Autolycus

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In Greek mythology, Autolycus (Ancient Greek: Αὐτόλυκος, Autolykos, "The Wolf Itself") was a son of the Olympian god Hermes and Chione. He was the husband of Neaera,[1] or according to Homer,[2] of Amphithea. Autolycus fathered Anticlea (who married Laertes of Ithaca and was the mother of Odysseus) and several sons, of whom only Aesimus is named.

Life and major events[edit]

Autolycus was born the son of Hermes[3] and Chione[4] or Philonis.[5] He had a helmet to make him invisible. Autolycus was conceived after Hermes raped the virgin Chione, having caused her to fall asleep by touching her face (Ovid 11. 301). However, Pausanias states that Autolycus' real father was Daedalion (Pausanias 8. 4. 7.)

Autolycus was husband to Mestra, daughter of Erysichthon (Ovid 8. 738) (who could change her shape at will), or to Neaera (Pausanias 8. 4. 3), or to Amphithea (Homer, Odyssey, 19. 394). He became the father of Anticlea and Polymede, of whom the latter was the mother of Jason, the famous Argonaut who led a group of men to find the coveted Golden Fleece (Apollodorus 1.9.16). A different Autolycus, the son of Deimachus, was a part of the Argonauts who went on the journey to find the fleece.

Through Anticleia, Autolycus was also the grandfather of the famous warrior Odysseus (Homer 24.330), and he was responsible for the naming of the child as well. This happened when the nurse of the child Eurycleia "laid the child upon his knees and spoke, and addressed him: Autolycus, find now thyself a name to give to thy child's own child; be sure he has long been prayed for" (Homer 19.386-403).

Autolycus obtained most of the same skills that his supposed father Hermes possesses, such as the art of theft, trickery (Hyginus 201), and skill with the lyre and gracious song (Ovid 11. 301). It was said that he "loved to make white of black, and black of white, from a hornless animal to a horned one, or from horned one to a hornless" (Hyginus 201). He was given the gift that his thievery could not be caught by anyone (Hyginus 201).

He put his skills to the test when he stole the helmet of the great warrior and his grandson, Odysseus, "he had broken into the stout-built house of Amyntor, son of Ormenus; and he gave it to Amphidamas of Cythera to take to Scandeia, and Amphidamas gave it to Molus as a guest-gift, but he gave it to his own son Meriones to wear; and now, being set thereon, it covered the head of Odysseus" (Homer 10.254 I). Autolycus, master of thievery, was also well known for stealing Sisyphus' herd right from underneath him. Sisyphus, who was commonly known for being a crafty king that killed guests, seduced his niece and stole his brothers' throne (Hyginus 50-99) and was banished to the throes of Tartarus by the gods.

Herakles, the great Greek hero, was taught the art of wrestling by Autolycus (Apollodorus 2.4.9). However, Autolycus was a source of some controversy in Herakles' life, because Autolycus stole some cattle from Euboea and Eurytus, who accused Herakles of the deed and, upon his going mad about these accusations, Herakles killed them plus another one of Autolycus' sons, Iphitus. This led to Herakles serving three years of punishment for the deed to repent for this (Apollodorus 2.6.3).

Cultural references[edit]

Although not as well known as many other Greek mythological figures, Autolycus has appeared in a number of works of fiction.

  • Autolycus is mentioned in Thomas De Quincey's satirical essay "On Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts".
  • A comic thief in Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale boasts that he is named after Autolycus and, like the latter's father, Mercury/Hermes, is "a snapper-up of unconsidered trifles".
  • Autolycus appears in Diana Wynne Jones' book The Game as a very mischievous brat.
  • In the television series Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and Xena: Warrior Princess, Autolycus appears as a comical antihero, portrayed by cult actor Bruce Campbell, who has a kinder heart than he lets on. As the self-proclaimed "King of Thieves", he is depicted as a thief of great cunning but even greater ego, which typically results in him getting in over his head in one scenario after another.
  • Autolycus is the name of a fictional racehorse in the 1934 film The Clairvoyant, starring Claude Rains.
  • Autolycus is the name of Debbie Aldridge's horse in the BBC Radio 4 series The Archers.
  • Autolycus is the name of a midget submarine owned by the Lost Boys, the thieves of Philip Reeve's Mortal Engines series of books.
  • Autolycus is the name of a pet jackdaw belonging to the fictional detective Albert Campion in the novels by Margery Allingham.
  • Autolycus appears in an episode of the Canadian television series Class of the Titans, stealing Hercules's last surviving arrow for Cronus.
  • The superhero/trickster figure of Uncle Sam in Robert Coover's The Public Burning (1977, New York, Grove Books) is described in the following terms (p. 7): "American Autolycus, they called him in the Gospels, referring to his cunning powers of conjuration, transmutation, and magical consumption (he can play the shell game, not with a mere pea, but with whole tin mines, forests, oil fields, mountain ranges, and just before Thanksgiving this past year made an entire island disappear!)”.
  • Autolycus was the penname Aldous Huxley used when writing the 'Marginalia′ column in the Athenaeum.[6]
  • In the game Age of Empires Online, there's an army of computer-controlled opponents, who call themselves the Followers of Autolycus, must be defeated during several quests of the Greek civilization.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Pausanias viii. 4. § 3 (cited in Smith)
  2. ^ Odyssey xix. 394, &c. (cited in Smith)
  3. ^ Bibliotheca, Library 1.9.16
  4. ^ Hyginus, Fabulae 201
  5. ^ Catalogue of Women fr. 64.
  6. ^ Murray, Nicholas, biography on Aldous Huxley 2002.

Sources[edit]

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