Helios was the Titan of the sun, who ultimately gave the sun over to Apollo. He was the son of the Titans Hyperion and Theia, and the brother of Selene, Titaness of the moon, and Eos, Titan of the dawn. He was married to Rhodes, a nymph daughter of Poseidon and his wife Amphitrite.
The best known story involving Helios is that of his son Phaeton, who begged his father to let him drive the sun chariot. Helios agreed, albeit reluctantly, and granted the wish of his son who soon after lost control over the immortal horses and set the earth ablaze, scorching the African plains to desert. Zeus, appalled by the destruction, blasted the youth out of the chariot with one of his lightning bolts. Phaethon's flaming body was hurled from the sky and right into the river Eridanos. His sisters gathered on the banks of the river, mourning over their brother's demise and they transformed into amber-teared poplar trees. After his death the boy was either placed among the stars as the constellation Auriga (the charioteer) or became the god of the wandering star (the planet Jupiter or Saturn).
Helios was sometimes referred to with the epithet Helios Panoptes ("the all-seeing"). In the story told in the hall of Alcinous in the Odyssey (viii.300ff), Aphrodite, the consort of Hephaestus, secretly beds Ares, but all-seeing Helios spies on them and tells Hephaestus, who ensnares the two lovers in nets to punish them.
In the Odyssey, Odysseus and his surviving crew land on Thrinacia, an island sacred to the sun god, whom Circe names Hyperion rather than Helios. There, the sacred red cattle of the sun were kept.
"You will now come to the Thrinacian island, and here you will see many herds of cattle and flocks of sheep belonging to the sun-god. There will be seven herds of cattle and seven flocks of sheep, with fifty heads in each flock. They do not breed, nor do they become fewer in number, and they are tended by the goddesses Phaethusa and Lampetia, who are children of the sun-god Hyperion by Neaera. Their mother when she had borne them and had done suckling them sent them to the Thrinacian island, which was a long way off, to live there and look after their father's flocks and herds."
Though Odysseus warns his men not to, they impiously kill and eat some of the cattle of the Sun. The guardians of the island, Helios' daughters, tell their father, and Helios appeals to Zeus, who destroys the ship and kills all the men except for Odysseus.
In one Greek vase painting, Helios appears riding across the sea in the cup of the Delphic tripod, which appears to be a solar reference. Athenaeus in Deipnosophistae relates that, at the hour of sunset, Helios climbed into a great golden cup in which he passes from the Hesperides in the farthest west to the land of the Ethiops, with whom he passes the dark hours. While Heracles traveled to Erytheia to retrieve the cattle of Geryon, he crossed the Libyan desert and was so frustrated at the heat that he shot an arrow at Helios, the sun. Helios begged him to stop, and Heracles demanded the golden cup that Helios used to sail across the sea every night, from the west to the east. Heracles used this golden cup to reach Erytheia.
The chief seat of the worship of Helios was the island of Rhodes, which according to the following myth was his special territory. At the time of the Titanomachy, when the gods were dividing the world by lot, Helios happened to be absent, and consequently received no share. He therefore complained to Zeus, who proposed to have a new allotment, but Helios would not allow this, saying that as he pursued his daily journey, his penetrating eye had beheld a lovely, fertile island lying beneath the waves of the ocean, and that if the immortals would swear to give him the undisturbed possession of this spot, he would be content to accept it as his share of the universe. The gods took the oath, whereupon the island of Rhodes immediately rose above the surface of the waters.
Helios was imagined as a handsome youth crowned with the shining aureole of the sun, most of the time seen on his chariot.