by Joan Han
Helios’ chariot rose over the horizon and stained the sky faintly orange. The clouds were too visible, and an ugly grey in contrast to the shining woman who lured the gates open, Eos, more commonly known as Dawn. Ringlets of gold framed her lovely face and blew about in the morning wind. She seemed to glow by herself, rosy light emitting from her body, which was wrapped in saffron robe. The sun god hollered a cheery “Good morning!” over his shoulder as he sailed into the sky, but she was a sober as can be.
“Be safe, brother”, she whispered, and a tear fell from her cheek.
Many generations ago, Helios’ sister was a cheery goddess who especially enjoyed laughing and making others laugh. She was very popular, and she often liked to visit her friend Mnemosyne, the goddess of memory.
“Mnemy, dear! Hello!” Eos called one early morning, before the Sun’s rising. Her grin revealed her pretty, white teeth, which were tinted slightly blue.
While Eos was friendly and outgoing, Mnemosyne was a sullen, bitter woman who was used to keeping to herself. “Eos, please, I am not in a good mood at the moment,” she muttered.
Eos hovered closer to the crouched figure. “But whatever is the matter?”
Mnemosyne gave an anguished cry, “Eos, why must my fate be so miserable? Why must I spend my years longing for children with him when clearly, CLEARLY it is not destined to be so? Why must I suffer like this??”
“Who is ‘he’?” Eos inquired.
“Only the mightiest, most powerful god in the universe; the one who strikes fear in all hearts, godly or mortal; the god whose words are law… He is the one I love.” Mnemosyne looked up at Eos with teary, bloodshot eyes.
“Oh,” Eos said with a certain understanding, “Well, it’ll be alright.” And she gave a ready smile, one so lovely that it would lift even the spirits that did not wish to be lifted. And Mnemosyne gave a feeble smile in return.
A moment later, Eos left Mnemosyne to her own despair and made her way to the gates of heaven to meet with her brother, Helios. She was extremely close to her brother, having known him all her life, and they truly were the best of friends. One fateful morning, before his daily journey across the sky, Helios was in a horrible mood.
“Hello, brother!” Eos called jovially.
Helios ignored her. Those puny humans Odysseus’ men just eaten his precious cattle, the joy of his life, and Zeus refused to kill them.
“Heeellooo,” Eos said in a singsong voice.
Helios knew that Athena was the reason behind Zeus’ stubbornness. She was Zeus’ favorite daughter, and that child treated troublesome Odysseus like a beloved pet. Not only was Helios mad at the lowly mortal, Poseidon was still fuming, because Odysseus had not only blinded Poseidon’s son, he had scorned the mighty god and attacked his pride. The sea had never been so harsh and stormy.
“Helios! Answer me!” Eos shouted in his ear.
“WHAT,” he raged, “You are so annoying!”
Eos giggled and spun around. A golden colored robe spun around with her. “How do I look? It’s new, and it’s called saffron,” she added.
Helios rolled his eyes. He had more important matters to attend to before the clock struck dawn. “It’s hideous,” he muttered just to provoke her, and his giant, muscular legs sent him across the sky toward Athena’s palace faster than Eos could fly.
Athena was waiting outside when Helios arrived.
She glared threateningly, “I know what you want, and you are not going to get it.” But laws were laws and must be followed. “Please, come in, Helios- son of Hyperion.”
“Watch it. I am much older than you,” Helios threatened quietly.
“But I am not a child,” Athena retorted. Her weapon close at hand, she stood tall and proud, “You are not the only wise being of the sky. You see me as a naïve child, but I have my reasons for protecting Odysseus. I watch over those who are so devoted to me, which is more than one can say for yourself.”
“You are an ungrateful youngling who knows nothing in the ways of the gods. Respect your elders.” He spat angrily.
“I will give respect to those who deserve it!” Athena’s regal words echoed across the sky as she turned her back on the sun and stalked into her palace.
Helios then, fuming, sprinted in the direction of Zeus’ residence. The more he thought about it, the angrier he became. Those cows were so painstakingly bred that only the most perfect reproduced. The food, the land, and the herders, everything was all so carefully chosen, and Helios loved to look down upon them as he made his journey across the sky every day. He was careful to shine brightly, so that the grass would grow green and lush, but not too hot, lest the cows become uncomfortable. No, this will not do. The killers must be punished.
Helios started ranting to Zeus even before he was invited in. “Your daughter is a spoiled brat. She is out of control. She needs discipline. She has no respect for anyone. You must do something about this. She has an obsession for that human Odysseus and it’s unhealthy, I say.”
