Mythology Of Rhodes

So much natural beauty concentrated in one place could not fail to capture the imagination of its inhabitants and give rise to equally beautiful myths regarding the island’s creation and the course of its history. One of the myths, according to Pindar, says that when Zeus defeated the Giants he decided to divide the earth between the Olympian gods. However Helios, the sun god, was missing at that moment as he was off loafing on his daily journey and so was left without his own piece of earth. Zeus wanting to be just said that he would redivide the earth but Helios the traveller replied that he would own the land that emerged from the sea at sunrise the following morning. As dawn broke the next day, Helios saw the beautiful, verdant island of Rhodes appear from the turquoise water. Enthralled by its beauty he bathed it with his rays. Since then sun drenched Rhodes has been the island of the Sun.

On the island Helios and the nymph Rhodos had seven sons, the Heliadae: Ochimus, Cercaphus, Macareus, Actis, Tenages, Triopas and Candalus. Ceraphus, who became king of Rhodes, had three sons Kameiros, Ialyssos and Lindos who inherited the island and split into three parts so that each had their own city to which they gave their name.

Naturally these myths were mankind using its imagination in an attempt to intrepret events. For example, geologically the emergence of Rhodes was due to uplift and subsidence of tectonic plates during the formation of the earth’s surface. Similarly, Helios’s great love of Rhodes cannot be seen as chance, when one considers that the island is bathed by the sun’s ray most days of the year. For this reason the island was called the Bride of Helios and was considered to belong to Aphrodite’s who surfaced from the foaming sea.

The Colossus of Rhodes

One of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the Colossus of Rhodes was a giant statue of Helios, the Rhodian patron god, 33 metres tall and was often said to have stood with its feet apart on either side of the harbour mouth. This fanciful conjecture is now disputed as it would have been impossible, the entrance to the harbour was approximately 400 metres wide.

It is known that in antiquity the Rhodians were not involved in the quarrels of the other Greek city-states. Although Rhodes sought to safeguard its independence and pursue its commercial activities undisturbed it was conquered many times. During the Wars of the Diadochi, a conflict between the successors of Alexander the Great, in the late fourth century BC Rhodes was besieged by Demetrius Poliorcetes, son of Antigonus I Monophthalmus. After one year of siege a relief force sent by Ptolemy I Soter arrived enabling the Rhodians to rout the besiegers, forcing them to flee leaving behind much of the siege equipment. To celebrate their victory sold the spoils and with the money raised they erected a stunning statute in honour of their patron god Helios. According to the Roman natural philosopher Pliny the Elder, the bronze statute was designed by the sculptor Chares, a native of Lindos, and its construction lasted 12 years, being finally completed in 282 BC. The bronze coating was fixed onto an iron frame and as it was hollow inside, the workers placed heavy stones in the legs in order to ensure the statue’s stability. For a long time after its completion visitors to the island were greeted by the imposing statue.

Fifty six years later, in 226 BC, a major earthquake hit Rhodes, snapping the statue’s knees, toppling over the Colossus which fell on to dry land. Ptolemy III Euergetes offered to pay for its reconstruction, but a prophecy by the oracle of Delphi frightened the Rhodians into believing that they had offended Helios, so they chose not to rebuild it, leaving it lying on the ground for some 900 years. In 654 AD a Syrian prince captured Rhodes and the Colossus’s brass plates were said to have been among loot sent back to Syria. These were apparently sold to a merchant who very probably melted these down to make coins.

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