Myths of Local Heroes and Heroines
Many legends are associated with local heroes and heroines, often in conjunction with a local hero-cult. Some legends attracted folktale elements and spread beyond their original region. Others owe their fame to the quality of a literary narrative, for example, Ovid's story of Pyramus and Thisbe. The myths in this chapter are arranged by region.
CENTRAL GREECE: THESSALY, PHTHIA AND TRACHIS
Ixion and Centaurus. IXION [ik-seye'on], king of the Thessalian Lapiths, was the first mortal to murder a relative, when he lured his wife's father, Eioneus, to his death. Only Zeus could purify him for this unprecedented crime, yet after his purification, Ixion attempted to lie with Hera. In her place Zeus put a cloud (Nephele), whose child was the monster Centaurus, from whom descended the race of CENTAURS [sen'tawrs], half-human and half-equine. Ixion was punished in the Underworld (or, in an earlier version, in the sky) bound to the spokes of an ever-revolving wheel (see M/L, Chapter 15).
Chiron. Of the Centaurs the most important was CHIRON [keye'ron], whose mother was Philyra. He was wise and gentle, skilled in medicine and music, and he taught these arts and others to a number of heroes, including Achilles and Jason. Chiron was immortal and could not end by death the intolerable pain of the wound he received from the arrow of Heracles (see M/L, Chapter 22). He exchanged his immortality with Prometheus, dying in place of Prometheus when he was released by Heracles (see M/L, Chapter 4).
The Wedding of PirithoŘs and Hippodamia. The other Centaurs were more violent. At the wedding feast of the Lapith prince, PIRITHO▄S [pi-rith'oh-us], or PIRITHOÍS and HIPPODAMIA [hip-po-da-mee'a or hip-po-da-meye'a], or HIPPODAMEIA, they attempted to carry off the bride and other Lapith women. They were prevented after a brutal battle with the Lapiths and their human guests (including the Athenian hero, Theseus).
Caeneus. During this battle the Centaurs killed the Lapith CAENEUS [see'ne-us], or KAINEUS, burying him under a pile of tree-trunks. He had originally been a girl, CAENIS [see'nis], or KAINIS, who had been seduced by Poseidon and had been turned by him (at her request) into a man, invulnerable to weapons or to seduction and rape.
Deidamia and Eurytion, marble group from the west pediment of the Temple of Zeus, ca. 460 B.C.
Peleus and his Wedding with Thetis. The leading hero of Phthia (a region to the south of Thessaly) was PELEUS [pee'le-us], son of Aeacus (king of Aegina) and brother of Telamon (father of Ajax). He left Aegina because he had killed a half-brother and was purified by Eurytion, king of Phthia, whom he later killed accidentally during the Calydonian boar-hunt (see below). Driven out once more for murder he came to Iolcus, where he was purified by King ACASTUS [a-kas'tus], or AKASTOS, whose queen, ASTYDAMIA [as-ti-da-mee'a or as-ti-da-meye'a], or ASTYDAMEIA, fell in love with him. When he refused her, she accused him before Acastus of trying to seduce her. Acastus took him hunting on Mt. Pelion and abandoned him there asleep, after hiding his sword in a pile of dung. When he awoke Chiron saved him from the attacks of wild animals and Centaurs and returned the sword to him.
Zeus gave the sea-goddess THETIS [thee'tis] to Peleus as wife (see M/L, Chapter 7), and all the Olympian gods and goddesses came to the wedding feast on Mt. Pelion. Not invited was ERIS [er'is] "Discord", who still came, bringing the apple that led to the judgement of Paris and eventually to the Trojan War (see M/L, Chapter 19). Peleus and Thetis returned to Phthia, where their son, Achilles, was born. Soon afterward Thetis returned to the sea.
In the Iliad Peleus is mentioned as a lonely old man back in Phthia, but in Euripides' play, Andromache he appears at Delphi after the Trojan War, defending Andromache from Orestes and Hermione (see M/L, Chapter 18). At the end of the Andromache Thetis appears and prophesies that Peleus will be immortal and will be reunited with her.
Salmoneus. The Thessalian hero SALMONEUS [sal-mohn'e-us], son of Aeolus, is associated with Elis, where he founded Salmone. He tried to imitate Zeus and demanded that he be honored as a god, for which Zeus killed him with his thunderbolt and hurled him into eternal punishment in the Underworld.
