THETIS was the leader of the Nereid goddesses of the sea.
This page describes the role of Thetis in the saga of the Trojan War, primarily as described in Homer's Iliad, but also including various post-Homeric stories, such as the hero's battle with Memnon, and his eventual death.
TROJAN WAR : THETIS
Homer, Iliad 21. 275 ff (trans. Lattimore) (Greek epic C8th B.C.) :
"[Akhilleus (Achilles) speaks:] ‘My own mother [Thetis] . . . told me that underneath the battlements of the armoured Trojan I should be destroyed by the flying shafts of Apollon.’"
Homer, Iliad 17. 408 ff :
"Often he [Akhilleus] had word from his mother [Thetis], not known to mortals; she was ever telling him what was the will of great Zeus."
Homer, Iliad ff :
"[Akhilleus (Achilles) speaks:] ‘For my mother Thetis the goddess of the silver feet tells me I carry two sorts of destiny toward the day of my death. Either, if I stay here and fight beside the city of the Trojans, my return home is gone, but my glory shall be everlasting; but if I return home to the beloved land of my fathers, the excellence of my glory is gone, but there will be a long life left for me, and my end in death will not come to me quickly.’"
See also Thetis page 3: The Birth of Akhilleus & Hiding of Akhilleus on Skyros
(where Thetis tries to avoid the prophesy of her son's death).
TROJAN WAR : THE FIRST NINE YEARS
Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca E3. 26 (trans. Aldrich) (Greek mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"Akhilleus (Achilles) plunged a sword into his [Tenes'] chest and killed him, even though Thetis warned him not to. For he himself would be slain by Apollon, if he should slay Tenes."
Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca E3. 29 :
"Thetis warned Akhilleus (Achilles) not to be the first to disembark from the ships [at Troy], because the first to land was going to be the first to die."
Pindar, Paean 6 (trans. Sandys) (Greek lyric C5th B.C.) :
"The doughty son of the dark-haired Nereis Thetis.”
Bacchylides, Fragment 13 (trans. Campbell, Vol. Greek Lyric IV) (Greek lyric C5th B.C.) :
"The fearless son [Akhilleus] of the violet-crowned Nereis [Thetis]."
TROJAN WAR : FEUD OF ACHILLES & AGAMEMNON
Homer, Iliad 1.348 & 495 ff (trans. Lattimore) (Greek epic C8th B.C.) :
"[Akhilleus (Achilles) argued with Agamemnon and the king took the slave-girl Briseis from him.] Akhilleus weeping went and sat in sorrow . . . beside the beach of the grey sea looking out on the infinite water. Many times stretching forth his hands he called on his mother [Thetis]: ‘Since, my motther, you boe me to be man with a short life, therefore Zeus of the loud thunder on Olympos should grant me honour at least. But now he has given me not even a little. Now the son of Atreus, powerful Agamemnon has dishonoured me, since he has taken away my prize [Briseis] and kept it.’
So he spoke in tears and the lady his mother heard him as she sat in the depths of the sea at the side of her aged father, and lightly she emerged like a mist from the grey water. She came and sat beside him as he wept, and stroked him with her hand and called him by name and spoke to him: ‘Why then, child, do you lament? What sorrow has come to your heart now? Tell me, do not hide it in your mind, and thus we shall both know.’
Sighing heavily Akhilleus of the swift feet answered her: ‘[He tells Thetis of his dispute with Agamemnon] . . . You then [Thetis], if you have power to, protect your own son, going to Olympos and supplicating Zeus, if ever before now either by word you comforted Zeus' heart or by action. Since many times in my father's halls I have heard you making claims, when you said you only among the immortals beat aside a shameful destruction from Kronos' son the dark-misted that time when all the other Olympians sought to bind him, Hera and Poseidon and Pallas Athene. Then you, goddess, went and set him free from his shackles, summoning in speed the creature of the hundred hands [Briareus] to tall Olympos . . . Sit beside him and take his knees and remind him of these things now, if perhaps he might be willling to help the Trojans, and pin the Akhaians back against the ships and the water, dying, so that thus they may all have profit of their own king, that Atreus' son wide-ruling Agamemnon may recognise his madness, that he did no honour to the best of the Akhaians.’
