The myths of the sun, from which it is almost impossible to separate
those of the dawn, are probably more numerous than any others, and
have some main features of resemblance in all cases. The first sun
myth mentioned in the course of this work is the story of Europa, in
which Europa is "the broad spreading light," born in Phœnicia (the
"purple land of morn"), the child of Telephassa ("she who shines from
afar"), carried away from her eastern birthplace by the sky (Jupiter),
closely pursued by the sun (her brother Cadmus), who, after passing
through many lands, slays a dragon (the usual demon of drought or
darkness), and sets (dies) at last without having ever overtaken the
light of dawn (Europa).
Apollo, whose name of Helios is pure Greek for "the sun," had
therefore not lost all physical significance for the Hellenic race,
who worshiped in him the radiant personification of the orb of day.
Another of his appellations, Phœbus ("the lord of life and light"),
still further emphasizes his character; and we are informed that he
was born of the sky (Jupiter) and of the dark night (Leto), in the
"bright land" (Delos), whence he daily starts on his westward journey.
Like all other solar heroes, Apollo is beautiful and golden-haired,
radiant and genial, armed with unerring weapons, which he wields for
good or evil, as the mood sways him. He is forced to labor, against
his will at times, for the benefit of man, as, for instance, when he
serves Admetus and Laomedon; and the cattle, by which he evidently
sets such store, are the fleecy clouds, pasturing "in the infinite
meadows of heaven," whose full udders drop down rain and fatness upon
the land, which are stolen away either by the wind (Mercury), or the
storm demon (Cacus), or the impious companions of Ulysses, who pay for
their sacrilegious temerity with their lives.
The sun's affinity for the dawn is depicted by his love for Coronis,
who, however beloved, falls beneath his bright darts; and, as "the
sun was regarded naturally as the restorer of life" after the
blighting influence of winter and disease, so their offspring
(Æsculapius) was naturally supposed to have been endowed with
marvelous curative powers.
The sun, for the same reason, was supposed to wage continual warfare
against cold, sickness, and disease, and to use his bright beams or
arrows against the demon of drought, darkness, or illness (Python),
which in some form or other inevitably appears in every solar myth.
In the story of Daphne, a name derived from _Dahana_, the Sanskrit
_dawn_, we find another version of the same story, where the sun,
although enamored with the dawn, causes her death. As some
mythologists have interpreted it, Daphne is a personification of the
morning dew, which vanishes beneath the sun's hot breath, and leaves
no trace of its passage except in the luxuriant verdure.
[Sidenote: Cephalus and Procris.]
In Cephalus and Procris the sun again appears, and his unerring spear
unwittingly causes the death of his beloved Procris "while she lingers
in a thicket (a place where the dew lingers longest)." This
interpretation has been further confirmed by philological researches,
which prove that the name "Procris" originated from a Sanskrit word
meaning "to sprinkle;" and the stories evidently arose from three
simple phrases,--"'the sun loves the dew,' 'the morning loves the
sun,' and 'the sun kills the dew.'"
[Sidenote: Orpheus and Eurydice.]
In the tale of Orpheus and Eurydice, while some mythologists see in
him a personification of the winds, which "tear up trees as they
course along, chanting their wild music," others see an emblem of "the
morning, with its short-lived beauty." Eurydice, whose name, like that
of Europa, comes from a Sanskrit word denoting "the broad spreading
flush of the dawn across the sky," is, of course, a personification of
that light, slain by "the serpent of darkness at twilight."
Orpheus is also sometimes considered as the sun, plunging into an
abyss of darkness, in hopes of overtaking the vanishing dawn,
Eurydice; and as the light (Eurydice) reappears opposite the place
where he disappeared, but is no more seen after the sun himself has
fairly risen, "they say that Orpheus has turned around too soon to
look at her, and so was parted from the wife he loved so dearly."
His death in the forest, when his strength had all forsaken him, and
his severed head floated down the stream murmuring "Eurydice," may
also, perchance, have been intended to represent either the last faint
breath of the expiring wind, or the setting of the sun in blood-tinged
In the story of Phaeton, whose name means "the bright and shining
one," a description of the golden palace and car of the sun is given
us. We are told that the venturesome young charioteer, by usurping his
father's place, causes incalculable mischief, and, in punishment for
his mismanagement of the solar steeds (the fleecy white clouds), is
hurled from his exalted seat by a thunderbolt launched by the hand of
"This story arose from phrases which spoke of drought as caused by the
chariot of Helios, when driven by some one who knew not how to guide
his horses; and the smiting of Phaeton by the bolt of Zeus is the
ending of the time of drought by a sudden storm of thunder."
