Greek Heroines Overview
Though, the societies in post-Dorian Invasion Greece were predominantly filled with myths about male heroes, some myths still survived about the heroines from the mythical past.
Being skilled with the weapon is not the only requirement to being a brave heroine. Some of these are women who show great courage, through ability to survive great hardship, make great sacrifice or face death unflinching as any male hero.
Below, you will find non-Amazon heroines who are warriors, huntresses, sorceresses, princesses or wives, who had captured the imagination of classical poets and artists.
|Io (Ίώ) was the Argive heroine, loved by the god Zeus.
The early genealogy of the House of Argos is very confusing. Depending on the sources, Io had different parents. So before we began her tale, we will look at the possible parentage she had.
According to the Library, Apollodorus mention several possible parents to Io. And with each possibility, he also mentioned his sources. Apollodorus say that his source, Castor, who wrote the Chronicles, Io was daughter of the river-god Inachus and Melia. This would make her sister of Phoroneus and Aegialeus. Most of the authors have favoured this, eg. Ovid, Diodorus Siculus, etc.
Then according to his sources from Acousilaus and Hesiod (in a poem called Aegimius), Io’s father was Peiren. Peiren is most likely to be Peiras that Apollodorus had mentioned earlier, as the son of Argus and Evadne.
The third possibility is that she was daughter of Iasus and was the descendants of Phoroneus. For this possibility, I suggest you see the Early Kings of Argos in the Houses of Argolis.
Whoever was her father, Io’s adventure was the same.
Hera always jealous of Zeus’ numerous affairs, was instantly suspicion of her husband, and quickly used her power to disperse the thick cloud. Zeus quickly changed the poor girl into a white cow.
Zeus lied to Hera that he never seen the cow until just now. Hera did not believe a word of it, asked her husband to give the lovely cow to her as present. Zeus had no choice but turned Io over to his jealous wife.
According to the Aegimius (a poem ascribed to Hesiod), Zeus had brought her to the island of Abantis (Euboea), so he could seduce the maiden. But Hera arrived, so Zeus changed into a white cow. Thereafter the island of Abantis was renamed to Euboea – the “Island of Fine Cattle”, or “Island of Fine Cows”.
Hera gave Io to Argus Panoptes to guard the cow. Argus was a great watchman who had a hundred eyes. Zeus could not possibly spirited Io away without Argus noticing. Even when Argus was asleep, some of his eyes could watch Io while the rest of his eyes were closed. Io was driven from her home in Argolis.
Zeus decided to send his son Hermes to kill Argus. Hermes disguised himself as a shepherd. When Argus and Hermes met, Hermes played his reed and told long stories. Hermes told the stories as drowsily and monotonously as possible. The instant all of Argus’ closed in sleep, Hermes killed the watchman with his sword. Hera honoured Argus by placing his eyes on the tail of a peacock, her favourite bird.
Even though Argus had died, Io’s misery did not end. Still in the form of white heifer, Hera sends a gadfly that stung her to madness. She wandered through many lands without rest, plagued by the gadfly. The only time she did stop, was when she dropped exhausted on some unknown land. When she recovered somewhat, she would resume her long journey with the gadfly continuing to torment her.
Later she came across the Titan named Prometheus. Zeus had bounded Prometheus in chain on the peak of Caucasus. Every day a giant Caucasian Eagle would feed on Prometheus’ liver, as punishment for teaching mankind on how to make fire and tricking Zeus to accept the worse part of sacrifice while mortals kept the best part, meat.
Prometheus easily saw through Io’s present form. Even while Prometheus was suffering in agony, he tried to comfort her. Prometheus told her what her future hold for her.
The Titan told her that Zeus would restore her normal form when she reached Egypt, and she would give birth to a son. Her descendants would one-day rule in Argos, Thebes and Crete. One of her descendants would also be the greatest hero in the world, Heracles. Heracles, son of Zeus, who would one-day frees Prometheus of his bondage.
Io continued her journey, constantly harassed by the gadfly, until she reached the Nile. Io ended her journey, when she dropped exhausted at the city of Canobus or Canopus, near Alexandria.
There, Zeus transformed Io back to her human form. Safe from Hera’s interference in Egypt, Zeus finally slept with Io. She bore Zeus a son named Epaphus. She married an Egyptian king named Telegonus. Epaphus would later become king of Egypt.
Her great great grandson, Danaus would later return to her homeland in Argolis, and become king of Argos, establishing a powerful and long dynasty.
|Cyrene (Κυρήνη) was the daughter of Hypseus, a Lapith king in Thessaly. Cyrene was renowned for beauty and strength. Cyrene was probably an attendant of Artemis, and she was renowned for her skill in hunting. She was hunting in the region of Mount Pelion, when Apollo fell in love with Cyrene, while he saw her wrestled with a lion.
Apollo spirited the nymph across the sea to Libya, where the god seduced her and Cyrene bore a son named Aristaeüs (Aristaeus), who became a minor agricultural god, and Idmon, who was a warrior seer and an Argonaut. Apollo gave Cyrene a long life as compensation for taking her son away.
In Libya, she was said to have founded a city called Cyrene. She was subject to Pindar’s ode (Pythian IX).
See House of the Lapiths for the family tree.
|A huntress and heroine of the Calydonian boar hunt. Atalanta (Ἀταλάντη) was the daughter of Iasus, king of either Tegaea or Maenalus, by Clymene, daughter of Minyas. The Boeotians believed she was daughter of Schoeneus, son of Athamas, and king of Boeotian Orchomenus. Others say that there are two Atalanta with identical histories. Whatever is the truth, it would best to treat it as only one.
Her father wanted a son, so he had the infant exposed in the forest. A bear suckled the infant until Artemis sent hunters rescued her. These old hunters raised her as their own child. As Atalanta grew to adulthood, she enjoyed hunting so much that she wanted to remain unwedded and virgin like the goddess Artemis. She could outshoot anyone with the bow. She was also the most fleet-footed mortal alive with the exception of Euphemus and Iphiclus of Phylace.
When still young, she killed two centaurs, Rhoecus and Hylaeüs (Hyaelus) attempted to rape her. In a couple accounts (eg. in Diodorus Siculus’ account), she sailed with the Argonauts, but the usual story was that, Jason and the other crew refused to allow her to participate in the quest. During the funeral games of Pelias, she defeated Peleus in a wrestling match.
