🜚 Sun (Helios, Sol, Phrē, Šamaš)

Category: Gods > Cosmocrators (Planets)

1 Martianus Capella

I want to begin my account of the Sun with my namesake, 5th-century polymath Martianus Capella, the last pagan scholar writing in Latin whose works we possess, because it vividly shows the degree to which Ancient Mediterranean traditions, rather than siloed into “pantheons”, came together fruitfully and beautifully.

In his great compendium, the Philologia (better known as On the Wedding of Philologia and Mercury), the god Sun prominently features twice: in an account of the arrival of the gods at the palace of Jupiter to hold council (Philologia I.73–77), and in the description of Philologia’s ascent through the celestial spheres (Philologia II.182–193). Martianus also describes the god Apollo as being (in) the Sun (I.11–29), but I will adress that in a later section, gods willing.

The first passage (partly adapted from the translation of W. H. Stahl) runs as follows: “(I.73) After these (Saturn, Ops and Vesta), the golden Sun was summoned with his bright sister (the Moon). As soon as he began to approach the entrance, a kind of scarlet flash of red crimson preceded him, and the grace of his rosy splendor illuminated the entire court of this hall, such all its other adornments were dazzled. And when he was about to enter and shone the first rays of his honored head inside, even Jupiter himself shrank back a little, dimmed by the immense power (numen) of his brilliance; but the two spheres¹ which he was holding in his right hand shone back with the reflection of a kindred light. (74) But Juno,² lustrous with many-colored adornments and manifold light of gemstones, shone resplendent with fair glittering.

(75) He had an effulgent crown in circular shape,³ which was flashing with twelve flames of burning stones. In the front, there were three gems, lychis, astrites and ceraunos,⁴ which, gleaming with flashing rays, hid his reverend face from the perception of the onlookers. Of these, one was said to be taken from the brain of Cancer, the second from the eyes of Leo, and the third from the forehead of Gemini. Another six glowed from either side, of which one was called smaragdos, another scythis, and the third iaspis;⁶ amidst their green – lights pregnant with the sea – a kind of deeper sweetness shone reflected from his countenance. Dendrites and heliotropios were set on either side of hyacinthus;⁷ these stones would bring verdure to the earth through their colors at the designated periods of time – a change Spring and Autumn were said to seasonally bestow in obedience to his⁸ power (numen). But the back of the crown was joined with the stones hydatis, adamas and crystallum;⁹ for flooding Winter had brought these forth. And you would have thought the god’s own hair to be tinged with gold, and his locks gilded.

(76) Now, when he had just entered, he had the likeness of a glistening boy; in midpath, of a puffing young man; at the end, he had the appearance of an old man sinking down.⁹ Indeed, by some it was believed he went through twelve transformations.¹⁰

“And his entire body was of fire; his feet were winged; his cloak was scarlet, but reddened with much gold. (77) Now, with his left hand, he held forth a coruscant shild, and a burning torch with his right, while his shoes were as if made of pyropus.¹¹

“Next to him, the Moon received her light from her brother’s lamp, with a kind of soft and gentle face.”

1: These spheres, representing Sun and Moon, were part of the iconography of the cosmic god Jupiter described earlier in the book.
2: The air.
3: The zodiac. Martianus goes on to relate the cycle of seasons to the Sun’s annual course through the zodiacal signs.
4: Remigius?
8: The Sun’s.
9: The imagery of the day as the life of the Sun from youth to old age and death is Egyptian.
10: One for each hour (twelfth) of sunlight; another Egyptian conception, defended by Iamblichus, Response to Porphyry VII.3. According to Greek Magical Papyri (PGM) IV.1596–1715, the shapes are those of a (1) cat, (2) dog, (3) serpent, (4) scarab, (5) donkey, (6) lion, (7) goat, (8), bull, (9) falcon, (10) baboon, (11) ibis and (12) crocodile. Also see the parallel text PGM XXVII.1, and the divergent but sadly damaged list in PGM III.494–611.
11: An alloy of copper and gold. The description in the latter part of 76 and 77, for which I can give no particular source or parallel and which may well be original, is more directly representative of the Sun’s appearance in the sky than the usual Greco-Roman iconography.

The second passage: “(II.182) Soon, (Philologia) endeavored to toil towards the solar sphere, which through a distance of three half tones, which is also counted as one tone and a half,¹ made the ascent wearisome.