Thetis answered him then letting the tears fall: ‘Ah me, my child. Your birth was bitterness. Why did I raise you? If only you could sit by your ships untroubled, not weeping, since indeed you lifetime is to be short, of no length. Now it has befallen that your life must be brief and bitter beyond all men's. To a bad destiny I bore you in my chambers. But I will go to cloud-dark Olympos and ask this thing of Zeus who delights in thunder. Perhaps he will do it. Do you therefore continuing to sit by your swift ships be angry at the Akhaians and stay away from all fighting. For Zeus went to the blameless Aithiopes at the Okeanos yesterday to feast, and the rest of the gods went with him. On the twelfth day he will be coming back to Olympos, and then I will go for your sake to the house of Zeus, bronze-founded, and take him by the knees and I think I can persuade him.’
So speaking she went away from that place . . .
When the twelfth dawn after this day appeared, the gods who live forever came back to Olympos all in a body and Zeus led them; nor did Thetis forget the entreaties of her son but she emerged from the sea's waves early in the morning and went up to the tall sky and Olympos. She found Kronos's broad-browed son apart from the others sitting upon the highest peak of rugged Olympos. She came and sat beside him with her left hand embracing his knees, but took him underneath the chin with her right hand and spoke in supplication to lord Zeus son of Kronos: ‘Father Zeus, if ever before now in word or action I did you favour among the immortals, now grant what I ask for. Now give honour to my son short-lived beyond all other mortals. Since even now the lord of men Agamemnon dishonours him, who has taken away his prize [Briseis] and keeps it. Zeus of the counsels, lord of Olympos, now do him honour. So long put strength in to the Trojans, until the Akhaians give my son his rights, and his honour is increased among them.’
She spoke thus. But Zeus who gathers the clouds made no answer but sat in silence a long time. And Thetis, as she had taken his knees, clung fast to them and urged once more her question: ‘Bend you head and promise me to accomplish this thing, or else refuse it, you have nothing to fear, that I may know by how much I am the most dishonoured of all gods.’
Deeply disturbed Zeus who gathers the clouds answered her: ‘This is a disastrous matter when you set me in conflict with Hera, and she troubles me with recriminations. Since even as things are, forever among the immortals she is at me and speaks of how I help the Trojans in battle. Even so, go back again now, go away, for fear she see us. I will look at these things that they be accomplished. See then, I will bend my head that you may believe me. For this among the immortal gods is the mightiest witness I can give, and nothing I do shal be vain nor revocable nor a thing unfulfilled when I bend my head in assent to it.’
He spoke, the son of Kronos, and nodded his head with his dark brows, and the immortally anointed hair of the great god swept from his divine head, and all of Olympos was shaken.
So these two who had made their plans separated, and Thetis leapt down again from shining Olympos into the sea's depths, but Zeus went back to his own house . . . yet Hera was not ignorant, having seen how he had been plotting counsels with Thetis the silver-footed, the daughter of the sea's ancient, and at once she spoke reviling ‘. . . Now I am terribly afraid you were won over by Thetis the silver-footed, the daughter of the sea's ancien. For early in the morning she sat bestide you and took your knees, and I think you bowed your head in assent to do honour to Akhilleus, and to destroy many beside the ships of the Akhaians.’"
Alcaeus, Fragment 44 (trans. Campbell, Vol. Greek Lyric II) (Greek lyric C6th B.C.) :
"Akhilleus (Achilles) called his mother [Thetis], naming her, the Naiad, best of the sea-nymphs; and she, clasping the knees of Zeus, begged him to (prosper) the wrath of her beloved son."
TROJAN WAR : THE ARMOUR OF ACHILLES
Homer, Iliad 18. 34 - 96 ff (trans. Lattimore) (Greek epic C8th B.C.) :
"He [Akhilleus (Achilles)] cried out terribly, aloud [mourning the death of his friend Patroklos], and the lady his mother heard him as she [Thetis] sat in the depths of the sea at the side of her aged father, and she cried shrill in turn, and the goddesses gathered about her, all who along the depth of the sea were daughters of Nereus . . .
The silvery cave was filled with these, and together all of them beat their breasts, and among them Thetis led out the threnody: ‘Hear me Nereides, my sisters; so you may all know well all the sorrows that are in my heart, when you hear of them from me. Ah me, my sorrow, the bitterness in this best child-bearing, since I gave birth to a son who was without fault and powerful conspicuous among heroes; and he shot up like a young tree, and I nurtured him, like a tree grown in the pride of the orchard I sent him away with the curved ships to the land of Ilion to fight with the Trojans; but I shall never again receive him won home again to his country and into the house of Peleus. Yet while I see him live and he looks on the sunlight, he has sorrows, and though I go to him I can do nothing to help him. Yet I shall go, to look on my dear son, and to listen to the sorrow that has come to him as he stays back from the fighting.’
