ERYX was a king of the Sicilian town of Eryx, a son of either the god Poseidon or Aphrodite and the hero Boutes. When Herakles was herding the cattle of Geryon across the island, he stole the finest bull from the herd and challenged the hero to a wrestling or boxing match when he came to fetch it. Eryx lost his life in the deadly contest which ensued.
[1.1] POSEIDON (Apollodorus 2.5.10)
[2.1] BOUTES & APHRODITE (Diodorus Siculus 4.23.2 & 4.83.1)
[2.2] APHRODITE (Virgil Aeneid 5.22)
Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 2. 5. 10 (trans. Frazer) (Greek mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"[Herakles returning to Greece with the cattle of Geryon, travelled the length of Italy :] At Rhegion a bull broke away and hastily plunging into the sea swam across to Sikelia (Sicily), and having passed through the neighboring country since called Italy after it, for the Tyrrhenians called the bull italus, came to the plain of Eryx, who reigned over the Elymoi. Now Eryx was a son of Poseidon, and he mingled the bull with his own herds. So Herakles entrusted the kine to Hephaistos and hurried away in search of the bull. He found it in the herds of Eryx, and when the king refused to surrender it unless Herakles should beat him in a wrestling bout, Herakles beat him thrice, killed him in the wrestling, and taking the bull drove it with the rest of the herd to the Ionian Sea."
Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica 4. 910 ff (trans. Seaton) (Greek epic C3rd B.C.) :
"The goodly son of Teleon alone of the comrades [i.e. the Argonauts] leapt before them all from the polished bench into the sea, even Boutes, his soul melted by the clear ringing voice of the Seirenes; and he swam through the dark surge to mount the beach, poor wretch. Quickly would they have robbed him of his return then and there, but the goddess that rules Eryx, Kypris [Aphrodite], in pity snatched him away, while yet in the eddies, and graciously meeting him saved him to dwell on the Lilybaion height."
[N.B. Although not mentioned by Apollonius, Aphrodite subsequently fell in love with Boutes and bore him Eryx.]
Lycophron, Alexandra 866 ff (trans. Mair) (Greek poet C3rd B.C.) :
"And he shall come to the inhospitable wrestling-arena of the bull [Eryx] whom Kolotis [Aphrodite] bare."
Diodorus Siculus, Library of History 4. 83. 1 - 4 (trans. Oldfather) (Greek historian C1st B.C.) :
"Eryx was a son of Aphrodite and Butas, a certain native king of Sikelia (Sicily) of very great fame, and he was admired by the natives because of his noble birth on his mother’s side and became king over a part of the island. He also founded a notable city which bore his name; it was set upon a lofty place, and on the highest point within the city he established a shrine of his mother, which he embellished not only with a beautifully built temple, but also with the multitude of his dedications.
The goddess, both because of the reverence which the inhabitants of the region paid to her and because of the honour which she received from the son whom she had borne, displayed an exceptional love for the city, and for this reason she came to be called Aphrodite Erykinia . . . After Eryx has bestowed upon it the honours we have described, Aeneas, the son of Aphrodite, when at a later time he was on his way to Italy and came to anchor off the island, embellished the sanctuary, since it was that of his own mother, with many votive offerings."
Diodorus Siculus, Library of History 4. 22. 6 - 22. 3 :
"[Herakles travelled the length of Sicily with the cattle of Geryon :] When Herakles arrived at the strait [of Messina] where the sea is narrowest, he had the cattle taken over into Sikelia (Sicily), but as for himself, he took hold of the horn of a bull and swam across the passage, the distance between the shores being thirteen stades, as Timaios says.
Upon his arrival in Sikelia Herakles desired to make the circuit of the entire island and so set out from Pelorias in the direction of Eryx. While passing along the coast of the island, the myths relate, the Nymphai caused warm baths to gush forth so that he might refresh himself after the toil sustained in journeying. There are two of these, called respectively Himeraia and Egestaia, each of them having its name from the place where the baths are.
As Herakles approached the region of Eryx, who was the son of Aphrodite and Butas, who was then king of that country. The contest of the rivals carried with it a penalty, whereby Eryx was to surrender his land and Herakles the cattle. Now at first Eryx was displeased at such terms, maintaining that the cattle were of far less value as compared to the land; but when Herakles in answer to his arguments showed that if he lost the cattle he would likewise lose his immortality, Eryx agreed to the terms, and wrestling with him was defeated and lost his land.
Herakles turned the land over to the natives of the region, agreeing with them that they should gather the fruits of it until one of his descendants should appear among them and demand it back; and this actually came to pass. For in fact many generations later Dorieus the Lakedaimonian [i.e. Spartan] came to Sikelia, and taking back the land founded the city of Herakleia."
