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Gods, Demigods and Demons: An Encyclopedia of Greek Mythology
By Bernard Evslin
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1975 Bernard Evslin
All rights reserved.
Abas (AH buhs): An early king of Argos; great-grandfather of Perseus. He was a special favorite of Hera who blessed his shield, making it resistant to any sword-stroke. Thus favored by the goddess, Abas proved himself a fearsome warrior. His reputation persisted after his death, and the very sight of his shield, it is said, carried by one of his descendants, was enough to strike fear into the foes of Argos.
Acantha (uh KAN thuh): A nymph who disdained Apollo. Despite her refusals he kept pursuing her until she turned upon him and scratched his face. Enraged, he turned her into a thorny plant which we still know today as the "acanthus."
Achelous (uhk uh LOH uhs): A river-god; son of Oceanus and Tethys. He competed with Heracles for the favor of the beautiful Deianira. Achelous transformed himself into a river and raged over his banks, trying to drown Heracles. When that failed, he turned into a serpent, and, finally, into a bull. But Heracles withstood all these metamorphoses, and hurled Achelous, senseless, to the ground. The defeated god slunk off to his underground springs — but it is said that he still swells angrily in the springtime at the memory of his defeat, and spitefully floods the villages of the plain.
Achilles (uh KILL eez): Son of Peleus and Thetis, and the greatest of all Greek warriors. When Achilles was an infant his sea-goddess mother, wishing him to share her immortality, dipped him into the river Styx. However, in doing so, she held him by the heel, and the part of his heel covered by her thumb became his one vulnerable spot. Otherwise, his hide was stronger than any armor. He could not be wounded by any weapon wielded by man. Even without this magic hide, however, he would have been a most fearsome adversary. For no one whom he engaged in combat lived long enough to get a blow in. He was masterful with spear, sword, bow and arrow — and, even weaponless, fighting with bare hands, he could disarm any foe. He could run faster than any horse — except his own two immortal stallions. Yellow-haired, gray-eyed, thin-lipped, sleek-muscled, he was beautiful to look upon as he moved in the fatal ballet of sword-stroke and spear-thrust. His very appearance on the field struck his foes with terror. When he charged, even the bravest scattered like sheep. The gods themselves, it is said, were loath to meet him weapon in hand. Indeed, on the morning that he killed Hector, he first overcame the river-god Scamander. His feud with Agamemnon almost cost the Greeks the war. For Achilles refused to do any fighting so long as Agamemnon led the army. But Ulysses persuaded Achilles to lend his golden armor to his beloved friend, Patroclus, so that the Trojans, believing that Achilles had taken the field, would yield some of the ground they had won. Achilles agreed and Patroclus was slain by Hector, whereupon Achilles was moved to vengeance. He joined the battle, killed Hector, and turned the tide in favor of the Greeks. He did this despite the Fates' decree that he would not outlive Hector by more than three days. Three days later he was ambushed by Hector's brother Paris, who sent an arrow into the tendon above his heel, his one vulnerable spot — still called the Achilles tendon. The hero fell, but the tale of his deeds lives a stubborn life of its own, partaking of the immortality that Thetis meant to bestow upon her marvelous son.
Actaeon (uhk TEE uhn): A hunter unfortunate enough to glimpse the goddess Artemis bathing in the river. Angered at being seen in her nakedness by a mortal, the maiden goddess changed him into a stag. He was torn to pieces by his own hounds.
Adamanthea (ad uh man THEE uh): A nymph entrusted with the care of the infant Zeus. She concealed the new-born god among the olive groves which grew on the slopes of Mt. Ida so that he would be safe from his father, Cronus, who had formed the habit of devouring his children.
Admetus (ad MEE tuhs): A king of Thessaly whose herds were tended by the exiled Apollo. The king, ignorant that his new herdsman was a god, treated him, as he did all men, with great kindness. Apollo vowed that he would return the favor one day. When Admetus was called to an untimely death, Apollo intervened with the Fates, arguing his case so persuasively that the fatal crones broke their own rule. They agreed that Admetus might return to life if he could find someone to take his place among the dead. The wife of Admetus, the lovely Alcestis, eagerly volunteered. But she was rescued from death by Heracles, who also owed Admetus a favor, and who wished to measure his strength against the one opponent he had never met — death. In all mythology, these two, Admetus and Alcestis, are perhaps the archetypes of the happily married—each bringing to their union love, faithfulness, and a capacity for self-sacrifice.
Adonis (uh DAHN uhs; uh DOH nuhs): Prince of Phoenicia, a youth of surpassing beauty, fruit of the union between King Cynyaras and his daughter, Myrrh. Adonis was adopted by Aphrodite and tutored in the arts of love. But she could not woo him away from his passion for hunting dangerous beasts — which led to his death. The jealous Ares turned himself into a giant boar and gored Adonis to death. From his blood sprang the red flower anemone, which still carpets the slopes of Mt. Lebanon. And Aphrodite's voice still mourns among the trees, calling, "Adon ... Adon...."