So she spoke, and left the cave, and the others together went with her in tears, and about them the wave of the water was broken. Now these, when they came to the generous Troad, followed each other out on the sea-shore, where close together the ships of the Myrmidons were hauled up about swift Akhilleus. There as he sighed heavily the lady his mother stood by him and cried out shrill and aloud, and took her son's head in the arms, then sorrowing for him she spoke to him in winged words: ‘Why then, child, do you lament? What sorrow has come to you heart now? Speak out do not hide it. These things are brought to accomplishment through Zeus: in the way that you lifted your hands and prayed for . . .’
Then sighing heavily Akhilleus of the swift feet answered her: ‘My mother . . . Hektor, who killed him [Patroklos], has stripped away the gigantic armour, a wonder to look on and splendid, which the gods gave Peleus, a glorious present, on that day they drove you to the marriage bed of a mortal. I wish you had gone on living then with the other goddesses of the sea . . . Hektor [must] first be beaten down under my spear . . .’
Then in turn Thetis spoke to him, letting the tears fall: ‘Then I must lose you soon my child, by what you are saying since it is decreed your death must come soon after Hektor's.’"
Homer, Iliad 18. 127 ff :
"In turn the goddess Thetis of the silver feet answered him [Akhilleus (Achilles)]: ‘Yes, it is true, my child this is no cowardly action, to beat aside sudden death from your afflicted companions. Yet, see now, your splendid armour, glaring and brazen, is held among the Trojans, and Hektor . . . wears it . . . Yet I think he will not glory for long, since his death stands very close to him. Therefore do not yet go into the grind of the war god, not before with you own eyes you see me come back to you. For I am coming to you at dawn and as the sun rises bringing splendid armour to you from the lord Hephaistos.’
So she spoke, and turned, and went away from her son, and turning now to her sisters of the sea she spoke to them: ‘Do you now go back into the wide fold of the water to visit the ancient of the sea and the house of our father, and tell him everything. I am going to tall Olympos and to Hepahistos, the glorious smith, if he might be willing to give me for my son renowned and radiant armour.’
She spoke, and they plunged back beneath the wave of the water, while she the goddess Thetis of the silver feet went onward to Olympos, to bring back to her son the glorious armour."
Homer, Iliad 18. 369 & 612 & 19. 2 ff :
"Thetis of the silver feet came to the house of Hephaistos . . . As he was at work . . . the goddess Thetis the silver-footed drew near him. Kharis (Charis) of the shining veil saw her as she came forward . . . She came, and caught her hand and called her by name and spoke to her: ‘Why is it, Thetis of the light robes, you have come to our house now? We honour you and love you; but you have not come much before this. But come in with me so I may put entertainment before you.’
She spoke, and, shining among divinities, led the way forward and made Thetis sit down in a chair . . . She called to Hephaistos the renowned smith and spoke a word to him: ‘Hephaistos, come this way; here is Thetis, who has need of you.’
Hearing her the renowned smith of the strong arms answered her: ‘Then there is a goddess we honour and respect in our house. She saved me when I suffered much at the time of my great fall through the will of my own brazen-faced mother, who wanted to hide me for being lame. Then my soul would have taken much suffering had not Eurynome and Thetis caught me and held me . . . With them I worked nine years as a smith . . . working there in the hollow of the cave, and the stream of Okeanos around us went on forever with its foam and its murmur. No other among the gods or among mortal men knew about us except Eurynome and Thetis. They knew since they saved me. Now she has come into our house; so I must by all means do everything to give recompense to lovely-haired Thetis for my life. Therefore set out before her fair entertainment . . .’
Moving to where Thetis sat in her shining chair, Hephaistos caught her by the hand and called her by name and spoke a word to her: ‘Why is it, Thetis of the light robes, you have come to our house now? We honour you and love you; but you have not come much before this. Speak forth what is in your mind. My heart is urgent to do it if I can, and if it is a thing that can be accomplished.’
