One of the twelve Titans of Greek mythology, Hyperion was the father of Helios, Selene, and Eos. He participated in Cronus’s rebellion against their father Uranus, and helped to establish his brother as ruler of the cosmos. In time, the Titans were supplanted by Zeus and the Olympians, and Hyperion was consigned to the dismal part of the underworld known as Tartarus.
The name “Hyperion” was derived from the ancient Greek and meant “the High One.” Despite this lofty title, Hyperion does not appear to have ever held a position of power in the Greek mythos, and his name may instead allude to his association with the heavens.
Hyperion was so closely associated with the heavenly bodies that his children Helios and Selene were thought to embody the sun and the moon, respectively. The historian Diodorus Siculus argued that this association denoted Hyperion as the first of the gods to study and comprehend astronomical phenomena. While Hyperion’s associations with the heavens are well documented, little else about him is known.
Hyperion was the son of Gaia, the incarnation of the earth, and Uranus, the embodiment of the heavens. His siblings included the other Titans—Coeus, Crius, Iapetus, Mnemosyne, Oceanus, Phoebe, Rhea, Tethys, Thea, Themis, and Cronus—as well as more monstrous brethren, the one-eyed Cyclopes and the hundred-handed Hecatoncheires among them. Despite their familial connections, these monsters were feared and reviled by the Titans.
Hyperion found a lover in his sister, Thea. Together they had Helios, who embodied the sun; Selene, who personified the moon; and Eos, who epitomized the dawn.
Among Hyperion’s innumerable grandchildren were Circe, the sorceress who transformed men into beasts, and Astraea, the goddess of justice, peace, and balance.
Much of Hyperion’s mythology has been lost to time. In Hesiod’s Theogony, he was mentioned only in relation to other Titans. When he was not being listed alongside the other Titans, he was being highlighted for his reproductive feats: “And Theia was subject in love to Hyperion and bare great Helios (Sun) and clear Selene (Moon) and Eos (Dawn) who shines upon all that are on earth and upon the deathless Gods who live in the wide heaven.”1
The Titan was also mentioned in Homer’s epics, the plays of Euripides and Aeschylus, and the mytho-historical works of Diodorus Siculus, though these appearances did little to expand his mythos.
Hyperion has appeared in many popular representations of Greek mythology. In God of War: Chains of Olympus (2008), Hyperion appeared as one of several Titans chained up in Tartarus. He also appeared in the seventh episode of Xena: Warrior Princess, and was featured as a recurring character in the Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians series.
Hyperion was further appropriated by novelist Dan Simmons for his science-fiction/fantasy book series The Hyperion Cantos. With novels including Hyperion and The Fall of Hyperion, the series centered on the fictional planet of Hyperion, a place of pilgrimage in an intergalactic civilization threatened by war and chaos.
One of Saturn’s many moons is named for Hyperion. Discovered in 1848, it is unique for having a lopsided shape and irregular orbit.
Diodorus Siculus. The Library of History, Book V*.* Translated by C.H. Oldfather. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. The Loeb Classical Library.
Hesiod. Theogony. Translated by Hugh Evelyn-White. Internet Sacred Text Archive. Accessed February 4, 2020. https://www.sacred-texts.com/cla/hesiod/theogony.htm.
“Hyperion.” Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hyperion_(Titan).
Hesiod, Theogony, translated Hugh Evelyn-White, 371-74. https://www.sacred-texts.com/cla/hesiod/theogony.htm. ↩