When Atalanta was hunting near the cave of Asclepius (Cyphanta?), she was exhausted and very thirsty, but there were no water nearby. She struck a rock with her javelin, and a new spring of water sprouted out.
Her greatest adventure was when Atalanta joined other heroes in the Calydonian Boar Hunt.
Oeneus (Oineus), king of Calydon, insulted the goddess Artemis for not sacrificing to her. Artemis sent a giant boar that was ravaging the countryside. The Calydonian Boar was destroying farms and killing people. The king sends news for heroes throughout Greece, that he requests warriors to kill the boar. He offered anyone to first draw blood on the boar, the hide of the boar as prize.
Some of the hunters, especially Meleager’s uncles, protested of allowing Atalanta to hunt with them. But Meleager, who fell madly in love with Atalanta, allowed her to participate. During the hunt the boar killed several hunters. Peleus accidentally killed Eurytion, his father-in-law, with his spear. Some more were wounded. Nestor barely escaped alive. Atalanta drew first blood with her arrow, while Amphiaraüs drew second blood. Meleager finally killed the boar. Meleager awarded the boar’s hide to Atalanta.
This action outraged his uncles, resulting in a deadly quarrel between the young hero and his mother’s brothers. Althaea’s brothers took the boar hide from Atalanta. In a rage, Meleager killed his uncles.
When Meleager was an infant, his mother Althaea learned that her son would die if the burning stick in the fireplace was totally consumed. Althaea put out the fire and safely hid the stick. But Althaea’s grief over brothers’ death was so great, that she caused the death of her own son, by burning the stick she had hidden. When Meleager died, Althaea committed suicide.
A different version (Catalogues of Women), says that Apollo had killed Meleager, during the war between the Calydonians and the Curetes.
Some say that Atalanta had a son by Meleager, named Parthenopaeüs (Parthenopaeus), one of the seven champions who fought in the ill-fated war against Thebes.
Atalanta’s father happily received his daughter, when he learnt of her heroic deeds. He wanted his daughter to marry. Atalanta, who wanted to remain a virgin like the huntress/goddess Artemis, devised a clever way of avoiding marriage.
She agreed to marry the man who could best her in a foot race. If her suitor loses the race, she would sever off his head. Since no mortal, but Euphemus or Iphiclus of Phylace could out-run her, many headless bodies littered the racetrack. Despite this, many young suitors still try to win her hand. Atalanta normally ran in full armour. She would also give each her suitor a head start. If she overtook the unfortunate suitor, she would take off his head with her sword.
But she was never able to remain a virgin. Aphrodite helped one of the suitors, named Hippomenes or Melanion, by giving him three golden apples. During the race, before Atalanta could overtake him, he would throw an apple to one side or another. Each time Atalanta would be distracted enough to take the time to pick up the apple. The last apple was thrown so far off the race track that by the time she picked up the last apple, it became impossible for even her to win the race.
Happily, Atalanta decided to marry her resourceful suitor. Unfortunately, their marriage was short-lived. They had forgotten to thank Aphrodite. So Aphrodite caused Atalanta and her new husband to defile the temple of Cybele, by making love before the altar. The angry goddess turned Atalanta and her new husband into lions, and Cybele had the two lions harnessed to her chariot.
|A Colchian sorceress. Medea (Μήδεια) was the daughter of Aeëtes (Aeetes), king of Colchis, and Eidyia (Idyia), daughter of Oceanus and Tethys. Medea had a brother named Apsyrtus and a sister who married Phrixus. Medea was also the granddaughter of the sun god Helius and niece of Circe, who was also a sorceress. See the family tree of Helius.
Though, according to Diodorus Siculus, he says that Circe and Medea were sisters, not aunt and niece. Circe and Medea were the daughters of Aeëtes and his niece Hecate. In Diodorus’ version, Hecate was a sorceress, not a goddess. See the alternative family tree of Helius.
Medea was a very powerful sorceress and the high priestess of the goddess Hecate, goddess of magic and the Underworld. Her power can be used for healing purposes as well as a destructive weapon.
Medea was the heroine in the Quest of the Golden Fleece. Without her aid, Jason would have died and the Argonauts would have failed in their quest. The goddess Hera knew this. Hera enlisted the aid of the love godddess Aprodite, to make Medea fall deeply in love with Jason, captain of the Argo. But Hera had her agenda for aiding Jason and the Argonauts. Hera was seeking the destruction of Pelias, the king of Iolcus and uncle of Jason. The purpose of the quest was to bring Medea to Greece, to kill Pelias.
Medea instantly fell in love with Jason the moment she saw the hero. She could not help herself; she betrayed her father and her country, to help the foreigners. When her father set Jason several, seemingly impossible tasks, Medea secretly gave Jason magic and advice on how to overcome these tasks. With her magic herb, Jason was able to subdue a couple of fire-breathing bulls, and used them to plough the field and plant dragon-teeth in the soil. She gave Jason advice on how to cause armed men that sprung out of the field, to fight among themselves.
Medea had warned Jason when her father tried to stir up the population against the Argonauts. When Jason promised to marry Medea, she used her sorcery to make the dragon that guarded the Golden Fleece, fall into slumber. Medea escaped with the Argonauts, taking her brother Apsyrtus with her.
When the pursuing Colchian fleet nearly captured Argo, Medea, in desperation, slew Apsyrtus, cut up her brother to pieces before throwing them overboard. Aeetes was forced to stop and retrieved his son’s body.
Somehow the Argonauts arrived on the island of Aea, home of her aunt, Circe. Circe performed purification for her niece for the murder, but when she found Medea had betrayed her father, Circe ordered them to leave.
They next arrived to the island of the Phaeacians. To prevent the Colchians from taking Medea home, the rulers, Alcinous and Arete had them married. Medea’s magic helped the Argonauts again when they landed on Crete. A brazen giant, named Talus, the last of Bronze Age man, was killed when Medea gave the giant the evil eye.
The voyage ended when they landed in Iolcus. All the Argonauts returned home. Jason brought home the Golden Fleece, only to find out that Pelias had killed Acastus, Jason’s father. Jason asked Medea to help her avenge his father’s death.
