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In Greek mythology, Broteas (Ancient Greek: Βροτέας), a hunter, was the son of Tantalus (by Dione, Euryanassa or Eurythemista), whose other offspring were Niobe and Pelops.


He was said to have carved the most ancient image of the Great Mother of the Gods (Cybele), an image that in Pausanias' day (2nd century CE) was still held sacred by the Magnesians. The sculpture was carved into the rock-face of the crag Coddinus, north of Spil Mount-Mount Sipylus, whose daemon was one of the mythographers' candidates for Broteas' grandfather.[1]

The rock-cut carving mentioned by Pausanias was identified with the Manisa relief in 1881 by W. M. Ramsay[2] and is still to be seen above the road about 6 or 7 km east of Manisa (the modern descendant of Magnesia ad Sipylum), though the head has partly cleaved away, from natural causes.[3] The figure 8–10 metres high carved in a recess in the a cliff-face a hundred metres above the marshy plain near the village of Akpinar, has come to be confused with a nearby natural rock formation associated with Niobe, the "Niobe of Sipylus" (the "Weeping Rock", in Turkish Ağlayan Kaya), also mentioned by Pausanias.[4]

Apart from the badly damaged head, the sitting figure is clear enough to be made out by a non-professional. The goddess with the polos headgear holds her breasts with her hands; a vague trace of four Hittite hieroglyphics could be seen on a squared section to the right of her head. The site is Hittite, second millennium BCE.

Nearby, other archaeological sites traditionally associated with the House of Tantalus since Antiquity are also in fact Hittite. Some 2 km east of Akpınar there are another two monuments on Spil Mount, which are also mentioned by Pausanias: the tomb of Tantalus (Christianized as "Saint Charalambos' tomb") and the "throne of Pelops", in fact a rocky altar.

Broteas was consumed on a pyre as a propitiating sacrifice. The mythic rationale, that he was a famous hunter who refused to honour Artemis. Artemis then drove him mad, causing him to immolate himself.[5] This combines three familiar mythemes. Compare the hunter Actaeon, whose sacrifice is also justified as retribution. The heir of Broteas was named Tantalus, like his grandfather.

A Hesiodic papyrus fragment from Oxyrhyncus connects Dardanus, Broteas and Pandion, in a tradition of which there is no further evidence.[6]

Brotheus and Renaissance invective[edit]

In literature of the Renaissance and later, Broteas is most often called "Brotheus" and described as a son of Vulcan who cast himself into the flames, sometimes specified as those of Mount Aetna, because of his deformity. The immediate source for the Renaissance trope of Brotheus and his self-immolation was Ovid's curse poem Ibis, an erudite rant of gruesome threats cataloguing the fates of numerous mythic and historical figures. Ovid's reference is minimal: "May you consign your body parts, set on fire, to the pyre to be cremated, as they say Broteas did out of a desire for death."[7]

The Italian humanist and literary agitator Domizio Calderini, also known in Latin as Domitius Calderinus, appended the Ibis to his annotated edition of Martial (1474). Calderini's note says that Brotheus was the son of Vulcan and Minerva; scorned because of his ugliness, he cast himself into a burning pyre.[8] The same year, drawing on his classical sources, Calderini published a Defensio adversus Brotheum ("Defense against Brotheus"), an attack on his literary rivals Angelo Sabino and Niccolò Perotti under the pseudonyms "Fidentinus," after the plagiarist in Book 1 of Martial's epigrams, and "Brotheus." The literary feud is mentioned in several sources, including Gyraldus, and its notoriety helped establish the predominant version of the myth in the 15th–18th centuries.[9]

The idiosyncratic but enormously influential Mythologiae of Natalis Comes (1567) uses this version in a chapter on the aspects of Vulcan and his progeny: "Brotheus, who was mocked by everyone because of his ill-formed appearance, hurled himself into the fire, as if to escape libel by death."[10] This description is repeated closely in The Anatomy of Melancholy (1621) by Robert Burton,[11] and early 19th-century versions of Samuel Johnson's Dictionary specify that Brotheus "threw himself into Mount Ætna."[12]

21st-century Brotheus[edit]

