In the mythical history of Greece there are three personages of this name, who are spoken of by ancient writers as connected with one another, but this connexion is so confused, that it is impossible to gain a clear view of them. (Muller, Orchom. p. 138, etc.) We shall follow Diodorus, who distinguishes between the three, although in other passages he confounds them,
1. A son of Hellen and the nymph Orsei's, and a brother of Dorus and Xuthus. He is described as the ruler of Thessaly, and regarded as the founder of the Aeolic branch of the Greek nation. He married Enarete, the daughter of Deimachus, by whom he had seven sons and five daughters, and according to some writers still more. (Apollod. i. 7. §3; Schol. ad Find. Pyth. iv. 190.)
According to Mailer's supposition, the most ancient and genuine story knew only of four sons of Æolus, viz. Sisyphus, Athamas, Cretheus, and Salmoneus, as the representatives of the four main branches of the Aeolic race. The great extent of country which this race occupied, and the desire of each part of it to trace its origin to some descendant of Æolus, probably gave rise to the varying accounts about the number of his children. According to Hyginus (Fab. 238, 242) Æolus had one son of the name of Macareus, who, after having committed incest with his sister Canace, put an end to his own life. According to Ovid (Heroid. 11) Æolus threw the fruit of this love to the dogs, and sent his daughter a sword by which she was to kill herself. (Comp. Plut. Parallel, p. 312.)
2. Diodorus (iv. 67) says, that the second Æolus was the great-grandson of the first Æolus, being the son of Hippotes and Melanippe, and the grandson of Mimas the son of Æolus. Arne, the daughter of this second Æolus, afterwards became mother of a third Æolus. (Comp. Pans. ix. 40. § 3.) In another passage (v. 7) Diodorus represents the third Æolus as a son of Hippotes. 3. According to some accounts a son of Hippotes, or, according to others, of Poseidon and Arne, the daughter of the second Æolus. His story, which probably refers to the emigration of a branch of the Aeolians to the west, is thus related : Arne declared to her father that she was with child by Poseidon, but her father disbelieving her statement, gave her to a stranger of Metapontum in Italy, who took her to his native town. Here she became mother of two sons, Boeotus and Æolus (iii.), who were adopted by the man of Metapontum in accordance with an oracle. When they had grown up to manhood, they took possession of the sovereignty of Metapontum by force. But when a dispute afterwards arose between their mother Arne and their foster-mother Autolyte, the two brothers slew the latter and fled with their mother from Metapontum.
Æolus went to some islands in the Tyrrhenian sea, which received from him the name of the Aeolian islands, and according to some accounts built the town of Lipara. (Diod. iv. 67, v. 7.) Here he reigned as a just and pious king, behaved kindly to the natives, and taught them the use of sails in navigation, and foretold them from signs which he observed in the fire the nature of the winds that were to rise. Hence, says Diodorus, Æolus is described in mythology as the ruler over the winds, and it was this Æolus to whom Odysseus came during his wanderings. A different account of the matter is given by Hyginus. (Fab. 186.) In these accounts Æolus, the father of the Aeolian race, is placed in relationship with Æolus the ruler and god of the winds. The groundwork on which this connexion has been formed by later poets and mythographers, is found in Homer. (Od. x. 2.)
In Homer, however, Æolus, the son of Hippotes, is neither the god nor the father of the winds, but merely the happy ruler of the Aeolian island, whom Cronion had made the Tariffs of the winds, which he might soothe or excite according to his pleasure. (Od. x. 21.) This statement of Homer and the etymology of the name of Æolus from deAAw were the cause, that in later times Æolus was regarded as the god and king of the winds, which he kept enclosed in a mountain. It is therefore to him that Juno applies when she wishes to destroy the fleet of the Trojans. (Virg. Aen. i. 78.)
The Aeolian island of Homer was in the time of Pausanias believed to be Lipara (Pans. x. 11. § 3), and this or Strongyle was accordingly regarded in later times as the place in which the god of the winds dwelled. (Virg. Aen. viii. 416, i. 52; Strab. vi. p. 276.) Other accounts place the residence of Æolus in Thrace (Apollon. Rhod. i. 954, iv. 765 ; Callim. Hymn, in Del. 26), or in the neighbourhood of Rhegium in Italy. (Tzetz. ad Lycophr. 7 32 ; comp. Diod. v. 8.)
The following passages of later poets also show how universally Æolus had gradually come to be regarded as a god: Ov. Met. i. 264, xi. 74B xiv. 223; Val. Flacc. i. 575 ; Quint. Smyrn. xiv. 475. Whether he was represented by the ancients in works of art is not certain, but we now possess no representation of him.