Web Theoi
HELIADES
 
Greek Name Transliteration Latin Spelling Translation
Ἡλιαδες Ἡλιαδαι Hêliades, Hêliadai Heliades, Heliadae Daughters of the Sun
Φαιθωντιδες Phaithôntides Phaethontides Of Phaethon

THE HELIADES were seven nymph daughters of the sun-god Helios. When their brother Phaethon was struck from the chariot of the sun by Zeus, they gathered around his smoky grave on the banks of the River Eridanos and in their unrelenting grief were transformed into poplar-trees and their tears into golden amber.

Aeschylus and Ovid use the names of two of Homer's Neaerides for the poplar-tree sisters of Phaethon. However they were usually regarded as a distinct set of nymphs.

PARENTS
[1.1] HELIOS (Aeschylus Heliades, Quintus Smyrnaeus 5.627, Philoxenus of Cythera Frag 834, Apollonius Rhodius 4.598, Pausanias 1.4.1, Diodorus Siculus 5.23.2, Philostratus the Elder 1.11, Hyginus Fabulae 154, Nonnus Dionysiaca 38.99)
[1.2] HELIOS & KLYMENE (Ovid Metamorphoses 2.340)
NAMES
[1.1] MEROPE, HELIE, AIGLE, LAMPETIA, PHOIBE, AETHERIE, DIOXIPPE (Hyginus Fabulae 154)
[1.2] LAMPETIA, PHAETHOUSA, AIGLE (Aeschylus Heliades)
[1.2] LAMPETIA, PHAETHOUSA, PHOIBE (Ovid Metamorphoses 2.340)

ENCYCLOPEDIA

HELIADES (Hêliades), that is, the female descendants of Helios. The sisters of Phaëton are likewise called Heliades. (Ov. Met. ii. 340, &c.; Apollon. Rhod. iv. 604.)
PHAETHONTIADES or PHAETHONTIDES (Phaethontides), i.e. the daughters of Phaethon or Helios, and sisters of the unfortunate Phaethon. They are also called Heliades. (Virg. Eclog. vi. 62; Anthol. Palat. ix. 782.)
AEGLE (Aiglê). A sister of Phaeton, and daughter of Helios and Clymene. (Hygin. Fab. 154, 156.) In her grief at the death of her brother she and her sisters were changed into poplars.
ME′ROPE (Meropê). One of the Heliades or sisters of Phaëton. (Ov. Met. ii. 340, &c.; Hygin. Fab. 154.)
PHAETHU′SA (Phaethousa). One of the Heliades or Phaethontiades. (Ov. Met. ii. 346.)

Source: Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology.


Aeschylus, Heliades (lost play) (Greek tragedy C5th B.C.) :
Synopsis of the lost play by Smyth (L.C.L.): "The Daughters of Helios dealt with the legend of Phaëthon, whose rashness in diving the chariot of the Sun, his father, caused the parching of the earth, and thereby his punishment at the hands of Zeus, whose thunderbolt hurled him into the river Eridanus. In pity for the unceasing grief of Phaëthon’s sisters, Zeus turned them into poplars, from which, it was believed, their tears oozed forth and became amber, the stone of light; a poetic fancy due to the association of êlectron ‘amber’ with êlectôr ‘the beaming sun.’ The form assumed by the myth in Aeschylus is unknown; but it is certain that Euripides in his Phaëthon differed widely from the older poet. Aeschylus was in part dependent on Hesiod for the story; but whereas Hesiod knew of seven daughters of Helios, Aeschylus recognized only three--Lampetië, Aegle, and Phaëthousa--children of the sun-god and Rhode. Furthermore he transferred to Iberia the scene of the fall of Phaëthon."

Aeschylus, Fragment 35 Heliades (from Anecdota Graeca 346. 10) (trans. Smyth) (Greek tragedy C5th B.C.) :
"And Adria's daughters [the Heliades] shall learn a (new) way of mourning [i.e. with amber tears]."

Philoxenus of Cythera, Fragment 834 (from Pliny, Natural History) (trans. Campbell, Vol. Greek Lyric IV) (C5th B.C.) :
"When Phaethon was struck by the thunderbolt, his sisters were changed into poplar trees in their grief and every year shed tears of amber by the banks of the river Eridanos, which we call the Padus (the river Po); the amber is known as electrum, since the Sun is called Elector (elektor, the shiner). Many poets have told this."

Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica 4. 598 ff (trans. Rieu) (Greek epic C3rd B.C.) :
"The Argo [the ship of the Argonauts] sped on under sail, up the Eridanos as far as ships can go. They reached the outfall of that deep lake where Phaethon, struck in the breast and half-consumed by a blazing thunderbolt, fell into the water from the chariot of Helios (the Sun). His wounded body smoulders to this day and sends up clouds of steam. Even the light-winged birds that try to fly across the water fail to reach the other side and with a helpless flutter plunge into the heat. All around, the Heliades (daughters of the Sun), encased in tall poplars, utter their sad and unavailing plaint. Shining drops of amber fall from their eyes onto the sands and are dried by the sun. But when the wailing wind stirs the dark waters of the lake to rise above the beach, all the tears that have collected there are swept by the overflow into the river."

Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica 4. 619 ff :
"By day they [the Argonauts sailing up the river Eridanos] were plagued to the point of exhaustion by the nauseating stench from Phaethon’s smouldering body, which the outflow to the river emitted all the time. At night they had to listen to the loud lament of the shrill-voiced Heliades (daughters of Helios), whose tears were borne along on the stream like drops of oil [i.e. as amber]."

Diodorus Siculus, Library of History 5. 23. 2 (trans. Oldfather) (Greek historian C1st B.C.) :
"[When Phaethon lost control of the chariot of the sun and brought destruction to the earth:] Zeus smote Phaethon with a thunderbolt and brought back the sun to its accustomed course. And Phaethon fell to the earth at the mouths of the river which is now known as the Pados (the river Po), but in ancient times was called the Eridanos, and his sisters [the Heliades] vied with each other in bewailing his death and by reason of their exceeding grief underwent a metamorphosis of their nature, becoming poplar trees. And these poplars, at the same season each year, drip tears (or sap), and these, when they harden, for what men call amber, which in brilliance excels all else of the same nature and is commonly used in connection with the mourning attending the death of young."

Strabo, Geography 5. 1. 9 (trans. Jones) (Greek geographer C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"[On the river Eridanos, which was identified by Strabo with the Po of northern Italy:] I must disregard most of the mythical or false stories, as, for example, the stories of Phaethon, and of the Heliades that were changed into poplar-trees near the Eridanos (the Eridanos that exists nowhere on earth, although it is spoken of as near the Pados), and of the Elektrides (Amber) Islands that lie off the Pados (the River Po)."

Pausanias, Description of Greece 1. 4. 1 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.) :
"Through their [the Gaul's] country flows the river Eridanos, on the bank of which the daughters of Helios (the Sun) are supposed to lament the fate that befell their brother Phaethon."

Quintus Smyrnaeus, Fall of Troy 5. 627 ff (trans. Way) (Greek epic C4th A.D.) :
"And lucent amber-drops they laid thereon, years, say they, which the Daughters of the Sun (thugateres Helioi), the Lord of Omens, shed for Phaethon slain, when by Eridanos' flood they mourned for him. These, for undying honour to his son, the God [Helios] made amber, precious in men's eyes."

Philostratus the Elder, Imagines 1. 11 (trans. Fairbanks) (Greek rhetorician C3rd A.D.) :
"[A description of an ancient Greek painting at Neapolis (Naples):] Golden are the tears of the Heliades. The story is that they are shed for Phaethon; for in his passion for driving this son of Helios (the Sun) ventured to mount his father's chariot, but because he did not keep a firm rein he came to grief and fell into the Eridanos . . . the youth is thrown from the chariot and is falling headlong--or his hair is on fire and his breast smouldering with the heat; his fall will end in the river Eridanos and will furnish this stream with a mythical tale . . .
As for the women on the bank, not yet completely transformed into trees, men say that the Heliades on account of their brother's mishap changed their nature and became trees, and that they shed tears. The painting recognizes the story, for it puts roots at the extremities of their toes, while some, over here, are trees to the waist, and branches have supplanted the arms of others. Behold the hair, it is nothing but poplar leaves! Behold the tears, they are golden! While the welling tide of tears in their eyes gleams in the bright pupils and seems to attract rays of light, and the tears on the cheeks glisten amid the cheek's ruddy glow, yet the drops tricking down their breasts have already turned into gold. The River [Eridanos] also laments, emerging from its eddying stream, and offers it bosom to receive Phaethon--for the attitude is of one ready to receive--and soon it will harvest the tears of the Heliades; for the breezes and the chills which it exhales will turn into stone the tear-drops of the poplar trees, and it will catch them as they fall and conduct them through its bright waters to the barbarians by Okeanos."

