Classical Mythology: Friends, Fairies, and Fairy Tale Monsters

Friends, Fairies, and Fairy Tale Monsters

Though the 12 gods and goddesses quickly came to dominate Mount Olympus (while solitary Hades ruled the Underworld), there were other immortals who shared their world, if not their power. Some were gods and goddesses in their own right—but with the rise of Zeus and company, they lost some of their power and influence.

Far more menacing among the other primordial creatures were the breeds of Giants and other monsters. These monstrous creatures would not only terrorize the mortals on Earth, but would threaten to topple the Olympians from heaven. Though Zeus—the god who imposed a lasting order on chaos—defeated all challenges to his authority, even he needed a hand to overcome his monstrous enemies.

Children of Lesser Gods

Under Zeus, Olympus quickly set up its starting lineup of gods:

  • Zeus
  • Hera
  • Poseidon
  • Demeter
  • Hestia
  • Athena
  • Hephaestus
  • Aphrodite
  • Ares
  • Artemis
  • Apollo
  • Hermes

Though these 12, along with Hades in the Underworld, were the mightiest of the gods, they were not the only gods. Indeed, with the ascent of Dionysus (see Eat, Drink, and Be Merry: Dionysus), many storytellers would relegate Hestia to the bench, her place taken by this young god of wine and revelry. Most of the remaining gods, however, predated the Olympians. By winning favor with Zeus, these older gods and goddesses had maintained their divine powers and some share in the rule of the universe.

Here Comes the Sun King

One of the greatest of these “lesser” gods was Helius, the indefatigable giver of light. The god of the sun, Helius was the son of the Titans Hyperion and Theia, early deities of sun and light themselves.

Helius cut quite a dashing figure as he drove the four magnificent horses that pulled his chariot of the sun. Heralded and accompanied by his sister, Eos (Dawn), golden-helmeted Helius would each day emerge in the east, race across the sky, and disappear as he passed the westernmost horizon. During the night, he would make his way back east unseen to reemerge the next morning. Since the world was not round in those days, Helius rode the river Oceanus around the perimeter of the earth in a gargantuan golden cup.

Zeus greatly respected Helius, who had steadfastly maintained neutrality during the war between the Titans and the Olympians (see Tales of the Titanic). Indeed, Zeus might have included him in the division of the universe among the gods, but Helius was driving his golden chariot when the gods drew lots.

Helius didn't completely miss out, though. When he saw an island rising in the Aegean Sea and expressed interest in it, Zeus gladly yielded the piece of land to him. Helius thus became the patron of the island of Rhodes. The people of the island later erected an enormous statue of Helius overlooking the harbor: the famed “Colossus of Rhodes.”

Later, in a dispute with Poseidon that Briareus (one of the Hundred-Handed Giants) moderated, Helius also gained rights to all of Corinth except the isthmus.

What a Life!

Aphrodite later avenged herself by making Helius fall in love with the mortal Leucothoe. But the nymph Clytie, once Helius's lover, jealously told Leucothoe's father—Orchamus, king of Persia—of the affair. Orchamus angrily buried his daughter alive, but Helius, torn with grief, transformed her into a frankincense bush. Helius detested Clytie for her treachery. She died of longing for Helius … and turned into the heliotrope, a flower that each day turns its head to follow the sun as it passes across the sky.

With his fierce gaze, Helius saw everything that happened on Earth during the day. The all-seeing sun god was not very discreet, either: It was he who told Hephaestus that his wife Aphrodite was having an affair with Ares (see The A Team: Olympians All)—and told Demeter that Hades had stolen her daughter Persephone (see What the Hell? Adventures in the Underworld). Since no one could hide from the sun's gaze, mortals often swore oaths by him, knowing that if they broke their vows, Helius would see it.

Helius had several children who would figure prominently in later myths. He had seven sons by Poseidon's daughter Rhode, the nymph of his island. His wife Perse (or Perseis), one of the Oceanids, had several children, including:

Finally, Helius also had a son by the Oceanid Clymene: the tragic Phaethon, who found the chariot of the sun far too much to handle (see Not in Our Stars: Tragic Heroes and Their Fates).

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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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