IKARIOS (Icarius) was an Athenian man who was instructed in the art of winemaking by the god Dionysos when he first arrived in the country. Ikarios shared the gift with his countrymen, but was stoned to death by a group of drunken shepherds who thought they had been poisoned. His daughter Erigone and faithful hound Maira (Maera) searched for him and, when they found his body, she hung herself from a tree and the dog leapt leapt into a well. Dionysos was infuriated by their deaths and--after transferring Ikarios, Erigone and Maira to the stars as the constellations Bootes, Virgo and Canis Major--, inflicted the land with drought and drove the young maidens mad, causing them to also hang themselves. Following the advise of an oracle, the Athenians instituted a festival in honour of the dead heroes and so appeased the wrath of the god.
FAMILY OF ICARIUS
ERIGONE (Apollodorus 2.192, Aelian On Animals 7.28, Hyginus Fabulae 130, Hyginus Astronomica 2.2)
ICARIUS (Ikarios), an Athenian, who lived in the reign of Pandion, and hospitably received Dionysus on his arrival in Attica. The god showed him his gratitude by teaching him the cultivation of the vine, and giving him bags filled with wine. Icarius now rode about in a chariot, and distributed the precious gifts of the god; but some shepherds whom their friends intoxicated with wine, and who thought that they were poisoned by Icarius, slew him, and threw his body into the well Anygrus, or buried it under a tree. His daughter Erigone (for he was married to Phanothea, the inventor of the hexameter, Clem. Alex. Strom. i. p. 366), or as some call her Aletis, after a long search, found his grave, to which she was conducted by his faithful dog Maera. From grief she hung herself on the tree under which he was buried. Zeus or Dionysus placed her, together with Icarius and his cup, among the stars, making Erigone the Virgin, Icarius Boötes or Arcturus, and Maera the dog-star. The god then punished the ungrateful Athenians with a plague or a mania, in which all the Athenian maidens hung themselves as Erigone had done. (Comp. Gellius, xv. 10.) The oracle, when consulted, answered, that Athens should be delivered from the calamity as soon as Erigone should be propitiated, and her and her father's body should be found. The bodies were not discovered, but a festival called aiôra or alêtides, was instituted in honour of Erigone, and fruits were offered up as a sacrifice to her and her father. The askoliasmos, or dancing on a leather bag filled with air and smeared with oil, at the festivals of Dionysus, was likewise traced to Icarius, who was said to have killed a ram for having injured the vines, to have made a bag of his skin, and then performed a dance. (Hygin. Poet. Astr. ii. 4.) Another tradition states that the murderers of Icarius fled to the island of Cos, which was therefore visited by a drought, during which the fields were burned, and epidemics prevailed. Aristaeus prayed to his father, Apollo, for help, and Apollo advised him to propitiate Icarius with many sacrifices, and to beg Zeus to send the winds called Etesiae, which Zeus, in consequence, made blow at the rising of the dog-star for forty days. One of the Attic demi derived its name from Icarius. (Apollod. iii. 14. § 7; Paus. i. 2. § 4; Hygin. Fab. 130, Poet. Astr. ii. 4, 25; Serv. ad Virg. Georg. i. 67, 218, ii. 389; Eustath. ad Hom. pp. 389, 1535; Tibull. iv. 1, 9; Propert. ii. 33, 29 ; Ov. Met. vi. 126, x. 451; Pollux, iv. 55; Steph. Byz. s. v. Ikaria; Hesych. s. v. Aiôra, Alêtis.)
Source: Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology.
CLASSICAL LITERATURE QUOTES
Sophocles, Erigone (lost play) (Greek tragedy C5th B.C.) :
Sophocles wrote a play entitled Erigone which either dramatized the story of Erigone, daughter of Ikarios, or the similarly-named Erigone, daughter of Aigisthos.
Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 2. 191 - 192 (trans. Aldrich) (Greek mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"Pandion became king [of Athens]. It was during his reign that Demeter and Dionysos came to Attika (Attica). Keleus (Celeus) welcomed Demeter to Eleusis, and Ikarios (Icarius) received Dionysos, who gave him a vine-cutting and taught him the art of making wine. Ikarios was eager to share the god's kindness with mankind, so he went to some shepherds, who, when they had tasted the drink and then delightedly and recklessly gulped it down undiluted, thought they had been poisoned and slew Ikarios. But in the daylight they regained their senses and buried him. As his daughter was looking for him, a dog named Maira (Mera), who had been Ikarios' faithful companion, unearthed the corpse; and Erigone, in the act of mourning her father, hanged herself."