Aegeus (EE juhs; EE jee uhs): King of Athens; father of Theseus. When Theseus went to Crete to fight the Minotaur, it was arranged that the homeward-bound ship would bear a white sail if Theseus had prevailed — but would keep its black sail if he had been killed by the monster. Theseus, young and heedless, drunk with victory, forgot to raise the white sail. His father, watching from a hilltop near Athens, saw the black sail appear on the horizon. Grief-stricken at the thought of his hero-son's death, he leaped into the sea, drowning himself, and giving that sea its name—the Aegean.
Aegis (EE jihs): The magical goat-skin which Zeus used to cover his shield. Later, he gave it to his daughter, Athena, who hung the head of Medusa (a present to her from Perseus) from it and was able to turn her enemies to stone.
Aegisthus (ee JIHS thuhs): Key figure in a classic triangle. During the ten years that Agamemnon spent leading the Greek forces against Troy, his cousin, Aegisthus, made himself at home in Mycenae, wooing Queen Clytemnestra, and usurping the king's authority. His success was complete. When Agamemnon returned from Troy, Aegisthus validated his claims by helping Clytemnestra kill her husband. Then he in turn was killed by Agamemnon's avenging children, Orestes and Electra. Clytemnestra shared his fate.
Aeneas (ee NEE uhs): A prince of Troy; son of Aphrodite and Anchises. He was one of the heroes of the Trojan forces, second in fighting ability only to the mighty Hector. He escaped death in the sack of Troy, and saved the life of his old father — carrying him on his back through the flaming city. His wanderings after the fall of Troy are the subject of Virgil's great epic, the Aeneid, which concludes with Aeneas landing on the shore of Italy and founding Rome.
Aeolus (EE oh luhs): King of the winds, a stormy red-faced god with disheveled white hair and beard. He dwelt on the island of Aeolia, which he surrounded with a brass wall so that no stranger could come to interfere with his duties. He kept the winds pent in a cave, and dispatched them at his will — sometimes as gentle breezes, sometimes as strong trade winds, and sometimes as gales, hurricanes, or typhoons — according to his temper. Upon certain rare occasions he sewed up the winds in leather bags and lent them to a sailor who could use them as he wished to speed his journey. But this happened only when Aeolus admired the voyager or had been offered a huge bribe. He bagged the winds for Ulysses once, but the favor miscarried, and the trip ended disastrously.
Aetna (ET nuh): A volcanic mountain in Sicily. Its smoky crater was used as a workshop by Hephaestus; the smith-god stoked its fires to temper the thunderbolts he forged for Zeus. Aetna was originally the name of a nymph who made her home on a slope of the mountain. At first, Hephaestus disliked this nymph because she had sided with his sister, Demeter, in a family quarrel. Later, his wrath was melted by her beauty. She bore him twin sons, the Palici — and Hephaestus gave her name to the mountain.
Agamemnon (ag uh MEM nuhn): Son of Atreus, brother of Menelaus, and leader of the Greek expedition against Troy. This king of Mycenae was one of the dominant figures of his age, a formidable battle-chief, but his abilities were marred by his vices. He was lecherous and swinish to the last degree. His insistence on claiming for himself a Trojan girl, captured by Achilles, led to the quarrel which kept Achilles on the sidelines until the Greeks had almost lost the war. On Agamemnon's return from Troy, he was murdered by his queen, Clytemnestra, and her lover, Aegisthus.
Aglaia (uh GLAY yuh): Youngest of the Graces, this beautiful, gentle daughter of Zeus and Eurynome, according to some legends, became the second wife of Hephaestus after he had tired of Aphrodite's infidelities.
Ajax (AY jax): A prince of Salamis, who was, next to Achilles, the most powerful warrior among the Greeks. This huge, beefy, red-faced brawler used the mast of a ship as a spear and hurled enormous boulders as if they were pebbles. He fought a draw with Hector and lived through the bloodiest battles of the war only to fall by his own hand. Legend says he went mad when Odysseus cheated him out of the dead Achilles' golden armor — with the last glimmer of his reason he chose to slay himself rather than run amok and destroy his comrades.
Albion (AL bih uhn): Most honorable of Poseidon's mischievous brood. According to one legend he flew to the Western rim of the world to fetch a golden apple from Hera's tree as a present for his mother, Amphitrite. Homeward bound, he found a mist-shrouded island just east of the Hesperides. It was inhabited by blue-painted tribesmen who immediately recognized him as a god and did him much honor. He lingered on the island teaching its people the arts of boat-building and navigation. Since then, the islanders have been the ablest boatwrights and bravest sailors in the entire world. They named their island Albion in honor of the kindly sea-god; it is now called England.
Alcestis (al SES tihs): Beautiful wife of Admetus, who offered to die if her husband's life might be spared. Her offer was accepted, but Heracles wrested her from the clutches of Hades, and she was joyfully reunited with her husband, King Admetus.
Alcmene (alk MEE nee): Princess of Argos, and mother of Heracles. Loveliest woman of her time, Alcmene was known as the "Lady of the Light Footstep." It was said of her that she could run over a field of grass without bending a blade. Zeus fell in love with her but, knowing her reputation for virtue, put on the form of her husband before visiting her. Heracles was the product of this impersonation.
