Strike where the sun don’t shine…

The sun-god Helios could not believe it when his daughter Lampetië told him what had just happened: a bunch of savages had dared to kill and devour his sacred cattle that he pastured on the island of Thrinacia!

P. Tibaldi: The Companions of Odysseus Steal the Cattle of Helios (source:

Of course, Odysseus had been warned beforehand, and he even had passed on the warning to his companions: under no circumstances touch the cattle of Helios, as doing so would be a sure-fire way to trigger the devastating wrath of the gods!

But greed, following their adventures around Scylla and Charybdis, got the better of them and clouded their judgement.

Helios was displeased, to say the least, to see his sacred cattle killed. He approached Zeus about the matter at once, and in this context the following dialogue ensued (Homer, Odyssey 12.377–388, transl. Murray – Dimock):

‘Ζεῦ πάτερ ἠδ᾿ ἄλλοι μάκαρες θεοὶ αἰὲν ἐόντες,
τῖσαι δὴ ἑτάρους Λαερτιάδεω Ὀδυσῆος,
οἵ μευ βοῦς ἔκτειναν ὑπέρβιον, ᾗσιν ἐγώ γε
χαίρεσκον μὲν ἰὼν εἰς οὐρανὸν ἀστερόεντα,
ἠδ᾿ ὁπότ᾿ ἂψ ἐπὶ γαῖαν ἀπ᾿ οὐρανόθεν προτραποίμην.
εἰ δέ μοι οὐ τίσουσι βοῶν ἐπιεικέ᾿ ἀμοιβήν,
δύσομαι εἰς Ἀίδαο καὶ ἐν νεκύεσσι φαείνω.’

τὸν δ᾿ ἀπαμειβόμενος προσέφη νεφεληγερέτα Ζεύς·
‘Ἠέλι᾿, ἦ τοι μὲν σὺ μετ᾿ ἀθανάτοισι φάεινε
καὶ θνητοῖσι βροτοῖσιν ἐπὶ ζείδωρον ἄρουραν·
τῶν δέ κ᾿ ἐγὼ τάχα νῆα θοὴν ἀργῆτι κεραυνῷ
τυτθὰ βαλὼν κεάσαιμι μέσῳ ἐνὶ οἴνοπι πόντῳ.’

‘Father Zeus and you other blessed gods that are forever, take vengeance now on the comrades of Odysseus, son of Laertes, who have insolently slain my cattle, in which I took delight whenever I mounted to the starry heaven, and when I turned back again to the earth from heaven. If they do not pay me fit atonement for the cattle I will go down to Hades and shine among the dead.’

Then Zeus, the cloud-gatherer, answered him and said: ‘Helios, for your part do not fail to go on shining among the immortals and among mortal men upon the earth, the giver of grain. As for these men I will soon strike their swift ship with my bright thunderbolt, and shatter it to pieces in the midst of the wine-dark sea.’

Helios threatens to upset the order of the entire world in response to the violent interference with his cherished property:

εἰ δέ μοι οὐ τίσουσι βοῶν ἐπιεικέ᾿ ἀμοιβήν,
δύσομαι εἰς Ἀίδαο καὶ ἐν νεκύεσσι φαείνω.

If they do not pay me fit atonement for the cattle I will go down to Hades and shine among the dead.

Not the world of the living (and of the immortals), but the world of the dead, otherwise clad in eternal twilight or darkness, Helios threatens, will soon benefit from his powers, unless there be a proper response to the injustice he suffered: quite possibly the most drastic walk-out ever threatened.

Zeus is unwilling to take his chances in this matter – he does not even try to negotiate in the face of this fundamental threat. Instead, he begs Helios to keep rendering his vital services and offers retribution in response to the injustice that Helios had to endure.

It does not take long for Odysseus’ companions to experience the thundering consequences for their greed and sacrilege: they all drown, and Odysseus alone gets to survive – he is eventually stranded on Calypso’s island, where his return to Ithaca is stalled for another seven years.

Helios, the reliable provider of light and life on earth as we know it, is presented by the author as – quite literally! – prepared to go to, and through, hell in his quest for justice against those who cruelly took his cherished property away.

Helios succeeds in this quest. Though hardly powerless himself, it probably helped that he had an ally in a position of real power who was utterly unafraid to throw a thunderbolt or two when and where needed to hit the greedy thieves of Helios’ property.

About Peter Kruschwitz

Berliner. Classicist. Scatterbrain.
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4 Responses to Strike where the sun don’t shine…

  1. Sadah says:

    This is nice.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Sadah says:

    Would you like to share your content on our open publishing platform?


  3. Thank you for the kind offer, but on this occasion I’m afraid I have to decline. Keep up the good work, though!


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