Podcast: the Origin of the Name of Our Closest Star, How We Went from Helios to Sol (Invictus) to Sunne to Sun
The ancient Greeks personified the sun as a handsome god named Helios. His astronomical pedigree was impeccable: He was the son of the Titan Hyperion and the Titaness Theia. Helios was also the brother of Selene, the goddess of the Moon, and Eos, the goddess of the dawn.
Said to be crowned with a radiant burst of sunbeams, Helios daily drove his chariot of the sun, drawn by what the ancient Greek poet Pindar called “fire-breathing horses,” across the sky. Along the way, he delivered sunshine around the world. Helios repeated his appointed rounds each morning after his sister Eos announced the new dawn.
During their empiric reign, the Romans continued to worship several sun gods, but they replaced the Greek word for sun, Helios, with the Latin Sol, a root word that continues to refer to the sun in the present day, such as in the term “solar system.” The most powerful sun god in ancient Rome was Sol Invictus, meaning “Unconquered Sun.”
Throughout human history, the sun’s powerful energy has long assured its role as the undisputed “star” of our solar system. Howard Markel explains the different words we’ve used for sun over the years.
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