Who is Eos in Greek Mythology?
Eos was the Greek, winged goddess of the dawn and the third child of the Titans Hyperion and Theia. She was seen as a charioteer riding across the sky just before sunrise, pulled by her horses Lampus and Phaethon (Shiner and Bright, respectively). Her brother, the sun god Helios, had a four-horse chariot to indicate his greater status. The Romans called her Aurora.
In many mythologies throughout the ages, the coming of dawn has always held some significance. Dawn represented not just the beginning of a new day, but also the symbolic victory of good over evil, or light over dark.
In more superstitious times, the darkness or the night-time spelled mystery and foreboding and with it came to a collective cautiousness—perhaps, something we as a society and people still maintain to this day in some regard. For ancient cultures, the coming of dawn also brought the promise of sunlight—that which was necessary for the production of crops.
With this, the sun, universally across all mythologies, would come to be a benign element. One that was not only likened to a sense of safety and comfort but also something of a lifeline.
So, when we think about a deity who was quite literally responsible for bringing the light to the earth each day, one might begin to comprehend the importance of the goddess Eos and how, even as a Titan is long forgotten by even the ancient Greeks themselves, was still revered for her contribution.
The Origin of Eos
We can certainly see where the Titan Eos received her powers from and how she was likely shaped and influenced by her immediate family.
Her father Hyperion, the Titan of Heavenly Light, is a clear-cut example of where her association to sunlight came from. For where he as a first-generation Titan who represented the light from the heavens and took on a more cosmic and divine responsibility, Eos adopted an earthlier responsibility in her conduction of sunlight and ushering in the dawn.
Her mother Theia, the Titaness of Sight, is also seen as an obvious inspiration given the simple fact that with sunlight, the world was made clearer for the mortals and man would not find himself stumbling about in the darkness.
Furthermore, her siblings also appear to be analogous with her powers given that her brother Helios was thought of as the sun itself and her sister Selene, the moon.
Eos’ Role in Greek Mythology
As mentioned, Eos’ role within the mythology was to banish the darkness of night and to herald the arrival of her brother Helios, the Sun.
Going by some beliefs, Eos would rise from the eastern realm of Oceanus, he who was the ocean personified, and would traverse across the sky in a golden chariot that was pulled by two horses, those who were named Lampus and Phaethon.
In the Odyssey, however, these two horses are stated as ‘Firebright’ and Daybright’. This is not an uncommon trope in mythology, for we’ve seen as early as the Akkadian period that the Mesopotamian sun god Shamash, or Utu, was also seen riding a chariot across the sky and heralding the sun.
With Eos, the goddess took a very similar motion as she soared across the sky, paving the way for her brother Helios to arrive. Then, by the end of the day, she would descend once more into the realm of Oceanus in the west and thus, would begin nightfall.
In some variations, it was both Eos and Helios who would descend into the realm of Oceanus, with Helios following shortly after his sister.
Depictions of Eos
Eos was usually described as having rosy fingers or rosy forearms. She was described by Homer in particular as wearing a saffron-coloured robe that was embroidered with flowers and that she was crowned with a tiara.
Homer frequently describes her in the Odyssey as “Eos (Dawn) comes early, with rosy fingers” and it is with these sentiments that we also gather that she was a beautiful goddess—a feature that would serve her well in her later conquests over men.
Various Counterparts of Eos in Mythology
As far as the etymology goes, the name Eos may have been a linguistic derivation of the Vedic goddess Ushas, the Lithuanian goddess Aušrinė, and or the Roman goddess Aurora—all of whom were goddesses of the dawn in their respective pantheons.
It is further believed these goddesses found their names from a Proto-Indo European stem in the name ‘Ausṓs’, that which meant ‘dawn.’
Love Affairs and Children of Eos in Greek Mythology
With the mythology, like many of the Titans, Eos did not factor into many narratives. She, like her father Hyperion, despite being the brother of Cronus who waged war against Zeus in the battle for supremacy, did not appear to take part in the conflict known as the Titanomachy, which eventually saw the Titans overthrown by the Olympians.