Ceyx and Alcyone. CEYX [see'iks], or KEYX, king of Trachis, and ALCYONE [al-seye'on-ee], or ALKYONE (daughter of Aeolus), called themselves Zeus and Hera and were punished by being turned into seabirds. Ovid is more romantic: in his story Ceyx was drowned during a sea-voyage and told Alcyone of his death in a dream. She found his corpse on the seashore and in grief changed into a seabird (the mythical halcyon is sometimes identified with a kingfisher), while Ceyx came to life also as a seabird (perhaps a tern). When the halcyon sits on her eggs afloat on the sea, her father, Aeolus, forbids the winds to blow.
Tyro. The daughter of Salmoneus was TYRO [teye'roh], who was seduced by Poseidon in the form of a river-god, Enipeus. Their twin sons were Neleus, founder of Pylos and father of Nestor (see M/L, Chapter 22), and Pelias, king of Iolcus and father of Acastus.
Tyro later married Cretheus, founder of Iolcus. Their sons were Aeson, father of Jason (see M/L, Chapter 24), Pheres, father of Admetus and founder of Pherae, and Amythaon, father of Bias and Melampus. Admetus won Alcestis as wife by harnessing a lion and a boar to a chariot: for her loss and recovery from Death (Thanatos) by Heracles (see M/L, Chapter 22).
Melampus and Bias. MELAMPUS [me-lam'pus], or MELAMPOS was a seer, who also understood the language of animals. He helped his brother, BIAS [beye'as], win PERO [pee'roh], daughter of Neleus, as bride by winning for him the cattle of PHYLACUS [feye'la-kus], or PHYLAKOS, a Phthian prince, as a reward for telling Phylacus how to cure the impotemce of his son, IPHICLUS [if'ik-lus] or IPHIKLOS. Before that he had been put in prison by Phylacus, whom he warned of the imminent collapse of the prison through hearing the conversation of two woodworms who were gnawing through the roof-beams.
Melampus introduced the worship of Dionysus to Greece, according to Herodotus. The daughters of King PROETUS [pro-ee'tus], or PROETOS of Tiryns were driven mad when they resisted Dionysus, killing their children and rushing around the countryside. Melampus cured them and was rewarded with half of Proetus' kingdom, ruling at Argos. His great-grandson was AmphiaraŘs, one of the Seven against Thebes (see M/L, Chapter 17).
The principal myths of Boeotia are the Theban sagas (see M/L, Chapter 17).
The Daughters of Minyas. At Orchomenus the daughters of King MINYAS [min'i-as] refused to join in the worship of Dionysus, who drove them mad. They tore apart HIPPASUS [hip'pa-sus], or HIPPASOS, the son of Leucippe, and were turned into bats.
The Loves of Helius. Another daughter of Minyas, CLYMENE [kleye'me-nee], had five husbands. By Helius (the sun) she was the mother of PhaŰthon (see M/L, Chapter 3), by Pheres the mother of Admetus, by Iasus the mother of Atalanta.
Besides the Boeotian Clymene, Helius loved the eastern princess LEUCOTHO╦ (lou-ko'thoh-ee], or LEUKOTHO╦, whose father, Orchamus, buried her alive. Helius shed drops of nectar over her body, from which the frankincense tree grew. Orchamus' informer was CLYTIE [kleye'ti-ee or kleye'shi-ee], or KLYTIE, daughter of Oceanus and Tethys, who herself loved Helius. He would not forgive her for betraying LeucothoŰ, and with her eyes she followed his progress across the heavens until she turned into a sunflower, or heliotrope (Greek for "turning towards the sun").
Trophonius and Agamedes. At Lebadeia was the shrine and cult of the Boeotian hero, TROPHONIUS [tro-foh'ni-us], or TROPHONIOS. He and his brother, AGAMEDES [a-ga-mee'deez], built treasuries for the kings Augeas (in Elis) and Hyrieus (in Boeotia). In one of these they included a moveable stone, which they used to enter the treasury and steal treasure. When Agamedes was caught in a trap inside, Trophonius cut off his head and escaped. He fled to Lebadeia and there was swallowed up by the earth. Pindar says that the brothers built the temple of Apollo at Delphi, and were rewarded by the god's gift of eternal sleep.
