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In Greek mythology, Hellen was the mythical ancestor of all ‘Hellenes’, the true Greeks who were named after him in his honor. He was the King of Phthia and the son of Deucalion and Pyrrha. However, in newer renditions of the story, he’s said to be the son of Zeus. There’s very little information about Hellen, most of which center around his birth and the establishment of the primary tribes. Beyond that, we know little of this important legendary figure.
The Birth of Hellen
Hellen’s parents were Deucalion, the son of Prometheus, and Pyrrha, the daughter of Pandora and Epimetheus. His parents were the only ones who survived a terrible flood similar that wiped out all humanity. Zeus had caused the flood since he wanted to destroy all of humanity after witnessing their debauched ways.
However, Deucalion and his wife constructed an ark in which they lived during the flood, and finally landed on Mt. Parnassus. Once the flood was over, they began offering sacrifices to the gods, asking for a way to repopulate the Earth.
The couple were ordered to throw the bones of their mother behind them which they interpreted to mean that they should throw the stones from the hillside behind them. The stones Deucalion threw turned into men and those thrown by Pyrrha turned into women. The very first stone they threw turned into their son who they decided to name ‘Hellen’.
In honor of Hellen, his name came to be another word for ‘Greek’ meaning a person who’s of Greek descent or pertaining to the Greek culture.
Although Hellen is one of the lesser known Greek mythological characters, he and his children played an important role in the founding of the primary Greek tribes. He had three sons, each of whom founded primary tribes.
- Aeolus – founded the Aeolian tribe
- Dorus – founded the Dorian tribe
- Xuthus – through his sons Achaeus and Ionas, founded the Achaeans and Ionian tribes
Without Hellen’s children, especially his sons, it’s possible that the Hellenic race would never have existed.
As stated by Thucydides, an Athenian general and historian, the descendants of Hellen conquered the Greek region of Phthia and their rule spread to the other Greek cities. People who came from those areas were named Hellenes, after their ancestor. In Iliad, ‘Hellenes’ was the name of tribe also known as the Myrmidones, that settled in Phthia and was led by Achilles. Some sources say that Hellen was the grandfather of Dotus who named Dotium after him in Thessaly.
After the death of Alexander the Great, the King of Macedonia, some cities and states came under the influence of the Greeks and were ‘Hellenized’. Therefore, it can be said that the Hellenes weren’t just the ethnic Greeks that we know today. Instead, they included certain groups who we now know as Egyptians, Assyrians, Jews, Armenians and Arabs, to name a few.
As the Greek influence gradually spread, Hellenization reached as far as the Balkans, Central Asia, the Middle East and parts of Pakistan and modern India.
What Became of the Hellenes?
Rome eventually became stronger and in 168 BCE, the Roman Republic gradually defeated Macedon after which the Roman influence began to grow.
The Hellenistic region came under the protection of Rome and the Romans began to imitate Hellenic religion, clothing and ideas.
In 31 BCE, the Hellenistic Era came to its end, when Augustus Caesar defeated Cleopatra and Mark Antony and made Greece part of the Roman Empire.
There are hardly any records of Hellen which tell us about who he was or how he lived. However, what we do know is that without him as the eponymous ancestor of the Hellenes, the Hellenic race as we know it in Greek mythology wouldn’t have existed.