Then in turn Thetis answered him, letting the tears fall: ‘Hephaistos, is there among all the goddesses on Olympos one who in her heart has endured so many grim sorrows as the griefs Zeus, son of Kronos, has given me beyond others? Of all the other sisters of the sea he gave me to a mortal, to Peleus, Aiakos' son, and I had to endure mortal marriage though much against my will. And now he, broken by mournful old age, lies away in his halls. Yet I have other troubles. For since he has given me a son to bear and to raise up . . . Now I come to your knees; so might you be willing to give me for my short-lived son a shield and a helmet and two beautiful greaves fitted with clasps for the ankles and a corselet . . .’
Hearing her the renowned smith of the strong arms answered her: ‘Do not fear. Let not these things be a thought in you mind. And I wish that I could hide him away from death and its sorrow at that time when his hard fate comes upon him, as surely as there shall be fine armour for him, such as another man out of many men shall wonder at, when he looks on it . . .’
When the renowned smith of the strong arms had finished the armour he lifted it and laid it before the mother of Akhilleus. And she like a hawk came sweeping down from the snows of Olympos and carried with her the shining armour, the gift of Hephaistos . . .
Thetis came to the ships and carried with her the gifts of Hephaistos. She found her beloved son lying in the arms of Patroklos crying shrill, and his companions in their numbers about him mourned. She, shining among divinities, stood there beside them. She clung to her son's hand and called him by name and spoke to him: ‘My child, now, though we grieve for him, we must let this man lie dead in the wayhe first was killed through the gods' designing. Accept rather from me the glorious arms of Hephaistos so splendid, and such as no man has ever worn on his shoulders.’
The goddess spoke so, and set down the armour on the ground before Akhilleus . . . He [Akhilleus] spoke to his mother and addressed her in winged words: ‘My mother . . . I am sadly afraid during this time, for the warlike son of Menoitios that flies might get into the wounds beaten by bronze in his body and breed worms in them, and these make foul the body, seeing that the life is killed in him, and that all his flesh may be rotted.’
In turn the goddess Thetis the silver-footed answered him: ‘My child, no longer let these things be a care in your mind. I shall endeavour to drive from him the swarming and fierce things, those flies, which feed upon the bodies of men who have perished; and although he lie here till a year has gone to fulfilment, still his body shall be as it was or firmer that ever. Go then and summon into assembly the fighting Akhaians, . . . and arm at once for the fighting, and put your war strength upon you.’
She spoke so, and drove the strength of great courage into him; and meanwhile through the nostrils of Patroklos she distilled ambrosia and red nectar, so that his flesh might not spoil."
Homer, Iliad 23. 13 ff :
"And among them [the soldiers at the funeral of Patroklos] Thetis stirred the passion for weeping. The sands were wet and the armour of men was wet with their tears."
Aeschylus, Nereides (lost play) (Greek tragedy C5th B.C.) :
The subject of this lost play is summarised by Weir Smyth (L.C.L.): "Thetis, accompanied by her sister Nereïdes, comes from the depths of the sea to enquire the cause of the lamentations of her son. She finds Akhilleus (Achilles) by the dead body of Patroklos and promises to procure from Hephaistos new armour that he may take vengeance on Hektor, who has been exulting over the death of Patroklos. The play probably contained a description of Akhilleus’ new armour, his reconciliation with Agamemnon, and his combat with Hektor, whose corpse was dragged in at the close."
Aeschylus, Fragment 72 Nereids (from Scholiast on Euripides, Women of Phoenicia 209) (trans. Weir Smyth) (Greek tragedy C5th B.C.) :
"[Thetis] having crossed the plain of the sea, that bears dolphins."
Pausanias, Description of Greece 5. 19. 8 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.) :
"[Amongst the scenes depicted on the chest of Kypselos dedicated at Olympia:] Next come two-horse chariots with women standing in them. The horses have golden wings, and a man is giving armour to one of the women. I conjecture that this scene refers to the death of Patroklos; the women in the chariots, I take it, are Nereides, and Thetis is receiving the armour from Hephaistos. And moreover, he who is giving the armour is not strong upon his feet, and a slave follows him behind, holding a pair of fire-tongs."
Pseudo-Hyginus, Fabulae 106 (trans. Grant) (Roman mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"Thetis his [Akhilleus'] mother secured armor for him from Vulcan [Hephaistos], and the Nereides brought it to him over the sea. Wearing this he slew Hector."
