Alcyoneus or Alkyoneus, (Ancient Greek: Ἀλκυονεύς), usually considered to be one of the Gigantes (Giants), the offspring of Gaia born from the blood of the castrated Uranus, was a traditional opponent of the hero Heracles.
According to the mythographer Apollodorus, Alcyoneus' confrontation with Heracles was part of the Gigantomachy, the cosmic battle of the Giants with the Olympian gods. In Apollodorus' account Alcyoneus and Porphyrion were the greatest of the Giants, and Alcyoneus was immortal as long as he was in his native land. When Heracles shot Alcyoneus with an arrow, Alcyoneus fell to the ground but then began to revive, so on the advice of Athena, Heracles dragged Alcyoneus out of his homeland where Alcyoneus then died.
For the poet Pindar, Hearacles' battle with Alcyoneus (whom he calls a herdsman) and the Gigantomachy were separate events.
His seven daughters are the Alkyonides.
Early sources provide glimpses of other versions of the story from the one that Apollodorus tells. Possibly Alcyoneus was not originally a Giant, but simply one of Heracles' many monstrous opponents.
Depictions of Heracles fighting Alcyoneus, named by inscription, are found on several sixth century BC pots (e.g., Lourve F208). The earliest extant representation of their battle probably occurs on a metope from the first temple dedicated to Hera at Foce del Sele, which shows Heracles holding a large figure by the hair, while stabbing him with a sword. Such a scene is also depicted on several shield-band reliefs from Olympia (B 1801, B 1010).
A terracotta frieze (Basel BS 318) and the sixth century BC pots show a reclining Alcyoneus. And on some of the pots Alcyoneus is apparently sleeping, with a winged Hypnos nearby (Melborne 1730.4, Getty 84.AE.974, Munich 1784, Toledo 52.66). These depictions suggest the existence of a story in which Heracles takes advantage of a sleeping opponent.
The presence of cattle on several of the pots suggests that the story also involved cattle in some way (e.g., Tarquinia RC 2070, Taranto 7030). This last pot depicts Heracles, with a headlock perhaps dragging his opponent, which might be a representation of Heracles dragging Alcyoneus out of his homeland.
The earliest mentions of Alcyoneus in literature, are by the fifth century BC poet Pindar. According to Pindar, Heracles and Telamon were traveling through Phlegra, where they encountered Alcyoneus, whom Pindar describes as a "herdsman ... huge as a mountain", and a "great and terrible warrior". A battle occurs in which Alcyoneus "laid low, by hurling a rock, twelve chariots and twice twelve horse-taming heroes who were riding in them", before finally being "destroyed" by the two heroes.
The participation of Telamon and other mortals in the battle, and the lack of mention of any of the gods, or other Giants, imply that for Pindar, unlike Apollodorus, the battle between Heracles and Alcyoneus was a separate event from the Gigantomachy. And in fact Pindar never actually calls Alcyoneus a Giant, although the description of him as "huge as a mountain", his use of a rock as a weapon, and the location of the battle at Phlegra, the usual site of the Gigantomachy, all suggest that he was.
Scholia to Pindar tell us that Alcyoneus lived on the isthmus of Thrace and that he had stolen his cattle from Helios, causing the Gigantomachy, (Schol. Pindar Isthmian 6.47) and that Alcyoneus, one of the Giants, attacked Heracles, not in Thrace but at the Isthmus of Corinth, while the hero was returning with the cattle of Geryon, and that this was according to Zeus' plan because the Giants were his enemies (Schol. Pindar Nemean 4.43). The cattle shown on the sixth century pots, might thus represent either Alcyoneus' cattle stolen from Helios, or Heracles' cattle taken from Geryon.
The Suda says that Hegesander told of a myth in which Alcyoneus had seven daughters, the Alkyonides, who threw themselves into the sea when Alcyoneus died and were turned into birds, the Halcyons (kingfishers).
