Below is an excerpt of Book 10, The Grace of the Witch, of Homer's Odyssey

We made our landfall on Aiolia Island, domain of the Aiolos Hippotadês, the wind king dear to the gods who never die- an isle adrift upon the sea, ringed round with brazen ramparts on a sheer cliffside. Twelve children had old Aiolos at home- six daughters and six lusty sons-and he gave girls to boys to be their gentle brides now those lords, in their parents' company sup every day in hall-a royal feast with fumes of sacrifice and winds that pipe 'round hollow courts; and all the night they sleep on beds of filigree beside their laides.

Source: The Odyssey by Homer (The Internet Classics Archive).

Are the six daughters and six lusty sons, as referenced, each children of Aiolos, or both children and children-in-law of Aiolos? If the former, how come this breach of exogamy, infrequent of the Mycenaean period, occurred?

1 Answer 1


The children of Aiolos follow a similar pattern to some other divine families in Greek mythology. First, according to Hesiod, the primordial gods Gaia and Ouranos had twelve children (the Titans), six sons and six daughters:

And Earth [Gaia] first bore starry Heaven [Ouranos], equal to herself, to cover her on every side, and to be an ever-sure abiding-place for the blessed gods. […] But afterwards she lay with Heaven and bore deep-swirling Oceanus, Coeus and Crius and Hyperion and Iapetus, Theia and Rhea, Themis and Mnemosyne and gold-crowned Phoebe and lovely Tethys. After them was born Cronos the wily, youngest and most terrible of her children, and he hated his lusty sire.

Hesiod (7th century BCE). Theogony 127–138. Translated by Hugh G. Evelyn-White (1914). Perseus Digital Library.

Eight of the Titans married siblings: Tethys and Oceanus (Theogony 337); Theia and Hyperion (371); Phoebe and Coeus (404); and Rhea and Cronos (453).

Second, also according to Hesiod, Rhea and Cronos had six children (the first generation of Olympian gods), three sons and three daughters:

But Rhea was subject in love to Cronos and bore splendid children, Hestia, Demeter, and gold-shod Hera and strong Hades, pitiless in heart, who dwells under the earth, and the loud-crashing Earth-Shaker [Poseidon], and wise Zeus, father of gods and men, by whose thunder the wide earth is shaken.

Theogony 453–458.

In this generation, the siblings Hera and Zeus were married (Theogony 921). The same pattern recurs in the second generation of Olympian gods, in which the half-siblings Hephaestus and Aphrodite were married (Odyssey 8.226–294; but note that Hephaestus’ wife is Aglaea in Theogony 945 and Charis in Iliad 18.382).

It seems possible that this pattern of sibling marriage reflected the practice of the cultures in which these myths originated, so that although Classical Greek culture generally expressed a horror of incest (consider Oedipus and Jocasta, or Byblis and Caunus), the original cultures did not. However, this theory is largely speculation, as we have little solid knowledge of the history of transmission of the myths nor the practice of sibling marriage.

Did the gods of other nations marry their sisters? Yes: such marrying was not uncommon in very early times. It is a fact of outstanding importance that the practice prevailed in ancient Egypt among both immortals and mortals. Osiris married his sister Isis, Set his sister Nepthys, etc. The Pharoahs married their sisters or half-sisters, and the Ptolemies followed the precedent set by the Pharoahs. Possibly the most widely known royal marriage is that of Cleopatra; in 53 B.C., at the age of seventeen, she inherited both a throne and a husband, her brother Ptolemy III. King Mausolus married his sister. In ancient Greece the Titan Oceanus married his sister Tethys, Hyperion his sister Theia, Kronos his sister Rhea, Zeus his sister Hera, Hephaestus his half-sister Aphrodite. The God of the Winds, Aeolus, gave his six daughters in marriage to his six sons (Odyssey 10.5-7). We learn from Genesis 20:12 that Abraham married his half-sister (a proceeding condemned by Ezekiel 22:11), and from Genesis 11:29 that his brother Nabor married his own niece. Of peculiar interest is the Iranian account, telling us not only that Mashya married his twin-sister Mashyana, but also that this couple became the progenitors of the human race. Yima, a very ancient hero of the Indo-Iranians, married his sister Yimak; King Cambyses† and other Persian kings followed the custom. In fact, in ancient Persia it was esteemed not merely proper but meritorious for a man to marry his sister.

Emory B. Lease (1928). ‘Both Sister and Wife’. The Classical Weekly 22:12, p. 89.

Herodotus 3.31, but note that in this account, “before this, it had by no means been customary for Persians to marry their sisters”.

Diodorus of Sicily gave a euhemerizing account of Aiolos and his sons:

He [Aeolus] was, they say, pious and just and kindly as well in his treatment of strangers; furthermore, he introduced sea-farers to the use of sails and had learned, by long observation of what the fire† foretold, to predict with accuracy the local winds, this being the reason why the myth has referred to him as the “keeper of the winds”; and it was because of his very great piety that he was called a friend of the Gods.

To Aeolus, we are told, sons were born to the number of six, Astyochus, Xuthus, and Androcles, and Pheraemon, Jocastus, and Agathymus, and they every one received great approbation both because of the fame of their father and because of their own high achievements.

Diodorus of Sicily (1st century CE). Bibliotheca historica 5.7–8. Translated by C. H. Oldfather (1835; reprinted 1952). Diodorus of Sicily, volume 3, pp. 117–119. London: William Heinemann.

† The volcano Stromboli.

The names that Diodorus gave for Aiolos’ sons are the eponyms of locations in Sicily and southern Italy, for example, Agathyrnus was the legendary founder of the city of Agathyrnum on the north coast of Sicily.

The names given by various writers for Aiolos’ daughters are Polymela (Parthenius, Erotica Pathemata 2), Alcyon (Ovid, Metamorphoses 11.410ff), and Arne (Diodorus, Bibliotheca historica 4.67.3).

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