Ovid, Metamorphoses 13. 288 ff (trans. Melville) (Roman epic C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"When his [Akhilleus'] sea-nymphe mother [Thetis] had that high ambition for her son . . . [she obtained divine armour for him] celestial gifts, this work of art so fine . . . scenes embossed upon the shield, the ocean and the lands, the constellations in the height of heaven, the Pleiades and the Hyades and Arctos (the Bear), banned from the sea, Orion's shining sword, the cities set apart."
TROJAN WAR : THE RANSOM OF HECTOR
Homer, Iliad 24. 77 ff (trans. Lattimore) (Greek epic C8th B.C.) :
[After Akhilleus (Achilles) had slain Hektor and dragged off his body, Zeus and the gods summoned Thetis to persuade Akhilleus to accept a ransom from the Trojans for a ransom for the princes' body:]
"Iris storm-footed[messenger of the gods] sprang away with the message, and at a point between Samos and Imbros of the high cliffs plunged in the dark water, and the sea crashed moaning about her. She plummeted to the sea floor . . . She found Thetis inside the hollow cave, and gathered about her sat the rest of the sea goddesses, and she in their midst was mourning the death of her blameless son, who soon was destined to die in Troy of the rich soil, far from the land of his fathers.
Iris the swift-foot came close beside her and spoke to her: ‘Rise, Thetis. Zeus whose purposes are infinite calls you.’
In turn Thetis the goddess, the silver-footed , answered her: ‘What does he, the great god, want with me? I feel shame fast to mingle with the immortals, and my heart is confused with sorrows. But I will go. No word shall be in vain, if he says it.’
So she spoke, and shining among divinities took up her black veil, and there is no darker garment. She went on her way, and in front of her rapid wind-footed Iris guided her, and the wave of the water opened about them. They stepped out on dry land and swept to the sky. There they found [Zeus] the son of Kronos of the wide brows, and gathered about him sat all the rest of the gods, the blessed who live forever. She sat down beside Zeus father, and Athene made a place for her. Hera put in to her hand a beautiful golden goblet and spoke to her to comfort her, and Thetis accepting drank from it. The father of gods and men began the discourse among them: ‘You have come to Olympos, divine Thetis, for all your sorrow, with an unforgotten grief in you heart. I myself know this. But even so I will tell you why I summoned you hither . . . give to your son this message . . . give back [the body of] Hektor . . .’
He spoke and the goddess silver-foot Thetis did not disobey him but descended in a flash of speed from the peaks of Olympos and made her way to the shelter of her son and there found him in close lamentation . . . His honoured mother came close to him and sat down beside him, and stroked him with her hand and called him by name and spoke to him: ‘My child, how long will you go on eating your heart out in sorrow and lamentation, and remember neither your food nor going to bed? It is a good thing even to lie with a woman in love. For you will not be with me long, but already death and powerful destiny stand closely above you. But listen hard to me, for I come from Zeus with a message . . . give him [Hektor] up and accept ransom for the body.’"
TROJAN WAR : ACHILLES BATTLES PENTHESILEIA
Ptolemy Hephaestion, New History Book 6 (summary from Photius, Myriobiblon 190) (trans. Pearse) (Greek mythographer C1st to C2nd A.D.) :
"Akhilleus (Achilles), killed by [the Amazon] Penthesileia, was resuscitated at the request of his mother Thetis to return to Haides once he had killed Penthesileia."
TROJAN WAR : ACHILLES BATTLES MEMNON
Aeschylus, Memnon and Psychostasia (lost plays) (Greek tragedy C5th B.C.) :
Aeschylus told the story of Memnon, son of Eos the Dawn), in two plays entitled Memnon and Psychostasia (The Weighing of Souls). Weir Smyth (L.C.L.) summarises the second of these: "In the Psychostasia Zeus was represented as holding aloft the balance, in the scales of which were the souls of Akhilleus (Achilles) and Memnon, while beneath each stood Thetis and Eos, praying each for the life of her son."
Quintus Smyrnaeus, Fall of Troy 2. 418 & 433 ff (trans. Way) (Greek epic C4th A.D.) :
"[Memnon addresses Akhilleus (Achilles) before they engage in battle and compares the strength of their two divine mothers:] ‘But thine [mother Thetis]--she sits in barren crypts of brine: she dwells glorying mid dumb Ketea (Sea-monsters) and mid fish, deedless, unseen! Nothing I reck of her, nor rank her with the immortal Heavenly Ones . . .’