Medea duped Pelias’ daughters to kill their own father. Medea demonstrated to Pelias’ daughter by making an old ram to a young lamb, but cutting the ram and throwing into boiling cauldron. Weaving her spell, the young sheep sprang out of the cauldron. The naive sisters hoping to restore their father’s youth, so the daughters killed their father and cut up his body. But Medea had already left the palace. To their horror, Pelias’ daughters realised they had been tricked into killing their father.
For Jason’s involvement in Pelias’ death, the Iolcans banished Jason and Medea from the kingdom.
Jason and Medea stayed in Corinth for ten years. Though Jason took part in several adventures, mostly it was peaceful. They had two sons named Mermerus and Pheres. However, the Corinthians did not like foreigners, and they feared her because of sorcery. She was an outcast.
One day, Jason decided to divorce Medea and marry the Corinthian princess Glauce (or Creusa), daughter of King Creon. Medea tried to dissuade her husband from abandoning her. She told Jason to think of their children, her love for him. She reminded her husband the aid she gave to him in his quest, for without her magic, he would never succeeded in his adventure. She had sacrificed everything for him – she had betrayed her father, she had exiled herself to become his wife. She had performed a horrible crime of murdering her brother for his sake. Where would she go, she asked Jason? She was without a country of her own, since she had cut off all ties with her homeland.
Jason’s arguments were that he was a prince, an exiled prince; he was meant to rule. Jason also told her that as prince, their sons would have better life. He had fulfilled his promise of marrying her, but he wanted a better life. After he was married to the princess, Jason promised to provide Medea with a better home and security. If Medea continued to refuse to let him divorce her, he threatened to have her banish.
Realising that her husband would not change his mind, Medea was devastated, and her emotions were in turmoil. She wanted to commit suicide. She thought of her sons. She thought of killing Jason. She thought of killing Jason’s new bride.
Aegeus, king of Athens, came upon the scene. When he heard news of Jason divorcing his wife, Aegeus offered the sorceress his city as her new home. Medea agreed. She also agreed to marry Aegeus, and give him a son and an heir, since he had been childless so far.
Medea’s anguish over the divorce was turning to rage, when she remembered her husband’s words to her. Though, Medea thought of killing Jason, she now decided to punish Jason by killing his new bride. Medea smeared poison on to a dress. She had two sons delivered the dress to Glauce. When Glauce put on the gown, she experienced the most excruciating agony as the searing poison consumed her. The old king tried to save his daughter, by ripping the dress off Glauce’s body. Creon, too, died from the poison.
Medea was preparing to flee, but hesitated of leaving her sons behind or taking them with her. She loved them more than her own life, but did not want to leave them with her ex-husband or the angry mob would come to punish her. With the hardest decision in her life, she decided to kill her two sons.
Medea exacted the ultimate punishment upon Jason – she took her sons’ lives. When Jason arrived with sword in hand, he discovered his two sons on the ground, dead. Helius, the god of the sun, had sent his chariot, drawn by a great dragon, to his granddaughter. Medea escaped in the chariot and fled to Athens.
There are different versions as to what happen to Medea’s sons. According to Pausanias, it was the angry Corinthians who had killed her sons, for bringing Medea’s wedding gift to Glauce. Glauce threw herself into a spring, hoping to quench the burning poison, but she died, so it was called Glauce’s Spring. The angry Corinthians stoned the two boys near the spring. By killing the two boys, the Corinthians suffered from the loss of their own infant children, through unexplained death. The Corinthians must atone for the boys’ murder, so they erected a temple with a bronze statue of Apollo, in honour of the two sons of Medea, as well as making annual sacrifices.
In one fragment, one of the many fragments that were attributed to Homer, under The Taking of Oechalia, Medea did poison Creon, but not her sons and no mention of Creon’s daughter. They were too young for Medea take with her, so she left them at the altar, hoping Jason would protect their sons. But the Corinthians murdered Medea’s sons, and spread story that Medea murdered them.
According to the historian Diodorus Siculus, Medea at first fled to Thebes where she cured Heracles of his madness, when he had murdered his children. She had hoped that Heracles would protect her from Jason and the Corinthians, but the hero was forced to serve Eurystheus in performing the Twelve Labours. It was only then that Medea fled to Athens. However, this episode caused confusion in the timeframe of Heracles performing his labours and the voyage of the Argo.
By escaping, Medea deprived the Corinthians of a victim whom they could punish, so they turned against Jason. They banished Jason from Corinth. Medea’s revenge was complete. Medea had deprived him ex-husband of a bride, a kingdom, and the power to rule. She also deprived him of home and family. After her revenge, no king would allow Jason to woo his daughter, especially when there was a possibility of Medea seeking them out and destroying their family.
Pausanias also gives another version of what happened to Jason and Medea, after Pelias’ death. Pausanias says that he got his source from the poem called Naupaktia. They were set to have settled on the island of Corfu, where they had four children: Mermerus, Medeius and a daughter Eriopis. Mermerus was killed by a lion that he was hunting, on the mainland, opposite of the island of Corfu.
Corinthus, son of Marathon, had died childless, the Corinthians had sent for Medea, because her grandfather Helius was the founder of the city of Corinth. So Medea settled in Corinth and had made Jason, as king of Corinth. Here, Medea bore more children to Jason, but with each child, she had buried them in the sanctuary of Hera, because she thought she could make them immortal. Jason discovered the strange murders, and refused to reconcile with Medea, so he returned to Iolcus. Medea didn’t stay in Corinth, giving the kingdom to Sisyphus. This poem (Naupaktia) Pausanias relates to, actually cause confusion in the timeline and the genealogy. It also has no poisoned robe for Glauce.
Theseus was the great Athenian hero, brought up in Troezen, by his mother Aethra. Aegeus failed to recognise his son, but Medea knew of his identity. Medea realised that her own son would lose the throne, decided to poison the hero. However, Aegeus did recognise the sword he had left for Theseus. Aegeus foiled Medea and prevented Theseus from drinking the poison, by knocking the cup of the hero’s hand. Medea fled with her son, to the east.
When her son became a young man, Medus established a new kingdom called Media, west of Babylonia. Medea also returned home, only to find that Colchis was ruled by Perses, her uncle. Perses had assassinated his brother (Aeëtes) and usurped the throne. Medea avenged her father’s death by killing Perses. Her son became the king of Colchis. Though, according to Apollodorus, Perses had merely deposed Aeëtes of his kingship. Medea killed her uncle and restored her father to his throne.