What we do understand is that Eos and her siblings, Helios and Selene, did indeed maintain their roles within the cosmos, showing us that despite being Titans, Zeus had allowed them to continue their work; whereas with others, most notably those who had actively warred against him, were cast into the void known as Tartarus, or given tremendous punishments.
Instead, writers sought to heap more importance on the love affairs of Eos and focus more on her romantic endeavours, those which she was seen to have many of.
Eos and the Titan Astraeus with their Children
Firstly, it is known that she was married to the Titan Astraeus, he who was of the Stars and something of an astrological deity and the god of dusk.
Through Astraeus, she gave birth to the Anemoi, those who were several wind deities including:
- Zephyros (the west wind)
- Boreas (the north wind)
- Notus (the south wind) and,
- Eurus (the east wind).
She would also give birth to the five Astra planets. These were:
- Stilbon, who represented Mercury
- Hesperors, who represented Venus
- Pyroeis, who represented Mars
- Phaethon, who represented Jupiter and,
- Phainon, who represented Saturn.
There was also Astraea who was the virgin goddess of justice.
Now given that she had this many children with Astraeus, it’s easy to think that she’d had her fill with love and was content, if not dedicated to remaining with Astraeus and not stray.
Eos and Ares, the God of War Love Story
Yet, we know of several other love affairs that Eos is keen to cultivate—perhaps the most significant being with Ares, the god of war.
Whilst the nature of the relationship is often ambiguous on the account that they did not have any children together, it is believed that the goddess Aphrodite who was known to be Ares’ lover became extremely jealous of Eos, and feeling threatened by her closeness to Ares, she cursed Eos so that she only fell in love with mortal men.
Apollodorus in his Bibliotheca tells us, “Eos, whom Aphrodite tormented with constant passion as punishment for sleeping with Ares”
Eos and Tithonus Love Story
It is with this curse that would see her engage in several affairs with many mortals and even find herself pregnant with them, such as is the case with Trojan prince Tithonus, whom she bore the warrior Memnon and the king of Arabia, Emathion.
There was also the prince Cephalus, who sired three children with Eos including the evening star Hesperus, the night watchman for Aphrodite’s shrines Phaethon and yet another Tithonus.
You might’ve noticed that the men that Eos went for were specifically men of power and it was believed that those with significant influence, or even just a considerably handsome face, were candidates for her romantic abduction.
Eos was seen to have very little regard for whether her target was consenting or not, nor did she take into consideration whether her desired man was already taken.
Amongst these relationships, however, it would appear that Eos had become hyper-aware of the pitfalls of love and understood that despite being a goddess, she could not force her prey to love her, nor could she stop them from wanting to return to their wives… nor from dying.
This dilemma presented itself when Eos seduced the Trojan prince Tithonus, with whom she was said to have fallen deeply in love. Afraid of losing him, Eos asked Zeus to make Tithonus immortal, which the supreme god agreed to.
However, Zeus being Zeus did not reveal to Eos that whilst he had made Tithonus immortal, he had not stopped him from ageing. As the decades went by, Tithonus grew older and older and as his body began to tire and grow frail, he fell into an eternal state of agony.
Eos returned to Zeus and begged him to either remove Tithonus’ immortality, or make him young again, but Zeus decided that this was not possible—or more like, he didn’t want to. Instead, Zeus transformed Tithonus into a cicada which was perhaps the condition on which Eos had to compromise on.
The legend of the story conveys an idea that in certain parts around the world, the same cicada can be heard whenever Eos soars across the sky and signifies the coming of dawn.
As she falls so in love with Tithonus, to the point that she wishes to be with him forever, we see she also falls for the maliciousness of Zeus and ends up paying a greater price for her desire; that is, to watch her lover succumb to agony as he ages and ages.
With this, we begin to feel sorry for Eos and see her much less as this man-hungry homewrecker that Aphrodite had likely deemed her as, but instead a much sweeter and wholesome character who wants only to be with the man she loves.
Some might highlight the dichotomy of Eos’ character here, given that she demonstrates two very different behaviours in each of her affairs. But another idea might be that Eos demonstrates bitterness. It could be said that after having been burned by love here, she becomes both possessive and aggressive in trying to lock someone down in the future, which is why she appears so intensely when taking her next lover Cephalus against his will.
