In an article from 1939; Apollo and Sol in the Latin Poets of the First Century B.C. Joseph E. Fontenrose makes the following comments;
- Firstly; “All the Latin poets of the first century B .C., distinguish clearly between Apollo and Sol. It is their practice to call both gods Phoebus, and they definitely link Diana with Luna through the medium of Hecate; but wherever the traditional Apollo enters in, he is never connected in any way with the sun, nor is Sol ever endowed with Apolline functions and attributes.”
- Later in the article; “ Sol and Luna refuse to attend the wedding-feast, though all other gods do, including Apollo… Apparently, the sun and moon have a grudge against Peleus or against both Peleus and Thetis. It is a story known to Catullus, but lost to us.”
What did Helius and Selene find so disgusting and scornful of the union of Peleus and Thetis? I suggest several reasons below.
#1 According to Hesiod, to Nereus and his wife were born in the barren sea fifty daughters greatly beautiful even among goddesses including “Ploto and Eukrante and Amphitrite and Sao, Eudora and Thetis…” (Theogony 240) Thetis’ father Nereus was the proverbial “Old Man of the Sea” and son of Pontus the primordial sea. Jenny Strauss Clay and others suggest that he might be “a unique instance of male parthenogenesis.” (The Generation of Monsters in Hesiod) The uniqueness of Nereus birth is might pre-figure the uniqueness of Thetis’ family; for most of the divine monsters in Greek Mythology are descended from Pontus. In the same source Clay states the Pontides; “can be considered anti-gods.”
What I am suggesting here is that Helius and Selene objected to the union of Peleus and Thetis because the brides’ family, the Pontides were not “the right sort of people”. The Olympians and Titans were Ouraniones, descendants of Ouranus; the primordial god of the sky. Clay suggest that through “intermarriage, the Pontides are rapidly integrated into the Ouranid clan.” But the intermarriage initially consists of only the marriages of Eos and her father-in-law the Titan Crius who marry descendants of Pontus. (Both Crius and his son seem to disappear after the Titanomachy.) Those marriages resulted in Zeus’ horses and his first allies; the sterile children of Styx. The rapid part of intermarriage would consist of Poseidon taking Nereid mates to add legitimacy to his lordship over the sea. In fact for all the talk of the Poseidon and Zeus competing for Thetis’s hand, none of the other deathless gods who lived upon Olympus chose a lover or a bride from this bevy of prophetic beauties. Possibly, Helios and Selene as the most “skyish” of the Ouraniones most represent this racial bias against the children of Pontus.
#2 But maybe Helius distaste for Nereus brood is more personal than racial. According to Aelian, (On Animals 14. 28 ff). To Nereus and Doris were born 50 daughters; the Nereids, and one son; Nerites. Nerites was the most beautiful of men and gods. He served as Poseidon’s charioteer. When he drove his chariot over the waves, great monsters of the deep, dolphins and sons of Triton, sprang up from the deep, galloping and dancing alongside the chariot. His escort would be promptly left behind as over the smooth-spread waves coursed his cerulean steeds. His sisters sported on the peaceful water while he raced across the wine red sea driving a team of four steeds yoked together. His abilities as a charioteer were so great that Helios came to resent the swiftness of the boy and transformed his body into the spiral shell. Aelian makes it clear he is not speculating any further on this myth
#3 Maybe Helius’ objection wasn’t to the Pontides’ wedding but rather the horror of mésalliance. As Calypso so elegantly stated in Homer, Odyssey 5. 118;" You are merciless, you gods, resentful beyond all other beings; you are jealous if without disguise a goddess makes a man her bedfellow, her beloved husband.” The nymph goes on to relate how the gods sent Artemis to slay Helios’ mortal brother-in-law Orion and how Zeus killed Demeter’s beloved Iasion with a thunder bolt. Aphrodite cursed Helios own sisters with a craving for mortal men and both suffered greatly. ( Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 1.)
#4 Maybe, what Helius found so repugnant in Peleus and Thetis’ marriage was that it was based on rape. At first blush that might not be too convincing based on the normal behavior of the (male) gods, but please read further. First, Greek gods rarely resort to physical rape, in the end their charm and beauty are what over powers their lover. For example, Helios himself and the mortal Leukothea. “Fear gripped her heart. Distaff and spindle fell unheeded from her hands. Her very fear enhanced her grace. Sol, waiting no more, resumed his own true shape, his wonted splendor, the girl, astounded by the sudden sight, yet vanquished by the glory of the god, with no complain accepted his assault.” (Ovid, Metamorphoses 4).
Second we have proof of Helius objection to rape. Of all the gods, he was the only to speak up when Hades forcibly abducted her. The conspiracy against the girl initially consisted of her father Zeus, great-grandmother Gaea and rapist Hades. Surely some of the Oceanides that accompanied her to the fields that day were enlisted to guide her to the right spot. Surely Zeus messenger Gossip (Homer, Iliad 2. 93) had ready access to the halls of Olympus. The silence and lack of support that Demeter found in her time of grief can only be explained by the silent involvement of all the Olympians or their fear to speak up. Only Helius cried rape.
#5 Finally maybe the Hyperionides disgust at the festivities is so much “sour grapes”. They both had to work that day (drive their chariots) and in disappointment claimed they didn’t want to go in the first place..
In summary, we may never know what Catulus knew about Helius and Selene’s grudge against Peleus and Thetis. But their reasons might have included racism, a family feud, fear of mismatched marriages, revulsion to rape or just plain old sour grapes.