Aetolia lies in the south-west part of the Greek mainland, bordered on the west by the River AcheloŘs, and on the south by the Gulf of Corinth. Its principal city in mythology is Calydon, which lies on the River Evenus. For the struggle of Heracles with the river-god AcheloŘs for De´anira, which took place near Calydon, and for his killing of Nessus at the River Evenus, see M/L, Chapter 22.
The Calydonian Boar Hunt. The founder of Calydon was Oeneus, father of MELEAGER [mel-e-ay'jer], De´anira, and Tydeus, and grandfather of the Trojan War hero, Diomedes. He forgot to sacrifice to Artemis, who sent a huge boar to ravage the land at the time of a war between the CALYDONIANS [kal-i-doh'ni-anz], or KALYDONIANS and the CURETES [kou-ree'teez], or KOURETES.
According to Homer, Meleager's mother, ALTHAEA [al-thee'a], or ALTHAIA, cursed her son because he had killed her brother, and in anger he withdrew from the war against the Curetes. He returned to fight because of the entreaties of his wife, CLEOPATRA [kle-o-pa'tra], and drove the Curetes back from the city, yet still was not given his promised reward by the Calydonians. Presumably he died because of Althaea's curse.
Meleager killed Althaea's brothers accidentally in battle, and she brought about his death by burning a log that contained his Moira (allotted portion of life), which the Moirai (Fates) had advised her to snatch from the fire at his birth and keep in a chest. As the log burned Meleager's life ebbed away.
Many heroes took part in the Calydonian boar hunt, which was led by Meleager. According to Ovid, Meleager killed the boar and gave its skin to ATALANTA [at-a-lan'ta], daughter of Schoeneus, who had first wounded it with her spear. When Althaea's brothers protested Meleager killed them. In anger Althaea burned the log, and Meleager died. Later Althaea and Cleopatra hanged themselves, and the women who mourned for Meleager were turned into guinea-fowl (meleagrides).
Atalanta. Atalanta, the daughter of the Arcadian hero. Iasus, was nurtured by wild animals, she, too, was a huntress. Ovid narrates that the suitor who could win a foot-race against her would win her as wife. Those who lost were killed. After many suitors had failed, MILANION [mi-lan'i-on], also called HIPPOMENES [hip-po'me-neez], dropped three golden apples (the gift to him of Aphrodite) one by one during his race, which he won because Atalanta stopped to pick each one up.
The two principal Corinthian heroes were Sisyphus and his grandson, Bellerophon.
Sisyphus. SISYPHUS [sis'i-fus], or SISYPHOS, son of Aeolus, came from Thessaly. Either he founded Corinth, or it was founded by AeŰtes, and Sisyphus became its king after Medea had left (see M/L, Chapter 24). He founded the Isthmian Games in honor of MELICERTES [mel-i-ser'teez], or MELIKERTES, son of his brother, ATHAMAS [a'tha-mas], and INO [eye'noh]. The child's body had come to shore at the Isthmus after Ino had leaped into the sea with him in her arms (see M/L, Chapter 13). Mother and son became sea-gods, respectively LEUCOTHEA [lou-ko-thee'a], or LEUKOTHEA and PALAEMON [pa-lee'mon], or PALAIMON.
Sisyphus stole the cattle of the master-thief Autolycus, whose friend he became. In one version of his myth he seduced the daughter of Autolycus, Anticlea, before she married Laertes and was the father of Odysseus.
Sisyphus outwitted THANATOS [than'a-tos], "Death," whom Zeus had sent to carry him off because he had told the river-god, Asopus, that Zeus was seducing the river-god's daughter, Aegina. First Sisyphus chained Thanatos, so that no mortals could die. After Ares had freed Thanatos, Sisyphus had to go to the Underworld, but first he told his wife, Merope, not to offer sacrifices for the dead. Hades sent Sisyphus back to tell Merope to offer the sacrifices, but Sisyphus stayed on in Corinth until he died at an advanced age.
Sisyphus was punished in the Underworld for revealing the secret of Zeus' love for Aegina by having to push a huge rock endlessly uphill only to have it roll down again.
Bellerophon. BELLEROPHON [bel-ler'o-fon] was grandson of Sisyphus. He left Corinth to go to Tiryns, where STHENEBOEA [sthen-e-bee'a], or STHENEBOIA (also called Antea), wife of King Proetus, fell in love with him. When he rejected her she told Proetus that he had tried to seduce her. Proetus sent him to the king of Lycia, IOBATES [eye-ohb'a-teez], with a sealed letter instructing Iobates to kill him.
