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Tithonos Eos Louvre G438 detail.jpg
Eos pursues the reluctant Tithonus, who holds a lyre, on an Attic oinochoe of the Achilles Painter, circa 470–460 BC (Louvre).
Personal information
Parents Laomedon of Troy and Strymo
Siblings Priam, Lampus, Hicetaon, Clytius, Hesione, Cilla, Astyoche, Proclia, Aethilla, Clytodora
Consort Eos
Children Memnon, Emathion

In Greek mythology, Tithonus ( /tɪˈθnəs/ or /t-/ ; Ancient Greek : Τιθωνός, romanized: Tithonos) was the lover of Eos, Goddess of the Dawn. [lower-roman 1] He was a prince of Troy, the son of King Laomedon by the Naiad Strymo (Στρυμώ). [lower-roman 2] The mythology reflected by the fifth-century vase-painters of Athens envisaged Tithonus as a rhapsode , as attested by the lyre in his hand, on an oinochoe (wine jug) of the Achilles Painter, circa 470–460 BC.


An asteroid (6998) has been named after Tithonus.


Tithonus has been taken by the allegorist to mean ‘a grant of a stretching-out’ (from teinō and ōnė), a reference to the stretching-out of his life, at Eos’s plea; but it is likely, rather, to have been a masculine form of Eos’s own name, Titonë – from titō, ‘day [2] and onë, ‘queen’ – and to have meant ‘partner of the Queen of Day’. [3]


Eos is said to have taken Tithonus, from the royal house of Troy, to be her lover. [lower-roman 3] [4] The myth of Eos and Tithonus' love was known to Homer, who wrote that in the morning Eos rose from the bed she shared with Tithonus in order to give her light to mankind. [5]

The mytheme of the goddess' mortal lover is an archaic one; when a role for Zeus was inserted, a bitter twist appeared: according to the Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite, when Eos asked Zeus to make Tithonus immortal, she forgot to ask that he be granted eternal youth. [lower-roman 4] [lower-roman 5] [6] Tithonus indeed lived forever,

but when loathsome old age pressed full upon him, and he could not move nor lift his limbs, this seemed to her in her heart the best counsel: she laid him in a room and put to the shining doors. There he babbles endlessly, and no more has strength at all, such as once he had in his supple limbs. [4]

In later tellings, he eventually became a cicada (tettix), [7] [8] eternally living, but begging for death to overcome him. [lower-roman 6] In the Olympian system, the "queenly" and "golden-throned" Eos can no longer grant immortality to her lover as Selene had done, but must ask it of Zeus, as a boon. In the account of Hieronymus of Rhodes from the third century BC, the blame is shifted from Eos onto Tithonus, who asked for immortality but not agelessness from his lover, who was then unable to help him otherwise and turned him into a cicada. [9] Propertius wrote that Eos did not forsake Tithonus, old and aged as he was, and would still embrace him and hold him in her arms rather than leaving him deserted in his cold chamber, while cursing the gods for his cruel fate. [10]

This myth might have been used to explain why cicadas were particularly noisy during the early hours of the morning, when the dawn appears in the sky. [11] Sir James George Frazer notes that among ancient Greeks and several other peoples there was a widespread belief that creatures that can shed their skin renew their youth and live forever. [12] It might also be a reference to the fact that the high-pitched talk of old men was compared to the cicadas' singing, as seen in a passage from the Iliad . [7] In fact the ancient Greeks would use a cicada sitting on a harp as an emblem of music. [13]

Eos bore Tithonus two sons, Memnon and Emathion. According to Quintus Smyrnaeus, Memnon was raised by the Hesperides on the coast of Oceanus. [14] According to the historian Diodorus Siculus, Tithonus, who had travelled east from Troy into Assyria and founded Susa, was bribed with a golden grapevine to send his son Memnon to fight at Troy against the Greeks. [15]

The Tithonus poem is one of the few nearly complete works of the Greek lyric poet Sappho, having been pieced together from fragments discovered over a period of more than a hundred years. [lower-roman 7]

Eos (as Thesan) and Tithonus (as Tinthu or Tinthun) provided a pictorial motif inscribed or cast in low relief on the backs of Etruscan bronze hand-mirrors. [lower-roman 8] [16]

