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What Was Helios the God Of?

The Greek god of the sun might not be who you’re thinking of – Helios is one of the most forgotten gods of the pantheon!

Helios was the Greek god of the sun. One of the younger Titans, he sided with Zeus during his rebellion and was thus allowed to keep his place under the new regime.

While sun gods are important in many religions, however, Helios is rarely mentioned among the central gods of Greek mythology. He appears as a character in a good number of stories, particularly from earlier eras, but many are no longer associated with him.

Because of naming and the relative importance of different deities, Helios was often conflated with Apollo. The god of music and poetry took on aspects of the sun god until Helios was made a more minor character.

Helios and the Sun

Helios was the Greek god of the sun. Every day he drove his bright chariot across the sky, sinking beneath the Western horizon at night.

The movement of Helios across the sky was preceded by his sister Eos, the goddess of the dawn. He was followed by their other sister Selene, who drove the moon along its nighttime path.

Helios was not one of the Olympian gods, however. His parents had both been Titans.

When Zeus and his siblings fought against the older gods, Helios and his sisters joined them. This earned them a place among the new pantheon, although they were still named as Titans.

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While Helios was welcomed by the gods of Olympus, he did not live among them. He could not make his home on Mount Olympus because his shining light would have kept the other gods from sleeping.

Instead, Helios lived in a golden palace beyond the river Oceanus. He rested there at night before returning to the Eastern edge of the world to begin his ride across the sky again.

Inside his gleaming palace, Helios was attended to by the Horae, or Seasons. The divisions of time that they represented were marked by the passage of Helios across the sky.

He was usually described in terms as golden as his palace as well. He had shining eyes, lustrous golden hair, and a crown of sun rays radiating from his head.

Unlike many of the Titans who lived among the Olympians, Helios played an important role in many myths and legends. This most often was due to the fact that he could see everything that happened on earth and Mount Olympus from his position in the sky.

When Persephone was abducted, for example, only Helios had seen Hades come up from beneath the earth and drag her away. Helios also told Hephaestus about the affair between Aphrodite and Ares because he had witnessed the god of war coming in and out of the smith’s Olympian palace.

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In another story, Helios was responsible for one of the worst calamities to befall the hero Odysseus. When the Ithacan king’s men disobeyed his orders and slaughtered some of the sun god’s sacred cattle, Helios demanded that Zeus take revenge on his behalf.

Helios was able to make such a demand, leading Zeus to sink the ship and kill the entire crew, because his role as the god of the sun gave him great power. If Zeus did not act for him, Helios threatened to shine his light into the underworld instead of on the surface of the earth.

My Modern Interpretation

Helios was more prominent in many Greek myths than some of the other remaining Titan gods. Despite this, however, he is often forgotten among the pantheon.

One reason Helios is easily ignored is that in later eras he was often conflated with the god Apollo. Zeus’s son was a god of music and poetry but was also associated with light.

One of Apollo’s common epithets was Phoebus, which meant “shining” or “bright.” This name linked Apollo to the sun, but an epithet of Helios took the connection even further.

In one play he was called Apollon. In the context of the scene it meant “destroyer,” but audiences and later readers made a more literal connection between the two gods.

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By the Hellenistic era, therefore, Apollo was closely connected to the sun. No such link had existed in the Homeric era, but by the 4th century BC the two gods were virtually interchangeable.

The Greeks seem to have maintained some distinction between the two gods, viewing them as similar but individual. Common thought held that Apollo was a master of the sun but Helios, who has a Titan was lower-ranking than the Olympian, did the work of driving the chariot itself.

A similar transformation occurred between Artemis and Selene. Because Apollo and his sister were seen as complementary opposites, she became associated with the moon.

Apollo and Artemis both had important roles on earth and on Mount Olympus, so neither could be tied to the sun or moon as it moved through the sky. They were still thought to embody day and night, however.

While Helios and Selene maintained there own legends and duties, by the 1st century CE they seem to have become much less important. One writer, for example, referred to the sun god as “Helios whom he also addressed as Apollo,” insinuating that the two names referred to the same being.

One of the sun god’s most famous stories is that of his son Phaethon, who tried to drive his father’s chariot and moved so erratically that Zeus was forced to strike him down before he burned the earth. In some later texts Phaethon is called the son of Apollo instead, implying that the chariot belonged to the Olympian.

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Even among listings of the Titans, Helios is sometimes overlooked. Once more, this is due to the epithets used to describe him.

Helios was sometimes called Helios Hyperion in reference to his father. Some writers, both Greek and from later eras, sometimes took this to mean that the two names referred to the same individual.

Helios was seen as both an aspect of Hyperion and as an aspect of or servant to Apollo. This continued into the Roman era when his Latin counterpart, Sol, was similarly conflated with Apollo.

Thus, while Helios appears in famous stories like the Odyssey and the abduction of Persephone, he is not generally named among the most important or well-known gods of the Greek pantheon.

In Summary

Helios was a Titan god of the sun. While his father, a god of light, was imprisoned after the Titanomachy, Helios and his sisters sided with Zeus and remained free.

Each day, the golden god drove his chariot across the sky, giving light to the world below. His sisters, Eos (the dawn) and Selene (the moon) were also deities of light from the sky.

While Helios appeared in many well-known myths, similar epithets led to him being conflated with Apollo. In later eras he was considered to be a servant or aspect of the more powerful Olympian.

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My name is Mike and for as long as I can remember (too long!) I have been in love with all things related to Mythology. I am the owner and chief researcher at this site. My work has also been published on Buzzfeed and most recently in Time magazine. Please like and share this article if you found it useful.

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