I had not found anything to indicate that Medea died. She was probably immortal like her aunt (Circe), who was also a sorceress. However, according to Apollodous and Apollonius of Rhodes, they say that she was married to the hero Achilles in the Elysian Fields or Isles of the Blessed, on White Island.
|A Theban princess. Antigone (Ἀντιγόνη) was the daughter of Oedipus and Jocasta. Antigone was the sister of Eteocles, Polyneices and Ismene.
She played an important part in the war between Argos and Thebes, which was called Seven Against Thebes. She was prominent figures in two plays of Sophocles: Oedipus at Colonus and Antigone.
Her father was involved in a tragedy, where he had unwittingly killed his father, King Laius, and married his mother, Jocasta. Oedipus won the kingdom of Thebes, because he had vanquished the monster Sphinx, therefore he married Jocasta, not realising that he committed murder and incest. When Thebes suffered from famine, Oedipus tried to find out who murdered the previous king. When he realised the terrible truth behind the oracle and prophecy, he stabbed himself in his eyes, after his mother/wife (Jocasta) committed suicide. Since her brothers Eteocles and Polyneices were too young to rule, her uncle, Creon, brother of Jocasta, acted as regent.
In Oedipus at Colonus, when they banished her father, she acted as his guide, since he was blind. During Oedipus’ exile, a power struggle erupted in Thebes, between her two brothers. Eteocles became king, while his brother brought back an army from Argos. Both brothers realised that one of them can win the war, if they receive a blessing from their father. Both brothers approached their father, for blessing, but he cursed them both instead. Creon tried abducting Antigone, so that Oedipus would be forced to take side with Eteocles. Theseus, the Athenian hero and king, rescued Antigone from her abductors.
In the other tragedy, Antigone, when the war ended with Argos defeated, both of her brothers died, killing one another in single combat. Once again, Creon acting as regent and ruler of Thebes; he gave Eteocles a splendid funeral, but he decreed that Polyneices was an enemy, so his body did not deserved burial. Antigone was horrified by the decree, and begged her uncle to relinquish his order. This only made Creon angrier so that he commanded that anyone who buried Polyneices would be entombed alive as punishment.
Only Antigone had courage to bury her other brother; her sister Ismene was fearful of punishment from her uncle. So Antigone was captured, shortly after she buried Polyneices. Haemon, who was in love with Antigone, begged his father, Creon, to spare Antigone, because Haemon was in love with Antigone, whom he was in engaged with. But Creon ignored his son’s pleas.
The tragedy is that Antigone died when she was entombed, and Haemon followed her, by killing himself with his sword. Eurydice, Creon’s wife, cursed her husband for his stubbornness and heartless decree, before she hanged herself.
Though, Antigone was no warrior, she proved that her courage, when she defied her uncle’s decree. Antigone is heroic because she faced a higher power than her. Of all those in her family, she had advanced the cause of the right and the divine law. She was a martyr.
According to the Fabulae, Hyginus wrote a different variation to the Antigone’s myth. Creon ordered his son, Haemon, to kill Antigone, because she had defied his law and had buried Polyneices. Since Antigone was his wife, Haemon hid her instead among the shepherds. She gave birth to a son, who would later take part in annual games in Thebes. Creon recognised his grandson, and ordered his son again, to kill Antigone. Haemon was left without a choice, slew his wife with his sword, in front of Creon. Then Haemon threw himself upon his sword and died, following after his wife.
|The most beautiful woman in the world. Helen of Sparta was better known as Helen of Troy. So she was really Greek, not Trojan. Helen (Ἑλένη) had two main possible mothers:
One version says that Helen was daughter of Nemesis, goddess of retribution, who in the form of a goose was ravished by Zeus in the form of swan. Nemesis laid a blue and silver egg, which somehow came into Leda’s possession. When the egg hatched, Helen was born. Leda brought the girl up as her own daughter.
Another version told say, Nemesis was in her natural form. Aphrodite aided her father through a clever deception, where the love goddess in the form of an eagle, pursued Zeus, who was in the form of swan. The bogus swan sought protection from the eagle, in Nemesis’ arms. When the Nemesis slept, the swan (Zeus) raped goddess. Like the previous version, she laid an egg, which was found by Leda.
A more popular version was that, it was Leda, daughter of Thestius, whom Zeus had seduced in the form of swan. Helen was born from one of several golden eggs lay by Leda. This would make her, the sister of Polydeuces and half-sister of Castor and Clymnestra, whose father was Tyndareüs (Tyndareus), king of Sparta. She was also half-sister of Timandra, Phlionoë (Phlione), and Phoebe.
There is yet another version, found in the Catalogue of Women; it says that Hesiod believed that neither Nemesis nor Leda was Helen’s real mother. It says that Helen was the daughter of an unnamed Oceanid, who was seduced by Zeus.
Regardless of which one was her mother, authors still see Helen as the sister of Dioscuri (Castor and Polydeuces), and they were her protector.
While Helen was only twelve-year-old girl, a much older Athenian hero Theseus intended to marry her. Aided by his companion Peirthoüs (Peirithous), they abducted her, instead of seeking her hand in marriage from Tyndareüs. Theseus left her in the care of his mother, Aethra.
As sister of the famous twins, Dioscuri (Castor & Polydeuces), they were more than a match for Theseus. The Dioscuri and their army attack Athens and brought their sister back to Sparta. The Dioscuri took Aethra as captive and used her as slave of Helen.
Other authors say that Iphigeneia was really the daughter of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra.
As she reached marriageable age, she had many powerful suitors that Tyndareüs feared that any suitor she chooses would offend the others. Odysseus solved this problem by advising the Spartan king that all suitors must swear oaths, not only to accept whoever she chooses, but also rendered any aid to her future husband, in regard to Helen. She chose Menelaüs (Menelaus), son of Atreus and brother of Agamemnon. Menelaüs became king of Sparta. She bore him a daughter, Hermione.
When the Trojan prince, Paris came to court of Sparta, Menelaüs entertained him for a week, before leaving for Crete to attend his grandfather’s funeral. During Menelaüs’ absence, the goddess made Helen fall in love with Paris. Helen ran off to Troy with Paris and married him (See Judgement of Paris). This resulted in a war between the Greeks and Trojans that would last for ten years. She had the face that launched a thousand ships (1227 to be precise).
