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Paint Illustration of Anticlea in the Underworld

In Greek mythology, Anticlea or Anticlia (/ˌæntɪˈklə/; Ancient Greek: Ἀντίκλεια, literally "without fame") was a queen of Ithaca as the wife of King Laërtes.


Anticlea was the daughter of Autolycus[1] and Amphithea.[2] The divine trickster and messenger of the gods, Hermes, was her paternal grandfather. Anticlea was the mother of Odysseus[3] by Laërtes[4] (though some say by Sisyphus[5]). Ctimene was also her daughter by her husband Laertes.[6]


Early years[edit]

According to Callimachus, when she was young, Anticlea served the goddess Artemis, and accompanied in hunting bearing arrow and quiver.[7]

According to some later sources, including a fragment of Aeschylus' lost tragedy The Judgment of Arms, Odysseus was the child of Anticlea by Sisyphus, not Laërtes. In this version of the story, Autolycus, an infamous trickster, stole Sisyphus' cattle. At some point, Sisyphus recognized his cattle while on a visit to Autolycus and subsequently seduced (or, in some versions, raped) Anticlea, Autolycus' daughter. Odysseus was the result of this union, which took place before Anticlea's marriage to Laërtes.[5] When Anticlea was brought to a place about the Alalcomeneum in Boeotia, she delivered Odysseus. Later on, her son called the city of Ithaca by the same name, to renew the memory of the place in which he had been born.[8]


In Book XI of the Odyssey, Odysseus makes a trip to the underworld to seek the advice of the dead prophet Tiresias. In the underworld, he encounters many spirits, among them is that of his mother, Anticlea.[9] Initially, he rebuffs her since he is waiting for the prophet to approach.

After speaking with Tiresias, however, Odysseus allows his mother to come near and lets her speak. She asks him why he is in the underworld while alive, and he tells her about his various troubles and failed attempts to get home. Then he asks her how she died and inquires about his family at home. She tells him that she died of grief, longing for him while he was at war. Anticlea also says that Laërtes (Odysseus' father) "grieves continually" for Odysseus and lives in a hovel in the countryside, clad in rags and sleeping on the floor. Anticlea further describes the condition of Odysseus' wife Penelope and son Telemachus.

Penelope has not yet remarried but is overwhelmed with sadness and longing for her husband while Telemachus acts as magistrate for Odysseus' properties. Odysseus attempts to embrace his mother three times but discovers that she is incorporeal, and his arms simply pass through her. She explains that this is how all ghosts are, and he expresses great sorrow.

In some accounts, Anticleia killed herself on hearing a false report about her son.[10]

The encounter between Odysseus and his mother in the underworld is also the concept of a work by the Northern Irish poet Michael Longley, titled Anticleia.


  1. ^ Homer, Odyssey 11.85; Hyginus, Fabulae 243
  2. ^ Homer, Odyssey 19.416
  3. ^ Hyginus, Fabulae 243; Pausanias, 10.29.8
  4. ^ Apollodorus, Epitome 3.12; Hyginus, Fabulae 97
  5. ^ a b Hyginus, Fabulae 201; Plutarch, Quaestiones Graecae 43; Suida, s.v. Sisyphus
  6. ^ Homer, Odyssey 15.363–364
  7. ^ Callimachus, Hymn 3 to Artemis 184 ff
  8. ^ Plutarch, Quaestiones Graecae 43 with Ister the Alexandrian as the authority
  9. ^ Apollodorus, Epitome 7.17; Hyginus, Fabulae 125
  10. ^ Hyginus, Fabulae 243


  • 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. ISBN 0-674-99135-4. Online version at the Perseus Digital Library. Greek text available from the same website.
  • Gaius Julius Hyginus, Fabulae from The Myths of Hyginus translated and edited by Mary Grant. University of Kansas Publications in Humanistic Studies. Online version at the Topos Text Project.
  • Homer, The Odyssey with an English Translation by A.T. Murray, Ph.D. in two volumes. Cambridge, MA., Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann, Ltd. 1919. ISBN 978-0674995611. Online version at the Perseus Digital Library. Greek text available from the same website.
  • Homer. The Odyssey. "Book XI". Trans. Lombardo, Stanley. Indianapolis, USA: Hackett, 2000.
  • Lucius Mestrius Plutarchus, Moralia with an English Translation by Frank Cole Babbitt. Cambridge, MA. Harvard University Press. London. William Heinemann Ltd. 1936. Online version at the Perseus Digital Library. Greek text available from the same website.
  • Pausanias, Description of Greece with an English Translation by W.H.S. Jones, Litt.D., and H.A. Ormerod, M.A., in 4 Volumes. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1918. ISBN 0-674-99328-4. Online version at the Perseus Digital Library
  • Pausanias, Graeciae Descriptio. 3 vols. Leipzig, Teubner. 1903. Greek text available at the Perseus Digital Library.
  • Suida, Suda Encyclopedia translated by Ross Scaife, David Whitehead, William Hutton, Catharine Roth, Jennifer Benedict, Gregory Hays, Malcolm Heath Sean M. Redmond, Nicholas Fincher, Patrick Rourke, Elizabeth Vandiver, Raphael Finkel, Frederick Williams, Carl Widstrand, Robert Dyer, Joseph L. Rife, Oliver Phillips and many others. Online version at the Topos Text Project.

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