Eos and Cephalus Love Story
Furthermore, it is understood that Eos was never actually faithful with any of these men and that she had even scoped out Cephalus whilst Tithonus was still in his ageing state.
Ovid tells us in the Heroides,
We then see her abduct prince Cephalus from Athens, even though he was already married to princess Procris. For eight years, Cephalus was essentially held hostage as Eos’ lover and despite being a goddess, Cephalus longed to return to his wife.
After many years appeasing to the goddess to send him back, Eos eventually relented, but not before she planted a seed of doubt in his head, suggesting that his wife could easily be swayed to have an affair and that it was unlikely that she had remained faithful for all this time.
Whether or not this was Eos being spiteful after having been rejected by Cephalus, or whether this was just a manipulation to get him to stay with her instead, Cephalus begins to doubt his wife.
When he returns to Procris, he does so in disguise and presents before her as a stranger. After offering her money to sleep with him, she agrees—or at least, hesitates long enough, that Cephalus becomes convinced she is unfaithful.
With this, he reveals his identity, causing Procris to flee to the woods out of shame and guilt. The two do later reconcile, however, the tale is far from peaceful.
In another version, Gaius Juius Hyginus tells us that Eos hadn’t kidnapped Cephalus, but instead schemed to destroy his marriage first to obtain him. He tells us in the Fabulae,
What’s quite interesting is how we see Eos essentially turn from devoted wife and mother to something more akin to a temptress of men. Gone is her role as the bringer of dawn and instead appears this far more capricious and almost devious creature who becomes fixated on her amorous affairs.
She is not seen here to be the goddess responsible for charioteering the sun across the sky but instead seen to be intense, passionate, calculating and even scheming. She prioritises Cephalus here for a total of eight years and despite his pleas to return to his wife, she is seen to be selfish and puts only her wants and needs first, even if this means holding him against his will.
Eos and Orion Story
Yet, another legend of Eos abducting men was when she laid eyes on the legendary hunter Orion. She would lead Orion to the island of Delos and much like she had incurred the jealousy of Aphrodite, she also incurred the jealousy of Artemis who had an interest in Orion.
In some legends, Eos becomes responsible for Orion’s death after Artemis, unable to control her jealousy, shoots him with an arrow.
The Children of Eos and Tithonus
The children born between Eos and Tithonus however, appear to have been more substantial as far as the mythology goes given that the two sons, Memnon and Emathion, become rulers of the land of Aethiopia.
Both sons however would meet terrible fates with Emathion being killed by Heracles and Memnon being killed by Achilles at Troy.
Eos was thought to have mourned the death of both of her sons—most notably Memnon who was the more famous—and would even go as far as to ask Zeus to make note of her son’s demise and recognise it as a significant moment.
To this, Zeus turned the smoke of Memnon’s funeral pyre into a new species of birds—the memnonides—those which migrated from Aethiopia to Troy each year in tribute to Memnon.
In another version, Eos mourns so gravely over the death of her son that she causes the light of her brother Helios to fade and even convinces Nyx, the goddess of night, to emerge earlier than usual. With the cover of this darkness, she is able to steal her son’s body from the enemy’s camp and see to his burial.
After this, it is said that Eos begged Zeus to immortalise Memnon, which he is surprisingly seen to agree to.
Whilst not necessarily the most popular deity in Greek Mythology, Eos was imperative to the ancient Greeks, for as discussed, it was she who was responsible for bringing about the next day.
Furthermore, she might also have been seen as her brother’s keeper in some regard, by leading him across the sky and as the sun, she would also be just as accountable for the day and night cycle.
Indeed, thanks to Aphrodite’s jealousy and her cursing of Eos to fall insatiably in love with mortal men, Eos would earn herself a bit of a reputation as being a predator upon men, and perhaps this may have contributed to her lack of significant worship and made for a tainting upon her name.
Yet, the Etruscan people would come to view the idea of the dawn goddess courting a young man as a more wholesome idea and the trope became quite popular amongst societies in the fifth century where Dawn was seen as a nurturer and not an abductor.
Image Sources: Arbetta (Deviant Art).