(183) There, she beheld a kind of ship,² which governed with varying desire the courses of all of nature, and entirely filled with the every mass of flames, it encompassed all goods.³ Over it presided seven sailors, brothers and wholly alike each other.⁵ On the prow, the shape of a cat was depicted,⁶ on the mast, that of a lion,⁷ and on the stern, that of a crocodile could be seen.⁸ (184) On this ship, a kind of fount of etherial light,⁹ flowing in hidden streams, poured forth into the lights of the entire cosmos.¹⁰

“When Philologia saw this, she rose up and with complete devotion, she supplicated the god with her eyes half-shut, speaking the following prayer:¹¹

(185) ‘The unknown Father’s lofty power or first descendant,¹²
Mind-creating kindling, fount of intellect, origin of light,¹³
Rulership of nature, ornament and utterance of the gods,¹⁴
Cosmic eye,¹⁵ splendor of shining Olympus,
To whom it is allowed to perceive the Father beyond the cosmos,¹⁶
And to see the great god;¹⁷ whom the sphere of ether
Obeys, and who govern the orbs with their immeasurable rushes,
(186) For you alone go the middle course, bestowing benign
Temperateness to those above, urging on and restraining
The sacred stars of the gods, when you impose a rule on their courses.¹⁸
(187) Hence, it is the law that you run in the fourth sphere,¹⁹
So that this number, by its perfect proportion, may be shown as yours;
Do you not give the double tetrachord out of this principle?²⁰
(188) Latium calls you Sol because solely²¹ you are by honor
The summit of the light after the Father,²³ and your sacred head,
They say, bears golden lights from twice six rays,²⁴
Because you bring about as many months,as many hours.²⁵
(189) They say that you drive four wing-footed (horses) with your whips,
Because solely you can tame the four-yoked chariot that the elements bring about.²⁶
(190) For by restraining the darkness, you reveal the light of the heavens,²⁷
When they call you Phoebus, who gives forth the secrets of the future.²⁸

(191) Or, because you dissolve the crimes of the night, Lyaeus.²⁹
The Nile venerates you as Serapis, Memphis as Osiris,³⁰
Divergent rites as Mithras, Dis, Horus and Typhon.³¹
(192) Also beautiful Attis, and the nourishing youth of the curved plough,³²
Hammon of arid Libya,³³ and Byblian Adon;³⁴
Thus, the whole globe calls you by varying name.
(193) Greetings, true face of the gods and paternal countenance,³⁵
Whose three letters, with the number eight and six hundred,³⁶
Forms the sacred denomination and sign of Intellect.³⁷
Father, grant my mind to ascend to the aetherial assemblies
And to know the starry heaven through your sacred name!’

(194) After the Sun had heard this, she was commanded to pass through the seat of the gods.”

36: The three letters are Φ (500), Ρ (100) and Η (8), i.e., Φρῆ (pꜣ-rꜣ), the Egyptian name of the Sun. Martianus regards the Egyptian names of the gods as truest ones […], but avoids giving them directly.
37: Mind

The Latin text of the hymnic prayer:

(185) Ignōti vīs celsa patris vel prīma propāgo,
fōmes sēnsificus, mentis fōns, lūcis orīgo,
regnum nātūrae, decus atqu(e) assertio dīvum
mundānusqu(e) oculus, fulgor splendentis Olympī,
ultrāmundānum fās est cui cernere patrem
et magnum spectāre deum, cui circulus aethrae
pāret, et immēnsīs moderāris raptibus orbīs:
(186) nam medium tū curris iter dāns sōlus amīcam
temperiem superīs, compellēns atque coercēns
sīdera sacra deum, cum lēgem cursibus addis;
(187) hinc est quod quartō iūs est tē currere circō
ut tibi perfectā numerus ratiōne probētur:
nonn(e) hāc prīncipiō geminum tū dās tetrachordon?
(188) Sōlem tē Latium vocitat quod sōlus honōre
post patrem sīs lūcis apex radiīsque sacrātum
bis sēnīs perhibent caput aurea lumina ferre,
quod totidem mēnsēs, totidem quod cōnficis hōrās.
(189) Quattuor ālipedēs dīcunt tē flecter(e) habēnīs,
quod sōlus domitēs quam dant elementa quadrīgam:
(190) nam tenebrās prohibēns retegis quod caerula lūcet;
hinc Phoebum perhibent, prōdent(em) occulta futūrī,
(191) vel, quia dissolvis nocturn(a) admissa, Lyaeum.
Tē Serapin Nīlus, Memphis venerātur Osīrim,
dissona sacra Mithram Dītemqu(e) Hōrumque Typhōnem;
(192) Attis pulcher item, curu(i) et puer almus arātrī,
Hammon et ārentis Libyēs ac Byblius Ādōn:
sīc variō cunctus tē nōmine convocat orbis.
(193) Salvē, vēra deum faciēs vultusque paterne,
oct(o) et sēcentīs numerīs, cui littera trīna
conformat sacrum Mentis cognōmen et ōmen.
Dā, pater, aetheriōs mentī cōnscendere coetūs
astrigerumque sacrō sub nōmine nōscere caelum.


… God Sun, not sun god


Helios, Sol; Šamaš etc. (f.?); etc.