Ancient Greek/Roman Sun Gods: Apollo and Helios

In ancient myths, it is not uncommon to see certain gods replaced with another , even if they represent the same thing. This is seen in the case of Apollo and Helios , both sun gods recognized by the ancient Romans and Greeks.


Apollo is a god associated with many different attributes and subjects, including music, healing, plague, agriculture, archery, and prophesy. He also possesses a connection to the sun. When referred to as the sun god, Apollo is called Sol , which is the Latin word for sun.

In artistic depictions, the god is seen as a beardless young man. He holds a tripod in his hand and is often pictured with a lyre, bow and arrows, hawks, crows, swans, snakes, grasshoppers, and griffins. While he is often linked to the sun, Apollo was not always seen as a sun god. Homer referred to the god as the deity of prophecy and plagues. He also fought in the Trojan War.

Ironically as the god of healing, Apollo is also associated with the plague. In the Iliad, he is described as sending arrows of plague. The god was also linked to the arts (especially music) and is known as the god who taught Orpheus how to play the lyre.

The earliest reference to Apollo as a sun god was detected in fragments of Euripides’ Phaethon, which had survived over the years. Phaethon was one of the chariot horses of the Homeric goddess of the dawn, Eos. This name is also the same as the sun god’s son, who drove his father’s sun chariot without permission and died as a consequence. Apollo emerged as the sun god during the Hellenistic period and appeared as such in Latin literature. An example of this is seen in Metamorphoses , written by Latin poet Ovid.

Helios , Greek

Before Apollo was the Greek sun god, Helios held the position. Not only was Helios viewed as the sun god, but he was also looked upon as the sun itself. The Romans called him Sol. Helios was in charge of driving a chariot across the sky each day that was pulled by four horses that breathed fire. At night, the god was carried back to his starting place in a cup. Some myths state that Helios traveled in a golden bed with wings.

Helios is depicted as a youth with a halo, who stands in a chariot that travels the sky. Sometimes, he is seen wearing a flowing robe. A whip and a globe are some of the attributes associated with the god. It is also not uncommon to see him appear with his sacred animals , the cock and eagle.
Helios was equipped with the ability to see everything that happens during the day. The other gods looked to him to share with them the tales of what he had seen. He has also helped out gods by telling them crucial events that he has witnessed. For example, Helios played an important role when Hades kidnapped Persephone. He also revealed to Hephaestus that his wife (the beautiful goddess of love, Aphrodite) was having an affair with Ares.