Zeus’ eyes betrayed his amusement. “If indeed you are talking about Athena, which I assume you are, she is no more a spoiled brat than Hera. And goddesses should be treated well, to keep them happy, don’t you agree? She is not out of control, or undisciplined, and she has the same love for Odysseus as any god would have for his loyal subjects. Is not your love for your cattle unhealthy, dear Helios? They are just cows, after all.”
“They are MY cows. And I do not think anyone is taking me seriously.”
Zeus replied sternly, “Helios, do not be so immature, please.”
Helios’ temper flared and he yelled, “You are just as stupid and insensitive as your daughter. If you do not kill Odysseus and his men, I will! They will die, sizzling in my fire, just as my cattle died in theirs! Is this not the very meaning of justice?”
He had barely taken a step when Zeus thundered, “Where do you think you are going?”
Helios stopped and said quietly, “I swear, on the vastness of my father Hyperion, mighty Titan, son of Gaea and Uranus, and the life-soul of my mother Theia, Titaness, daughter of Eurynome, that if you do not punish those vile insects for eating my cattle I will set forever in the underworld, and no one will ever see the light of day again.”
Zeus froze. This was not good.
“I will do as you ask, but know that if you ever use such petty threats on me again, you will receive a worse punishment than Prometheus’ when he stole our fire so long ago.”
But when Zeus threw thunderbolts down upon Odysseus’ men, Athena heard, and rushed over to her father. She learned of Odysseus’ fate and pleaded with Zeus not to kill him. “My daughter,” he thought. A pang of love struck the god’s heart, and he relented. “I will not kill him, but he is the only one who will be spared. He will live ‘til Ithaca, daughter, do not worry. The Phaeacians will accompany him.”
Helios is all-seeing, and when he saw that the ringleader had been spared, he was extremely angry. He bellowed across the sky at Zeus, “Kill him! Kill him now, or I will act upon my oath, I swear I will.”
Zeus heard and sent Boreas, the winter wind, to tell Helios that Zeus would kill Odysseus after he returned to Ithaca, but the message never got there. Boreas passed Helios’ cattle on the way and, since he is Helios’ nephew, informed him about the cattle, completely forgetting about Zeus’ message.
“The rest of your cattle”, Boreas said, “have died. I suppose they died from depression.”
Helios looked, and saw that it was true. Overcome with grief and rage, he hurtled toward the underworld. He had been there before. It wasn’t that bad, once you get used to all of the dead people. And it would not be so dark, because he would shine true and bright. The light, however, would not reach the surface, and Zeus would be sorry. Sorry because he never appreciated Helios for his hard work every day, and his one pride and joy, his cattle, were all dead. Suddenly, Helios remembered his sister, and how he would miss her. But his anger blinded him, and his angst overcame his concern and he grew ever closer to the portal to the underworld. Zeus, seeing how this was an emergency situation, called on Mnemosyne, the goddess of memory.
“Let him forget what he cherishes in his past, and forget all in his future as well”, Zeus declared, “and I shall give you what you most desire.”
Lightning-fast, Mnemosyne glided over to Helios unseen, and whispered in his ear. And just like that, he forgot. When Eos discovered this, she wept, a tear for every day she is a stranger to her brother. Even when he learned her name, he would make his pilgrimage across the sky, and by the time he got back, he will have forgotten everything about her. To lose your love for anyone and anything is indeed a very cruel punishment, because then what are you but a mindless zombie?
As for Mnemosyne, she got her wish, and with Zeus she gave birth to nine talented daughters, the Muses. Vengeful and full of grief, Eos seduced Zeus, and the daughter born from their combined fierceness was the gentle creature that thrived in Eos’ tears, Ersa.
The tear is precious, a pure drop of misery from the eye of a heavenly being. Boreas, her son, the North wind, flew around and around the sky, blowing fiercely. He never got used to Eos crying, for she had always been laughing, and young as he was, he knew that somehow it was his fault. He tried to catch the giant droplet and bring it back to his mother, but to no avail, because the tear had already hardened and frozen into a drop of ice, heavy with Eos’ grief. But he did not give up. The wind whooshed madly and the ice shattered into a million crystals that landed on the grasses of suburban neighborhoods and slowly melted.
And so dew came into being, the teardrop of a goddess, scattered across the land, and as the unknowing Helios rises into the sky, he melts the tears, and has no idea that his lost memories created the nectar that keeps grass barely alive in the wintertime, the very grass that fed his beloved cattle, which are no more.