Who Was Helios? - Mythology & Overview

Instructor: Christopher Sailus

Chris has an M.A. in history and taught university and high school history.

In this lesson, we explore Helios, the god who personified the sun. In the process, we discover how even the ancient Greeks sometimes confused the gods, and we see one example of Helios in ancient mythology.

Staring at the Sun

Whether it was your parents or your teachers, chances are when you were a child someone told you never to stare at the sun, because the light it emitted was so powerful that it could burn your eyes and damage your vision. But chances are you did it, anyways, at least once, just to make sure those crafty adults were telling you the truth. No doubt you looked away in pain. But if you were able to focus on the sun, the ancient Greeks claim you may have seen Helios, the ancient Greek god synonymous with the sun.

Who was Helios?

Helios was the Greek deity that represented the sun. Son of the Titans Hyperion and Theia, and brother to Selene (the moon) and Eos (the dawn), Helios resided in the far east, near the mythical river Okeanos in a golden palace. Each morning, Helios rose to follow his sister Eos and drive his chariot across the sky, brightening the day.

Helios is often portrayed as a handsome and strong man. The chariot he drove across the sky was driven by two fire-breathing horses, which purportedly would burn any mortal who attempted to take control of Helios' chariot.

In ancient Greek mythology, Helios is sometimes conflated (both in historians' interpretations and by some ancient Greek texts) with the more popular Greek god of light, Apollo, due to their overlapping duties. Despite this, the gods were distinct and different in ancient Greek mythology.

Helios' Mythology

Because Helios is the personification of the sun and not a god who resided on Mt. Olympus, he is less present in Greek mythology and legend than the other gods. However, Helios plays an important role in the ancient myth of Phaeton.

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