Iobates set Bellerophon various tasks: first to kill the CHIMAERA [ki-mee'ra] or CHIMAIRA, a fire-breathing monster that was part lion, part serpent, part goat. Then he had to fight the Solymi, a tribe of violent warriors, and then the Amazons. After this Iobates set an ambush for Bellerophon, who killed all his attackers. Iobates then gave Bellerophon his daughter as wife and half of his kingdom. He was the father of Hippolochus, whose son was the Trojan war hero, Glaucus, and of Laodamia, who by Zeus became the mother of Sarpedon (see M/L, Chapter 19), and of a second son, Isandrus.
Bellerophon ended his days "hated by men" (says Homer) and wandering alone. Later authors (Pindar and Euripides) associate him with the winged horse Pegasus (for whose birth see M/L, Chapter 21), the gift of Poseidon. At Corinth Athena gave him a magic bridle with which to master Pegasus, with whose help he performed the tasks for Iobates.
Bellerophon then returned to Tiryns and punished Stheneboea by luring her onto Pegasus and throwing her off as they flew over the sea. Eventually he tried to fly up to Olympus itself and fell to his death in the sea.
Arion of Lesbos. ARION [a-reye'on] was honored at Corinth, where he was favored by the tyrant, Periander (ca. 600 B.C.). He was the inventor of several kinds of Greek music and poetry, among them the dithyramb [dith'i-ramb], the ritual choral song sung in honor of Dionysus. Arion may be historical, but his myth is not. The crew of a ship carrying him from Italy to Corinth threw him overboard after he had sung a final song for them. He was saved by a dolphin, which brought him safely to the sanctuary of Poseidon at Cape Taenarum, from where he made his way back to Corinth.
OTHER PELOPONNESIAN LEGENDS
Arethusa. The river-god Alpheus (the chief river of the Peloponnese) pursued the nymph ARETHUSA [ar-e-thou'sa]. She prayed to Artemis to save her and was turned into a stream which flowed underground and under the sea, emerging at Syracuse (in Sicily) as the fountain Arethusa, where it is still called by that name.
Iamus. Evadne, daughter of Poseidon and Pitane, became by Apollo the mother of IAMUS [eye-am'us], whom she left on the bank of the Alpheus. He was fed on honey by two serpents and brought up by the Arcadian hero, Aepytus. When he was grown, Poseidon and Apollo brought him to Olympia, where he received the gift of prophecy and established an oracle associated with the altar of Zeus. Iamus appears as a seer in the sculptures of the east pediment of the Temple of Zeus at Olympia, and he was the mythical ancestor of the Iamids, the hereditary prophets at Olympia.
THE AEGEAN ISLANDS
Delos. This island was sacred to Apollo (see M/L, Chapter 11). A son of Apollo, Anius, ruled the island and had three daughters, Ela´s "olive-girl", Spermo "seed-girl", and Oeno "wine-girl", to whom Dionysus gave the power of producing olive-oil, grain, and wine. He turned them into doves when they tried to resist being forced by Agamemnon to go to Troy.
Samothrace. At Samothrace the CABIRI [ka-beye'reye], or KABIROI were worshiped as theoi megaloi ("great gods") with an ancient and important mystery cult that was active as late as the fourth century A.D.
Ceos. On Ceos CYPARISSUS [si-par-is'sus], or KYPARISSOS was loved by Apollo. Grieving for the death of a favorite stag (which he had accidentally killed) he was turned into a tree, the cypress, henceforth associated with mourning and burial.
Also on Ceos CYDIPPE [seye-dip'ee], or KYDIPPE was loved by ACONTIUS [a-kon'ti-us], or AKONTIOS, who left an apple for her to pick up inscribed with the words: "I swear before Artemis only to marry Acontius." She bound herself by reading the words out loud and eventually married Acontius.
Rhodes. This island was sacred to HELIUS [hee'li-us], or HELIOS, the Sun. Zeus loved the eponymous nymph of the island, RHODE [roh'dee], whose three grandsons were the founding eponymous heroes of the island's three principal cities, Camirus, Ialysus, and Lindos. Each October the Rhodians threw a chariot and four horses into the sea as a replacement for Helius' team, worn out by the labors of the summer.
