Classical Mythology: From Dusk to Dawn: The Sisters of Helius

From Dusk to Dawn: The Sisters of Helius

In addition to their son Helius, the Titans Theia and Hyperion had two daughters: Selene and Eos. Selene, the white-armed goddess of the moon, brought a great gift from heaven to Earth: the light of the moon that shone through the darkness of night. Like her brother, Selene drove a chariot drawn by gleaming horses, enveloping Earth with the glow of her great beauty.

Few tales are told of Selene. The god Pan once seduced her with the offer of a beautiful fleece. At another time, Zeus gave Selene a daughter, a stunning beauty named Pandia. But the affairs with both Pan and Zeus were fleeting.

Selene fell deeply in love with handsome Endymion, the king of Elis, in southern Greece. Some say she had 50 daughters by him. But when Zeus offered Endymion the rare opportunity to determine his own fate, the vain king foolishly chose to preserve his own beauty by sleeping forever without ever aging a day. Selene was alone once more.

The sister of Helius and Selene was the rosy-armed goddess of dawn, Eos. The goddess of dawn arose each morning from a golden throne in her palace in the east to announce the coming of her brother, Helius. Despite her name, however, Eos personified the light of day, not merely the light of morning. For Eos rode with her brother all day in the chariot of the sun.

Eos fell in love with Astraeus (whose name means “Starry”)—a son of Crius, a Titan, and Eurybia, a daughter of Pontus and Gaia. The mating of this heavenly pair produced the winds: Zephyrus (west), Boreas (north), and Notus (south). Through this coupling also came Eosphorus (the Dawn Star) as well as all the stars that light the heavens.

Eos also had an ill-advised affair with Ares, the god of war. Jealous Aphrodite punished Eos by making her fall in love with a series of beautiful young men, most of whom did not return her love. (For the story of one of these loves, Cephalus, see Not in Our Stars: Tragic Heroes and Their Fates.)

The most storied of her lovers was Tithonus, a brother of Laomedon, king of Troy. Smitten with Tithonus, Eos petitioned Zeus to make him immortal. When the king of gods granted her request, Eos eagerly carried him off to her palace. But foolishly, Eos had forgotten to ask Zeus to make her lover ageless as well as immortal. As her lover's hair started to turn gray, Eos—though she continued to pamper Tithonus and feed him on ambrosia—stopped sharing her bed with him. In time, of course, Tithonus became a wrinkled, endlessly babbling, and nearly immobile old man. Unable to bear his company, Eos locked him in a room in her palace forever.

Dark Goddesses: Hecate and Styx

Hecate, once a powerful and benevolent goddess, underwent one of the most mysterious transformations in all of classical mythology. As time passed, she became increasingly identified with the darkness of the Underworld and the art of sorcery.

Hecate was the daughter of Perses, a brother of Astraeus, and Asteria, a sister of Leto. In his Theogony—one of the oldest surviving sources of classical mythology—Hesiod depicted Hecate quite rosily. Hesiod insisted that though Zeus defeated and imprisoned most of the other Titans, he honored Hecate greatly. Indeed, Zeus gave her a share of divine power over the earth, the sea, and the sky.

Mortals who found her favor received great blessings, for Hecate had great power to assist men—when she wanted to do so. She could, for example:

  • Exponentially expand the herds of cattle, goats, and sheep for farmers who worshipped her
  • Bestow abundant catches on fishers who prayed to her
  • Grant victory and glory to the soldiers and athletes she preferred

Yet all this changed and Hecate became a force of darkness—though no one ever explained how or why. The change may have come after she helped the goddess Demeter find her lost daughter Persephone. Some storytellers claim that Hecate served as an attendant and follower of Persephone, who became the Queen of the Underworld following her abduction.

In any case, later mythmakers almost always depicted Hecate in her darker, more terrible aspects. A goddess of the night, Hecate became the patron of sorcery. After coming to a crossroads or a graveyard—the favorite haunts of the goddess—sorceresses and sorcerers would call out her name in weaving a spell. With a band of hellhounds baying beside her, Hecate would approach bearing a torch. Only if the offerings made to her met with her liking would the sorcery take hold.

What a Life!

Woe to the immortal who swore a false oath to Styx. If an Olympian lied while swearing to Styx, he or she would fall into a breathless coma for at least a year—unable to eat, drink, or speak. When the immortal awoke, the other Olympians would treat him or her as an outcast for another nine years. The liar would be unwelcome to meet, mingle, or dine with the other immortals.

Those who wished to curse an enemy would also invoke the name of Hecate. Seeking vengeance, a person might, for example, write a curse out on lead foil, address it to Hecate, roll it up, and drop it down a well. (Archeologists have actually discovered such “curse tablets” in excavations of ancient wells.)

Another goddess of the Underworld was Styx, the goddess of the main river of Hades. A daughter of Oceanus and Tethys, Styx had four sons with Pallas, a brother of Astraeus and Perses. These sons were the personified abstractions:

  • Zelus (Zeal)
  • Nike (Victory)
  • Cratus (Strength)
  • Bia (Force)

During the Olympian war against the Titans, Styx was the first of the minor deities to commit herself and her four sons to the side of Zeus and his siblings. Zeus rewarded her by promising to keep her sons—Zeal, Victory, Strength, and Force—by his side at all times. He then added to the honor by making all Olympians swear their greatest oaths to Styx.

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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Classical Mythology © 2004 by Kevin Osborn and Dana L. Burgess, Ph.D.. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

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