[Akhilleus replies to Memnon:] ‘From supremest Zeus I trace my glorious birth; and from the strong Sea-god Nereos, begetter of the Maids of the Sea (kourai einalia), the Nereides, honoured of the Olympian Gods. And chiefest of them all is Thetis, wise with wisdom world-renowned; for in her bowers she sheltered Dionysos, chased by might of murderous Lykougos from the earth. Yea, and the cunning God-smith [Hephaistos] welcomed she within her mansion, when from heaven he fell. Ay, and the Lightning-lord [Zeus] she once released from bonds. The all-seeing Dwellers in the Sky remember all these things, and reverence my mother Thetis in divine Olympos. Ay, that she is a Goddess shalt thou know when to thine heart the brazen spear shall pierce sped by my might.’"
Quintus Smyrnaeus, Fall of Troy 2. 490 ff :
"But when long lengthened out the conflict was of those two champions [Akhilleus and Memnon], and the might of both in that strong tug and strain was equal-matched, then, gazing from Olympus' far-off heights, the Gods joyed, some in the invincible son of Peleus [and Thetis], others in the goodly child of old Tithonus and Eos (the Queen of Dawn). Thundered the heavens on high from east to west, and roared the sea from verge to verge, and rocked the dark earth 'neath the heroes' feet, and quaked proud Nereos' daughters all round Thetis thronged in grievous fear for mighty Akhilleus' sake; and trembled for her son Erigeneia (the Child of the Mist) [i.e. Eos] as in her chariot through the sky she rode."
Pausanias, Description of Greece 5. 19. 1 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.) :
"[Amongst the scenes depicted on the chest of Kypselos dedicated at Olympia:] Akhilleus (Achilles) and Memnon are fighting; their mothers [Thetis & Eos] stand by their side."
Pausanias, Description of Greece 5. 22. 2 :
"[At Olympia there] is a semicircular stone pedestal, an on it are Zeus, Thetis and Hemera [Eos] entreating Zeus on behalf of their children. These are on the middle of the pedestal. There are Akhilleus (Achilles) and Memnon, one at either edge of the pedestal, representing a pair of combatants in position."
TROJAN WAR : THE FUNERAL OF ACHILLES
Homer, Odyssey 24. 15 (trans. Shewring) (Greek epic C8th B.C.) :
"[The ghost of Agamemnon addresses the ghost of Akhilleus (Achilles) in Haides:] ‘Having heard the tidings [of your death] your mother [Thetis] herself rose from the sea with the other divinities of the waters; over the sea there now came forth an unearthly lamentation, and shuddering fell on the limbs of the Akhaians. And indeed they would have started for their ships, had they not been checked by Nestor . . .: "Stand there, you Argives; do not turn to flight, young Akhaian warriors. This is the mother of Akhilleus; she is coming now to her dead son's side, and with her the other divinities of the waters."
At these words the Akhaians checked their flight; the daughters of the ancient sea-god stood round about you, wailing piteously, and clothed you with celestial garments; and nine Mousai (Muses) sang your dirge with sweet responsive voices. Not one Argive could you have seen there who was not weeping, the clear notes so went to their hearts. For seventeen days and seventeen nights we lamented for you, immortal beings and mortal men; on the eighteenth day we committed you to the flames . . . You were burned in garments such as gods have . . . Your mother gave us a golden urn that had two handles--given her, she said, by Dionysos, and made by renowned Hephaistos himself. In this your bones now lie, Akhilleus . . . And over the bones our mighty host . . . reared a tall cairn. Then in full view in the place of contest your mother laid out prizes for the Akhaian chieftains; she had begged the gods for them, and most noble prizes they were . . . had you but seen these gifts, you must needs have wondered more--these noble prizes, set out in you honour there by your mother Thetis the silver-sandaled, because you were very dear to the gods.’"
Homer, Odyssey 15. 545 ff :
"[Odysseus speaks:] ‘My victory in the contest when beside the ships I made my claim for the armour of Akhilleus (Achilles), whose goddess-mother [Thetis] offered the prize.’"
Pindar, Pythian Ode 3. 100 ff (trans. Conway) (Greek lyric C5th B.C.) :
"And Peleus' son [Akhilleus], that one son whom the immortal Thetis in Phthia bore, gave up his life in the fore-front of war."