Parthenius, Fragment 17 (from Etymologicum genuinum, s.v. auroschas) (trans. Gaselee) (Greek poet C1st B.C.) :
"The vine : used by Parthenius in his Herakles: The Vinecluster of the Daughter of Ikarios."
Pausanias, Description of Greece 1. 2. 5 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.) :
"Pegasos (Pegasus) of Eleutherai, introduced the god [Dionysos] to the Athenians. Herein he was helped by the oracle at Delphoi, which called to mind that the god once dwelt in Athens in the days of Ikarios (Icarius)."
Pseudo-Plutarch, Greek and Roman Parallel Stories 9 (trans. Babbitt) (Greek historian C2nd A.D.) :
"[The Greek story.] The story of Ikarios (Icarius) who entertained Dionysos : [is told by] Eratosthenes in his Erigone.
[The Roman story.] Saturnus [Kronos (Cronus)], when once he was entertained by a farmer who had a fair daughter named Entoria, seduced her and begat Janus, Hymnus, Faustus, and Felix. He then taught Icarius the use of wine and viniculture, and told him that he should share his knowledge with his neighbours also. When the neighbours did so and drank more than is customary, they fell into an unusually deep sleep. Imagining that they had been poisoned, they pelted Icarius with stones and killed him; and his grandchildren in despair ended their lives by hanging themselves. When a plague had gained a wide hold among the Romans, Apollo gave an oracle that it would cease if they should appease the wrath of Saturnus and the spirits of those who had perished unlawfully. Lutatius Catulus, one of the nobles, built for the god the precinct which lies near the Tarpeian Rock. He made the upper altar with four faces, either because of Icarius's grandchildren or because the year has four parts; and he designated a month January. Saturnus placed them all among the stars. The others are called harbingers of the vintage, but Janus rises before them. His star is to be seen just in front of the feet of [the constellation] Virgo. So Kritolaos (Critolaus) in the fourth book of his Phaenomena."
Aelian, On Animals 7. 28 (trans. Scholfield) (Greek natural history C2nd to 3rd A.D.) :
"When Ikarios (Icarius) was slain by the relatives of those who, after drinking wine for the first time, fell asleep (for as yet they did not know that what had happened was not death but a drunken stupor), the people of Attika suffered from disease, Dionysos thereby (as I think) avenging the first and the most elderly man who cultivated his plants. At any rate the Pythian oracle declared that if they wanted to be restored to health they must offer sacrifice to Ikarios and to Erigone his daughter and to her hound which was celebrated for having in its excessive love for its mistress declined to outlive her."
Pseudo-Hyginus, Fabulae 130 (trans. Grant) (Roman mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"When Father Liber [Dionysos] went out to visit men in order to demonstrate the sweetness and pleasantness of his fruit, he came to the generous hospitality of Icarius and Erigone. To them he gave a skin full of wine as a gift and bade them spread the use of it in all the other lands. Loading a wagon, Icarius with his daughter Erigone and a dog Maera came to shepherds in the land of Attica, and showed them the kind of sweetness wine had. The shepherds, made drunk by drinking immoderately, collapsed, and thinking that Icarius had given them some bad medicine, killed him with clubs. The dog Maera, howling over the body of the slain Icarius, showed Erigone where her father lay unburied. When she came there, she killed herself by hanging in a tree over the body of her father. Because of this, Father Liber [Dionysos] afflicted the daughters of the Athenians with alike punishment. They asked an oracular response from Apollo concerning this, and he told them they had neglected he deaths of Icarius and Erigone. At this reply they exacted punishment from the shepherds, and in honour of Erigone instituted a festival day of swinging because of the affliction, decreeing that through the grape-harvest they should pour libations to Icarius and Erigone. By the will of the gods they were put among the stars. Erigone is the sign Virgo whom we call Justice; Icarius is called Arcturus among the stars, and the dog Maera is Canicula."
