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For other uses, see Tithonus (disambiguation).
Eos pursues the reluctant Tithonos, who holds a lyre, on an Attic oinochoe of the Achilles Painter, ca. 470 BC–460 BCE (Louvre).

In Greek mythology, Tithonos (latinised Tithonus, pronounced [tɪˈθoʊnəs] or [taɪ-]; Ancient Greek: Τιθωνός) was the lover of Eos, Titan[1] of the dawn, who was known in Roman mythology as Aurora. Tithonus was a Trojan by birth, the son of King Laomedon of Troy by a water nymph named Strymo (Στρυμώ). The mythology reflected by the fifth-century vase-painters of Athens envisaged Tithonus as a rhapsode, as the lyre in his hand, on an oinochoe (wine jug) of the Achilles Painter, ca. 470 BC–460 BCE (illustration) attests. Competitive singing, as in the Contest of Homer and Hesiod, is also depicted vividly in the Homeric Hymn to Apollo and mentioned in the two Hymns to Aphrodite.[2]

Eos kidnapped Ganymede and Tithonus, both from the royal house of Troy, to be her lovers.[3] The mytheme of the goddess's mortal lover is an archaic one; when a role for Zeus was inserted, a bitter new twist appeared:[4] according to the Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite, when Eos asked Zeus to make Tithonus immortal,[5] she forgot to ask for eternal youth (218-38). 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. (Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite)

In later tellings he eventually turned into a cicada, eternally living, but begging for death to overcome him.[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.

Eos bore Tithonus two sons, Memnon and Emathion. In the Epic Cycle that revolved around the Trojan War Memnon wearing armor made by Hephaestus, came to help the Trojans and a battle took place with Memnon killing Antilochus and Achilles killing Memnon, but the God Zeus grants Memnon immortality at the request of Memnon's mother Eos (Dawn), while Achilles was killed by the God Apollo & Paris when he rushed towards the gates of Troy, and according to the Greek historian Diodorus Siculus, Tithonus, who has travelled east from Troy into Assyria and founded Susa, is bribed to send his son Memnon to fight at Troy with a golden grapevine.[7] Memnon was called "son of Dawn" by Hesiod.[8] According to Quintus Smyrnaeus, Memnon was not from the east, but said himself he was raised by the Hesperides on the coast of Oceanus.[9] This would make Memnon king of the west and son (colony) of the east, being that his father Tithonus was a Trojan by birth and from the western Ocean Troy lies towards the Dawn (the east), the true homeland of Memnon's father. Also his mother Eos was the mother of her other 1st born the west-wind Zephyrus, which according to Homer blows from the Ocean to give cool air to men.[10] And the Goddess Dawn along with her father Hyperion (the sun) travels from the east to the extreme west to bring light to the whole earth.

One of the poems on Tithonus is the fourth extant complete poem by ancient Greek lyrical poet Sappho.[11]

Eos and Tithonus (inscribed Tinthu or Tinthun) provided a pictorial motif that was inscribed on Etruscan bronze hand-mirrorbacks, or cast in low relief.[12]


The poem is a dramatic monologue in blank verse from the point of view of Tithonus. Unlike the original myth, it is Tithonus who asks for immortality, and it is Aurora, not Zeus, who grants this imperfect gift. As narrator, Tithonus laments his unnatural longevity, which separates him from the mortal world as well as from the immortal but beautiful Aurora.

