Psamathe (Nereid)

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Psamathe, detail of a vase depicting the struggle between Peleus and Thetis. Psamathe is among the Nereids fleeing from the couple.[1]

In Greek mythology, Psamathe (Ancient Greek: Ψαμάθη) is a Nereid, one of the fifty daughters of the sea god Nereus and the Oceanid Doris. By Aeacus, the king of Aegina, she is the mother of a son, Phocus. When Phocus is killed by his half-brothers Peleus and Telamon, Psamathe sends a giant wolf at Peleus' herd.


Psamathe is one of the fifty Nereids, daughters of Nereus and Doris.[2] By Aeacus, the king of Aegina, she is the mother of a son, Phocus.[3] She is later the wife of Proteus, king of Egypt, by whom she has a son, Theoclymenos, and a daughter, Eido (later known as Theonoe).[4]


There are two myths which involve Psamathe. The first is the story of her violation by Aeacus. Upon his advances, she transforms herself into a seal in an attempt to escape. She is unsuccessful, however, and from their union is born Phocus, whose name (phoke meaning "seal") recalls his mother's metamorphosis.[5]

Peleus and Telamon are the sons of Aeacus by his wife Endeis.[6] The two of them kill their half-brother Phocus,[7] and they are subsequently exiled from Aegina by their father.[8] The second story which features Psamathe involves her sending of a wolf at the herds of Peleus, out of revenge for her son's death. After the wolf eats part of Peleus' herd, it is turned to stone by either Psamathe herself, or her sister Thetis.[9]


Psamathe is first mentioned in Hesiod's Theogony (c. 730–700 BC), where she described as "Psamathe of charming figure" and "the fair goddess". Hesiod lists her among the Nereids, and calls her the mother of Phocus by Aeacus.[10] Pindar (c. 518–438 BC), who calls her "Psamatheia" (Ψαμάθεια), says that she bore Phocus by the shore of the sea,[11] while Euripides, in his play Helen (c. 412 BC), offers a very different account of Psamathe, in which, "after she left Aiakos' bed", she is the wife of Proteus, the king of Egypt, by whom she has two children, Theoclymenos and Eido (the latter of which is later known as Theonoe).[12]

The myth of Psmathe's transformation into a seal comes from the mythographer Apollodorus (first or second century AD) and a scholiast on Euripides' play Andromache,[13] while multiple versions of the story of the wolf are given by different authors. Ovid, in his Metamorphoses (c. 8 AD), presents the most detailed account. After Phocus is killed by his half-brothers Peleus and Telamon, they are exiled from the island of Aegina by their father Aeacus. Psamathe, out of revenge for her son's murder, sends at Peleus' herd of cattle a wolf that is described as a "huge beast", with "great, murderous jaws" and "eyes blazing with red fire".[14] Peleus is informed of the wolf by his herdsman, and "well [knows] that the bereaved Nereid [is] sending this calamity upon him".[15] In desperation, he prays to Psamathe to "put away her wrath and come to his help";[16] she remains unmoved, however, until her sister Thetis prays for her forgiveness alongside Peleus, at which point she transforms the wolf into what Ovid describes as "marble".[17] Antoninus Liberalis (second to third century AD), in his Metamorphoses, presents a much briefer version, which he attributes to Nicander of Colophon (second century BC). In this version the origin of the wolf is not specified, and it is transformed into stone, not by Psamathe, but by "divine will".[18] A wolf is similarly mentioned by the Hellenistic poet Lycophron (born 330–325 BC), in his Alexandra: "... the Wolf that devoured the atonement and was turned to stone ...".[19] The byzantine poet John Tzetzes (c. 1110–1180), in his commentary on Lycophron's Alexandra, presents a version of the story in which Psamathe sends the wolf, but does not transform it herself; instead it is Thetis who turns it to stone.[20]

Psamathe also appears in book 43 of Nonnus's Dionysiaca (c. fifth century AD), during the fight between Poseidon and Dionysus, where, from the beach, she pleads to Zeus to end the battle.[21]


Psamathe is depicted on a number of Attic vases dating from the late fifth century BC.[22] The iconography of Psamathe is typical for a Nereid,[23] and she is depicted in such scenes as the fight between Peleus and Thetis,[24] and the transportation of the weapons and armour of Achilles, where she is among the Nereids carrying his weaponry while riding on a dolphin.[25]