Pseudo-Hyginus, Fabulae 224 :
"Mortals who were made immortal . . . Icarus and Erigone, his daughter, placed among the stars--Icarus as Arcturus, Erigone as the sign Virgo."
Pseudo-Hyginus, Astronomica 2. 2 :
"[The constellation Bootes.] The Bear Watcher. Some have said that he is Icarus [Ikarios], father of Erigone, to whom, on account of his justice and piety, Father Liber [Dionysos] gave wine, the vine, and the grape, so that he could show men how to plant the vine, what would grow from it, and how to use what was produced. When he had planted the vine, and by careful tending with a pruning-knife had made it flourish, a goat is said to have broken into the vineyard, and nibbled the tenderest leaves he saw there. Icarus, angered by this, took him and killed him and from his skin made a sack, and blowing it up, bound it tight, and cast it among his friends, directing them to dance around it. And so Eratosthenes [Greek writer C3rd B.C.] says : ‘Around the goat of Icarus they first danced.’
Others say that Icarus, when he had received the wine from Father Liber [Dionysos], straightway put full wineskins on a wagon. For this he was called Boötes. When he showed it to the shepherds on going round through the Attic country, some of them, greedy and attracted by the new kind of drink, became stupefied, and sprawling here and there, as if half-dead, kept uttering unseemly things. The others, thinking poison had been given the shepherds by Icarus, so that he could drive their flocks into his own territory, killed him, and threw him into a well, or, as others say, buried him near a certain tree. However, when those who had fallen asleep, woke up, saying that hey had never rested better, and kept asking for Icarus in order to reward him, his murderers, stirred by conscience, at once took to flight and came to the island of the Ceans. Received there as guests, they established homes for themselves.
But when Erigone, the daughter of Icarus, moved by longing for her father, saw he did not return and was on the point of going out to hunt for him, the dog of Icarus, Maera by name, returned to her, howling as if lamenting the death of its master. It gave her no slight suspicion of murder, for the timid girl would naturally suspect her father had been killed since he had been gone so many months and days. But the dog, taking hold of her dress with its teeth, led her to the body. As soon as the girl saw it, abandoning hope, and overcome with loneliness and poverty, with many tearful lamentations she brought death on herself by hanging from the very tree beneath which her father was buried. And the dog made atonement for her death by its own life. Some say that it cast itself into the well, Anigrus by name. For this reason they repeat the story that no one afterward drank from that well.
Jupiter [Zeus], pitying their misfortune, represented their forms among the stars. And so many have called Icarus, Boötes, and Erigone, the Virgin, about whom we shall speak later. The dog, however, from its own name and likeness, they have called Canicula. It is called Procyon by the Greeks, because it rises before the greater Dog. Others say these were pictured among the stars by Father Liber [Dionysos].
In the meantime in the district of the Athenians many girls without cause committed suicide by hanging, because Erigone, in dying, had prayed that Athenian girls should meet the same kind of death she was to suffer if the Athenians did not investigate the death of Icarus and avenge it. And so when these things happened as described, Apollo gave oracular response to them when they consulted him, saying that they should appease Erigone if they wanted to be free from the affliction. So since she hanged herself, they instituted a practice of swinging themselves on ropes with bars of wood attached, so that the one hanging could be moved by the wind. They instituted this as a solemn ceremony [i.e. the Aiora on the third day of the Anthesteria festival], and they perform it both privately and publicly, and call it alétis, aptly terming her mendicant who, unknown and lonely, sought for her father with the god. The Greeks call such people alétides."
Pseudo-Hyginus, Astronomica 2. 25 :
"[The constellation Virgo.] Virgin. Some have called her Erigone, daughter of Icarus, whom we have spoken of before."
Ovid, Metamorphoses 6. 126 ff (trans. Brookes More) (Roman epic C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"And there was Bacchus [Dionysos], when he was disguised as a large cluster of fictitious grapes; deluding by that wile the beautiful Erigone."
Ovid, Metamorphoses 10. 451 ff :
"Black clouds cover the hiding stars and night has lost her fires. The first to hide were stars of Icarus and of Erigone, in hallowed love devoted to her father." [N.B. Ikarios and Erigone were the constellations Bootes and Virgo.]