Other references to Tithonus

  • Aubrey de Grey states that SENS research is often misunderstood or misrepresented as likely to lead to prolonging, rather than postponing, the period of decrepitude characteristic of old age — a belief that he calls the "Tithonus error", in reference to the myth of Tithonus.
  • The protagonist wonders if he is like Tithonus in Book 4, Chapter 1, of Alec Waugh (brother of Evelyn Waugh)'s novel, The Loom of Youth.
  • An episode of the television show The X-Files titled "Tithonus" concerns a man who cheated Death, but eventually came to see his immortality as a curse rather than a gift. The man is able to "sense" death coming for people and attempts to catch the face of Death in photographs, believing that if he sees his face, he will finally die.
  • In the television show Doctor Who and the spin-off show Torchwood, the character Jack Harkness faces the same fate as Tithonus in that when brought back from the dead, he discovers he is now both immortal — in the sense of recovering well from being killed - and still ageing, albeit extremely slowly — perhaps over billions of years. Tithonus is referenced in the second episode of the fourth series of Torchwood, Miracle Day. When every Human on the planet becomes immortal, it is found that, while no one can die, people still age. Tithonus is used as a way of explaining this.
  • A reprise of the theme of immortality without eternal youth appear in Book 3 of Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels where the struldbrugs are in Tithonus's predicament. The key difference being that struldbrugs are born with their condition; which is identifiable at birth, and is seen as an affliction and a warning or lesson for all those fortunate enough not to be born with the curse of immortality.
  • Lord Dunsany deals with the Tithonus myth in his Jorkens story, 'After Many a Summer', bringing the force of modern science to bear on the problem. The title is a phrase from Tennyson's poem 'Tithonus'.
  • The opera The Dawn Makers by Allen Shearer on a libretto by Claudia Stevens is based on the Tithonus myth. Premiered in San Francisco in 2009,[15] the opera is set in the present day with new names given to the characters. The cast includes a pool maintenance man from Pasadena whom the Eos character has brought to Mount Olympus to be her new lover.

See also


  1. In classical Greek, the female titans are Titanides, but titaness is rarely used in modern English.
  2. Homeric Hymn to Apollo 165-173; Homeric Hymns 5 and 9.
  3. Anchises is another mortal from the Trojan house abducted by a goddess (Aphrodite) for erotic purposes. Tithonus is mentioned by Aphrodite as an example to encourage Anchises in the Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite, 218ff.
  4. Homeric Hymn; compare the mytheme in its original, blissful form in the pairing of Selene and Endymion, a myth that was also located in Asia Minor. Peter Walcot, ("The Homeric 'Hymn' to Aphrodite': A Literary Appraisal" Greece & Rome 2nd Series, 38.2 October 1991, pp. 137-155) reads the Tithonus example as a "corrective" to the myth of Ganymede (pp. 149-50): "the example of Ganymedes... promises too much, and might beguile Anchises into expecting too much, even an ageless immortality" (p. 149).
  5. In a variant, Zeus decided he wanted the beautiful youth Ganymede for himself; to repay Eos he promised to fulfill one wish.
  6. Some stories say that Eos turned Tithonus into a grasshopper or cicada.
  7. Diodorus Siculus book 4.75, book 2.22.
  8. Hesiod Theogony 984
  9. Quintus Smyrnaeus, Fall of Troy, Book 2.495.
  10. Homer, Odyssey, book 4.565.
  11. The poem was published for the first time by Michael Gronewald and Robert W. Daniel in Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik 147 (2004), 1-8 and 149 (2004), 1-4; in English translation by Martin West in the Times Literary Supplement, 21 or 24 June 2005. The right half of this poem was previously found in fr. 58 L-P. The fully restored version of the poem can be found in M.L. West, “The New Sappho,” Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik 151 (2005), 1-9.
  12. As on one in the Vatican Museums, Museo Gregoriano Etrusco, acc. no. 12241 (illustrated by Marilyn Y. Goldberg, "The 'Eos and Kephalos' from Caere: Its Subject and Date" American Journal of Archaeology 91.4 [October 1987:605-614] p. 608 fig. 2.).
  13. "Victorian Web: Alfred Tennyson's "Tithonus"". Retrieved 2006-09-02. 
  14. http://www.amazon.com/dp/0930982525/ref=rdr_ext_tmb
  15. Busse, Thomas. "Here Comes the Dawn". San Francisco Classical Voice. Retrieved 10 February 2009.

External links