Pseudo-Hyginus, Fabulae 153 (trans. Grant) (Roman mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"Phaethon, son of Sol [Helios] and Clymene, who had secretly mounted his father's car, and had been borne too high above the earth, from fear fell into the river Eridanus. When Jupiter [Zeus] struck him with a thunderbolt, everything started to burn . . . The sisters of Phaethon, because they had yoked the horses without the orders of their father, were changed into poplar trees."

Pseudo-Hyginus, Fabulae 154 :
"Phaethon . . . upon being told by his father that his grandfather was Sol [Helios], put to bad use the chariot he asked for. For when he was carried too mear the earth, everyithing burned in the fire that came near, and, struck by a thunderbolt, he fell into the river Po . . . The sisters of Phaethon, too, in grieving for their brother, were changed into poplar trees. Their tears, as Hesiod tells, ‘hardened into amber’ in spite of the change they are called Heliades. They are, then, Merope, Helie, Aegle, Lampetia, Phoebe, Aetherie, Dioxippe."

Ovid, Metamorphoses 2. 319 ff (trans. Melville) (Roman epic C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
[Phaethon was struck down by Zeus from the chariot of the sun when he lost control of the horses and set the earth aflame:]
"Phaethon, flames ravaging his auburn hair, falls headlong down, a streaming trail of light, as sometimes through the cloudless vault of night a star, though never falling, seems to fall. Eridanus receives him, far from home, in his wide waters half a world away. And bathes his burning face. The Naides Hesperiae bury his smouldering body in a tomb and on a stone engrave this epitaph: ‘Here Phaethon lies, his father’s charioteer; great was his fall, yet did he greatly dare.’ . . .
Clymene, distraught with sorrow, said whatever could be said in woes so terrible and beat her breast, and roamed the world to find his lifeless limbs and then his bones, and found his bones at last buried beside a foreign river-bank. And, prostrate there, she drenched in tears his name carved in the marble and hugged it to her breast. His sister's too, the three Heliades, wept sad tears, their futile tribute to the dead, and long lay prostrate on their brother's tomb, bruising their breasts and calling day and night Phaethon who never more would hear their moans. Four times the waxing crescent of the moon had filled her orb, in their wonted way, wailing was now their wont, they made lament, when Phaethusa, eldest of the three, meaning to kneel upon the ground, complained her feet were rigid, When Lampetie, her lovely sister, tried to come to her, she found herself held fast by sudden roots; the third, reaching to tear her hair, instead plucked leaves. One, in dismay, felt wood encase her shins and one her arms become long boughs. And while they stood bewildered, bark embraced their loins and covered, inch by inch, their waists, breasts, shoulders, hands, till only lips were left, calling their mother. She, what can she do but dart distractedly now here, now there, and kiss them while she may. It's not enough. She tries to tear the bark away and breaks the tender boughs, but from them bloody drops ooze like a dripping wound. ‘Stop, mother, stop!’ each injured girl protests; ‘I beg you, stop, the tree you tear is me. And now, farewell!’ The bark lapped her last words. So their tears still flow on, and oozing from the new-made boughs, drip and are hardened in the sun to form amber and then the clear stream catches them and carries them for Roman brides to wear."

Ovid, Metamorphoses 10. 91 ff :
"Poplars once the sad Heliades."

Ovid, Metamorphoses 10. 262 ff :
"Beads of amber, the tear-drops of the Heliades."

Valerius Flaccus, Argonautica 1. 504 ff (trans. Mozley) (Roman epic C1st A.D.) :
"[Helios addresses Zeus:] ‘The wood of Padus knows enough of my ancient sorrows, and the Sisters [the Heliades] who weep as they look upon their father.’"

Valerius Flaccus, Argonautica 5. 428 ff :
"[Amongst the scenes depicted on the walls of the palace of King Aeetes, a child of the sun:] His poplar sisters [the Heliades] were weeping for young Phaethon, while the charred lump fell into the terrified waters of Eridanus."

Statius, Thebaid 12. 412 ff (trans. Mozley) (Roman epic C1st A.D.) :
"His sisters [the Heliades] lave the smoking Phaethon, Hyperion's son, in the heated Padus: scarce was he interred, when a weeping grove rose by the river-side."

Statius, Silvae 5. 3. 85 (trans. Mozley) (Roman poetry C1st A.D.) :
"All the branches and all the amber tears of the Heliades."

Nonnus, Dionysiaca 2, 150 ff (trans. Rouse) (Greek epic C5th A.D.) :
"[A Hamadryas nymph grieves the loss of her tree:] Let me be one of the Heliades beside the stream of mourning Eridanos : often will I drop amber from my eyelids; I will spread my leaves to entwine with the dirge-loving clusters of my neighbouring poplar, bewailing my maidenhood with abundant tears--for Phaethon will not be my lament."

