leucothea|
|Children||Many including: The Charites, Phaethon, The Horae, Aeëtes, Circe, Perses (brother of Aeëtes), Pasiphaë, Heliadae, Heliades, Phaethusa, and Lampetia|
Helios, also Helius (; Ancient Greek: H?lios; Latinized as Helius; in Homeric Greek), in ancient Greek religion and myth, is the god and personification of the Sun, often depicted in art with a radiant crown and driving a horse-drawn chariot through the sky. He was a guardian of oaths and also the god of sight.
Though Helios was a relatively minor deity in Classical Greece, his worship grew more prominent in late antiquity thanks to his identification with several major solar divinities of the Roman period, particularly Apollo and Sol. The Roman Emperor Julian made Helios the central divinity of his short-lived revival of traditional Roman religious practices in the 4th century AD.
Helios figures prominently in several works of Greek mythology, poetry, and literature, in which he is often described as the son of the Titans Hyperion and Theia and brother of the goddesses Selene (the Moon) and Eos (the dawn).
The Greek (from earlier ? /h?welios/) is the inherited word for the Sun from Proto-Indo-European *seh?u-el which is cognate with Latin sol, Sanskrit surya, Old English swegl, Old Norse sól, Welsh haul, Avestan hvar, etc. The name Helen is thought to share this etymology and may express an early alternate personification of the sun among Hellenic peoples.
The female offspring of Helios were called Heliades. The Greek sun god had various bynames or epithets, which over time in some cases came to be considered separate deities associated with the Sun. Among these is Hyperion (superus, "high up"), Elektor (of uncertain derivation, often translated as "beaming" or "radiant", especially in the combination elektor Hyperion), Phaëton "the radiant", Terpsimbrotos ("gladdens mortals"), and Hekatos (also Hekatebolos "far-shooter", i.e. the sun's rays considered as arrows).
Helios is usually depicted as a handsome young man 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. In the Homeric Hymn to Helios, Helios is said to drive a golden chariot drawn by steeds (HH 31.14-15); and Pindar speaks of Helios's "fire-darting steeds" (Olympian Ode 7.71). Still later, the horses were given fire related names: Pyrois ("The Firey One"), Aeos ("He who turns the sky"), Aethon ("Blazing"), and Phlegon ("Burning").
The imagery surrounding a chariot-driving solar deity is likely Indo-European in origin and is common to both early Greek and Near Eastern religions. The earliest artistic representations of the "chariot god" come from the Parthian period (3rd century) in Persia where there is evidence of rituals being performed for the sun god by Magi, indicating an assimilation of the worship of Helios and Mithras.
Helios is seen as both a personification of the Sun and the fundamental creative power behind it and as a result is often worshiped as a god of life and creation. Homer described Helios as a god "who gives joy to mortals" and other ancient texts give him the epithet "gracious" (), given that he is the source of life and regeneration and associated with the creation of the world. One passage recorded in the Greek Magical Papyri says of Helios, "the earth flourished when you shone forth and made the plants fruitful when you laughed and brought to life the living creatures when you permitted."
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". The largely Attic literary sources used by scholars present ancient Greek religion with an Athenian bias, and, according to J. Burnet, "no Athenian could be expected to worship Helios or Selene, 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 considered Burnet's distinction to be artificial: "To believe in the existence of the gods involves acknowledgment through worship, as Laws 87 D, E shows" (note, p. 264).Aristophanes' Peace (406-413) contrasts the worship of Helios and Selene with that of the more essentially Greek Twelve Olympians, as the representative gods of the Achaemenid Persians (See also: Hvare-khshaeta, Mah); all the evidence shows that Helios and Selene were minor gods to the Greeks.
The island of Rhodes was an important cult center for Helios, one of the only places where he was worshipped as a major deity in ancient Greece. The worship of Helios at Rhodes included a ritual in which a quadriga, or chariot drawn by four horses, was driven over a precipice into the sea, in reenactment to the myth of Phaethon. Annual gymnastic tournaments were held in Helios' 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 Dorians also seem to have revered Helios, and to have hosted His primary cult on the mainland. The scattering of cults of the sun god in Sicyon, Argos, Ermioni, Epidaurus and Laconia, and his holy livestock flocks at Taenarum, seem to suggest that the deity was considerably important in Dorian religion, compared to other parts of ancient Greece. Additionally, it may have been the Dorians who brought his worship to Rhodes.
