Aeolus – Origins, Family, Meaning, Symbols & Powers

Aeolus meaning and symbols

The ancient Greeks believed that the island of Aeolia was where all the winds of the world were stored. And the deity in charge of keeping those winds was none other than the Greek god Aeolus.

At any given point in time Aeolus could unleash all sorts of winds (often at the behest of the gods). Some of those winds included light breezes, stormy winds, and cool winds. He also had access to the mightiest of winds that were stored in powerful caves on the island of Aeolia.

Aeolus, whose name translates into the “Keeper of the Winds”, was given this role by the king of the Greek gods, Zeus.

The most famous account of Aeolus is perhaps the one in Homer’s Odyssey, where Aeolus is the king of the magical floating island of Aeolia and the divine keeper of the winds stored on the island. In this myth, Aeolus gifted the Greek hero Odysseus a wind bag so that he could make it back to his family in Ithaca.

Fast Facts about Aeolus

God of: Winds

Role: Keeper of winds, king of Aeolia

Parents: Hippotes, Poseidon, Hellen the nymph of Orseis

Consort: Enarete

Children: Arne, Laodice, Makednos, Mimas, and Magnes

Abode: Island of Aeolia

Association: Zeus, Odysseus, Hellen the nymph

Symbols: Aeolian harp, open bag, horse

Epithets: “Master of winds”, “Reiner of the horses” (Hippotades), “Quick moving”, “the nimble one”

Origins, Meaning and Epithets

Aeolus meaning and symbols | Image: Aeolus and Juno by Lucio Massari

Aeolus went by a number of epithets, including “Hippotades”, which means the “reiner of the horses”. Ancient Greeks believed that the winds were horse-shaped spirits; therefore a god that keeps the winds could be considered as one capable of reining in horses.

Another interesting point worth mentioning is that: the words “hippos” and “taden” translate to “horse” and “rein in” respectively.

Family

There are three main mythical characters in Greek mythology that go by the name Aeolus. Over the centuries, many writers have found a great deal of similarities between those characters.

Son of Hellen

In one account, Aeolus is seen as the son of Hellen, the famous founder of the Aeolian race. Hellen, a water nymph, was the daughter of Zeus and Pyrrha.

In this account, the daughter of Deimachus, Enarete, is considered the wife of Aeolus. The marriage produced many children, including Laodice, Makednos, Mimas, and Magnes.

Aeolus also had other children, including one from an affair with Melanippe, daughter of the Centaur Chiron. The child was called Arne.

Juno (Hera in Greek mythology) ordering Aeolus to release the winds, by François Boucher, 1769, Kimbell Art Museum.

Son of Poseidon

In this account, Aeolus is seen as one of the twin sons of Arne and Poseidon, the Greek god of the sea. Arne was the daughter of Melanippe.

Aeolus twin brother was called Boetus. The two boys were adopted by Metapontus, the king of Icaria. However, they had to flee the city after killing Autolyte, Metapontus’ wife. Aeolus fled to the Aeolian Islands (islands in the Tyrrhenian Sea), while Boetus and Arne went to southern Thessaly (Aeolia).

Aeolus went on to have six daughters and six sons. According to Homer, he allowed his sons and daughters marry one another because they struggled getting partners. Another account states that Aeolus went livid after discovering that his children Canace and Macareus were secret lovers. It goes on to say that Aeolus drove Macereus out of his kingdom and then threw the child of the illicit affair to the dogs. Aeolus then sent a sword to Canace, demanding that she killed herself with the sword.

Son of Hippotes

In this account, Aeolus is the son of Hipotes, who in turn is the son of Mimas and Aeolus the Older. Aeolus married Melanippe and had twelve children – six daughters and six sons. The account gives the names of his sons as Xuthus, Locastus, Pheraemon, Androcles, Astyochus, and Agathyrnus. All his sons went on to become kings and rulers in their own right. For example, Iocastus was the ruler of a place in southern Italy; Xuthus ruled Leontini; and Agathyrnus founded and ruled Agathymum.

In this account, Aeolus is portrayed as a mortal who ruled over the floating island of Aeolia, the same island that was visited by Odysseus in Homer’s Odyssey.

Aeolus and Odysseus

Aeolus meaning and symbols | Image: Odysseus in the Cave of the Winds by Stradanus (possibly 1590-1599)

According to the famous Greek epic poem Odyssey (written by Homer), the Greek hero Odysseus once got lost at sea as he tried to make his way back to his family. He and his crew stumbled upon the island of Aeolia, whose king was none other than Aeolus. Odysseus and his men were given a very warm welcome and the best of hospitalities by the god Aeolus.

Sympathetic to the cause of Odysseus, Aeolus placed a number of unfavorable powerful winds into a bag. He then gave Odysseus and his men the most favourable of winds that could propel Odysseus’ ship toward his desired destination.

Relieved at the sight of his hometown, Odysseus dozed off a bit. All throughout their journey back home, Odysseus’ crew thought that their captain had hidden the best of gifts in the bag. Overcome by immense curiosity, Odysseus’ crew members opened the bag and out came very powerful winds that sent the ship in the direction of o Aeolia Island.

Seeing their return back to the island as a sign from the gods, King Aeolus declined to provide any further aid to Odysseus. The Keeper of the Winds drove Odysseus and his men away from the island. It must be noted that in this account, Homer portrays Aeolus as a god and not a mortal.

Poseidon saves Aeolus

In one account of the myth, Arne was blinded by her father after finding out that she was pregnant with twins. Upon giving birth, the twins – Aeolus and his brother Boetus – were abandoned in the wilderness only for them to be breastfed by a cow. Shortly after, a group of shepherds stumbled upon the baby twins and took them into their home. Around that same time, Queen Theano’s marriage was on the verge of collapse due to her inability to bring forth any child for her husband. Theano ended up adopting the twins and then passed them off as her own biological children. However, she would later grow very hostile towards them after successfully having her own biological children.

Afraid that her biological children would always play second fiddle to Aeolus and Boetus, Queen Theano connived to have them killed. Luckily for the twins, their biological father Poseidon had always maintained an eye on them. The god of the sea swooped in and thwarted the plans of Theano; thereby saving Aeolus and his brother Boetus.

Poseidon went on to restore the vision of Arne and took the family to Metapontus who ended up marrying Arne.

Other interesting facts about Aeolus

Ancient Greek god Aeolus | Aeolus Giving the Winds to Odysseus by Isaac Moillon

The floating island of Aeolia is commonly identified with the modern-day island of Lipari which is off the coast of Sicily.

A number of authors draw strong similarities between Hesiod’s Ouranos (Uranus) and Homer’s wind-god Aeolus. Both gods had six sons and daughters who eventually married one another. In the god Uranus’ case his twelve children became the 12 Olympian gods.

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