Pausanias, Description of Greece 3. 16. 4 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.) :
"Dorieus the son of Anaxandrides [an historical Spartan] set out for Sikelia (Sicily). The reason of their setting out was that they held that the Erykine district belonged to the descendants of Herakles and not to the foreigners who held it. The story is that Herakles wrestled with Eryx on these terms : if Herakles won, the land of Eryx was to belong to him but if he were beaten, Eryx was to depart with the cows of Geryon; for Herakles at the time was driving these away, and when they swam across to Sikelia he too crossed over in search of them near the bent olive-tree. The favour of heaven was more partial to Herakles than it was afterwards to Dorieus the son of Anaxandrides; Herakles killed Eryx, but Dorieus himself and the greater part of his army were destroyed by the Egestaians."
Pausanias, Description of Greece 4. 36. 3 - 4 :
"The men of those days [i.e. the Age of Heroes] made it their business to amass wealth of this kind, herds of horses and cattle . . . [and so] Eurystheus, in view of the reputation of the Iberian cattle, ordered Herakles to drive off the herd of Geryones.
Eryx too, who was reigning then in Sikelia (Sicily), plainly had so violent a desire for the cattle from Erytheia that he wrestled with Herakles, staking his kingdom on the match against these cattle."
Ovid, Metamorphoses 14. 82 ff (trans. Brookes More) (Roman epic C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"Aeneas, fleeing the new walls built on that sandy shore [i.e. fleeing Carthage], revisited the land of Eryx and Acestes, his true friend."
Virgil, Aeneid 1. 570 ff (trans. Fairclough) (Roman epic C1st B.C.) :
"[Dido addresses Aeneas upon his arrival in Carthage :] Whether your choice be [to settle in] great Hesperia and the fields of Saturnus, or the lands of Eryx and Acestes for your king, I will send you hence guarded by an escort, and aid you with my wealth."
Virgil, Aeneid 5. 22 ff :
"[Palinurus, the helmsman of Aeneas, addresses Aeneas :] Nor far distant, I think, are the friendly shores of your brother Eryx and the Sicilian ports."
[N.B. Aeneas and Eryx were both sons of Aphrodite, and so brothers.]
Virgil, Aeneid 5. 387 ff :
"[During the games between Aeneas' men and those of the Sicilian King Acestes :] Acestes sternly chides Entellus [when he does not step forward for the boxing contest] . . . : `Where now, pray, is the divine Eryx, whom you called your teacher--all in vain? Where is your renown over all Sicily, and those spoils that hung in your house?' . . .
He [Entellus] thereon threw into the ring a pair of gloves of giant weight, wherewith valiant Eryx was wont to enter contests, binding his arms with the tough hide. Amazed were the hearts of all, so vast were the seven huge oxhides, all stiff with insewn lead and iron . . . Then the old man [i.e. Entellus] spoke thus from his breast : `What if any had seen the gloves and arms of Hercules himself, and the fatal feud on this very shore? These arms your [i.e. Aeneas'] brother Eryx once wore; you see them still stained with blood and spattered brains. With these he faced great Alcides [Herakles]; with these was I wont to fight, while sounder blood gave me strength, nor yet had envious age sprinkled my temples with snow. But if the Trojan Dares declines these weapons of ours, and this is resolved on by good Aeneas and approved by my patron Acestes, let us make the battle even. At your wish I waive the gauntlets of Eryx; dismiss your fears; and take off your Trojan gloves!' . . .
[But nevertheless to prove himself, he]
set himself in face of the confronting steer as it stood by, the prize of battle; then drew back his right hand and, at full height, swung the hard gauntlet just between the horns, and broke into the skull, scattering the brains. Outstretched and lifeless, the bull falls quivering on the ground. Above it he pours forth from his breast these words : `This better life I offer you, Eryx, instead of the death of Dares; here victorious I lay down the gauntlet and my art!'"
Seneca, Hercules Furens 480 (trans. Miller) (Roman tragedy C1st A.D.) :
"His [Herakles'] own work it is that Eryx was crushed by his own gauntlets and that Libyan Antaeus shared Eryx’ fate."
- Apollodorus, The Library - Greek Mythography C2nd A.D.
- Apollonius Rhodius, The Argonautica - Greek Epic C3rd B.C.
- Lycophron, Alexandra - Greek Poetry C3rd B.C.
- Diodorus Siculus, The Library of History - Greek History C1st B.C.
- Pausanias, Description of Greece - Greek Travelogue C2nd A.D.
- Ovid, Metamorphoses - Latin Epic C1st B.C. - C1st A.D.
- Virgil, Aeneid - Latin Epic C1st B.C.
- Seneca, Hercules Furens - Latin Tragedy C1st A.D.
Other references not currently quoted here : Tzetzes, Chiliades 2.346 ; Tzetzes, Scholiast on Lycophron 866 ; Servius on Virgil's Aeneid 1.570.