Greek Titan

Hyperion

Hyperion was a Greek Titan who, along with most of his siblings, fought for the right to rule the cosmos but lost to the Olympians. Rarely mentioned in myths, he is best known for fathering the gods of the sun, moon, and dawn.

By Thomas Apel and Avi KapachLast updated on Dec. 13th, 2021
  • Was Hyperion a sun god?

    Though Hyperion was associated with the heavens, he was known as the god of light itself, not specifically entwined with the sun or moon.

  • Is the book “Hyperion” about the Greek Titan?

    In Dan Simmons’ popular science fiction novels The Hyperion Cantos, the name Hyperion refers to a planet, not to a specific person or mythological figure.

One of the twelve Titans of Greek mythology, Hyperion was the father of Helios, Selene, and Eos—the gods of the sun, moon, and dawn, respectively. He was sometimes said to have 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 consigned to the most dismal part of the Underworld, known as Tartarus.

Etymology

The name “Hyperion” (Greek Ὑπερίων, translit. Hyperiōn) was derived from the ancient Greek word meaning “high one.” Despite this lofty title, Hyperion does not appear to have ever held a position of power in the Greek mythos. His name may instead allude to his association with the heavens.

Pronunciation

  • English
    Greek

    Tartarus

    Ὑπερίων (translit. Hyperiōn)

  • Phonetic
    IPA

    [hahy-PEER-ee-uhn]

    /haɪˈpɪər i ən/

Attributes

Hyperion was so closely associated with heavenly bodies that his children Helios and Selene were thought to embody the sun and the moon, respectively. The historian Diodorus of Sicily, probably inspired by this association, made the rationalizing claim that Hyperion was the first to study and comprehend astronomical phenomena.1 While Hyperion’s connections with the heavens are well documented, little else is known about him.

Family

Hyperion was the son of Gaia, the incarnation of the earth, and Uranus, the embodiment of the heavens. His siblings included the other Titans—CoeusCriusIapetusMnemosyneOceanusPhoebeRheaTethysTheaThemis, and Cronus—as well as more monstrous brethren, such as the one-eyed Cyclopes and the hundred-handed Hecatoncheires. Despite their familial connections, these monsters were feared and reviled by the Titans.

Hyperion found a lover in his sister, Theia.2 Together they had Helios, who embodied the sun; Selene, the moon; and Eos, the dawn.3

Luna print by Hans Sebald Beham -1539

Selene, Romanized in this 16th century French print as Luna, is the moon goddess and one of Hyperion's three children.

Petit Palais / Public Domain

Among Hyperion’s innumerable grandchildren were Circe, the sorceress who transformed men into beasts, and Astraea, the goddess of justice, peace, and balance.

Family Tree

Mythology

Much of Hyperion’s mythology has been lost to time. In Hesiod’s Theogony, he was mentioned only in relation to other Titans or as the father of other gods: 

And Theia was subject in love to Hyperion and bare great Helius (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.4 

Marble relief of sun god Helios circa 300 BCE Altes Museum

Marble relief showing the sun god Helios with rays of sun as a crown (ca. 300 BCE). Helios' mother Thea was often associated with heavenly bodies and other forms of light.

Gary Todd / CC0

Hyperion is also mentioned in Homer’s epics (as Helios’ father) and in a handful of other ancient works, though these appearances did little to expand his mythos.

There is little to no information on Hyperion’s role in the Titanomachy, the ten-year war between the Titans (led by Cronus) and the Olympians (led by Zeus). At the end of the war, the Olympians cast the defeated Titans into Tartarus. Yet Hyperion’s actions during the conflict, and his eventual fate, are uncertain.5

Pop Culture

Hyperion has appeared in many popular representations of Greek mythology. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, for example, he inspired works by Johann Hölderlin and John Keats.

In the video game God of War: Chains of Olympus (2008), Hyperion is one of several Titans chained up in Tartarus. He also appears in the seventh episode of Xena: Warrior Princess and is a recurring character in Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians series.

Hyperion was further appropriated by novelist Dan Simmons for his science-fiction/fantasy series The Hyperion Cantos. With novels including Hyperion and The Fall of Hyperion, the series centers 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 due to its lopsided shape and irregular orbit.

Further Reading

Primary Sources

Greek

  • Homer: The earliest references to Hyperion are found in the Iliad and the Odyssey (eighth century BCE), where he is named in connection with Helios (sometimes as an epithet for the more important sun god).

  • Hesiod: Hyperion’s genealogy is outlined in the seventh-century BCE epic the Theogony.

  • Aeschylus: Prometheus Unbound, a tragedy by the fifth-century BCE poet Aeschylus, features a chorus of freed Titans that may have included Hyperion, but unfortunately this work has been lost.

Mythological Handbooks (Greek and Roman)

  • Diodorus of Sicily: The Library of History, a work of universal history covering events from the creation of the cosmos to Diodorus’ own time (mid-first century BCE), contains references to a rationalized version of Hyperion as the first astronomer (see above).

  • Apollodorus: The Library, a mythological handbook from the first century BCE or the first few centuries CE, contains references to Hyperion.

  • Hyginus: The Fabulae, a Latin mythological handbook (first or second century CE), includes references to Hyperion.

Secondary Sources

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