Modern poems

See also


  1. Daughter of the Titans Hyperion and Theia, Eos (Aurora in Latin) was the sister of Helios and Selene. As one of the major offspring of the Titans, she is sometimes referred to as one of the Titanides (a Titaness; the English plural "Titanesses" is rarely used), but like the Olympians, is usually described by the more general term "goddess".
  2. In an alternative version of the myth, mentioned by Pseudo-Apollodorus, Tithonus was the son of Cephalus, another lover of Eos, and father of Phaethon. [1]
  3. In the Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite, Tithonus is cited as an example to Anchises, another Trojan prince, later abducted by Aphrodite.
  4. Compare the mytheme in its original, blissful form, in the pairing of Selene and Endymion, a myth that also associated with Asia Minor. Peter Walcot considers Tithonus a "corrective" example to the myth of Ganymede: "the example of Ganymedes promises too much, and might beguile Anchises into expecting too much, even an ageless immortality". ("The Homeric 'Hymn' to Aphrodite: A Literary Appraisal" in Greece & Rome 2nd Series, vol. 38, part 2 (October 1991), pp. 137–155, at 149.)
  5. In one version, Zeus decided he wanted the beautiful youth Ganymede for himself; to repay Eos, he promised to fulfill one wish.
  6. In some variants, Eos deliberately turns Tithonus into a cricket or a cicada.
  7. The first modern printing of the complete poem was published in two sections by Michael Gronewald and Robert W. Daniel in Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik vol. 147, pp. 1–8, and vol. 149, pp. 1–4 (2004); an English translation by Martin West is printed in the Times Literary Supplement, 21 or 24 June 2005. The right half of this poem was previously found in fragment 58 L-P. The fully restored version can be found in M. L. West, "The New Sappho", in Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik, vol. 151, pp. 1–9 (2005).
  8. As on one in the Vatican Museums, Museo Gregoriano Etrusco, acc. no. 12241

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The Tithonus poem, also known as the old age poem or the New Sappho, is a poem by the archaic Greek poet Sappho. It is part of fragment 58 in Eva-Maria Voigt's edition of Sappho. The poem is from Book IV of the Alexandrian edition of Sappho's poetry. It was first published in 1922, after a fragment of papyrus on which it was partially preserved was discovered at Oxyrhynchus in Egypt; further papyrus fragments published in 2004 almost completed the poem, drawing international media attention. One of very few substantially complete works by Sappho, it deals with the effects of ageing. There is scholarly debate about where the poem ends, as four lines previously thought to have been part of the poem are not found on the 2004 papyrus.


  1. Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca, 3.14.3
  2. Tzetzes on Lycophron, Alexandra 941
  3. Graves, Robert (2017). The Greek Myths - The Complete and Definitive Edition. Penguin Books Limited. p. 150. ISBN   9780241983386.
  4. 1 2 Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite, 218 ff.
  5. Homer, Odyssey 5.1: "And now, as Dawn rose from her couch beside Tithonos - harbinger of light alike to mortals and immortals." Trans. Samuel Butler.
  6. Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite, 218–238.
  7. 1 2 Hard, Robin, The Routledge Handbook of Greek Mythology: Based on H.J. Rose's "Handbook of Greek Mythology", Psychology Press, 2004, ISBN   9780415186360, p. 47.
  8. Keightley, p. 63; Suda, s.v "Old Man Tithonus".
  9. Tsagalis and Markantonatos, p. 297
  10. Propertius, Elegies 2.18b
  11. Loeb Classical Library, Homeric Hymns, Homeric Apocrypha, Lives of Homer, 2003, p. 177, note 48
  12. See Frazer's note on Apollodorus 3.12.4
  13. "The Cicada". The Sydney Morning Herald . National Library of Australia. 21 January 1928. p. 21. Retrieved 7 June 2013.
  14. Quintus Smyrnaeus, Fall of Troy, ii. 495.
  15. Diodorus Siculus book 4.75, book 2.22.
  16. Marilyn Y. Goldberg, "The 'Eos and Kephalos' from Caere: Its Subject and Date", in American Journal of Archaeology vol. 91, part 4, pp. 605–614, fig. 2 (October, 1987).
  17. "Victorian Web: Alfred Tennyson's "Tithonus"" . Retrieved 2006-09-02.
  18. Stallings, A. E. (1 November 1999). Archaic Smile: Poems. Univ of Evansville Pr. ISBN   0930982525.

Further reading