Psamathe's family tree


  1. ^ LIMC 8059 (Psamathe 1).
  2. ^ March, s.v. Psamathe (1), p. 340. Both Hesiod (Theogony 240–62) and Apollodorus (1.2.7) include Psamathe in their list of fifty Nereids, and she is similarly referred to as the "daughter of Nereus" in Hesiod, Theogony 1003–5; Apollodorus, 3.12.6; Nicander apud Antoninus Liberalis, 38. Psamathe is one of the few Nereids of individual note, along with Amphitrite, Thetis, and Galatea (Gantz, p. 16; Caldwell, p. 44 on lines 243–64; Szabados, p. 568).
  3. ^ Hard, p. 531; Grimal, s.v. Psamathe (1), p. 396; Tripp, s.v. Psamathe, p. 503; Hesiod, Theogony 1003–5; Apollodorus, 3.12.6; Nicander apud Antoninus Liberalis, 38; Plutarch, Moralia 311 E (pp. 292, 293) [= FGrHist 145 F6 = 289 F4]; Scholia on Euripides' Andromache 687 (Dindorf, pp. 178–9). Similarly: Pindar, Nemean 5.12 (pp. 50, 51); Pausanias, 2.29.9.
  4. ^ Euripides, Helen, 6–13; Brill's New Pauly, s.v. Psamathe (1); March, s.vv. Eidothea, p. 142, Psamathe (1), p. 340; Tripp, s.vv. Proteus (2), p. 502, Psamathe, p. 503.
  5. ^ Apollodorus, 3.12.6; Scholia on Euripides' Andromache, 687 (Dindorf, pp. 178–9); Hard, p. 531; Brill's New Pauly, s.v. Phocus (1); Caldwell, p. 45 on line 260; Larson, p. 71; March, s.v. Psamathe (1), p. 340. Fontenrose, p. 106 and Brill's New Pauly, s.v. Psamathe (1) point out the similarity of Psamathe's violation by Aeacus to the assault of another Nereid, Thetis, by Peleus, Aeacus' son.
  6. ^ Hard, p. 531.
  7. ^ The manner in which Phocus is killed and the motivations for his murder vary between versions. For an extensive discussion of Phocus' death by his half-brothers, see BNJ, commentary on 289 F4; see also Gantz, pp. 222–3; Hard, p. 531; Frazer, n. 14 to 3.16.2.
  8. ^ Gantz, pp. 223; Hard, p. 531.
  9. ^ Ovid, Metamorphoses 11.348–409 (pp. 144–149); Tzetzes on Lycophron, 175 (pp. 432–47); also Nicander apud Antoninus Liberalis, 38.
  10. ^ Hesiod, Theogony 240–62 ("charming figure", listed as a Nereid), 1003–5 ("fair goddess", mother of Phocus).
  11. ^ Pindar, Nemean 5.12 (pp. 50, 51).
  12. ^ Euripides, Helen, 6–13.
  13. ^ BNJ, commentary on 289 F4; Gantz, p. 220; Apollodorus, 3.12.6; Scholia on Euripides' Andromache 687 (Dindorf, pp. 178–9).
  14. ^ Ovid's description of the wolf is at Metamorphoses 11.365–73 (pp. 146, 147)
  15. ^ Paschalis, p. 163–164; Ovid, Metamorphoses 11.346–81 (pp. 144–7).
  16. ^ Paschalis, p. 164; Ovid, Metamorphoses 11.392–8 (pp. 148, 149).
  17. ^ Paschalis, p. 164; Ovid, Metamorphoses 11.398–406 (pp. 148, 149).
  18. ^ BNJ, commentary on 289 F4; Paschalis, p. 164; Nicander apud Antoninus Liberalis, 38.
  19. ^ Gantz, p. 227; Lycophron, 901–902 (pp. 568, 569).
  20. ^ Gantz, p. 227; Tzetzes on Lycophron, 175 (pp. 432–47).
  21. ^ Nonnus, Dionysiaca 43.356–72 (pp. 290–3).
  22. ^ Szabados, p. 568.
  23. ^ Szabados, p. 568.
  24. ^ LIMC 8059 (Psamathe 1); Beazley Archive, 213890; Newton, p. 3; LIMC 12127 (Psamathe 8).
  25. ^ LIMC 387 (Psamathe 2); Richter, p. 175; LIMC 10251 (Psamathe 3). In LIMC Psamathe 2 she is depicted carrying an Attic helmet, while in LIMC Psamathe 3 she holds the helmet of Achilles.
  26. ^ For more detailed charts of Aeacus' genealogy, see Hard, p. 711, table 18 and Grimal, p. 550, table 30.