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Personification of the Sun
Bust of the sun-god Helios. 2nd cent. A.D.jpg
Helios on an antique fresco from Pompeii
Major cult center Rhodes, Corinthia
Abode Sky
Planet Sun
Animals Horse, rooster, wolf, cattle
Symbol Sun, chariot, horses, aureole, whip, heliotropium, globe, cornucopia, ripened fruit
Tree Frankincense, poplar
Day Sunday (hēméra Hēlíou)
Mount A chariot driven by four white horses
Gender Male
Festivals Haleia
Personal information
Consort Many including: Clymene, Clytie, Perse, Rhodos, and Leucothea
Children Achelous, Acheron, Actis, Aeëtes, Aex, Aegiale, Aegle, Aetheria, Aethon, Aloeus, Astris, Augeas, Bisaltes, Candalus, Cercaphus, the Charites, Chrysus, Cheimon, Circe, Clymenus, the Corybantes, Cos, Dioxippe, Dirce, Eiar, Electryone, Helia, Hemera, Ichnaea, Lampetia, Lelex, Macareus, Mausolus, Merope, Ochimus, Pasiphaë, Perses, Phaethon, Phaethusa, Phasis, Phoebe, Phorbas, Phthinoporon, Sterope, Tenages, Theros, Thersanon and Triopas
Parents Hyperion and Theia
Siblings Selene and Eos
Roman equivalent Sol, Sol Invictus
Norse equivalent Sól
Etruscan equivalent Usil
Hinduism equivalent Surya
Canaanite equivalent Shapash
Mesopotamian equivalent Utu
Egyptian equivalent Ra
Hans Rathausky - Helios et Selene
Helios and Selene, by Johann Rathausky, fountain group statue in Opatija, Croatia.

Helios (Ancient Greek: Ἥλιος, Hēlios; Ἠέλιος in Homeric Greek) is the god of the Sun in Greek mythology. He is often thought to be the personification of the Sun itself.

He is the son of the Titans Hyperion and Theia. He is the brother of Selene, goddess of the Moon, and Eos, goddess of the dawn. During the Hellenistic period, particularly the 3rd Century BCE, he became more and more identified with Apollo, the god of light, music and prophecy. Helios' equivalent in Roman mythology was Sol.

Helios is 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 the Roman period. The Roman Emperor Julian made Helios the central divinit in the 4th century AD.

In ancient times he was worshipped in several places of ancient Greece, though his major cult centers were the island of Rhodes, of which he was patron god, Corinth and the greater Corinthia region. The Colossus of Rhodes, a gigantic statue of the god, adorned the port of Rhodes until it was destroyed in an earthquake, thereupon it was not built again.


God of the Sun

Heracles on the sea in the bowl of Helios
Helios's cup with Heracles in it, Rome, Museo Gregoriano Etrusco, n. 205336.

Helios was envisioned as a god driving his chariot from east to west each day, pulled by four white horses. In the ancient world people were not too troubled over how his chariot flew through the sky, as they did not envision the Earth as a spherical object, so Helios would not be travelling around a globe in an orbit; rather he crossed the sky from east to west each morning in a linear direction.

In the extreme east and west lived people who tended to his horses in their stalls, people for whom summer and heat were perpetual and ripeful. The sun god is described as being "tireless in his journeys" as he repeats the same process day after day for an eternity.

On several instances in mythology the normal solar schedule is disrupted.

In the Iliad Hera who supports the Greeks, makes him set earlier than usual during battle, and later, after her son Memnon was killed, she made him downcast, causing his light to fade, so she could be able to freely steal her son's body undetected by the armies. It was said that summer days are longer due to Helios often stopping his chariot mid-air to watch from above nymphs dancing during the summer, and sometimes he is late to rise. If the other gods wish so, Helios can be hastened on his daily course when they wish it to be night.

While Heracles was travelling to Erytheia to retrieve the cattle of Geryon for his tenth labour, 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, and after he had taken Geryon's cattle, returned it back to its owner.

Awarding of Rhodes

Rhodos tetradrachm Helios
Silver tetradrachm of Rhodes showing Helios and a rose (205-190 BC, 13.48 g)

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 the offer, for he had seen a new land emerging from the deep of the sea; a rich, productive land for humans and good for cattle too. Helios asked for this island to be given to him, and Zeus agreed to it. An alternative version says it was Helios himself who made the island rise from the sea. He named it Rhodes, after his lover Rhode (the daughter of Poseidon and Aphrodite or Amphitrite), and it became the god's sacred island, where he was honoured above all other gods.


Helios' most notable role in Greek mythology is the story of his mortal son Phaethon who asked his father for a favour; Helios agreed, but then Phaethon asked for the privilege to drive his four-horse fiery chariot across the skies for a single day. Although Helios warned his son again and again against this choice, explaining to him the dangers of such a journey that no other god but him was capable to bring about, Phaethon was hard to deter, and thus Helios was forced to hand him the reins. As expected, the ride was disastrous and Zeus struck the youth with one of his lightning bolts to stop him from burning or freezing the earth beyond salvation.

