Oenone (nymph)

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Oenone holding pan pipes, Paris and Eros – a detail from a sarcophagus with the Judgement of Paris, Roman, Hadrianic period (Palazzo Altemps, Rome)

In Greek mythology, Oenone (/ɪˈnn/; Ancient Greek: Οἰνώνη Oinōnē; "wine woman") was the first wife of Paris of Troy, whom he abandoned for Helen. Oenone was also the ancient name of an island, which was later named after Aegina, daughter of the river god Asopus.[1]


Oenone was a mountain nymph (an oread) on Mount Ida in Phrygia, a mountain associated with the Mother Goddess Cybele and the Titaness Rhea. Her gift of prophecy was learned from Rhea.[2] Her father was either the river-gods, Cebren[2][3] or Oeneus.[4] Her name links her to the gift of wine.


Illustration of Tennyson's "Oenone", c. 1901

Paris, son of the king Priam and the queen Hecuba, fell in love with Oenone when he was a shepherd on the slopes of Mount Ida, having been exposed in infancy (owing to a prophecy that he would be the means of the destruction of the city of Troy) and rescued by the herdsman Agelaus. The couple married, and Oenone gave birth to a son, Corythus.[5]

When Paris later abandoned her to return to Troy and sail across the Aegean to kidnap Helen, the queen of Sparta, Oenone predicted the Trojan War. Out of revenge for Paris's betrayal, she sent Corythus to guide the Greeks to Troy. Another version has it that she used her son to drive a rift between Paris and Helen, but Paris, not recognizing his own son, killed him.

The only extensive surviving narration of Oenone and Paris is Quintus Smyrnaeus, Posthomerica, Book X, ll. 259-489, which tells the return of the dying Paris to Oenone.[6] Mortally wounded by Philoctetes's arrow, he begged Oenone to heal him with her herbal arts,[7] but she refused and cast him out with scorn, to return to Helen's bed, and Paris died on the lower slopes of Ida. Then, overcome with remorse, Oenone, the one whole-hearted mourner of Paris, threw herself onto his burning funeral pyre, which the shepherds had raised. A fragment of Bacchylides suggests that she threw herself off a cliff,[8] in the Bibliotheke it is noted "when she found him dead she hanged herself", and Lycophron imagines her hurtling head first from the towering walls of Troy. Her tragic story makes one of the Love Romances of Parthenius of Nicaea.[9]

Ovid includes an imagined reproachful letter from Oenone to Paris in his Heroides,[10] a text that has been extended by a number of spurious post-Ovidian interpolations, which include an elsewhere unattested rape of Oenone by Apollo.[11]

In literature[edit]

Thomas Heywood wrote the epyllion Oenone and Paris (1594) in rhyme royal.

William Morris included "The Death of Paris" in The Earthly Paradise.

Lawrence Binyon published Paris and Oenone, a one-act closet tragedy in blank verse, in 1906.

Tennyson adapted the source material of Smyrnaeus for "The Death of Oenone" (1892), distilling its tragic essence.[12] This was Tennyson's second poem on the subject; his previous attempt, "Oenone", was critically panned when first published in 1833.[13] The poem was practically rewritten between then and 1842 and the revised version has been described as exquisitely beautiful.[14]

In Racine's Phèdre, the name Oenone is given to Phaedra's nurse, a character who also commits suicide.


  1. ^ A Dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology, Aeacus
  2. ^ a b Apollodorus, 3.12.6
  3. ^ Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Oenone" . Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
  4. ^ Graves, Robert (2017). The Greek Myths - The Complete and Definitive Edition. Penguin Books Limited. p. 632. ISBN 9780241983386.
  5. ^ Parthenius, Erotica Pathemata 34
  6. ^ On-line text
  7. ^ "Oenone, skilled in drugs". according to Lycophron, Alexandra, 61.
  8. ^ Bacchylides, fr. 20D
  9. ^ Parthenius, 4.
  10. ^ Heroides v.
  11. ^ Sergio Casali, reviewing The Cambridge Heroides in The Classical Journal 92.3 (February 1997, pp. 305-314) pp306-07.
  12. ^ Tennyson dedicated his poem to the classical scholar Benjamin Jowett as "a Grecian tale retold" and in his Memoirs (ii.386) credited it with being "even more strictly classical in form and language than the old", as Wilfred P. Mustard noted in The American Journal of Philology 23.3 (1902), p 318. See "The death of Oenone" Archived 2007-06-09 at the Wayback Machine
  13. ^ Thorn, Michael. (1992) Tennyson, p. 106. New York: St. Martin's Press.
  14. ^ Notes to Poetical Works of Lord Tennyson, Collins, published ca. 1940


External links[edit]