Eos, Tithonus, and the Elderly

There is a Greek myth about Eos (Roman: Aurora), the goddess of the Dawn, falling in love with Tithonus, a mortal man.  She laments that while she will live forever, he is doomed to die.  She asks Zeus to grant Tithonus immortality.  But she fails to ask in addition that Tithonus remain eternally youthful.  Tithonus, therefore, is doomed to grow old but never die.  The story continues that as Tithonus ages his body becomes brittle, his mind deteriorates, and his speech becomes mere babbling.  Eos is saddened by the gradual loss of Tithonus’  strength and sense, and though in the story she loses sexual attraction towards Tithonus, she does not abandon him.  She transforms him into a cicada so that no one will fault his mindless chirping or fragile body.

Interpreters frequently focus on this myth as either an etiology,  explaining the origin of cicadas; or as a cautionary tale along the lines of the Oscar Wilde quote: “When the gods choose to punish us, they merely answer our prayers.”   While both interpretations have their merits,  I would like to suggest that this myth has to do with how societies treat the elderly. Continue reading