Cults Myths and Legends of Ancient Sicily
5.3 Cults and Minor Myths: Helios

Helios belongs to the generation of pre-Olympic gods, he is the personification of the sun, just as Horus was for the Egyptians. Brother of Eos (the aurora) and Selene (the moon), he is often represented as a young man of extreme beauty with his head surrounded (obviously) by rays. Awakened by a rooster and announced by Eos, every day he travels the sky on a horse-drawn chariot of fire, starting from the country of the Indians and reaching the ocean, where the tired horses rest. The way back is the underground or the ocean that surrounds the world. The way back was considered much shorter than that of the outward journey according to the ancient conception that the ancients had of the shape of the world and which, thanks to the evolution of astronomy, was progressively abandoned.

Metope depicting Helios coming out of the sea - Pergamonmuseum in Berlin

In Sicily the cult of Elios was not very widespread and it does not seem that there are traces of it in the stories of ancient writers, even if a particularity of his cult would seem to concern Sicily. In fact, his herds were famous, consisting of seven flocks of heifers and the same number of sheep. Each flock was always made up of 50 animals guarded by two nymphs daughters of the same god who had their headquarters on the island of Trinacria; and it is known that Sicily was called with this name because of its three-pointed shape.

However, the cult of Helios would seem to be demonstrated by the discovery of coins depicting him in at least some Sicilian cities: Syracuse, Inessa, and Entella [1] and Agrigento [3].

Decadrachma - silver - Syracuse

Quadriga led by Helios on a tetradramma of Akragas (412-411 BC) [3]

Akragas decadram [4]

In Selinunte a Metope depicting Helios was found not many years ago which is now preserved in the Archaeological Museum of Palermo [2].

Quadriga of Helios from Selinunte

It is probable that the cult of Elios was imported to Syracuse by the first settlers from the Greek city of Corinth, where it was widespread, and that, later, it was transmitted from Syracuse to other Sicilian centers including Inessa, Entella and Selinunte.

 

[1] Ciaceri Emanuele: Cults and Myths of Ancient Sicily p.233.

[2] Filippo Coarelli and Mario Torelli: Sicily “Archaeological Guides Laterza” p.27.

[3] website: http://www.truciolisavonesi.it/articoli/numero94/ferro.htm

[4] website: http://www.lamoneta.it/topic/86067-il-decadramma-di-akragas/

Ignazio Caloggero

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Cults Myths and Legends of Ancient Sicily by Ignazio Caloggero

Helios

Helios 

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