Saturday, May 31, 2014

TFBT: Helius, the Titan versus the Hero Peleus

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 m├ęsalliance.  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.




  1. Sources actually disagree whether that "Phoebus" was Apollo or Sol (Helios). I'd wish Catulus had named the deity by his true name, rather than by this one-size-fits-two epithet. In the translation I've read, his sister is called twin; this fits Artemis and Apollo, but maybe Helios and Selene were also twins.
    BTW, this reminds me of "Apollo at the forge of Vulcan", a painting by Velasquez based on Ovid where, actually, Sol (Helios) should stand in place of Apollo.
    I am not sure that the Oceanids were accomplices in Persephone's kidnapping. The scene rather amuses me with the picture of grown-up women busy with childish amusements. I'd wish to see Athena, Artemis and, most notably, Styx in a meadow picking flowers.
    The attitude of other Olympians to Persephone's rape is difficult to me to figure out. The problem is, this rape is not just a rape. It is the only way Persephone could ever get married and start finally living as an adult. Demeter had pointed the exit door to a whole procession of gods wishing to marry her daughter. It was clear that she did not intend to allow her daughter ever to marry anyone and live as an adult. What to do in such a situation? I wonder why Demeter is often depicted as a model mother. Model mothers allow their children to grow up and have a life. They do not keep their daughters in eternal spinsterhood.
    (My Hades, long before he married, rants, "All females are bitches! But I am a male and need a mate. If I have no other way to find a wife, I'll kidnap one!"

  2. Maya,

    As I wrote this I reflected on Demeter, just as you describe her. How odd that a goddess so involved with the fertility of the earth did not allow her daughter the same experiences.

    A buddy sired sons about the same age as mind. We had different parenting styles. ( His involved the back of his hand. ) I pontificated one day on raising our sons to be successful men. He perferred that they stay young and sweet forever.

    I guess that's always the dream; as a Parent we want to keep our little children in the garden of Eden forever, but in truth we have to let them eat of the forbidden and grow up. Then as adults (at least in Greek Mytholgoy) we strive to return to the Isle of the Blest.

    Wow! Ain't that poetic.

    Nice to hear from you Maya. Anything new on your site I should be checking out?

  3. BTW, have you mentioned that whenever a hero descends to the Underworld, Persephone is there, hanging with her husband? Either all these visits are seasonal, or the agreement for her to spend 6-8 months every year with her mother has been reconsidered :). A commenter on another blog pointed out that the heroes care more to appease Persephone than Hades and concluded that she may have become "the de facto ruler of the Underworld".

  4. Maya,

    I am guessing Persephone got her vacations uptop. Time doesn't work the same in the underworld as above, nor does geography. Heroes always arrive from one spot on the surface and even when they take the same route to the uppeworld they come out some other place. Some explained to me that the Divine live in "kairos" time and we live in "chronos" time.

    As to heroes appeasing Persephone rather than Hades, me and my brother always went to mom when we wanted something. maybe it is different for girls. Did you ask your mom or your dad first?


  5. The same with me, mom first!