In one of the earlier scene of Homer’s Iliad, Helen watched Greeks and Trojans marshalling the forces on the plain of Troy, with her father-in-law, King Priam of Troy. She identified the leaders of Greek forces for the Trojan king, such as Ajax and Odysseus. And while she looked, she wondered where her twin brothers were, not realising that they had died while she was in Troy for the last nine years.
Before the end of the war when Paris was killed, Paris’ two brothers fought over her: Helenus and Deïphobus. Deïphobus won, and forced her to marry him. Helenus left Troy, after losing to his brother, hoping to reach Mount Ida, but Odysseus captured Helenus, who was a seer. When Troy fell to the Greeks, Menelaüs killed Deïphobus. He would have also kill Helen for her unfaithfulness and causing this long war. Though she was no longer young, she was still beautiful, that Menelaüs immediately fell under her charm.
Either Menelaüs’ impatience to get home or his anger for the gods for allowing the war to last so long, he neglected to sacrifice to the gods. The storm that killed the Lesser Ajax may have been the same storm drove Menelaüs ships off course. Of the eighty ships, Menelaüs had brought to Troy; only five ships survived the storm sent by Poseidon. Menelaüs and Helen remained stranded in Egypt for seven years, before the gods allowed him to return to his kingdom.
A few years after Menelaüs and Helen returned to Sparta, a guest had arrived to find news about his father’s fate. This guest was named Telemachus, the son of Odysseus. Menelaüs told Telemachus that according to the sea-god, Proteus, Calypso hold Odysseus captive on her island.
According to Apollodorus, he mentioned another legend that says that Helen had never been to Troy. When Paris abducted Helen, Zeus sent Hermes to spirit his daughter away to Egypt. Hermes created a phantom, made of cloud, to resemble Helen. So both Greeks and Trojans had fought over an apparition. So the real Helen never committed adultery with Paris, and later Deïphobus.
This was the reason, why Menelaüs was sent to Egypt after the war, so he can be reunited with his real wife. Apollodorus had derived his source from Euripides’ play titled Helen.
The tragedian Euripides had also written that the real Helen was living in Egypt, when the Trojan War was fought; Paris had only carried off a phantom to Troy. Menelaüs arrived in time, because Theoclymenus, the king of Egypt, wanted to force Helen to marry him. Theonoe came to their aid; it was she who arranged so that Menelaüs and Helen escaped from her brother – King Theoclymenus. In a rage, Theoclymenus would have murdered his sister, except for the intervention of the messenger and the appearance of Helen brothers, the Dioscuri.
Upon their return, Menelaüs gave his daughter Hermione, to Neoptolemus, the son of Achilles, in marriage. The marriage did not last long, when Orestes’ madness and persecution from the Erinyes ended.
In the Euripides’ play, Andromache, Orestes wanted to marry his cousin (Hermione). Menelaüs together with his daughter Hermione and his nephew Orestes, they plotted the assassination of his son-in-law, Neoptolemus.
According to the Library, Apollodorus wrote that when Helen and Menelaüs died and were buried at Therapne, where Hera bestowed immortality upon Menelaüs because he was the son-in-law of Zeus. Helen and Menelaüs lived their afterlife on the Isles of the Blessed (Elysium). This was in accordance with Proteus’ foretelling in Egypt, of Menelaüs’ life, which Homer had alluded to in the Odyssey.
Some say that Helen didn’t have a son, by her husband Menelaus, but according to Hesiod and Apollodorus, they had a son, named Nicostratus, after their return from Troy.
But according to Pausanias, Helen had to flee from Sparta, when Menelaüs had died, because of Menelaüs’ two illegitimate sons by a slave woman Pieris – Megapenthes and Nicostratus – had seized power in Sparta. Helen went to Rhodes, as suppliant to Polyxo, who was the widow of Tlepolemus. Tlepolemus was the son of Heracles and Helen’s former suitor. So Tlepolemus had fought and died in Troy; Sarpedon, the Lycian leader, had killed Tlepolemus. Polyxo pretended to befriend Helen, but she with the help of her maids, exacted revenge for her husband’s death, by hanging Helen from the tree.
Which ever way that Helen had died, she was worshipped as a goddess. In Pausanias’ version, she was known as Helen of the Tree; so she was a tree goddess. According to one account, when Helen went to the Blessed Isles (White Island), she was given in marriage to the hero Achilles (though, according to other sources, Achilles had married Medea, instead of Helen).
|Penelope was the heroine of the Odyssey. Penelope (Πηνελόπη) was the daughter of Icarius, brother of King Tyndareüs of Sparta. Her mother was named Periboea. On her father’s side, Penelope was first cousin of Helen Clytemnestra and the Dioscuri, Castor and Polydeuces (Pollux).
Tyndareüs did not forget Odysseus’ wise advice, when his daughter had many powerful princes as her suitors. Tyndareüs helped Odysseus to win the hand of his niece Penelope in marriage. Penelope was the daughter of Tyndareüs’ brother, Icarius, so Penelope was first cousin to Helen. Tyndareüs encouraged his brother to arrange a footrace between the suitors. Odysseus was known for his fleetness of foot, won the race. They were married and stayed in Sparta for some time, before Odysseus decided to return to his kingdom, on the island of Ithaca.
Icarius, however, opposed to his daughter leaving him, because he dotted on Penelope. Penelope had a tough decision of either staying with her father or leaving her father with her new husband. Penelope covered her face with her veil, and left Sparta with Odysseus.
Penelope became the mother of Telemachus, but their happiness were short-lived. The Trojan War arrived, and Odysseus was conscripted to join the Greek army when Telemachus was still an infant. Odysseus was reluctant to join the army, because he knew from the oracle that he would not return home until twenty years later.
Unlike her cousins Helen, Clytemnestra and Timandra, who had all committed adultery, Penelope was faithful to her husband during his absence. That’s because Tyndareüs had forgotten to sacrifice to Aphrodite. Aphrodite punished Tyndareüs, by making all three daughters into adulteresses. After Odysseus’ absence from Ithaca for almost 17 years later, her home was 108 suitors from Ithaca and the surrounding islands, wanted her to choose one of them her husband. She refused to accept any of them, but she was powerless to drive them out of her palace. When Odysseus returned and killed all the suitors, they were reunited as husband and wife. See the Odyssey for the entire tale about Odysseus’ adventure after the war.
