Cephalus of Phocis

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Cephalus and Eos, by Nicolas Poussin (circa 1630)

In Greek mythology, Cephalus (/ˈsɛfələs/; Ancient Greek: Κέφαλος Kephalos) is an Aeolian prince, the son of Deion/ Deioneos, ruler of Phocis, and Diomede, and grandson of Aeolus.[1][2] He was one of the lovers of the dawn goddess Eos.[3]


The word kephalos is Greek for "head", perhaps used here because Cephalus was the founding "head" of a great family that includes Odysseus. It could be that Cephalus means the head of the Sun who kills (evaporates) Procris (dew) with his unerring ray or 'javelin'.

Sumptuous sacrifices for Cephalus and for Procris are required in the inscribed sacred calendar of Thorikos in southern Attica, dating perhaps to the 430s BCE and published from the stone in 1983.[4]


Cephalus was the brother of Aenetus, Phylacus, Nisus, Actor and Asterodia.[2] By Procris or Procne, he was the father of Arcesius or Archius and by Clymene, daughter of Minyas, of Iphiclus and Alcimede. In some accounts, he was called the father of Oia, wife of Charops and eponym of the deme Oia in Attica.[5]


Eos carries off Cephalus, on an Attic red-figure lekythos, ca. 470–460 BCE

Cephalus and Procris[edit]

Athenians localised the myth by asserting that Cephalus was married to Procris, a daughter of Erechtheus, an ancient founding-figure of Athens.[6] The goddess of dawn, Eos,[7] fell in love with him and kidnapped Cephalus when he was hunting.[2] The resistant Cephalus and Eos became lovers, and she bore him a son named Phaethon (not to be confused with the son of the sun-god Helios). Some sources also give Tithonos and Hesperus as children of Cephalus and Eos. However, Cephalus always pined for Procris, causing a disgruntled Eos to return him to her, making disparaging remarks about his wife's fidelity. Bribed by a golden crown, his wife admitted Pteleon to her bed, and being detected by Cephalus she fled to Minos.[8]

Procris later on came back to Athens and once reunited with Procris after an interval of eight years, Cephalus tested her by returning from the hunt in disguise, and managing to seduce her. In shame Procris fled to the forest, to hunt with Artemis.[9] In returning and reconciling, Procris brought two magical gifts, an inerrant javelin that never missed its mark, and a hunting hound, Laelaps that always caught its prey. The hound met its end chasing a fox (the Teumessian vixen) which could not be caught; both fox and the hound were turned into stone. But the javelin continued to be used by Cephalus, who was an avid hunter. Procris then conceived doubts about her husband, who left his bride at the bridal chamber[10] and climbed to a mountaintop[11] and sang a hymn invoking Nephele, "cloud".[12] Procris became convinced that he was serenading a lover. She climbed to where he was to spy on him. Cephalus, hearing a stirring in the brush and thinking the noise came from an animal, threw the never-erring javelin in the direction of the sound – and Procris was impaled. As she lay dying in his arms, she told him "On our wedding vows, please never marry Eos". Cephalus was distraught at the death of his beloved Procris, and went into exile in Thebes.

The primary literary source for the story is the poet Pherecydes of Athens, preserved in a quoted fragment (Pherecydes Fr. 34) in the so-called "Mythographus Homericus"; a papyrus (PBerolinensis 13282) representing a parallel text based on the same source confirms the details.[13]

Amphitryon's campaign[edit]

In a separate episode that is simply an aition explaining the name of Cephallenia and reinforcing its cultural connections with Athens,[14] Cephalus helped Amphitryon of Mycenae in a war against the Taphians and Teleboans. He was awarded with the island of Samos, which thereafter came to be known as Cephallenia. The people who lived on Cephallenia and nearby islands came to be known as Cephallenians.

Cephalus eventually married again, choosing a daughter of Minyas to be his wife. This woman (named Clymene, according to some sources) bore him a son named Arcesius. Arcesius succeeded Cephalus as ruler of his Cephallenian realm. This Arcesius was sometimes said to be the grandfather of Odysseus. In another version he had four sons after which four cities were named: Same, Crane, Pali, Pronnoi. These are the cities who later became the four city-states of Cephallenia. Nevertheless, Cephalus never forgave himself over the death of Procris, and he committed suicide by leaping from Cape Leucas into the sea.

In literature[edit]

The legend of Cephalus and Procris figures twice in Ovid: in the third book of Ars Amatoria and in the seventh book of the Metamorphoses. It is retold in Cephalus and Procris; Narcissus, a 1595 poem by Thomas Edwards. It is echoed in Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream (Act V, scene i), where Pyramus and Thisbe refer to "Shafalus" and "Procrus." While Milton's "the Attic boy" in Il Penseroso is also a reference to Cephalus.[15]

Operatic treatments include Caccini's Il rapimento di Cefalo (c. 1600), André Grétry's Céphale et Procris (1773), and Ernst Krenek's Cefalo e Procri (1934), as well as works by Hidalgo (1660), Elisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre (1694), and Johann Philipp Krieger (1690).


  1. ^ M. Broadbent, Studies in Greek Genealogy 1968, ch. 5.
  2. ^ a b c Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 1.9.4
  3. ^ Scholia ad Callimachus, Hymn, in Dian. 209
  4. ^ G. Daux, in L'Antiquité Classique 52 pp 150-74 and J. Paul Getty Museum 12 (1984:145-52); discussed in D. Whitehead, The demes of Attica (1986:194-99), noted by Fowler 1993.
  5. ^ Suida, Suda Encyclopedia s.v. Oiēthēn
  6. ^ E. Kearns, "The heroes of Attica" BICS Supplement 57 (1989):170.
  7. ^ Aurora in Roman mythology.
  8. ^ Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 3.15.1
  9. ^ In the version of Antoninus Liberalis (§41) and Hyginus (Fabula 189), Prokris returns after her sojourn with Artemis and tests her husband disguised as a handsome youth, a late decorative embellishment interpolated to provide a further antithesis.
  10. ^ "Now the idea that Kephalos left his bride at the bridal chamber itself is a suspiciously particular detail", observes Robert L. Fowler, ("The myth of Kephalos as aition of rain-magic [Pherekydes FrGHist 3F34]", Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik 97 [1993:29–42]. "The detail is there not because the narrative suggests or requires it, but because it was part of a ritual." He remarks other curious details: the return in disguise (masked?), the presentation of a gift, and above all the "summoning of a cloud".
  11. ^ Ovid specifies the mountaintop as Mount Hymettus; there, R.L. Fowler observes, was a sanctuary of Zeus Ombrios, bringer of rain.
  12. ^ Fowler 1993 represents this action as the central core of the myth, which he interprets as rain-making magic ritual; Ovid (in Ars Amatoria and also in Metamorphoses) has substituted an invocation of Aura, a cooling breeze.
  13. ^ for different versions of this story, emphasizing the tragic misunderstanding of Procris, see Procris
  14. ^ Robert L. Fowler, "The myth of Kephalos as aition of rain-magic (Pherekydes FrGHist 3F34)", Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik 97 (1993:29–42).
  15. ^ P. Harvey, Oxford Companion to Classical Literature, 1937, s.v. "Cephalus," p. 96.

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