The Cattle of Helios
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In Greek mythology, the Cattle of Helios pastured on the island of Thrinacia, which is believed to be modern Sicily. Helios, also known as the sun god, is said to have had seven herds of oxen and seven flocks of sheep, each numbering fifty head. In the Odyssey, Homer describes this immortal cattle as handsome (ἄριστος), wide-browed, fat (εúρυμέτωπος) and curved-horned (ὀρθόκραιρος). The cattle were guarded by Helios’ daughters, Phaëthusa and Lampetië, and it was known by all that any harm to any single animal was sure to bring down the wrath of the god.
Teiresias and Circe both warn Odysseus to shun the isle of Helios. When Eurylochus begs to be allowed to land to prepare supper, Odysseus grudgingly agrees, on condition that the crew swear that if they come upon a herd of kine or a great flock of sheep, no one will kill any of them. They are held on the isle for a month by an unfavorable storm, and when Odysseus goes up the island to pray to the gods and ask for help, Eurylochus convinces the crew to drive off the best of the kine of Helios and sacrifice them to the gods: "if he be somewhat wroth for his cattle with straight horns, and is fain to wreck our ship, and the other gods follow his desire, rather with one gulp at the wave would I cast my life away, than be slowly straitened to death in a desert isle."
Lampetie tells Helios that they have slain his kine, and he in turn begs Zeus and the other gods to take vengeance on the company of Odysseus. He threatens that if they do not pay him full atonement for the cattle, that he will go down to Hades and shine among the dead. Zeus promises to smite their ship with a lightning bolt, and cleave it in pieces in the midst of the ocean.
When he returns to the ship, Odysseus rebukes his companions, but it is too late, the cattle are dead and gone. Soon the gods show signs and wonders to them. The skins begin creeping, and the flesh bellowing upon the spits, both the roast and raw, and there is a sound like the voice of kine. For six days Odysseus's company feast on the kine of Helios. On the seventh day, the wind changes. After they set sail, Zeus keeps his word and the ship is destroyed by lightning. Odysseus escapes by swimming to Calypso's island.The next seven years he stays on her island and she treats him to all of her gifts.
- Tripp, 1970, "Helius" Section C.
- Tripp, 1970, "Odysseus" Section I.
- Homer, Odyssey, XII.262, 348, 363.
- Apollodorus, 1.6.1-2.
- Homer’s Odyssey, XII.
- Pindar, Nemean Odes, 4.27-30.
- Pindar, Isthmian Odes, 6.32-35.
- Gantz, Timothy. Early Greek Myth. Vol. 1 pp. 419–420 and Vol. 2 pp. 705. Johns Hopkins University Press. London (1993).
- Tripp, Edward. The Meridian Handbook of Classical Mythology. New York (1970).