Ovid, Fasti 4. 901 ff (trans. Frazer) (Roman poetry C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"When April shall have six days left, the season of spring will be in mid course . . . and the constellation of the Dog will rise. On that day, as I was returning from Nomentum to Rome, a white-robed crowd blocked the middle of the road. A flamen was on his way to the grove of ancient Mildew (Robigo), to throw the entrails of a dog and the entrails of a sheep into the flames. Straightway I went up to him to inform myself of the rite. Thy flamen, O Quirinus, pronounced these words : ‘Thou scaly Mildew, spare the sprouting corn . . .’ So he spoke. On his right hand hung a napkin with a loose nap, and he had a bowl of wine and a casket of incense. The incense, and wine, and sheep's guts, and the foul entrails of a filthy dog, he put upon the hearth--we saw him do it. Then to me he said, ‘Thou askest why an unwonted victim is assigned to these rites?’ Indeed, I had asked the question. ‘Learn the cause,’ the flamen said. ‘There is a Dog (they call it the Icarian dog) [i.e. Canis Major, the dog of Icarius,], and when that constellation rises the earth is parched and dry, and the crop ripens too soon. This dog is put on the altar instead of the starry dog, and the only reason why this happens is his name.’" [N.B. Ovid often mixes indigenous Roman customs with the stories of Greek myth.]
Statius, Thebaid 4. 684 ff (trans. Mozley) (Roman epic C1st A.D.) :
"[Bacchus-Dionysos brings drought to the land of Argos :] ‘Ye rustic Nymphae (Nymphs), deities of the streams, no small portion of my train, fulfil the task that I now do set you. Stop fast with earth awhile the Argolic river-springs, I beg, and the pools and running brooks . . . The stars lend their strong influence to my design, and the heat-bringing hound of my Erigone is foaming. Go then of your goodwill, go into the hidden places of earth.’"
[N.B. "The heat-bringing hound" is the dog-star Sirius, whose rising in conjunction with the sun was believed to bring on the scorching heat of high-summer.]
Statius, Thebaid 11. 644 ff :
"Sorrowful Erigone weeping in the Marathonian wood beside the body of her slain father [Icarius], her plaints exhausted, began to untie the sad knot [i.e. of her girdle] and choose sturdy branches intent on death."
Statius, Thebaid 12. 618 ff :
"[From a list of Attican towns :] The homesteads of Icarius and of Celeus that entertained their native gods [i.e. one Dionysos, the other Demeter]."
Nonnus, Dionysiaca 1. 254 ff (trans. Rouse) (Greek epic C5th A.D.) :
"[Constellations.] The Oxherd, Erigone's neighbour, attendant driver of the Wain."
[N.B. These were the constellations Bootes, Virgo and Ursa Major.]
- Apollodorus, The Library - Greek Mythography C2nd A.D.
- Pausanias, Description of Greece - Greek Travelogue C2nd A.D.
- Plutarch, Parallel Stories - Greek Historian C1st - 2nd A.D.
- Aelian, On Animals - Greek Natural History C2nd - 3rd A.D.
- Nonnus, Dionysiaca - Greek Epic C5th A.D.
- Hyginus, Fabulae - Latin Mythography C2nd A.D.
- Hyginus, Astronomica - Latin Mythography C2nd A.D.
- Ovid, Metamorphoses - Latin Epic C1st B.C. - C1st A.D.
- Ovid, Fasti - Latin Poetry C1st B.C. - C1st A.D.
- Statius, Thebaid - Latin Epic C1st A.D.
Other references not currently quoted here: Gellius 15.10, Eustathius on Homer 389 & 1535, Tibullus 4.1.9, Propertius 2.33 & 29, Pollux v.55, Scholiast on Homer's Iliad 22.29, Nonnus Dionysiaca 47.34-245, Lactantius Placidus on Statius' Thebaid 5.644, Servius on Vergil's Georgics 1.67 & 218 & 2.389, Probus on Vergil's Georgics 2.385, First Vatican Mythographer 19, Second Vatican Mythographer 61, Hesychius s.v. Aiôra & Aletis, Etymologicum Magnum s.v. Aiôra, Athenaeus 14.10.618 EF, Festus s.v. Oscillantes, Stephanus Byzantius s.v. Ikaria.