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 the sun, a phenomenon of the study Greeks termed meteora, clashed in the trial of Anaxagoras c. 450 BC, in which Anaxagoras asserted that the Sun was in fact a gigantic red-hot ball of metal. His trial was a forerunner of the culturally traumatic trial of Socrates for irreligion, in 399 BC.
In Homeric literature, Apollo was 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 being 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 and Phoebus (Greek , "bright"), the epithet most commonly given to Apollo, was later 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:
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 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.
By Late Antiquity, Helios had accumulated a number of religious, mythological, and literary elements from other deities, particularly Apollo and the Roman sun god Sol. In 274 AD, on December 25, the Roman Emperor Aurelian instituted an official state cult to Sol Invictus (or Helios Megistos, "Great Helios"). This new cult drew together imagery not only associated with Helios and Sol, but also a number of syncretic elements from other deities formerly recognized as distinct. Other syncretic materials from this period include an Orphic Hymn to Helios; the so-called Mithras Liturgy, where Helios is said to rule 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. Helios in these works is frequently equated not only with deities such as Mithras and Harpocrates, but even with the monotheistic Judaeo-Christian god.
The last pagan emperor of Rome, Julian, made Helios the primary deity of his revived pagan religion, which combined elements of Mithraism with Neoplatonism. For Julian, Helios was a triunity: The One, which governs the highest realm containing Plato's Forms, or intelligible gods; Helios-Mithras, the supreme god of the Intellectual realm; and the Sun, the physical manifestation of Helios in the Encosmic, or visible realm. Because the primary location of Helios in this scheme was the "middle" realm, Julian considered him to be a mediator and unifier not just of the three realms of being, but of all things (which was a concept likely imported from Mithraism, and also may have been influenced by the Christian idea of the Logos). Julian's theological conception of Helios has been described as "practically monotheistic", in contrast to earlier Neoplatonists like Iamblichus, though he also included the other traditional gods worshiped around the ancient Mediterranean as both distinct entities and also certain principles or manifestations that emanate from Helios.
A mosaic found in the Vatican Necropolis (Mausoleum M) depicts a figure very similar in style to Sol/Helios, crowned with solar rays and driving a solar chariot. Some scholars have interpreted this as a depiction of Christ, noting that Clement of Alexandria wrote of Christ driving his chariot across the sky. Some scholars doubt the Christian associations, or suggest that the figure is merely a non-religious representation of the sun.
Helios figured prominently in the Greek Magical Papyri, a collection of hymns, rituals, and magic spells used from the 2nd century BC to the 5th century AD all around the Greco-Roman world. In these mostly fragmentary texts, Helios is credited with a broad domain, being regarded as the creator of life, the lord of the heavens and the cosmos, and the god of the sea. He is said to take the form of 12 animals representing each hour of the day, a motif also connected with the 12 signs of the zodiac.
The Papyri often syncretize Helios with a variety of related deities. He is described as "seated on a lotus, decorated with rays", in the manner of Harpocrates, who was often depicted seated on a lotus flower, representing the rising sun. According to the Neoplatonist philosopher Iamblichus, "sitting on a lotus implies pre-eminence over the mud, without ever touching the mud, and also displays intellectual and empyrean leadership."
Helios is also assimilated with Mithras in some of the Papyri, as he was by Emperor Julian. The Mithras Liturgy combines them as Helios-Mithras, who is said to have revealed the secrets of immortality to the magician who wrote the text. Some of the texts describe Helios Mithras navigating the Sun's path not in a chariot but in a boat, an apparent identification with the Egyptian sun god Ra. Helios is also described as "restraining the serpent", likely a reference to Apophis, the serpent god who, in Egyptian myth, is said to attack Ra's ship during his nightly journey through the underworld.
