Artwork of the time often shows Helios to be wearing a shining aureole, or halo, of the sun upon his head. He had piercing eyes and long, curly hair.
The Titan had several wives and consorts. Among them were his sister, Selene, and Perse, an Oceanid.
Children of Helios
The All Seeing Eye
It is not uncommon so see Helios given the epitaph Panoptes, or all-seeing, as the Greeks believed that he could witness anything in the heavens or on earth.
According to the myth about Persephone’s abduction by Hades, it was Helios who saw the crime occur. When Demeter, Persephone’s mother, demanded to know the whereabout of her daughter, the Titan was able to inform her that Hades had kidnapped the goddess.
Another tale illustrating his ability describes Helios witnessing an affair between Aphrodite and Ares. He reported this to Hephaestus, Aphrodite’s husband, and helped set a trap to catch the two lovers. Caught in the act, the gods then banished Ares from Olympus for his crime.
This ability would have made him a valuable friend to keep and a frightening enemy to have.
As the sun god, Helios would make a daily journey across the sky. Four horses, Aethon, Pyrois, Phlegon and Eous, drew his chariot.
Each morning, his sister, Eos, would paint the dawn sky with her fingers and pull the misty curtain, through which Helios would appear, aside. He would drive his blazing chariot across the heavens until his travels were complete. At this time, he would he would hide in a golden cup that fell to earth while his sister, Eos, would begin her nightly trek.
Meeting with Hercules
Legend has it that one day while lost in his quest to find the island of Erythia, Hercules grew frustrated and shot an arrow towards the sun. Upon realizing what he had done, he apologized to the Titan. Helios, however, was so taken with the boldness of this action that he presented Hercules with his golden cup. Hercules was then able to use this cup to reach his destination.
Helios Appearance in The Odyssey
Helios has a small but notable role in the Odyssey. When Odysseus and his men land on Thrinacia, one of the islands dedicated to the sun god, Odysseus warns them not to touch any of Helios’ cattle or sheep that graze on the land. They do not heed this warning and, in his absence, slaughter some of the best of the animals.
Alerted to this by one of his daughters, Helios appeals to Zeus for revenge. He threatens to take the sun and shine it onto the dead of the Underworld, instead of on the earth, if the men’s act goes unpunished. Zeus then strikes the crew’s ship with a lightning bolt, killing everyone except for Odysseus.
The island of Rhodes, believed to have been shaped by Helios, is a place where people honored him as an important deity. Legend has it that when the island first came into being, it was muddy and uninhabitable. Helios dried the land and filled it with life, including seven of his sons known as Heliadae. Because of Helios’ life-giving intervention, some residents of the island worshiped him, and the island became sacred to Helios.
The Dorians, one of the four major ethnic groups of Greece at the time, also seemed to have celebrated Helios more than many Greeks of the era. There is even speculation that they were the people who brought the worship of the sun god to Rhodes.
Despite having what some historians believe to be a significant place in the Greeks’ hearts, Helios did not play a massive part in their mythology, and it seems that he was eventually replaced by Apollo. Nevertheless, his image as the handsome Titan driving a blazing chariot pulled through the sky by his fire-breathing steeds lives on to this day.
Siblings: Selene and Eos
Known wives/consorts: Selene, Perse, Clymene, Aegle, Neaera, Rhodos, Ocyrrhoe, Leucothoe, Nausidame, and Gaia
Known as: the Sun God
Roman equivalent: Sol
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