Aurora (mythology)

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Apollo and Aurora, 1671 by Gerard de Lairesse

Aurora (Latin: [au̯ˈroːra]) is the Latin word for dawn, and the goddess of dawn in Roman mythology and Latin poetry. Like Greek Eos and Rigvedic Ushas, Aurora continues the name of an earlier Indo-European dawn goddess, Hausos.

Roman mythology[edit]

In Roman mythology, Aurora renews herself every morning and flies across the sky, announcing the arrival of the sun. Her parentage was flexible: for Ovid, she could equally be Pallantis, signifying the daughter of Pallas,[1] or the daughter of Hyperion.[2] She has two siblings, a brother (Sol, the sun) and a sister (Luna, the moon). Roman writers rarely imitated Hesiod and later Greek poets by naming Aurora as the mother of the Anemoi (the Winds), who were the offspring of Astraeus, the father of the stars.

Aurora appears most often in sexual poetry with one of her mortal lovers. A myth taken from the Greek by Roman poets tells that one of her lovers was the prince of Troy, Tithonus. Tithonus was a mortal, and would therefore age and die. Wanting to be with her lover for all eternity, Aurora asked Jupiter to grant immortality to Tithonus. Jupiter granted her wish, but she failed to ask for eternal youth to accompany his immortality, and he became forever old. Aurora turned him into a cicada.

Usage in literature and music[edit]

Aurora Taking Leave of Tithonus
1704, by Francesco Solimena
Aurora, by Guercino, 1621-23: the ceiling fresco in the Casino Ludovisi, Rome, is a classic example of Baroque illusionistic painting

From Homer's Iliad:

Now when Dawn in robe of saffron was hastening from the streams of Okeanos, to bring light to mortals and immortals, Thetis reached the ships with the armor that the god had given her. (19.1)
But soon as early Dawn appeared, the rosy-fingered, then gathered the folk about the pyre of glorious Hector. (24.776)

Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet (I.i), Montague says of his lovesick son Romeo

But all so soon as the all-cheering sun
Should in the furthest east begin to draw
The shady curtains from Aurora's bed,
Away from the light steals home my heavy son...

In traditional Irish folk songs, such as "Lord Courtown"

"One day I was a-musing down by the Courtown banks
"The sun shone bright and clearly, bold Neptune played a prank...
"There was Flora at the helm and Aurora to the stern
"And all their gallant fine seamen, their course for to steer on.

In "On Imagination," by Phillis Wheatley

"From Tithon's bed now might Aurora rise,
"Her cheeks all glowing with celestial dies,
"While a pure stream of light o'erflows the skies.

In the poem "Tithonus" by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Aurora is described thus:

Once more the old mysterious glimmer steals
From thy pure brows, and from thy shoulders pure,
And bosom beating with a heart renewed.
Thy cheek begins to redden through the gloom,
Thy sweet eyes brighten slowly close to mine,
Ere yet they blind the stars, and the wild team
Which love thee, yearning for thy yoke, arise,
And shake the darkness from their loosened manes,
And beat the twilight into flakes of a fire[3]

In singer-songwriter Björk's Vespertine track, Aurora is described as:

Goddess sparkle
A mountain shade suggests your shape
I tumble down on my knees
Fill my mouth with snow
The way it melts
I wish to melt into you

The post-punk rock band The Sexual Side Effects's track "Aurora" alludes to the goddess:[citation needed]

Save me from the fallen shadows
Pull me out of my dream
Wade me through the phantom shallows
Shelter me from the screams

In Chapter 8 of Charlotte Brontë's Villette, Madame Beck fires her old Governess first thing in the morning and is described by the narrator, Lucy Snowe: All this, I say, was done between the moment of Madame Beck's issuing like Aurora from her chamber, and that in which she coolly sat down to pour out her first cup of coffee.

Depiction in art[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "When Pallantis next gleams in heaven and stars flee..." (Ovid, Fasti iv. 373.
  2. ^ Fasti v.159; also Hyginus, Preface to Fabulae.
  3. ^ D.A. Harris, Tennyson and personification: the rhetoric of 'Tithonus' , 1986

External links[edit]

  • Warburg Institute Iconographic Database (ca 110 images of Aurora)
  • Wikisource "Aurora, the Roman goddess of the dawn". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). 1911.
  • Wikisource "Aurora, the goddess of the morning". The American Cyclopædia. 1879.