THE LAISTRYGONES (or Laestrygones) were a tribe of man-eating giants encountered by Odysseus on his travels. Their name was derived from the Greek words laisêion, "raw hide" or "skin" and trygaô, "to gather." Homer appears to place them somewhere in the far north, a land where the sun rose shortly after it set.
|POSEIDON & GAIA (Hesiod Catalogues Frag 40A)
|Presumably a son of LAISTRYGON (above), though nowhere stated
ANTI′PHATES (Antiphatês), a king of the Laestrygones in Sicily. When on the seventh day after leaving the island of Aeolus Odysseus landed on the coast of the Laestrygones, and sent out three of his men to explore their country, one of them was immediately seized and devoured by Antiphates, for the Laestrygones were more like giants than men. They now made an attack upon the ships of Odysseus, who escaped with only one vessel. (Hom. Od. x. 80-132.)
Source: Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology.
Homer, Odyssey 10. 80 ff & 12. 1 ff (trans. Shewring) (Greek epic C8th B.C.) :
"He [Aiolos, god of the winds,] drove me [Odysseus] forth [from his island] despite my pitiful lamentations. Then we sailed onwards, sick at heart; the heavy rowing broke the men's spirit, though only our own folly was to blame.
For six days and through six nights we sailed on steadily; on the seventh day we came to Telepylos (Strong-Gated), the lofty town of the Laistrygones (Laestrygones) whose king is Lamos. There one herdsman as he drives in his beasts will hail another driving his out and the second answers the first. In those parts a man who never slept could have earned wages twice over, one wage for herding cattle and another for pasturing white sheep, because the pathways of day and night come close together there.
We entered the harbour; on either side there stretches a long sheer wall of cliff; at the mouth are promontories facing each other, and the entrance is narrow. The other crews all steered their ships in, mooring them near each other inside the enclosing harbour, for within this no wave swelled up, whether great or small; there was limpid calm all around. I alone kept my ship outside, where the harbour ended, and made the cable fast to a rock. From where we were no trace could be seen of men's or oxen's labours; we only discerned some smoke going up from the land below. Then I sent out some of my comrades to find what manner of human beings were those who lived here; I chose two men, and a spokesman to go with them. Having left the ship, they took to a made road that was used by wagons for bringing timber into the town from the hills above. Just short of the town, they came on a girl drawing water; she was tall and powerful, the daughter of King Antiphates. She had come down to the clear stream of the spring Artakia (Artacia), from which the townsmen fetched up their water. They approached her and spoke to her, asking who was king of this land and who his subjects were; and she pointed at once to her father's lofty house. They entered the palace and found his wife there, but she stood mountain-high and they were aghast at the sight of her. She sent out forthwith to fetch King Antiphates her husband from the assembly-place, and his only thought was to kill them miserably.
He clutched one of my men at once and made a meal of him, but the other two rushed away and ran till they reached the ships. The king raised a hue and cry through the town, and the other great Laistrygones heard him; they came throning up in multitudes, looking not like men but like the lawless Gigantes (Giants), and from the cliffs began to hurl down great rocks that were each of them one man's burden. A hideous din rose amid my fleet as men were killed and vessels shattered. The Laistrygones speared men like fish and then carried home their monstrous meal. But while they thus made havoc among my crews inside the deep harbour, I snatched the keen sword from my thigh, severed the hawsers of my ship and urgently called to my own crew to lean to their oars and escape destruction; and so, with the fear of death before them, they pulled together, one and all. What joy it was when our ship escaped from under the beetling cliffs into the open sea! But the other ships all perished there together.
Thence we sailed on, glad enough to be snatched from death but sick at heart to have lost hose others, the comrades that we had known. Then we came to the island of Aiai; here Kirke (Circe) dwelt, a goddess with braided hair . . . the island of Aiaia; it is there that Eos (Dawn) the early-comer has her dwelling place and her dancing grounds, and Helios the sun himself has his risings."
[N.B. Homer later mentions that the land of the Laistrygones lies near that of Kimmerians. The Kimmerians were a Skythian tribe located at the north-east corner of the Black Sea, which seems to suggest that Odysseus had unintentionally travelled the entire northern circuit of the River Okeanos from the farthest west (i.e. beyond Spain) to the farthest east (i.e. beyond Skythia).]
Hesiod, Catalogues of Women Frag 40A (sourced from the Oxyrhynchus Papyri) (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C8th or C7th B.C.) :
"[The winged Boreades chased the Harpyiai (Harpies) all the way to Italy:] About the steep Fawn mountain and rugged Aitna [Mount Etna of Sicily] to the isle of Ortygia and the people sprung from Laistrygon (Laestrygon) who was the son of wide-reigning Poseidon [and Gaia]."
Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca Ey. 12 (trans. Aldrich) (Greek mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"Aiolos (Aeolus) threw him [Odysseus] off the island, saying he could not save him as long as the gods had other ideas. So he sailed along and came to the Laistrygones (Laestrygones) and . . ((lacuna)) he anchored his own ship last. The Laistrygones were cannibals, ruled by Antiphates. Odysseus, anxious to learn who the natives were, sent a group to inquire. They were met by the king's daughter, who took them to her father. He grabbed one and ate him, pursuing the rest as they ran, and summoning the other Laistrygones with shouts. They ran down to the sea, where they shattered the boats with rocks and started eating the men. Odysseus cut loose his ship's stern-cable and put to sea, but the other ships were destroyed with their crews."
Lycophron, Alexandra 662 ff (trans. Mair) (Greek poet C3rd B.C.) :
"And he [Odysseus] shall see the remnant [of the Laistrygones] that was spared by the arrows of Kerymantes Peukeus Palaimon [Herakles]. The remnant shall break into pieces all the well-turned hulls and shall with rushes pierce their evil spoil, as it were fishes."
Lycophron, Alexandra 955 :
"The Laistrygones in the West, where dwells always abundant desolation."
Pausanias, Description of Greece 8. 29. 2 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.) :
"Homer does not mention Gigantes (Giants) at all in the Iliad, but in the Odyssey he relates how the Laistrygones (Laestrygones) attacked the ships of Odysseus in the likeness not of men but of Gigantes, and he makes also the king of the Phaiakes (Phaeacians) say that the Phaiakes are near to the gods like the Kykopes (Cyclopes) and the race of Gigantes. In these places then he indicates that the giants are mortal, and not of divine race."
Anonymous, Odyssey Fragment (trans. Page, Vol. Select Papyri III, No. 137) (Greek epic C3rd-4th A.D.) :
"Like Antiphates and Polyphemos who devoured men."
[N.B. These are the two giants encountered by Odysseus, one the King of the Laistrygones and the other a Kyklops.]
Pseudo-Hyginus, Fabulae 125 (trans. Grant) (Roman mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"He [Odysseys] was carried again [by a storm] to Aeolus, who cast him out because the divinity of the gods seemed hostile to him. He came to the Laestrygonians, whose king was Antiphates . . ((lacuna)) Some [of Odysseus' men] he devoured and shattered eleven of his ships, with the exception of the one in which Ulysses escaped when his comrades had been lost."
Ovid, Metamorphoses 14. 233 ff (trans. Melville) (Roman epic C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"[The ghost of Akhaimenides one of Odysseus' men relates his story to Aeneias:] ‘From there [the island of Aiolos] we sailed to the old town of Lamus Laestrygonis. Antiphates was chieftain; I was sent to him with two companions; one with me fled--we just saved ourselves; the third of us fed with his flesh those fiendish cannibals. Antiphates pursued us, mustering his braves, and in a crowd they came and threw tree-trunks and rocks and sank our craft, our crews. Yet one ship, with Ulixes [Odysseus] and ourselves, escaped. Mourning so many comrades lost, complaining bitterly, we reached the isle you see there in the distance [Aeaea the island of Kirke (Circe)].’"
Ovid, Fasti 4. 69 (trans. Boyle) (Roman poet C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"The Neritian general [Odysseus] came [to Italy]: the Laestrygonians are proof, and the shore with Circe's name [i.e. Circeii in coastal Latium]."
Pliny the Elder, Natural History 3. 89 (trans. Rackham) (Roman encyclopedia C1st A.D.) :
"[Near the River Symaethis in Sicily:] Inland are the Laestrygoni Plains."
Pliny the Elder, Natural History 7. 9 :
"Some Scythian tribes, and in fact a good many, feed on human bodies--a statement that perhaps may seem incredible if we do not reflect that races of this portentous character have existed in the central region of the world [i.e. in Italy], named Cyclopes and Laestrygones."
Suidas s.v. Laistrygonia (trans. Suda On Line) (Byzantine Greek Lexicon C10th A.D.) :
"Laistrygonia: A city."
- Homer, The Odyssey - Greek Epic C8th B.C.
- Hesiod, Catalogues of Women - Greek Epic C8th-7th B.C.
- Apollodorus, The Library - Greek Mythography C2nd A.D.
- Lycophron, Alexandra - Greek Poetry C3rd B.C.
- Pausanias, Guide to Greece - Greek Geography C2nd A.D.
- Greek Papyri III Anonymous, Odyssey Fragments - Greek Elegiac C3rd-4th A.D.
- Hyginus, Fabulae - Latin Mythography C2nd A.D.
- Ovid, Metamorphoses - Latin Epic C1st B.C. - C1st A.D.
- Ovid, Fasti - Latin Epic C1st B.C. - C1st A.D.
- Pliny the Elder, Natural History - Latin Encyclopedia C1st A.D.
- Suidas - Byzantine Lexicon C10th A.D.