The story of Diana and Endymion has also been interpreted as a sun
myth, in which the name "Endymion" refers specially to the dying or
setting sun, who sinks to rest on Mount Latmus ("the land of
forgetfulness," derived from the same root as "Leto"). Müller, the
great authority in philology, tells us, that, in the ancient poetical
and proverbial language of Elis, people said, "Selene loves and
watches Endymion," instead of saying, "It is getting late;" "Selene
embraces Endymion," instead of, "The sun is setting and the moon is
rising;" "Selene kisses Endymion into sleep," instead of, "It is
These expressions remained long after their real meaning had ceased
to be understood; and, as the human mind is generally as anxious for a
reason as ready to invent one, a story arose without any conscious
effort, that Endymion must have been a young lad loved by a young
In the story of Adonis some mythologists find another sun myth, in
which Adonis, the short-lived sun, is slain by the boar, the demon of
darkness, and passionately mourned by the dawn or twilight (Venus),
who utterly refuses to exist without him.
In the story of Tantalus (the sun), who in time of drought offers to
Jupiter the flesh of his own offspring, Pelops (the withered fruits),
and in punishment for his impiety is doomed to hunger and torturing
thirst, we have again merely a story founded upon an expression used
in time of drought, when the sun's heat, becoming too intense, burns
up the fruit his fostering rays had produced, and men exclaimed,
"Tantalus is slaying and roasting his own child!"
In the same way the stone which Sisyphus painfully forced up a steep
ascent, only to see it go rolling down and plunge into a dark abyss
enveloped in a great cloud of dust, has been interpreted to represent
the sun, which is no "sooner pushed up to the zenith, than it rolls
down to the horizon."
The name of Ixion has been identified with the Sanskrit word
_Akshanah_, denoting one who is bound to a wheel, and has been proved
akin "to the Greek _axôn_, the Latin _axis_, and the English _axle_."
This whirling wheel of fire is the bright orb of day, to which he was
bound by order of Jupiter (the sky) because he dared insult Juno (the
queen of the blue air); while Dia, his wife, is the dawn, the
counterpart of Europa, Coronis, Daphne, Procris, Eurydice, and Venus,
in the foregoing illustrations.
One of the greatest of all the solar heroes is doubtless the demigod
Hercules, born at Argos (a word signifying "brightness") from the sky
(Jupiter) and the dawn (Alcmene), who, in early infancy, throttles
the serpents of darkness, and who, with untiring strength and
patience, plods through life, never resting, and always on his journey
performing twelve great tasks, interpreted to represent either the
twelve signs of the Zodiac, or the twelve months of the solar year, or
the twelve hours of daylight.
Like Apollo and Cadmus, Hercules is forced to labor for mankind
against his will. We see him early in life united to Megara, and, like
Tantalus, slaying his own offspring in a sudden fit of madness. He
loves and is soon forced to leave Iole, the violet-colored clouds. He
performs great deeds, slays innumerable demons of drought and darkness
on his way, and visits the enchanted land of the Hesperides,--a symbol
of the western sky and clouds at sunset.
The main part of his life is spent with Deianeira ("the destroying
spouse"), a personification of the daylight; but toward the end of his
career he again encounters Iole, now the beautiful twilight. It is
then that Deianeira (the daylight), jealous of her rival's charms,
sends him the bloody Nessus robe, which he has no sooner donned, than
he tears it from his bleeding limbs, ascends the burning pile, and
ends his career in one grand blaze,--the emblem of the sun setting in
a framework of flaming crimson clouds.
Like all solar heroes, he too has unerring poisoned weapons ("the word
_ios_, 'a spear,' is the same in sound as the word _ios_, 'poison'"),
of which he is shorn only at death.
Perseus also belongs to this category of myths. Danae, his mother,
either the earth (_dano_ means "burnt earth") or the dawn, a daughter
of Acrisius (darkness), is born in Argos (brightness). Loved by
Jupiter, the all-embracing sky, she gives birth to the golden-haired
Perseus, a personification of the radiant orb of day; and he, like
many another solar hero, is cast adrift immediately after his birth,
owing to an ominous prophecy that he will slay the darkness from which
he originally sprang.