According to one peculiar Arcadian legend, Penelope was not as faithful as she had seemed in the Odyssey. It was said that she was seduced by one of her suitors, possibly Amphinomus or Antinous. Odysseus divorced her, so Penelope returned home to Sparta. But during her journey, she had somehow got lost in Arcadia. When she reached Mantinea, Hermes seduced her and she gave birth to the god Pan. But in other legend, Penelope remained faithful to Odysseus until his death.
According to the Telegony (Epic Cycle), Odysseus left Ithaca, and stayed in Thesprotia for a number of years, married to Thesprotia’s queen, Callidice, but the hero returned to her when Callidice died. Penelope had another son with Odysseus, named Acusilaus.
Odysseus also a son named Telegonus, but by the sorceress Circe. Telegonus had left home, in the hope to find his father. Father and son didn’t recognise each other, so Telegonus had unwittingly killed his father during a raid. Penelope and her son Telemachus forgave Telegonus. They left together to dwell in Circe’s island palace. Circe married Telemachus, while Penelope married Odysseus’ other son, Telegonus. Circe made Penelope and their sons immortal.
|The last Queen of Troy. Her mother was named Metope, but it is uncertain who her father was. Various men were named: Cisseus, Dymas or the river god Sangarius. There were no mentions of her having any sibling.
Hecuba (Ἑκάβη) became wife of Priam, king of Troy, after he had divorced Aisbe. Hecuba had many children. Her sons were named Hector, Paris, Deïphobus, Helenus, Pammon, Polites, Antiphos, Hipponoos and Polydorus. Her daughters include Cassandra, Creusa (married to Aeneas), Laodice and Polyxena. She was also the mother of Troilus (Troilos); Troilus’ father was possibly Apollo.
When she was pregnant with Paris, Hecuba had a vision of Troy burning. Her stepson, Aesacus, who was a seer, foretold that her second son would cause Troy’s destruction. So Priam and Hecuba took the precaution of exposing their newborn son in the wild forest. But he was saved, and returned to Troy after reaching manhood. Cassandra recognised her brother. She and her husband forgot about the prophecy, and welcomed him back.
In the 1ast year of the war, she organised a huge sacrifice to Athena at Hector’s advice, but the sacrifice and prayers went unheard, because the goddess was determine to bring about the fall of Troy.
After the sack of Troy, Hecuba was given as slave to Odysseus. She was one of the women in Euripides’ play, to witness the death of her daughter Polyxena, sacrifice to Achilles, and her grandson, Astyanax, the only child of Hector and Andromache.
She lost all her sons to the war, except Helenus and Polydorus. Polydorus was left in the Thracian kingdom of Polymestor, for safekeeping, in case the Trojans lost the war. But the king hearing that the Greeks had sacked Troy, Polymestor thought he could steal the treasure Priam had left his son Polydorus, as well as earned the Greeks’ favour.
Hecuba learning the fate of her son, decided to take revenge against the Thracian king. She murdered the king, and the gods transformed into a black dog for her crime.
A different version was mentioned in Apollodorus’ Library. Helenus was given his freedom, and the Greeks gave his mother to him. Mother and son went to the Chersonese, where she was turned into a bitch, and Helenus buried her at her death, in a tomb, called Bitch Tomb. Apollodorus does not give any reason for Hecuba’s transformation into a dog, nor were there any mention of Thracian king Polymestor murder of her son, Polydorus.
According to the Greek geographer Pausanias, he mentioned the poet Stesichorus wrote the Sack of Ilium, and stated that Apollo spirited Hecuba away from Troy to Lycia, perhaps because Apollo was at one time, her lover, and their son was Troilus. What happened to her after this, we don’t know, for Pausanias never mention her transformation of Hecuba into a dog.
|Andromache (Ἀνδρομάχη) was the daughter of Eëtion (Eetion), the king of Thebes in the Troad. Andromache became the wife of the Trojan prince named Hector, the son of Priam and Hecuba. They had a son named Astyanax, who was also sometimes called Scamandrius.
When the Greeks assaulted Troy, Achilles was send with a strong contingents against the Troy’s neighbouring cities, so to cut off supplies and reinforcement for Troy. Among those cities that Achilles sacked was Thebes. Achilles killed Andromache’s father Eëtion and her seven brothers.
During the interlude in the battlefield, there’s was moving scene of Hector meeting his wife and son at the temple of Athena. Andromache would lose her husband several days later. Hector had killed Patroclus, Achilles’ beloved companion. The following day, Achilles sought and killed Hector in single combat, outside the city wall.
When Troy had fallen, Andromache would lose her son Astyanax. At Odysseus’ advice, Astyanax was thrown off the wall, so that the son of Hector would not take any vengeance on the Greeks in the future.
To add insult to injury, the Greeks had given Andromache to Neoptolemus as a concubine, the son of the killer of her husband, father and brothers. However, Andromache and Helenus, the seer and brother of Hector, were well treated by Neoptolemus. Neoptolemus found a kingdom in Epeirus, a large region in north-west Greece. Andromache bore Neoptolemus three sons – Molossus, Pergamus and Pielus.
Neoptolemus had set Andromache and Helenus freed, when Neoptolemus decided to marry Hermione, the daughter of Menelaüs (Menelaus) and Helen. Helenus and Andromache married and set up a kingdom in Buthrotum, a city in Epeirus.
In Euripides’ tragedy, called Andromache, she was still serving as Neoptolemus’ concubine when he married Hermione. The marriage didn’t last long, because she had taken her cousin Orestes, the son of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra, as her lover. Orestes and Hermione conspired with Menelaüs, to murder Neoptolemus. Once again Orestes committed bloody murder. Hermione would have had Orestes murdered Andromache and her sons, had the aged hero Peleus not rescue them and given them refuge in his kingdom.
Later, Molossus found a kingdom in northern Epeirus, which was named after him, while Pergamus conquered a Mysian city called Teuthrania, which he renamed to Pergamon or Pergamum.
|The Trojan prophetess. Cassandra (Κασσάνδρα) was the daughter of Priam and Hecuba. Cassandra was also the sister of Hector, Paris and Helenus, who also had the gift of prophecy. Cassandra was sometimes called Alexandra (Ἀλεξάνδρα), the feminine name of Alexander (Paris’ other name).