In many of the Papyri, Helios is also strongly identified with Iao, a name derived from that of the Hebrew god Yahweh, and shares several of his titles including Sabaoth and Adonai. He is also assimilated as the Agathos Daemon (called "the Agathodaimon, the god of the gods"), who is also identified elsewhere in the texts as "the greatest god, lord Horus Harpokrates".
The Neoplatonist philosophers Proclus and Iamblichus attempted to interpret many of the syntheses found in the Greek Magical Papyri and other writings that regarded Helios as all-encompassing, with the attributes of many other divine entities. Proclus described Helios as a cosmic god consisting of many forms and traits. These are "coiled up" within his being, and are variously distributed to all that "participate in his nature", including angels, daemons, souls, animals, herbs, and stones. All of these things were important to the Neoplatonic practice of theurgy, magical rituals intended to invoke the gods in order to ultimately achieve union with them. Iamblichus noted that theurgy often involved the use of "stones, plants, animals, aromatic substances, and other such things holy and perfect and godlike." For theurgists, the elemental power of these items sacred to particular gods utilizes a kind of sympathetic magic.
The Etruscan god of the Sun, equivalent to Helios, was Usil. His name appears on the bronze liver of Piacenza, next to Tiur, the Moon. He appears, rising out of the sea, with a fireball in either outstretched hand, on an engraved Etruscan bronze mirror in late Archaic style, formerly on the Roman antiquities market. On Etruscan mirrors in Classical style, he appears with a halo.
Helios is also sometimes conflated in classical literature with the highest Olympian god, Zeus. Helios is referred either directly as Zeus' eye, or clearly implied to be. For instance, Hesiod effectively describes Zeus's eye as the Sun. This perception is possibly derived from earlier Proto-Indo-European religion, in which the Sun is believed to have been envisioned as the eye of *Dy?us P?at?r (see Hvare-khshaeta). An Orphic saying, supposedly given by an oracle of Apollo, goes: "Zeus, Hades, Helios-Dionysus, three gods in one godhead!" When quoting this in his Hymn to King Helios, Emperor Julian substituted the name Dionysus with Serapis, whose Egyptian counterpart Osiris was identified with Dionysus. On the basis of this oracle, Julian concluded that "among the intellectual gods, Helios and Zeus have a joint or rather a single sovereignty."
Diodorus Siculus of Sicily reported that the Chaldeans called Cronus (Saturn) by the name Helios, or the sun, and he explained that this was because Saturn was the most conspicuous of the planets.
Helios was envisioned as a god driving his chariot from east to west each day, pulled by four white horses. The chariot and his horses are mentioned by neither Homer nor Hesiod, the earliest work in which they're attested being the Homeric Hymn to Helios. Although the chariot is usually said to be the work of Hephaestus, Hyginus states that it was Helios himself who built it. 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. Almost immediately, Heracles realized his mistake and apologized profusely, in turn and equally courteous, Helios granted Heracles the golden cup which he used to sail across the sea every night, from the west to the east because he found Heracles' actions immensely bold. Heracles used this golden cup to reach Erytheia.
According to Pindar, when the gods divided the earth among them, Helios was absent, and thus he got no lot of land. He complained to Zeus about it, who offered to do the division of portions again, but Helios refused, for he had seen a new land emerging from the deep of the sea. Helios asked for this island to be given to him, and Zeus agreed. He named it Rhodes, after his lover Rhode, the daughter of Poseidon and Aphrodite. With Rhode Helios sired seven sons, the Heliadae, who became the first rulers of the island, as well as one daughter, Electryone.
The best known story about Helios is the one involving his son Phaethon. Phaethon was Helios' son by Clymene, or alternatively Rhode or Prote. In Ovid's account, Zeus' son Epaphus mocks Phaethon's claim that he is the son of the sun god; Clymene tells Phaethon to go to Helios himself, to ask for confirmation of his paternity. Helios warmly receives his son, and promises him on the river Styx any gift that he might ask; Phaethon asks for the privilege to drive Helios' chariot for a single day. Although Helios warns his son of how dangerous and disastrous this would be, he is unable to change Phaethon's mind or revoke his promise. Phaethon drives the chariot with catastrophic results; the earth burns when he travels too low, and freezes when he takes the chariot too high. Zeus, in order to save the world, strikes Phaethon with a lightning, killing him. Helios, in his sorrow, refuses to resume his job, but he returns to his tasks at the appeal of the other gods, and Zeus' threats. In one version of the myth, Helios conveyed his dead son to the stars, as a constellation.
