Telephus

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Heracles with baby Telephus.
This article is about Telephus the son of Heracles. The name also refers to the father of Cyparissus.

In Greek mythology, Telephus or Telephos (Ancient Greek: Τήλεφος, "far-shining")[1] was the son of Heracles and Auge, daughter of king Aleus of Tegea; and the father of Eurypylus. He was intended to be king of Tegea, but instead became the king of Mysia in Asia Minor. He was wounded by the Achaeans when they were coming to sack Troy and bring back Helen to Sparta.

Birth[edit]

Allegory of Heracles with baby Telephus suckled by the doe: fresco from Herculaneum, 1st century CE (Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Naples)

Aleus, king in Tegea and father of Auge, had been told by an oracle that he would be overthrown by his grandson.[2] So, according to varying myths, he forced Auge to become a virginal priestess of Athena Alea, in which condition she was violated by Heracles. Although the infant Telephus was hidden in the temple, his cries revealed his presence and Aleus ordered the child exposed on Mt. Parthenion, the "mountain of the Virgin [Athena]". The child was suckled by a deer through the agency of Heracles. Alternatively, Aleus put Auge and the baby in a crate that was set adrift on the sea.[3] and washed up on the coast of Mysia in Asia Minor. Alternatively, Aleus exposed Telephus and sold Auge into slavery; she was thereby given as a gift to King Teuthras.

In either case Telephus was adopted, either by King Corycus or by King Creon.

Telephus and Auge[edit]

Telephus' companion Parthenopaeus was destined to die at the gates of Thebes, but Telephus was destined to rule foreign lands and fight his fellow Greeks before they reached Troy. The two companions went off to Asia Minor to look for land to make their kingdom. They eventually came to Mysia, where they aided King Teuthras in a war and defeated the enemy. For this the King gave Telephus the hand of his beautiful adopted daughter Auge.

Auge, who was still consecrated to the memory of Heracles, privately refused her father's decision and planned Telephus' death. She secreted a knife in the marriage bed and on the wedding night tried to kill Telephus, but Heracles separated the two with a flash of lightning and they both recognized each other as mother and son.

Telephus as king of Mysia versus the Achaeans[edit]

Telephus succeeded Teuthras as king of the Mysians. One version states that this was because he had been given the hand of Teuthras' daughter Argiope and that it was she, not Laodice, who was the mother of Eurypylus. When the Greeks first assembled at Aulis and left for the Trojan War, they accidentally found themselves in Mysia, where they were opposed by some fellow Achaeans. Myth provides explanations for this confrontation in assuming that their king Telephus was married to Laodice, the daughter of King Priam. Moreover, Paris and Helen had stopped in Mysia on their way to Troy, and had asked Telephus to fight off the Achaeans should they come. In another version of the myth, as depicted on the interior frieze of the Pergamon Altar, Telephus was married to the Amazon Hiera. She brought a force of Amazons to the aid of Pergamum, but was herself killed in the battle. In the battle Achilles wounded Telephus, who killed Thersander the King of Thebes. This explains why in the Iliad there is no Theban King.

Telephus' wound[edit]

Greek kneewrapping.jpg

The wound would not heal and Telephus consulted the oracle of Delphi about it. The oracle responded in a mysterious way that "he that wounded shall heal". Telephus convinced Achilles to heal his wound in return for showing the Achaeans the way to Troy, thus resolving the conflict.

According to reports about Euripides' lost play Telephus, he went to Aulis pretending to be a beggar; there he asked Clytemnaestra, the wife of Agamemnon, what he should do to be healed. She had three reasons to help him: she was related to Heracles; Heracles fought a war that made her father King of Sparta; and she was angry at her husband. Some versions say that Telephus promised to marry Clytemnaestra in return for her aid. Although he did not marry Clytemnaestra, she helped him by telling him to kidnap her only son Orestes, and to threaten to kill Orestes if Achilles would not heal Telephus' wound.

When Telephus threatened the young child, Achilles refused, claiming to have no cathartic knowledge. Odysseus, however, reasoned that the spear that had inflicted the wound must be able to heal it. Pieces of the spear were scraped off onto the wound, and Telephus healed. This is an example of sympathetic magic. Afterwards Telephus guided the Achaeans to Troy.[4]

The Achaeans asked Telephus to join them. However he declined their offer, claiming that he was the son-in-law of King Priam through his wife Laodice.[5]

Telephus was one of the men that competed in the games when Paris won, and was also one of those that subsequently threatened to kill Paris.

Laodice's wrath[edit]

Laodice was beautiful and was extremely faithful to her husband Telephus. But Telephus had a child by her aunt Astyoche, despite the fact that Astyoche was twice his age. A later interpolation asserts that with Argiope he had Roma, who gave her name to Rome.