Apollo had given her the gift of prophecy, hoping to win her love. When Cassandra rejected his love, Apollo had turned the gift into a curse. All her prophecy and foretelling will be accurate and true, but no one would believe her.
Cassandra foretold that Paris, her second oldest brother, would be about Troy’s destruction after ten-year war with the Greeks. No one believed her until the war came.
During the final days of the war, the Greeks tried to capture Troy through stratagem of the Wooden Horse. Her people did not believe her when she told them that there were armed Greek warriors hidden within the Horse’s belly. The Trojans thought that they had won the war, and started a celebration at that fateful night. Troy was taken by surprise, and by morning, the once mighty city had fallen.
During the killing and looting, Cassandra had sought sanctuary in Athena’s temple. She clung to Athena’s altar, praying for salvation. The Lesser Ajax, the Locrian son of Oileus, pulled her away from the altar and raped her.
Odysseus fearing that Athena and the other gods would destroy them on the journey home, advised the other Greek leaders to stone the Lesser Ajax, for sacrilege he committed before Athena’s altar. Ajax saved himself; he threw himself to Athena’s defiled altar, pleading for mercy. The Greeks foolishly did not punish Ajax, so that many of them had incurred Athena’s enmity and wrath.
At Athena’s insistence, Poseidon sent a violent storm to destroy the much of the Greek fleet. Though Ajax managed to swim to safety and clung to a rock, Ajax defiantly boasted that not even the gods could kill him. Poseidon hurled a bolt of lightning that split the rock in two. The impetuous Ajax fell back into the sea and drowned.
Cassandra was given to Agamemnon to serve as his slave and concubine. Agamemnon was one of the few leaders to safely travel home by sea, because Agamemnon had the common sense of sacrificing to all the gods for a Greek victory at Troy.
However Agamemnon would not survive a single night at home. Cassandra had a vision that Agamemnon would be murdered by his wife Clytemnestra and her lover Aegisthus. She also foresaw her own death at Clytemnestra’s hand.
Cassandra had told the Greek elders at Mycenae of her prophecy and her own fate. The elders tried to persuade her to flee for her life, but the seeress that no one believe, saw no escape for herself. She resignedly entered the palace. Not long after the doors closed behind her, Clytemnestra struck down Cassandra with an axe.
(Only the geographer Pausanias mentioned that Cassandra bearing twins, Teledamus and Pelops, to Agamemnon; these infants were also slaughtered by Aegisthus. The twins were buried in a single grave.)
|Iphigenia or Iphigeneia (Ἰφιγένεια) was the heroine of a couple of tragedies, written by Euripides – Iphigenia at Aulis and Iphigenia among the Taurians. Homer only knew her as Iphianassa.
They say that the Athenian hero, Theseus, with the help of his friend, Peirithous, abducted Helen when she was a young girl about 13. Helen’s twin brothers Castor and Polydeuces, known as the Dioscuri, rescued her, but Helen was already pregnant with Theseus’ child. Since Helen was too young to raise the infant, her sister Clytemnestra took and adopted her niece as her own daughter.
Whoever were Iphigeneia’s real parents; it was Agamemnon and Clytemnestra who brought her up. Iphigeneia was the sister of Electra, Chrysothemis and Orestes. As I said, Homer called her Iphianassa, but in the Cypria (Epic Cycle), Iphianassa and Iphigeneia were distinguished as two different daughters of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra.
In Euripides’ tragedy, title Iphigeneia at Aulis, the Greek fleet suffered from unfavourable strong winds, which kept the Greek army from sailing to Troy. Agamemnon had offended the goddess Artemis, so the Greek seer, named Calchas foretold that the Greeks could never leave Greece, unless Agamemnon sacrifices her daughter, Iphigeneia. As commander-in-chief of the Greek forces and brother of Menelaus, his command was at stake. Menelaus and Odysseus forced Agamemnon to choose between losing his command and losing his daughter. Agamemnon reluctantly agreed.
Odysseus devised that Agamemnon would send Iphigeneia to Aulis on the pretence of marry her to Achilles, the youngest leader of Greek forces. When Achilles learned of them using his name to trick Clytemnestra into sending Iphigeneia to Aulis, Achilles would fought against the Greeks, but Iphigeneia willingly agreed to her sacrifice, rather than have brave defender to be killed.
Euripides’ original play may actually have Iphigeneia killed on the altar, by the sacrificial knife, but the play was later modified that the goddess Artemis had spirited her away to the land of the Taurians. Artemis replaced Iphigeneia with a fawn. Whichever was true, the sacrifice was performed and the Greeks sailed to Troy with favourable winds.
See Sacrifices at Aulis, in the Trojan War.
It seemed that Homer didn’t know the myth of Iphigeneia’s sacrifice, because in the Iliad, Agamemnon had any of his three daughters for Achilles to marry, if the hero would cease his quarrel with him and return to the war.
According to the Catalogues of Women, Hesiod says that Artemis had transformed Iphigeneia into the goddess Hecate at Aulis. The geographer Pausanias also referred to this passage in the Catalogues of Women, mentioning Iphigeneia’s deification. According to Pausanias, any foreigner could on the Tauric shore, were sacrificed to their virgin goddess; the virgin goddess being Iphigeneia/Hecate, not Artemis.
Her daughter’s sacrifice may have been the motive for Clytemnestra committing adultery with Aegisthus, Agamemnon’s cousin, during her husband’s absence, where together, they plotted to murder Agamemnon if he were to ever return home from Troy.
Years after, Agamemnon’s murder, Orestes, Iphigeneia’s brother, returned to Argos, to avenge his father’s death, by killing Aegisthus. However, the oracle from Delphi told him that he must also kill his mother. Usually, Orestes reluctantly obeyed Apollo and the oracle, killing his mother. The Furies or the Erinyes inflicted madness upon Orestes. Though, acquitted in Athens, with Athena deciding in Orestes’ favour, Apollo told him that he can only properly atone for his mother’s murder, if he brought back the wooden statue of Artemis from the land of the Taurians.
The Taurians were inhospitable to strangers, sacrificing them to the goddess Artemis. Pylades, Orestes’ faithful companion, joined Orestes in this journey, but they were captured, and due to be sacrifice. The high priestess was reluctant to sacrifice any stranger, particularly these two young men. She asked them if they help her carry a message to Argos, she would help them to escape.
