- Agrius and Oreius redirect here.
Polyphonte (Πολυφόντη) is a character in Greek mythology, Being only a minor mythological figure the story of her life is contained in only one source, namely Antoninus Liberalis’s Metamorphoses. Antonius cites Boeus’ second book, ‘The Origin of Birds’ as the source of the story however Boeus’ work has been lost.
Wishing to remain a virgin Polyphonte fled to the mountains to become a companion of Artemis. This provoked the ire of Aphrodite, the goddess of love and procreation, who viewed Polyphonte’s decision as a personal affront. To punish Polyphonte for failing to honor her womanly duty, Aphrodite drove her mad and caused her to lust after a bear.
Artemis was disgusted with Polyphonte and so turned the wild animals against her. Fearing for her life Polyphonte was forced to return to her father’s home.
Birth of the Bear Twins
Once at home, Polyphonte gave birth to two humanoid bear-like sons Agrius and Oreius (the result of her union with the bear). Agrius and Oreius grew into huge men of immense strength. As perhaps befits their feral patronage, the Bear Twins honored neither men nor gods. Indeed, they were cannibals who attacked strangers on the road.
Zeus despised Agrius and Oreius and so sent Hermes to punish them as he saw fit. The brothers almost had their hands and feet severed by the vengeful god were it not for the intervention of their great-grandfather Ares. Despite their monstrous nature, Ares persuaded Hermes to commute the sentence. Together, Hermes and Ares transformed Agrius, Oreius, Polyphonte, and the family’s female servant into birds. Polyphonte was transformed into a small owl (Antonius claims this owl neither eats nor drinks and is a portent of war and sedition for mankind), Oreius was turned into an eagle owl (a general ill omen when seen) and Agrius was turned into a vulture (whose habit of eating the dead was said to make them "the bird most detested by gods and men"). In a small act of mercy, Ares and Hermes heeded the female servant’s prayer where she had no involvement in the Bear Twins' actions and decided not to transform her into a bird heralding evil for mankind. Instead, she was transformed into a woodpecker (supposedly a sign of good luck if seen before a hunt).
Parallels to other stories
The story bears strong similarities with the tales of Atalanta and Callisto. It has been suggested that all these tales deal with the function of Artemis within the rituals of Ancient Greece and shed light on how they saw a woman's first sexual encounter. In so far as the tale details bestiality as a punishment for offending the gods, the myth is also similar to that of Pasiphaë and the Minotaur where Pasiphaë mated with a bull resulting in the Minotaur's birth.
References in popular culture
- Agrius and Oreius appear in the book The Sea of Monsters where they are shown to be in the services of Luke Castellan. In the film adaption of the book Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters, their position as Luke's henchmen is replaced by a Manticore.