As soon as Perseus attains manhood, he is forced to journey against
his will into the distant land of the mists (the Grææ), and conquer
the terrible Medusa, "the starlit night, solemn in its beauty, but
doomed to die when the sun rises." He accomplishes this by means of
his irresistible sword, the piercing rays of the sun, and then passes
on to encounter the monster of drought, and to marry Andromeda,
another personification of the dawn, the offspring of Celeus and
Cassiopeia, who also represent night and darkness.
In company with Andromeda, Perseus, whose name also signifies "the
destroyer," revisits his native land, and fulfills the prophecy by
slaying Acrisius (the darkness), whence he originally sprang.
In the Athenian solar myth, Theseus is the sun, born of Ægeus (the
sea, derived from _aisso_, "to move quickly like the waves") and Æthra
(the pure air). He lingers in his birthplace, Trœzene, until he has
acquired strength enough to wield his invincible sword, then journeys
onward in search of his father, performing countless great deeds for
the benefit of mankind. He slays the Minotaur, the terrible monster of
darkness, and carries off the dawn (Ariadne); whom he is, however,
forced to abandon shortly after on the Island of Naxos.
In his subsequent career we find him the involuntary cause of his
father's death, then warring against the Centaurs (personifications of
the clouds, through which the victorious sun is sometimes forced to
fight his way), then again plunging for a short space of time into the
depths of Tartarus, whence he emerges once more; and finally we see
him uniting his fate to Phædra (the twilight), a sister of the
beautiful dawn he loved in his youth. He ends his eventful career by
being hurled headlong from a cliff into the sea,--an emblem of the
sun, which often seems to plunge into the waves at eventide.
In the story of the Argonautic expedition we have Athamas, who marries
Nephele (the mist). Their children are Phryxus and Helle (the cold and
warm air, or personifications of the clouds), carried off to the far
east by the ram--whose golden fleece was but an emblem of the rays of
the sun--to enable them to escape from the baleful influence of their
stepmother Ino (the broad daylight), who would fain encompass their
Helle, an emblem of the condensation of vapor, falls from her exalted
seat into the sea, where she is lost. The ship Argo "is a symbol of
the earth as a parent, which contains in itself the germs of all
living things." Its crew is composed mainly of solar heroes, all in
quest of the golden fleece (the rays of the sun), which Jason recovers
by the aid of Medea (the dawn), after slaying the dragon (the demon of
drought). Æetes, Medea's father, is a personification of the darkness,
which vainly attempts to recover his children, the dawn and light (?),
after they have been borne away by the all-conquering sun.
Glauce (the broad daylight) next charms Jason; and the poisoned robe
which causes her death is woven by Medea, now the evening twilight,
who mounts her dragon car and flies to the far east, forsaking her
husband (the sun) in his old age, when he is about to sink into the
sleep of death.
Meleager is also a solar hero. After joining the Argonautic
expedition, and wandering far and wide, he returns home, slays the
boar (or drought fiend), loves, but parts from, Atalanta (the dawn
maiden), and is finally slain by his own mother, who casts into the
flames the brand upon which his existence depends.
In the Theban solar myth, Laius (derived from the same root as "Leto"
and "Latmus") is the emblem of darkness, who, after marrying Jocasta
(like Iole, a personification of the violet-tinted clouds of dawn),
becomes the father of Œdipus, doomed by fate to be the murderer of
his father. Early in life Œdipus is exposed on the barren hillside to
perish,--an emblem of the horizontal rays of the rising sun, which
seem to lie for a while upon the mountain slopes, ere they rise to
begin their journey.
He too, like Cadmus, Apollo, Hercules, Perseus, Theseus, and Jason, is
forced to wander far from home, and, after a prolonged journey,
encounters and slays Laius (the darkness), from whom he derived his
existence, and kills the dread monster of drought, the Sphinx, whose
very name means "one who binds fast,"--a creature who had imprisoned
the rain in the clouds, and thus caused great distress.
Urged on by unrelenting fate, he marries his own mother, Jocasta, now
the violet-tinted twilight, and ends his life amid lightning flashes
and rolls of thunder, after being accompanied to the end of his course
by Antigone ("the pale light which springs up opposite the sun at his
setting"). This story--which at first was merely intended to signify
that the sun (Œdipus) must slay the darkness (Laius) and linger for a
while beside the violet-colored clouds (Jocasta)--having lost its
physical meaning, the Thebans added the tragic sequel, for it seemed
but poetic justice that the author of such crimes should receive
As the Eumenides, or Erinnyes, were at first merely the searching
light of day, from which nothing can be hidden, they came gradually to
be considered the detectives and avengers of crime, and were therefore
said to take possession of a criminal at the end of his course, and
hurry him down into darkness to inflict horrible torments upon him.