When Orestes found out the message was for him, and the identity of the high priestess, he was joyous that his eldest sister was alive. Together they plotted to escape from Tauric with the statue of Artemis. The Taurians would have pursued the fleeing fugitives, had not the goddess Athena intervened on their behalf. The goddess ordered them that the human sacrifices must end. Brother and sister returned to Greece with the statue. The curse of the Erinyes had come to an end, and Orestes was cured of his madness.
Hyginus wrote that Iphigeneia’s return to Argos would have ended in tragedy, because Electra heard news that her sister had sacrificed her dear brother. Electra would have murder her older sister, had Orestes not return in time to save Iphigeneia from a new tragedy in this family.
|Electra (Ἠλέκτρη) was the long-suffering heroine of a number of Athenian tragedies. She appeared in the 2nd play of Aeschylus’ tragedy, titled Libation Bearers. Then there are two other plays both bearing her name – one written by Sophocles and the other by Euripides; both dealing the same event as Libation Bearers.
She was a daughter of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra. Electra was also the sister of Iphigeneia and Orestes; she was the middle child. Sometimes, Chrysothemis was mentioned as Electra’s sister. Though, some say that Iphigeneia was the daughter of Theseus and Helen. Helen was too young at the time, so Clytemnestra raised Iphigeneia as if the girl was her own daughter. According to Homer, he called her Laodice, while Iphigeneia was called Iphianassa.
Her brother Orestes was only an infant when Agamemnon sacrificed her sister Iphigeneia to the goddess Artemis, to gain favourable winds, so that the fleet could sail to Troy. It was probably Iphigeneia’s death that her mother conspired with Aegisthus, Agamemnon’s cousin and enemy. Aegisthus became her mother’s lover and they plotted to have Agamemnon killed upon his return.
Agamemnon didn’t return to Mycenae, until ten years later. When Aegisthus and Clytemnestra murdered Agamemnon, fearing for her brother’s life, Electra prudently sent Orestes, who was aged ten, to her uncle Strophius in Phocis.
When Orestes reached manhood, he sought the oracle in Delphi, where Apollo informed Orestes must avenge his father, not only to kill Aegisthus, but his own mother as well.
Orestes secretly returned to Mycenae with Pylades, his foster brother, where he sought his sister. Depending on which versions you may have read, Electra passively urged her brother to avenge their father, which included killing their mother, but in one version, Electra was more aggressive, and even helped her brother to deliver a death blow to Clytemnestra.
See Orestes in the Houses of Argolis.
According to Aeschylus’ third play, Eumenides, the Furies (Erinyes) inflicted madness upon Orestes for murdering his mother, and wandered around Greece until he was tried and acquitted in Athens. Electra played no part in the Eumenides.
According to another play by Euripides, titled Orestes, their grandfather, Tyndareus, king of Sparta, arrested Orestes and Electra. Tyndareus wanted justice for his daughter’s death, and his grandchildren would have been executed, but they escaped. Orestes and Electra would have kill Helen, but Zeus saved his daughter, and Helen became immortal. Failing this, they captured Hermione, daughter of Menelaus and Helen, holding their cousin as hostage. Apollo, however, intervened. Hermione was released. Apollo ordered Orestes to go into exile for a year, where it hinted that Orestes would be tried and acquitted in court at Athens and like the Aeschylus’ Eumenides.
When Orestes returned from Tauric kingdom, Electra thought that her sister Iphigeneia had sacrificed their brother to the goddess Artemis. Electra would have blind her sister with a firebrand, had Orestes not arrived in time to save Iphigeneia.
Electra married her cousin, Pylades, foster brother of Orestes. Electra was the mother of Medon and Strophius.
|A Thracian heroine. Harpalyce was a daughter of Harpalycus, king of the Amymnei. Her mother, unnamed in this myth, died while giving birth to her. So her father raised her, having her nursed from the teat of cow and horses. According to Virgil, she could run faster than the East Wind. She grew strong, and her father trained her in hunting and combat, so that she was strong enough to rule in his place, should he die. But she never got the chance to rule her father’s people.
Neoptolemus had wounded her father, as he travelled home, overland, from Troy. From her training, Harpalyce managed to save her father, and drive off Neoptolemus and the Myrimidons, possibly single-handedly. This is incredible, considering that Neoptolemus was the son of Achilles, and a formidable warrior.
Not long after that there were rebellion among her father’s subjects, and he was killed. So Harpalyce was banished and forced to live in the forest in Thrace, where she would raid and plunder from herds of cattle. After a while she was killed by herdsmen.
|Camilla was the queen of the Volscians. Camilla was the daughter of Metabus and Casmilla. Camilla was the leader of the Voliscans in the Italian war against the hero Aeneas and the Trojans.
It is not known whether Casmilla died during childbirth or not, when Camilla was born, but it was her father, Metabus, who raised her. Metabus was king of Privernum, but he was banished from his kingdom. As he was chased out of his kingdom, Metabus dedicated her daughter to the goddess Diana (Artemis). When Camilla was an infant, her father had her nursed from the mare’s milk, which probably accounted for her swiftness as a horse.
As a warrior, Camilla was follower of Diana (Artemis) the goddess of the chase. Camilla was skilled with the bow and spear, which her father had taught her as soon as she could walk. Camilla was not an Amazon, but she had the same spirit as the Amazons, for she was fearless and skilled in battle. Virgil did compare her likeness to an Amazon warrior from Thrace, and was compared to Hippolyte and Penthesileia.
When war broke out between the exiled Trojans and the Latins, Camilla became the ally of Turnus, the leader of the Rutulians. Before her death, she killed a number of Trojans and Etruscans, using her spear, bow and arrows, and axe with great skill (Aeneid XI:664-915).
A Ligurian named Arruns had killed Camilla in an ambush with a spear transfixed to her chest, but the goddess Diana had earlier sent Opis, who was either a minor goddess or one of her nymphs, avenged Camilla’s death. Arruns didn’t stay to finish Camilla off, but fled. Opis fired an arrow that killed Arruns. See the Aeneid.
Personally, I don’t think that Camilla was an Amazon. Be that as it may, she was a warrior queen, and deserve a place in this page.