Alcyone (al SY oh nee): Daughter of Aeolus; princess of the winds. She married Ceyx, son of the Morning Star. They were so happy they aroused the envy of the unhappily wed Hera, who sent a storm to wreck the ship on which Ceyx was voyaging. His ghost appeared to Alcyone, and she drowned herself to keep him company. But Zeus pitied them and turned them into a pair of kingfishers. Each winter thereafter Aeolus forbade his winds to blow for a space of seven days so that his daughter, now a beautiful white kingfisher, could lay her eggs in a nest which floated on the sea. It is from this episode that we derive the word "halcyon," meaning a period of calm and golden days.
Alectryon (uh LEK trih uhn): The unlucky sentinel. He was assigned by Ares to watch for daybreak so that he might awaken the war-god who was trysting with Aphrodite and did not wish the sun to spy upon his doings. But Alectryon fell asleep — and Apollo, charioteer of the sun, observed the dalliance, and the secret was a secret no more. Enraged, Ares turned Alectryon into a rooster, who must wake himself earlier than any other creature to proclaim sunrise.
Alpheus (al FEE uhs): A river-god who fell in love with a nymph named Arethusa. He pursued her over the field and through the wood and was about to catch her when she claimed the aid of Artemis, who changed her into a stream. Whereupon Alpheus changed himself into a river and sought to mingle his waters with the stream. But Artemis dammed him up and left him in thwarted flood. It was this river, Alpheus, which Heracles later diverted from its course to flush out the Augean Stables.
Amalthea (am uhl THEE uh): A she-goat whose milk nourished the infant Zeus on the slope of Crete's Mt. Ida. Zeus was always grateful to this compassionate creature whom he viewed as his foster-mother. He honored her in three ways. After her death he used her hide to cover his shield. This was the sacred "aegis," later given to Athena. He also filled her horn with golden fruit from the Garden of the Hesperides; when the fruit was eaten, it would magically replenish itself. This was the "cornucopia." Later, he set goat and horn among the stars, where they shine as the constellation "Capricorn."
Amazons (AM uh zuhnz): A nation of warrior women, said to have originated in Scythia. They trained their bodies for warfare, did all the hunting and fighting, and used men only for breeding purposes and menial tasks. They attained matchless skill in horseback riding and archery and became the most fearsome cavalry of ancient times. They enter many legends. Heracles and Theseus raided them and carried off two of their queens. A detachment of Amazons fought for Priam before the walls of Troy, and wrought much destruction among the Greeks until finally vanquished by Achilles. They invaded Lycia, and would have overrun that land had they not been defeated by Bellerephon, who rode above them on the flying horse Pegasus, and dropped huge boulders on them. On their most successful expedition they swept over the entire Peloponnese, and laid siege to Athens — which almost fell to them before they were turned back by Theseus.
Amphitrite (am fih TRY tee): Wife of Poseidon; queen of the sea. This joyous daughter of Oceanus loved to frisk among the blue waves and come out at low tide to dance on the shore. Poseidon glimpsed her dancing on Naxos and fell violently in love with her. But she feared his stormy wooing, and fled him to the depths of the sea. Whereupon he changed his tactics and tried to win her with gifts. Of coral and pearl and the bullion off sunken treasure ships, he wrought her marvelous ornaments, but she spurned them all. Finally, he created something entirely new for her — a talking dancing fish. He dubbed the creature "dolphin," and sent it to Amphitrite. The dolphin pleaded Poseidon's cause with such wit and eloquence that Amphitrite yielded. She reigned as queen of the sea for many centuries and bore Poseidon scores of children, among them Triton of the wreathed horn. The dolphin remained her favorite of all the creatures of the deep and she employed a string of them to pull her crystal chariot.
Amphitryon (am FIHT rih uhn): Husband of Alcmene; stepfather of Heracles. His courtship of Alcmene was extremely eventful. She refused to marry him unless he avenged her eight brothers who had been killed by a certain Pterelaus, king of Taphos. To mount an expedition against Taphos, however, he needed the help of King Creon of Thebes. Creon refused to help him unless he first killed a giant, man-eating fox. This fox was deemed uncatchable, but Amphitryon borrowed a hound from Artemis. With this wolfish black and silver hound he was able to track the fox to its lair and there slay it. Nevertheless, his invasion against Taphos would have failed had he not won the love of Princess Comaetho — who betrayed her father to him. For her father, the king, was invincible until he should lose a single golden hair that grew among his white hairs. The princess plucked this golden hair as her father lay asleep and presented it to Amphitryon, who thereupon defeated the king's army and killed the king. However, he disappointed the princess. He left Taphos and married Alcmene, whose conditions he had now fulfilled. Their marriage was very happy. He never blamed Alcmene for bearing Zeus an illegitimate child. He treated Heracles as his own son and viewed the strategy of Zeus as a compliment to himself. For Alcmene had broken all precedent by resisting the mighty god until he deceived her by assuming the form of her husband. Amphitryon and Alcmene remained happily united after the birth of Heracles.
Excerpted from Gods, Demigods and Demons: An Encyclopedia of Greek Mythology by Bernard Evslin. Copyright © 1975 Bernard Evslin. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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