An unascribed lyric fragment (985 PMG) calls him "Phlegraian Alkyoneus of Pallene, the eldest of the Gigantes [Giants]". Nonnus in his Dionysiaca, has Dionysus battling Alcyoneus. Claudian has Alcyoneus buried under Mount Vesuvius while Philostratus says that the bones of Alkyoneus were considered a "marvel" by the people living near the volcano, where it was said that many Giants were buried.
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- Gantz, pp. 419–421, 445–450; Hard, p. 89. Smith has separate entries for the opponent of Heracles, mentioned by Pindar: Alcyoneus 1., and the Giant: Alcyoneus 2.. For the birth of the Gigantes see Hesiod, Theogony 185. Hyginus, Fabulae Preface gives Tartarus as the father of the Giants.
- Apollodorus, 1.6.1.
- Scholiast to Pindar Isthmean 6.47; Gatz, p. 419.
- Gantz, p. 446; MacLean, p. 100.
- Gantz, p. 420. Louvre F208: Beazley Archive 6561; Moon, p. 65. Metope: Bennett, p. 124. For a detailed discussion see Andreae 1962.
- Gantz, p. 420; Stafford, p. 118. Melborne 1730.4: Beazley Archive 201048; LIMC Alkyoneus 11. Getty 84.AE.974: Beazley Archive 16201; Cohen p. 66–68. Munich 1784: Beazley Archive 351331. Toledo 52.66: Beazley Archive 2190; Moon p. 65.
- Gantz, p. 420. Tarquinia RC 2070: Beazley Archive 332028. Taranto 7030: Andreae, pp. 188, 189; LIMC Alkyoneus 17.
- Pindar, Isthmian 6.30–35.
- Nemean 4.24–30.
- Gantz, pp. 419, 445, 447.
- Gantz, pp. 419, 448.
- Cunningham, p. 113; for doubts concerning the identification, see Ridgeway, p. 39, note 59, pp. 59–60.
- Suda, s. v. Ἀλκυονίδες ἡμέραι (Alcyon days, Halcyon days, kingfisher days), s. v. Παλλήνη (Pallene).
- Gantz, p. 419.
- Nonnus, Dionysiaca 25.90, 48.44. See also 48.22, 36.242.
- Claudian, Rape of Proserpine 3.186–187 (pp. 358–359).
- Philostratus, On Heroes 8.15–16.
- Apollodorus, Apollodorus, The Library, with an English Translation by Sir James George Frazer, F.B.A., F.R.S. in 2 Volumes. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1921. Online version at the Perseus Digital Library.
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- Hesiod, Theogony, in The Homeric Hymns and Homerica with an English Translation by Hugh G. Evelyn-White, Cambridge, MA.,Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1914. Online version at the Perseus Digital Library.
- Hyginus, Gaius Julius, The Myths of Hyginus. Edited and translated by Mary A. Grant, Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 1960.
- Moon, Warren, G., "Some New and Little-Known Vases by the Rycroft and Priam Painters" in Greek Vases in the J. Paul Getty Museum: Volume 2. Getty Publications, 1985.
- Nonnus, Dionysiaca; translated by Rouse, W H D. Loeb Classical Library Volumes 344, 354, 356. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press, 1940.
- Philostratus (the Athenian), On Heroes, editors Jennifer K. Berenson MacLean, Ellen Bradshaw Aitken, BRILL, 2003, ISBN 9789004127012.
- Pindar, Odes, Diane Arnson Svarlien. 1990. Online version at the Perseus Digital Library.
- Ridgway, Brunilde Sismondo, Fourth-century Styles in Greek Sculpture, Univ of Wisconsin Press, 1997. ISBN 9780299154707.
- Smith, William; Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology, London (1873). Alcyoneus 1., Alcyoneus 2.
- Stafford, Emma, Harakles, Routledge, 2013. ISBN 9781136519277.