When Hades abducted Persephone, Helios, who was characterized with the epithet Helios Panoptes, ("the all-seeing Sun"), was the one to witness it. When Persephone's mother Demeter came to him, asking if he had seen anything. Helios, sympathizing with her, told her in detail that it was Hades who, with Zeus' permission, had taken an unwilling Persephone to the Underworld to be his wife.
Aphrodite was married to Hephaestus, but she cheated on him with his brother Ares, god of war. Them Helios caught in the act, and informed Aphrodite's husband Hephaestus. Upon learning that, Hephaestus forged a net so thin it could hardly be seen, in order to ensnare them. He then announced that he was leaving for Lemnos. Uon hearing that, Ares went to Aphrodite and the two lovers made love. Helios informed Hephaestus again, who came into the room and trapped them in the net. He then called the other gods to witness the humiliating sight. For this, Aphrodite hated Helios and his race for all time.
For Helios' tale-telling, Aphrodite would have her revenge on him. She made him fall for a mortal princess named Leucothoe, forgetting his previous lover Clytia for her sake. Taking the form of her mother, Helios came into the girl's room where he dismissed her servants so he would be left alone with her, and then he took his real form, revealing himself to the girl. However, Clytia, still in love with him, told Leucothoe's father Orchamus of this affair, and he buried Leucothoe alive in the earth. Helios came too late to rescue her, so instead he poured nectar into the earth, and turned the dead Leucothoe into a frankincense tree. Clytia had hoped that this would get Helios back to her, but he wanted nothing to do with her, angered as he was for his love's death. Clytia stripped herself naked, accepting no food or drink, and sat on a rock for nine days, pining after him. Eventually she turned into the sun-gazing flower, the heliotrope, which follows Helios' movement in the sky, still in love with him.
Just like the Athenians had a story about how Athena and Poseidon fought over the patronage of Athens, the Corinthians had a similar story about Corinth. Helios and Poseidon clashed as to who would get to have the city. The Hecatoncheir Briareos was tasked to settle the dispute between the two gods; he awarded the Acrocorinth to Helios, while Poseidon was given the isthmus of Corinth.
In an Aesop fable, Helios and the north wind god Boreas argued about which one between them was the strongest god. They agreed that whoever was able to make a passing traveller remove his cloak would be declared the winner. Boreas was the one to try his luck first; but no matter how hard he blowed, he couldn't remove the man's cloak, instead making him wrap his cloak around him even tighter. Helios shone bright then, and the traveller, overcome with the heat, removed his cloak, giving him the victory. The moral is that persuasion is better than force.
It was said by Apollodorus that during the battle of the giants against the gods, the giant Alcyoneus stole Helios' cattle from Erytheia, or alternatively, that it was Alcyoneus' very theft of the cattle that started the war. Because Gaia learned of the prophecy that the giants would perish at the hand of a mortal, Gaia sought to find a herb that would protect them; thus Zeus ordered Helios, as well as his sisters Selene (Moon) and Eos (Dawn) not to shine, and harvested all of the plant for himself. One of the giants, Picolous, fled the battle against Zeus; he went to Aeaea, the island where Helios' daughter Circe lived. He attempted to chase Circe away, only to be killed by Helios, who defended his daughter. From the blood of the giant a plant was sprang, moly, named thus from the battle (malos).
By the Oceanid Perse, Helios became the father of Aeetes, Circe, Perses, and Pasiphae. As father of Aeetes, Helios was also the grandfather of Medea and would play a significant in Euripides' rendition of her fate in Corinth, offering her a chariot pulled by dragons when she has to escape after murdering her own children to punish her impious husband Jason.
