Tithonos Eos Louvre G438 detail

Eos pursues the reluctant Tithonos, who holds a lyre, on an Attic oinochoe of the Achilles Painter, ca. 470 BC–460 BCE (Musée du Louvre).

In Greek mythology, Tithonus or Tithonos (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. 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 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, 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 "King of the East" by Hesiod, but he was killed on the plain of Troy by Achilles. Aeschylus says in passing that Tithonus also had a mortal wife, named Cissia (otherwise unknown).

A newly-found poem on Tithonus is the fourth extant complete poem by ancient Greek lyrical poetess Sappho.[8] Eos and Tithonus (inscribed Tinthu or Tinthun) provided a pictorial motif that was inscribed on Etruscan bronze hand-mirrorbacks, or cast in low relief.[9]


  • "Tithonus" by Alfred Tennyson was originally written as "Tithon" in 1833 and completed in 1859.[10]

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.

  • "Tithonus" by Paul Muldoon was originally published in The New Yorker and included in the book Horse Latitudes (2006).
  • Johann Gottfried Herder: "Tithonus und Aurora"

Cultural references

Aldous Huxley's novel, "After Many a Summer Dies the Swan" was titled after a verse from the Lord Tennyson poem "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.


  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. Servius' commentary on Virgil's Aeneid, i.493; ps-Apollodorus, Bibliotheke iii.12.4 and Epitome v.3.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.).
  10. "Victorian Web: Alfred Tennyson's "Tithonus"". Retrieved 2006-09-02. 

External links

This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at Tithonus. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.

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