Broteas, under the Renaissance spelling Brotheus, is also a character in "Anakhronismos," a long-form poem with mock annotations by Mike Ladd. In the poem, Brotheus is called a philosopher and attends the cinema with the poem's speaker, the fictional Aponius Maso. The note identifies Brotheus as the "deformed son of Vulcan and Minerva who burned himself because of the ridicule he suffered."[13]


  1. ^ Pausanias. Descriptions of Greece, iii.22.4. "the Magnesians, who live to the north of Mount Sipylus (Spil Mount), have on the rock Coddinus the most ancient of all the images of the Mother of the gods. The Magnesians say that it was made by Broteas the son of Tantalus."
  2. ^ W. M. Ramsay in The Journal of Hellenic Studies (1882:64) and Ramsay, "A Study of Phrygian Art" The Journal of Hellenic Studies 9 (1888:350-382).
  3. ^ G.E. Bean, Aegean Turkey: an archaeological guide, vol. ii, pp 31-33 and pl. 3; C. P. Jones, "A Geographical Setting for the Baucis and Philemon Legend (Ovid Metamorphoses 8.611-724)" Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 96 (1994:203-23 and pls. I-IV) pp 210f, with bibliography.
  4. ^ Pausanias. Descriptions of Greece, i.21.3. "this Niobe I myself saw when I had gone up to Mount Sipylus (Spil Mount). When you are near it is a beetling crag, with not the slightest resemblance to a woman, mourning or otherwise; but if you go further away you will think you see a woman in tears, with head bowed down".
  5. ^ "I think that this is an aetiological myth, intended to explain the rite in which a human effigy was burnt upon a pyre in the festival of the hunters' goddess," observes Martin P. Nilsson, "Fire-Festivals in Ancient Greece", The Journal of Hellenic Studies 43.2 (1923:144-148) p. 144 note 2; Nilsson cites pseudo-Apollodorus, Epitome II.2.
  6. ^ The Oxyrhyncus Papyri, ed. E. Lobel, part xxviii (1963), no. 2503.
  7. ^ Quodque ferunt Brotean fecisse cupidine mortis, / Des tua succensae membra cremanda pyrae, Ovid, Ibis 519–520 (517–518 in some editions).
  8. ^ Calderini goes on to identify Brotheus with Erichthonius. The scholia and Renaissance commentaries are discussed at length in Peter Burman's 1727 edition of the Ibis, p. 130 online.
  9. ^ Lilius Gregorius Gyraldus, De poetis nostrorum temporum 25 (Berlin, 1894), Wotke p. 20 online,; Paul Cortese (Paulus Cortesus), De hominibus doctis dialogus in the edition of Gabriel Richards (Florence, 1734), p. 49 online; Friedrich Gotthilf Freytag, Adparatus litterarius (Leipzig, 1753), vol. 2, p. 1378 online; W. Parr Greswell, Memoirs of Angelus Politianus (Manchester, 1805), p. 83 online; David Clément, Bibliothèque curieuse historique et critique (Leipzig, 1756), vol. 6, p. 56 online; Maurizio Campanelli, Polemiche e filologia ai primordi della stampa: le Observationes di Domizio Calderini (Rome 2001), pp. 21–26 limited preview online. For further discussion of this literary feud, see Angelo Sabino.
  10. ^ Natalis Comes, Mythologiae 2.6, p. 101, line 43 in the Venice edition of 1581: Brotheû, qui irrisus ab omnibus propter deformitatem oris in ignem se coniecit vel morte infamiam deuitaturus.
  11. ^ "Brotheus, the son of Vulcan, because he was ridiculous for his imperfections, flung himself into the fire," viewable in an 1875 edition, p. 587 online; see also J.B. Bamborough with Martin Dodsworth, Robert Burton: The Anatomy of Melancholy, (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2000), vol. 5, p. 30 online, citing I.369:25–6,y.
  12. ^ Johnson's Dictionary of the English Language in Miniature 16th edition (London, 1805), pp. 248–249 online and 19th edition (London, 1812), p. 253 online.
  13. ^ Mike Ladd, "Anakhronismos" 16, in Rooms and Sequences (Salt, 2003), p. 21 online.