Web Theoi
TARAXIPPOI
 
Greek Name Transliteration Latin Spelling Translation
Ταραξιππος
Ταραξιπποι
Taraxippos
Taraxippoi
Taraxippus
Taraxippi
Horse Frighteners
(hippos, taraxis)

THE TARAXIPPOI (or Taraxippi) were horse-frightening ghosts or phantoms which haunted the race-courses of Olympia, Nemea and the Isthmos.

Some were identified as the angry ghosts of certain minor heroes, such as Myrtilos at Olympia.

PARENTS
Unclear, sometimes regarded as the ghosts of certain heroes

ENCYCLOPEDIA

TARAXIPPUS (Taraxippos) was the name of a particular spot in the race-course at Olympia, where horses often became shy and frightened. Superstition was not at a loss to account for this phenomenon, for some said that on that spot Olenius or Dameon had been slain by Cteatus, or because it was the burial-place of Myrtilus (who had frightened the horses of Oenomaus), Alcathous, or Pelops. Pausanias, however, considers Taraxippus to be a surname of Poseidon Hippius. On the isthmus of Corinth, Glaucus, the son of Sisyphus, was believed to be a Taraxippus. (Paus. vi. 20. § 8, &c. ; comp. x. 37. § 4.)

I′SCHENUS (Ischenos), also called Taraxippus, from the hores becoming shy on his tomb, is said to have allowed himself to be sacrificed for the purpose of averting a plague, for which reason sacrifices were offered to him at the Olympian games. (Tzetz. ad Lycoph. 43.)

Source: Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology.


TARAXIPPOS OF OLYMPIA

Pausanias, Description of Greece 6. 20. 15 - 19 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.) :
"The race-course [of Olympia] has one side longer than the other, and on the longer side, which is a bank, there stands, at the passage through the bank, Taraxippos, the terror of the horses. It has the shape of a round altar, and as they run along the horses are seized, as soon as they reach this point, by a great fear without any apparent reason. The fear leads to disorder; the chariots generally crash and the charioteers are injured. Consequently the charioteers offer sacrifice, and pray that Taraxippos may show himself propitious to them. The Greeks differ in their view of Taraxippos. Some hold that it is the tomb of an original inhabitant who was skilled in horsemanship; they call him Olenios, and say that after him was named the Olenian rock in the land of Elis. Others say that Dameon, son of Phlios, who took part in the expedition of Herakles against Augeas and the Eleans, was killed along with his charger by Kteatos the son of Aktor, and that man and horse were buried in the same tomb.  There is also a story that Pelops made here an empty mound in honor of Myrtilos, and sacrificed to him in an effort to calm the anger of the murdered man, naming the mound Taraxippos (Frightener of horses ) because the mares of Oinomaus were frightened by the trick of Myrtilos. Some say that it is Oinomaus himself who harms the racers in the course. I have also heard some attach the blame to Alkathos, the son of Porthaon. Killed by Oinomaus because he wooed Hippodameia, Alkathos, they say, here got his portion of earth; having been unsuccessful on the course, he is a spiteful and hostile deity to chariot-drivers. A man of Aigyptos said that Pelops received something from Amphion the Theban and buried it where is what they call Taraxippos, adding that it was the buried thing which frightened the mares of Oinomaus, as well as those of every charioteer since . . . The most probable of the stories in my opinion makes Taraxippos a surname Poseidon Hippios (of the Horses). There is another Taraxippos at the Isthmus [the Isthmian Games] . . . but the Taraxippus at Olympia is much worse for terrifying the horses. On one turning-post is a bronze statue of Hippodameia carrying a ribbon, and about to crown Pelops with it for his victory."

Pausanias, Description of Greece 10. 37. 4 :
"A race-course, where at the Pythian games the horses compete. I have told in my account of Elis the story of the Taraxippos at Olympia, and it is likely that the race-course of Apollon too may possibly harm here and there a driver, for heaven in every activity of man bestows either better fortune or worse. But the race-course itself is not of a nature to startle the horses, either by reason of a hero or on any other account."

Ptolemy Hephaestion, New History Book 4 (summary from Photius, Myriobiblon 190) (trans. Pearse) (Greek mythographer C1st to C2nd A.D.) :
"The author [Hephaestion] speaks of the 'Taraxippos' of Olympos and of the Myrtilloi, father and son."


TARAXIPPOS OF THE ISTHMOS

Pausanias, Description of Greece 6. 20. 19 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.) :
"There is another Taraxippus at the Isthmos, namely Glaukos, the son of Sisyphos. They say that he was killed by his horses, when Akastos held his contests in honor of his father . . . But the Taraxippus at Olympia is much worse for terrifying the horses."


TARAXIPPOS OF NEMEA

Pausanias, Description of Greece 6. 20. 19 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.) :
"At Nemea of the Argives there was no hero who harmed the horses, but above the turning-point of the chariots rose a rock, red in color, and the flash from it terrified the horses, just as though it had been fire. But the Taraxippos at Olympia is much worse for terrifying the horses."

Statius, Thebaid 6. 491 ff (trans. Mozley) (Roman epic C1st A.D.) :
"[Apollon] deeming the moment to show thee favour [Amphiaraus in the chariot race of the first of the Nemean Games], he visits the grim spaces of the dusty course, when now the race is nearing its end, and for the last time victory hovers doubtful; a snake-stressed monstrous Phantom (Effigiem), of visage terrible to behold, whether he wrought it in Erebus [Haides] or for the cunning purpose of the moment, certainly endowed with countless terrors--this horrid plague he raises to the world above. The guardian of dusky Lethe [Kerberos] would not have beheld it unterrified, nor the Eumenides [the Erinyes] themselves without a deep thrill of fear, it would have overturned the horses of Sol [Helios the Sun] in mid-career, and the team of Mars [Ares]. When golden Arion [the horse] saw it, his mane leapt up erect, and he halts with upreared shoulders and holds high suspended his yoke-fellow and the steeds that shared his toil on either side. Straightway the Aonian exile [Polyneikes] is flung backward head-over-heels: he drops the reins, and the chariot, freed from restrain, dashes far away."


Sources:

  • Pausanias, Guide to Greece - Greek Geography C2nd A.D.
  • Ptolemy Hephaestion, New History - Greek Scholar C1st-2nd A.D.
  • Statius, Thebaid - Latin Epic C1st A.D.
  • Photius, Myriobiblon - Byzantine Greek Scholar C9th A.D.