In the story of Bellerophon, although the name originally came from
_Bellero_ (some "power of darkness, drought, winter, or moral evil")
and from _phon_ or _phontes_ (a word derived from the Sanskrit
_han-tâ_, "the killer"), the Greeks, having forgotten the
signification of the first part of the word, declared this hero was
the murderer of Bellero, his brother, for which involuntary crime he
was driven from home, and forced to wander about in search of shelter.
We find this hero, although enticed by Anteia (the dawn), virtuously
hastening away, then sent against his will to fight the Chimæra (the
monster of drought), whom he overcomes, thanks to his weapon and to
Pegasus (the clouds), born from the mist of the sea, beneath whose
hoofs fresh fountains were wont to spring.
Bellerophon, after many journeys, is finally united to Philonoe, a
personification of the twilight, and ends his career by being hurled
from the zenith into utter darkness by one of Jupiter's deadly
"The fall of Bellerophon is the rapid descent of the sun toward
evening, and the Alein plain is that broad expanse of somber light
through which the sun sometimes seems to travel sullenly and alone to
[Sidenote: Trojan war.]
In the story of the Trojan war there are several sun myths; for Paris,
Menelaus, Agamemnon, and Achilles have equal claims to be considered
personifications of the sun. They love Œnone, Helen, Clytæmnestra,
Briseis, various impersonations of the dawn, and forsake, or are
forsaken by, their ladyloves, whom they meet again at the end of their
career: for Paris sees Œnone, and expires with her on the burning
pile; Menelaus recovers Helen, with whom he vanishes in the far west;
Agamemnon rejoins Clytæmnestra, and dies by her hand in a bloody bath;
while Achilles, after a period of sullen gloom, meets with an untimely
death shortly after recovering the beautiful Briseis.
Like Perseus and Œdipus, Paris is exposed in early infancy, and lives
to fulfill his destiny, and cause, though indirectly, the death of his
In this myth, Helen (the beautiful dawn or twilight), whose name
corresponds phonetically with the Sanskrit _Sarama_, born of the sky
(Jupiter) and of the night (Leda, derived from the same root as
"Leto," "Latmus," and "Laius"), is carried away by Paris, whom some
mythologists identify with the Hindoo _Panis_ (or "night demons")
instead of the sun. In this character he entices away the fickle
twilight (Helen) during her husband's temporary absence, and bears her
off to the far east, where, after struggling for a while to retain
possession of her and her treasures, he is finally forced to
relinquish her, and she returns to her husband and her allegiance.
The siege of Troy has thus been interpreted to signify "a repetition
of the daily siege of the east by the solar powers, that every evening
are robbed of their brightest treasures in the west."
Achilles, like several of his brother heroes, "fights in no quarrel of
his own; his wrath is the sun hiding his face behind the clouds; the
Myrmidons are his attendant beams, who no longer appear when the sun
is hidden; Patroclus is the feeble reflection of the sun's splendor,
and stands to him in precisely the same relation as Phaeton to
Helios," and, like him, meets with an early death.
In the story of Ulysses we find a reproduction of the story of
Hercules and Perseus: for Ulysses, early in life, after wedding
Penelope, is forced to leave her to fight for another; and on his
return, although longing to rejoin his morning bride, he cannot turn
aside from the course marked out for him. He is detained by Circe (the
moon), who weaves airy tissues, and by Calypso (the nymph of
darkness); but neither can keep him forever, and he returns home
enveloped in an impenetrable disguise, after having visited the
Phæacian land (the land of clouds or mists). It is only after he has
slain the suitors of Penelope (the weaver of bright evening clouds)
that he casts aside his beggar's garb to linger for a short time
beside her ere he vanishes in the west.
The greater part of the dawn myths have been explained simultaneously
with the sun myths, with which they are inextricably interwoven. One
personification of the dawn, however, stands apart. It is Minerva,
whose Greek name, Athene, is derived, like Daphne, from the Sanskrit
_Dahana_, or _ahana_ (meaning "the light of daybreak"), and we are
thus enabled to understand why the Greeks described her as sprung from
the forehead of Zeus (the heavens). She gradually became the
impersonation of the illuminating and knowledge-giving light of the
sky; for in Sanskrit the same word also means "to wake" and "to know,"
while the Latins connected her name of Minerva with _mens_, the same
as the Greek _ménos_ and the English _mind_.