Nonnus, Dionysiaca 15. 370 ff :
"Singing the dirge, and not so loudly had the Heliades (daughters of Helios) wept at the flaring fate of Phaethon dead."

Nonnus, Dionysiaca 22. 90 ff :
"Eridanos . . . swallowed a foreigner, Phaethon in his flood . . . he brings wealth from his trees to the friends who live near him as he rolls along the brilliant amber gifts of the Heliades."

Nonnus, Dionysiaca 27. 189 ff :
"[Dionysos addresses his troops in the Indian War:] ‘Let Astris [daughter of Helios] wander away to the mountains, to bewail her son Deriades a slave in heavy chains: let her go, if she likes, to settle in Celtic land, that she also may turn into a tree with the Heliades [i.e. Astris' half-sisters] and weep often in floods of sorrowful tears.’"

Nonnus, Dionysiaca 38. 99 ff :
"Phaethon, struck by the steam of fire divine, fell tumbling half-burnt from Helios’s lightbearing chariot, and was swallowed up in the Celtic river; and the Heliades (daughters of Helios) are still on the banks of Eridanos, lamenting the audacious youth with their whimpering leaves. At these words, Dionysos rejoiced in hope of victory; then he questioned Hermes and wished to hear more of the Olympian tale which the Celts of the west know well: how Phaethon tumbled over and over through the air, and why even the Heliades (daughters of Helios) were changed into trees beside the moaning Eridanos, and from their leafy trees drop sparkling tears into the stream [i.e. as the source of amber]."

Nonnus, Dionysiaca 43. 400 ff :
"Eridanos brought shining gifts [to the wedding of Poseidon & Beroe], amber from the trees of the Heliades that trickle riches."

According to Smyth (L.C.L.) in his commentary on Aeschylus' Heliades : Phaëthon was hurled into the Eridanus, which Aeschylus, according to Pliny, Nat. Hist. 37. 31, placed in Iberia and identified with the Rhone, a river confused with the Po, on the banks of which was the city of Adria. Polybius, History ii. 16 and Plutarch, On the Delay of Divine Vengeance 12. p. 557, report that the inhabitants along the Eridanus wore black in mourning for Phaëthon. Quaestiones Phaëthonteae 18, refers "the way of mourning" to the tears of amber from the poplars into which the maidens had been transformed.

Greek Name Transliteration Latin Spelling Translation
Μεροπη Meropê Merope Face Turned
(meros, ops)
Φοιβη Phoibê Phoebe Bright, Shining
(phoibos)
Αιγλη Aiglê Aegle Shining, Radiant
(aiglê)
Διοξιππη Dioxippê Dioxippe Horse Driving
(diôxippos)
Ἡλιη Hêliê Helia Of the Sun
(hêlios)
Αεθρια Aethria Aethria Clear Sky
(aithrê)
Λαμπετιη Lampetiê Lampetia Shining
(lampetaô)

NOTES: The Heliades may have once been imagined as the stars of the constellation Eridanos (the River), whose heavenly tears fell to earth as amber. Another amber-coloured product, honey-dew, was popularly believed to be shed by heaven.
Their brother Phaethon was associated with the constellation Auriga (the Charioteer), which stands at the head of the Eridanus group.


Sources:

  • Greek Lyric V Philoxenus, Fragments - Greek Lyric B.C.
  • Aeschylus, Fragments - Greek Tragedy C5th B.C.
  • Apollonius Rhodius, The Argonautica - Greek Epic C3rd B.C.
  • Diodorus Siculus, The Library of History - Greek History C1st B.C.
  • Strabo, Geography - Greek Geography C1st B.C. - C1st A.D.
  • Pausanias, Description of Greece - Greek Travelogue C2nd A.D.
  • Quintus Smyrnaeus, Fall of Troy - Greek Epic C4th A.D.
  • Philostratus the Elder, Imagines - Greek Rhetoric C3rd A.D.
  • Hyginus, Fabulae - Latin Mythography C2nd A.D.
  • Ovid, Metamorphoses - Latin Epic C1st B.C. - C1st A,D,
  • Valerius Flaccus, The Argonautica - Latin Epic C1st A.D.
  • Statius, Thebaid - Latin Epic C1st A.D.
  • Statius, Silvae - Latin Poetry C1st A.D.
  • Nonnos, Dionysiaca - Greek Epic C5th A.D.

Other references not currently quoted here: Euripides Hippolutus 734; Virgil Aeneid