Aeschylus, The Award of the Arms (Greek tragedy C5th B.C.) :
The Award of the Arms or Hoplôn Krisis was the first play of the Ajax trilogy. In the play Thetis presided over the contest between Odysseus and Ajax for the arms of Akhilleus.
Aeschylus, Fragment 189 (from Plato, Republic 2. 383B) (trans. Weir Smyth) (Greek tragedy C5th B.C.) :
"[Thetis laments the death of her son Akhilleus (Achilles):] ‘He [i.e. Apollon] who himself was present at my marriage-feast, he who himself spake thus, he it is who himself hath slain my son [Akhilleus].’"
Callimachus, Hymn 2 to Apollo 20 ff (trans. Mair) (Greek poet C3rd B.C.) :
"Neither doth Thetis his mother wail her dirge for Akhilleus (Achilles), when she hears Hie Paieon, Hie Paieon [the hymn to Apollon].”
Quintus Smyrnaeus, Fall of Troy 3. 96 ff (trans. Way) (Greek epic C4th A.D.) :
"[Hera rebukes Apollon for slaying Akhilleus (Achilles):] ‘How wilt thou meet the Nereis' eyes when she shall stand in Zeus' hall midst the Gods, who praised thee once, and loved as her own son?’"
Quintus Smyrnaeus, Fall of Troy 3. 527 ff :
"Clothe [the corpse of Akhilleus] in vesture fair, sea-purple, which his mother [Thetis] gave her son at his first sailing against Troy."
Quintus Smyrnaeus, Fall of Troy 3. 580 ff :
"[After the death of Akhilleus (Achilles) on the battlefields of Troy:] Now came the sound of that upringing wail to Nereus' Daughters, dwellers in the depths unfathomed. With sore anguish all their hearts were smitten: piteously they moaned: their cry shivered along the waves of Hellespont. Then with dark mantles overpalled they sped swiftly to where the Argive men were thronged. As rushed their troop up silver paths of sea, the flood disported round them as they came. With one wild cry they floated up; it rang, a sound as when fleet-flying cranes forebode a great storm. Moaned the Ketea (Monsters of the Deep) plaintively round that train of mourners. Fast on sped they to their goal, with awesome cry wailing the while their sister's mighty son. Swiftly from Helikon the Mousai came heart-burdened with undying grief, for love and honour to the Nereis starry-eyed.
Then Zeus with courage filled the Argive men, that-eyes of flesh might undismayed behold that glorious gathering of Goddesses. Then those Divine Ones round Akhilleus' corpse pealed forth with one voice from immortal lips a lamentation. Rang again the shores of Hellespont. As rain upon the earth their tears fell round the dead man, Aiakos' son; for out of depths of sorrow rose their moan. And all the armour, yea, the tents, the ships of that great sorrowing multitude were wet with tears from ever-welling springs of grief.
His mother [Thetis] cast her on him, clasping him, and kissed her son's lips, crying through her tears: ‘Now let rosy-vestured Erigeneia [Eos, Dawn] in heaven exult! Now let broad-flowing Axios exult, and for Asteropaios dead put by his wrath! Let Priamos' seed be glad but I unto Olympos will ascend, and at the feet of everlasting Zeus will cast me, bitterly planning that he gave me, an unwilling bride, unto a man--a man whom joyless eld soon overtook, to whom the Keres (Fates) are near, with death for gift. Yet not so much for his lot do I grieve as for Akhilleus; for Zeus promised me to make him glorious in the Aiakid halls, in recompense for the bridal I so loathed that into wild wind now I changed me, now to water, now in fashion as a bird I was, now as the blast of flame; nor might a mortal win me for his bride, who seemed all shapes in turn that earth and heaven contain, until the Olympian pledged him to bestow a godlike son on me, a lord of war. Yea, in a manner this did he fulfil faithfully; for my son was mightiest of men. But Zeus made brief his span of life unto my sorrow. Therefore up to heaven will I: to Zeus's mansion will I go and wail my son, and will put Zeus in mind of all my travail for him and his sons in their sore stress, and sting his soul with shame.’
So in her wild lament the Sea-queen cried.