The Watchman


Helios saw and stood witness to everything that happened underneath him where his light shone. When Hades abducted Persephone, Helios, was the only one to witness it. Persephone's mother Demeter, looked far and wide in search of her daughter, and came to him, and asked him if he had seen anything. Helios, sympathizing with her grief, told her in detail that it was Hades who, with Zeus' permission, had taken an unwilling Persephone to the Underworld to be his wife and queen.

Leucothoe and Clytie

Helios, painting on a terracotta disk, 480 BC, Agora Museum Athens, 080646
Helios the rising Sun, painting on a terracotta disk, 480 BC, Agora Museum Athens

Aphrodite made Helios fall for a mortal princess named Leucothoe, forgetting his previous lover nymph Clytie. Helios would watch Leucothoe from above, even making the winter days longer so he could have more time looking at her. Taking the form of her mother Eurynome, Helios entered their palace with no problem and came into the girl's room where he dismissed her servants so he would be left alone with her, using the excuse of wanting to entrust a secret to his "daughter". There he took his real form, revealing himself to the girl.

However, Clytie, still in love with him, informed Leucothoe's father Orchamus of this affair, and he buried Leucothoe alive in the earth. Helios came too late to rescue her, his grief over her death compared to the one he had over Phaethon's fiery end, and could not revive her, so instead he poured nectar into the earth, and turned the dead Leucothoe into a frankincense tree, so that she could still breathe air instead of rotting beneath the soil. Clytie had hoped that this would get Helios back to her, but he wanted nothing to do with her, angered about the role she played in his love's death, and went on his way. Clytie then sat on a rock for nine days, accepting no food or drink, and pining after him; he never looked back at her. Eventually she turned into a purple, sun-gazing flower, the heliotrope, which follows Helios' movement in the sky, still in love with him; her form much changed, her love unchanged.

Clytie's herb has been identified with the purple heliotropium, however people from the Middle Ages onwards have supplanted it with the yellow sunflower in retellings, commentaries and artwork, even though in the story Ovid describes it as purple, or "like a violet". Moreover, sunflowers are native to North America, not Greece or Italy, so it is unlikely ancient writers would have been familiar with it.

Consorts and children

The god Helios is the head of a large family. Traditionally the Oceanid nymph Perse was seen as the sun god's wife by whom he had various children. However he is also stated to have married other women like Rhodos in the Rhodian tradition by whom he had seven sons.

Consort Children Consort Children Consort Children
Athena • The Corybantes Rhodos
(a nymph)
• The Heliadae Ephyra
(an Oceanid)
• Aeëtes
(a Naiad)
The Charites 1. Tenages Antiope • Aeëtes
1. Aglaea
2. Macareus • Aloeus
2. Euphrosyne
3. Actis Crete Pasiphaë
3. Thalia
4. Triopas Gaia • Bisaltes
(an Oceanid)
• The Heliades 5. Candalus • Achelous
1. Aetheria 6. Ochimus Hyrmine or • Augeas
2. Helia 7. Cercaphus Iphiboe or
3. Merope 8. Auges Nausidame
4. Phoebe 9. Thrinax Demeter or • Acheron
5. Dioxippe • Electryone Gaia
• Phaethon Perse
(an Oceanid)
Calypso unknown woman • Aethon
• Astris • Aeëtes unknown woman • Aix
• Lampetia • Perses unknown woman • Aloeus
(a Naiad)
• Phaethon Circe unknown woman • Camirus
(a Nereid)
Pasiphaë unknown woman • Ichnaea
• The Heliades • Aloeus unknown woman • Mausolus
(perhaps an
• Phaethusa Asterope • Aeëtes unknown woman • Phorbas
• Lampetia Circe unknown woman • Sterope
(an Oceanid)
• Phasis Ceto
(an Oceanid)
• Astris unknown woman Eos
Leda Helen Leucothoe or • Thersanon unknown woman Selene
(an Oceanid)
No known offspring Leucothea unknown woman Hemera
Selene • The Horae
unknown woman Cronus
unknown woman • Dirce
unknown woman • Aeëtes unknown woman • Clymenus unknown woman • Lelex
• Perses unknown woman • Chrysus unknown woman • Aegiale
unknown woman • Cos

Other functions

Helios is a god who both sees and hears everything, who can spy among gods and mortal men alike. Gods were often called upon by the Greeks when an oath was sworn; Helios is among the three deities (the other two being Zeus and Gaia) to be invoked in the Iliad to witness the truce between Greeks and Trojans. Due to his job as sun in the sky, he was in the position of witnessing everything on earth with his infallible eye, and it is thus fitting that he was widely invoked, along with Zeus, in oath-taking, making sure there was no escape if the oath was violated.


One of the craters of Hyperion, a moon of Saturn, is named after Helios.

The chemical element Helium, a colorless, odorless, tasteless, non-toxic gas, first in the noble gas group in the periodic table, was named after Helios by Norman Lockyer and Edward Frankland, as it was first observed in the spectrum of the chromosphere of the Sun. Helium makes up for about 25% of the Sun's mass.

Helius is a genus of crane fly in the family Limoniidae that shares its name with the god.

A pair of probes that were launched into heliocentric orbit by NASA to study solar processes were called Helios A and Helios B after this god.

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