After Orion was blinded by King Oenopion for attacking his daughter Merope, he was given a guide, Cedalion, from the god Hephaestus to guide him. Orion with Cedalion on his shoulders travelled to the east, where he met Helios. Helios then healed Orion's eyes, restoring his eyesight.
Aelian wrote that Nerites was the son of the sea god Nereus and the Oceanid Doris. In the version where Nerites became the lover of Poseidon, it is said that Helios turned him into a shellfish, for reasons unknown to Aelian's sources, who theorized that perhaps Helios was somehow offended.
When the brothers Thyestes and Atreus fought over which would get to rule Mycenae, following the death of the previous king, Eurystheus, Atreus suggested that whoever prossessed of a splendid golden ram would be declared king. Unbeknowst to Atreus, his unfaithful wife Aerope had given Thyestes the ram, and thus Thyestes became king. Zeus sent Hermes to Atreus, telling Atreus to get Thyestes to agree that should the sun rise in the west and set in the east, the kingship would be given to Atreus. Thyestes agreed, and Helios indeed rose where he usually set, and set where he usually rose, not standing the unfairness of Thyestes' actions. According to Plato, Helios at first used to rise in the west and set in the east, and only changed that after the incident of the golden ram.
During Odysseus' journey to get back home, he arrived at the island of Circe, who warned him not to touch Helios' sacred cows once he reached Thrinacia, the sun god's sacred island, where the cattle was kept:
You will now come to the Thrinacian island, and here you will see many herds of cattle and flocks of sheep belonging to the sun-god. There will be seven herds of cattle and seven flocks of sheep, with fifty heads in each flock. They do not breed, nor do they become fewer in number, and they are tended by the goddesses Phaethusa and Lampetia, who are children of the sun-god Hyperion by Neaera. Their mother when she had borne them and had done suckling them sent them to the Thrinacian island, which was a long way off, to live there and look after their father's flocks and herds.
Though Odysseus warns his men, when supplies run short they impiously kill and eat some of the cattle of the Sun. The guardians of the island, Helios' daughters, tell their father about this. Helios appeals to Zeus telling him to dispose of Odysseus' men, or he will go in the Undeworld and shine among the dead instead. Zeus destroys the ship with his lightning bolt, killing all the men except for Odysseus.
|Athena||o The Corybantes||Rhodos, nymph||o The Heliadae||Ephyra (Oceanid)||o Aeëtes|
|Aegle, a Naiad||o The Charites||1. Tenages||Antiope||o Aeëtes|
|1. Aglaea "splendor"||2. Macareus||o Aloeus|
|2. Euphrosyne "mirth"||3. Actis||Crete||o Pasiphaë|
|3. Thalia "flourishing"||4. Triopas||Gaia||o Bisaltes|
|Clymene (Oceanid)||o The Heliades||5. Candalus||Selene||o The Horae (possibly)|
|1. Aetheria||6. Ochimus||Leucothoe||o Thersanon|
|2. Helia||7. Cercaphus||Nausidame||o Augeas, one of the Argonauts|
|3. Merope||8. Auges||Hyrmine||o Augeas|
|4. Phoebe||9. Thrinax||Unknown woman||o Aegiale|
|5. Dioxippe||o Electryone||Unknown woman||o Aithon|
|o Phaëton||Perse (Oceanid)||o Aega||Unknown woman||o Aix,|
|o Astris||o Aeëtes||Unknown woman||o Aloeus,|
|o Lampetia||o Perses||Unknown woman||o Camirus,|
|Rhode||o Phaethon||o Circe||Unknown woman||o Ichnaea|
|Prote (Nereid)||o Pasiphaë||Unknown woman||o Mausolus|
|Neaera, a nymph||o Phaethusa||Asterope||o Aeëtes||Unknown woman||o Phorbas|
|o Lampetia||o Circe||Unknown woman||o Sterope|
|Ocyrrhoe (Oceanid)||o Phasis|
Some lists, cited by Hyginus, of the names of horses that pulled Helios' chariot, are as follows. Scholarship acknowledges that, despite differences between the lists, the names of the horses always seem to refer to fire, flame, light and other luminous qualities.