Eurypylus[edit]

Telephus led his Mysian forces towards Troy in order to help his father-in-law King Priam. Telephus' son Eurypylus was supposed to succeed to the Mysian throne, but Achilles' son Neoptolemus killed Eurypylus at Troy.

Laodice at Troy[edit]

Telephus assured the Trojans that the Wooden Horse was not a threat, and convinced them to let the horse into Troy.

Laodice accompanied Telephus and Eurypylus to Troy, although Telephus did not fight. Laodice sneaked into Acamas' bed and she committed adultery. At the fall of Troy, Laodice was sucked into a chasm in the Earth.

As they set foot in Asia Minor, Helicaon forced Laodice to marry him and was going to drown Eurypylus, six-year-old son of Telephus and Laodice, in Xanthos' Lake. However, Telephus returned just in time to save his wife and son. Telephus decapitated Helicaon and had the latter's face engraved on all Mysian shields with an expression of terror and fear in his eyes. Yet other versions say that Laodice had married Helicaon. When Telephus came she tricked him into believing that the cattle handed down to him by his father Heracles had been stolen by Helicoan, and that she would exact revenge on behalf of Telephus if he would marry her. And so at night she stabbed Helicoan and afterwards married Telephus, which explains why she was punished by being sucked up into a hellish pit chasm in the earth.

Telephus met and fought with Achilles' son Neoptolemus (or Calchas), who had killed his own son Eurypylus. Neoptolemus gave Telephus a serious blow in the very same place that Achilles had, a wound which had never truly healed.

Telephus returns to Greece[edit]

Telephus fled back to Athens where the Heraclids were, and became General and Leader of the Heraclids a few years before the death of his grandmother Alcmene. He was the one who was there when she died.

When Telephus heard that the Trojan princess he had truly loved — Cassandra[citation needed] — was left alive after the fall of Troy, he went crazy and made an attack on Arcadia and Ithaca. However, he was defeated in a fight with Telemachus, the son of Odysseus. During that time Telephus killed many; his death toll included his own grandfather Aleus (father of his mother Auge), as well as his uncles, the sons of Aleus. Before they died, he told them: I am the son of Auge.

After that period Telephus traveled to Rhodes, where he met with Polyxo and Helen. Helen told him of all that had happened after the fall of Troy. He impregnated Helen but she was soon after killed by Polyxo, and so she died along with her unborn child by Telephus.

Telephus consequently plucked out his eyes and fled from Rhodes to Gibraltar; there he climbed to the top of the Pillars of Hercules, where he died of grief.

His last words were Father, take my soul.

It was said by Pausanias that Telephus' father Heracles did take his son's soul up to Olympos. There, Telephus became Heracles' squire.

Another version has it that Telephus went to the Island of the Blessed, Elysian Fields, etc. after his death.

Telephus in the arts[edit]

Telephus features in Sophocles' The Assembly of the Achaeans and Euripides' Telephus.

The character Dicaeopolis in Aristophanes' play The Acharnians takes on the role of Telephus for comic and metatheatrical effect.

The story of Telephus turning back the Greeks at Mysia is told in the poem of Archilochus found in modern times[when?] in the Oxyrhynchus Papyri (P.Oxy 4708).


Notes[edit]

  1. ^ See for example, Knight, p. 433. According to the mythographic tradition, Telephus' name derived from his being suckled by a doe, e.g. Apollodorus, Library 2.7.4 (Frazer note 2 to AP 2.7.4: 'Apollodorus seems to derive the name Telephus from θηλή, “a dug,” and ἔλαφος, “a doe."'). See also Huys p.295 ff.; Webster pp 238–239; Hyginus, Fabulae 99; Diodorus Siculus, 4.33.11; Moses of Chorene, Progymnasm 3.3: "He got his name from circumstances". According to Kerenyi his name was "more accurately ... Telephanes, 'he who shines afar'" (Kerenyi, p. 337). The feminine form is Telephassa, of whom Karl Kerenyi writes, "She bore the lunar name Telephassa or Telephae, 'she who illuminates afar', or Argiope 'she of the white face'". (Kerenyi, p. 27).
  2. ^ This Succession Myth, a fate parallel to the succession of the gods Cronus and Zeus, is also told of sons of Metis and Thetis.
  3. ^ Compare Danaë and the infant Perseus.
  4. ^ Telephus' role in the expedition has thus been seen as an instance of a common story-pattern in which a character provides a hero with information necessary for his primary quest, only after he is won over in a "preliminary adventure" (Davies 2000:9-10).
  5. ^ Dictys Cretensis 2.5 [1] names Astyoche -- Priam's sister -- as his wife; Apollod. iii. 9. § 1 and Diod. iv. 33, however, claim that his wife was Argiope, daughter of Teuthras.

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