Lindos. The temple of Athena at Lindos was founded by the Egyptian hero, DanaŘs (see M/L, Chapter 21). The Rhodian contingent in the Trojan war was led by a son of Heracles, Tlepolemus, who wounded Sarpedon. The TELCHINES tel' kin-eez], skilled metalworkers, lived at Rhodes and were drowned by Zeus because they could ruin everything by their evil eye. But they were originally pre-Olympian beings associated with the sea, who nurtured the infant Poseidon.
Lesbos. The founder of the kingdom of Lesbos was MACAREUS [ma-kar'e-us], or MAKAREUS, son of Aeolus, who committed incest with his sister, CANACE [kan'a-see], or KANAKE. Aeolus killed their baby and forced Canace to kill herself. Macareus also killed himself.
Cyprus. Aphrodite was worshiped especially at Paphos, on the island of Cyprus, founded by its eponymous hero, Paphos. (For the myth of his father, Pygmalion, see M/L, Chapter 9.) In Cyprian Salamis lived ANAXARETE [a-naks-ar'e-tee], who scorned her lover, IPHIS [eye'fis], and showed no pity even when he hanged herself before the door of her house. As she watched his funeral procession pass, she was turned into stone and became the cult-statue of Aphrodite at Salamis, called in Latin Venus Prospiciens (Venus the Watcher).
Crete. On Crete lived another IPHIS, daughter of Ligdus and Telethusa. Her mother disobeyed the order of Ligdus to expose the baby girl and deceived him by dressing Iphis as a boy, whom Ligdus betrothed to IANTHE [eye-an'thee]. Telethusa prayed to Isis to pity the lovers, and the goddess turned Iphis into a boy, and he and Ianthe were married.
The Greek cities on the Aegean and Black Sea coasts of Asia Minor absorbed many non-Greek legends, several of which have been included in Classical mythology because they were narrated by Ovid.
The Troad. DARDANUS [dar'da-nus], or DARDANOS was the son of Zeus and Electra (daughter of Atlas). He came to the Troad and there married the daughter of King TEUCER [tou'ser], or TEUKER (son of the river-god Scamander). He ruled over the land, which he called Dardania, and was the ancestor of the Trojan royal family. In the Trojan saga the Trojans are called both Dardani and Teucri.
Sestos (European) and Abydos (Asiatic). These are two cities on the shores of the Hellespont. LEANDER [lee-an'der] of Abydos loved HERO [hee'roh], priestess of Aphrodite at Sestos, swimming the straits each night to visit her. One night a storm put out the light that she placed in a tower to guide him. He drowned, and when Hero discovered his body washed up on the shore she fell to her death from the tower.
Phrygia. BAUCIS [baw'kis or baw'sis], or BAUKIS and his wife PHILEMON [fi-lee'mon] were a pious Phrygian couple, who unwittingly entertained Zeus and Hermes in their cottage. The gods rewarded them by saving them from the flood with which they punished the other Phrygians for their lack of hospitality. Their cottage became a temple, of which they were the priests, and their prayer that they be allowed to die together was answered when they simultaneously were turned into trees, an oak and a linden.
Miletus. BYBLIS [bib'lis], daughter of Miletus (eponymous founder of the city of Miletus), revealed her love for her brother, CAUNUS [caw'nus], or KAUNOS. He fled, followed by Byblis, who out of exhaustion melted into a fountain. Byblis and Thisbe are the names of fountains in Asia Minor, also.
Pyramus and Thisbe. THISBE [thiz'bee], like Byblis, is the name of a fountain in Asia Minor and PYRAMUS [pi'ra-mus] or PYRAMOS is one of the major rivers of Cilicia, although Ovid sets the legend in Babylon. Pyramus and Thisbe were lovers, who lived next door to each other but were forbidden by their parents to meet or to marry. The talked through a crack in the party-wall and arranged to meet at the tomb of Ninus, outside the city. Thisbe came first and fled when a lioness, her jaws bloody from a recent kill, came to drink at the nearby fountain. She dropped her veil, which the lioness mangled. Later Pyramus recognized the veil lying there and assumed that Thisbe had been killed. He killed himself, just as Thisbe returned to find him dying. She in turn killed herself, and the fruit of the mulberry tree, under which the tragic deaths took place, turned from white to black as a memorial of their deaths.