But now to Thetis spake [the Muse] Kalliope, she in whose heart was steadfast wisdom throned: ‘From lamentation, Thetis, now forbear, and do not, in the frenzy of thy grief for thy lost son, provoke to wrath the Lord of Gods and men. Lo, even sons of Zeus, the Thunder-king, have perished, overborne by evil fate. Immortal though I be, mine own son Orpheus died, whose magic song drew all the forest-trees to follow him, and every craggy rock and river-stream, and blasts of winds shrill-piping stormy-breathed, and birds that dart through air on rushing wings. yet I endured mine heavy sorrow: Gods ought not with anguished grief to vex their souls. Therefore make end of sorrow-stricken wail for thy brave child; for to the sons of earth minstrels shall chant his glory and his might, by mine and by my sisters' inspiration, unto the end of time. Let not thy soul be crushed by dark grief, nor do thou lament like those frail mortal women. Know'st thou not that round all men which dwell upon the earth hovereth irresistible deadly Aisa (Fate), who recks not even of the Gods? Such power she only hath for heritage. Yea, she soon shall destroy gold-wealthy Priamos' town, and Trojans many and Argives doom to death, ahomso she will. No God can stay her hand.’
So in her wisdom spake Kalliope.
Then plunged the sun down into Okeanos' stream, and sable-vestured Nyx (Night) came floating up o'er the wide firmament, and brought her boon of sleep to sorrowing mortals . . .
But upon Thetis sleep laid not his hand: still with the deathless Nereides by the sea she sate; on either side the Mousai (Muses) spake one after other comfortable words to make that sorrowing heart forget its pain.
But when with a triumphant laugh Eos (the Dawn) soared up the sky, and her most radiant light shed over all the Trojans and their king, then, sorrowing sorely for Akhilleus still, the Danaans woke to weep. Day after day, for many days they wept. Around them moaned far-stretching beaches of the sea, and mourned great Nereus for his daughter Thetis' sake; and mourned with him the other Sea-gods all for dead Akhilleus.
Then the Argives gave the corpse of great Peleides to the flame . . .
Then, when all things were set in readiness about the pyre, all, footmen, charioteers, compassed that woeful bale, clashing their arms, while, from the viewless heights Olympian, Zeus rained down ambrosia on dead Aiakos' son. For honour to the Goddess, Nereus' child, he sent to Aiolos Hermes, bidding him summon the sacred might of his swift Anemoi (Winds), for that the corpse of Aiakos' son must now be burned . . . His bones, and in a silver casket laid massy and deep, and banded and bestarred with flashing gold; and Nereus' daughters shed ambrosia over them, and precious nards for honour to Akhilleus: fat of kine and amber honey poured they over all. A golden vase his mother gave, the gift in old time of the Wine-god, glorious work of the craft-master Fire-god, in the which they laid the casket that enclosed the bones of mighty-souled Achilles. All around the Argives heaped a barrow, a giant sign, upon a foreland's uttermost end, beside the Hellespont's deep waters, wailing loud farewells unto the Myrmidons' hero-king."
Quintus Smyrnaeus, Fall of Troy 3. 766 ff :
"[At the funeral of Akhilleus (Achilles):] Then from the surge of heavy-plunging seas rose the Earth-shaker [Poseidon]. No man saw his feet pace up the strand, but suddenly he stood beside the Nereid Goddesses, and spake to Thetis, yet for Akhilleus bowed with grief: ‘Refrain from endless mourning for thy son. Not with the dead shall he abide, but dwell with Gods, as doth the might of Herakles, and Dionysos ever fair. Not him dread doom shall prison in darkness evermore, nor Haides keep him. To the light of Zeus soon shall he rise; and I will give to him s holy island for my gift: it lies within the Euxine Sea: there evermore a God thy son shall be. The tribes that dwell around shall as mine own self honour him with incense and with steam of sacrifice. Hush thy laments, vex not thine heart with grief.’
Then like a wind-breath had he passed away over the sea, when that consoling word was spoken; and a little in her breast revived the spirit of Thetis: and the God brought this to pass thereafter. All the host moved moaning thence, and came unto the ships that brought them o'er from Hellas. Then returned to Helikon the Mousai (Muses): 'neath the sea, wailing the dear dead, Nereus' Daughters [the Nereides] sank."
Quintus Smyrnaeus, Fall of Troy 4. 87 ff :
"[At the funeral of Akhilleus (Achilles):] Aias (Ajax) spake: ‘. . . We must needs abide amidst the ships till goddess Thetis come forth of the sea; for that her heart is purposed to set here fair athlete-prizes for the funeral-games. This yesterday she told me, ere she plunged into sea-depths, yea, spake to me apart from other Danaans; and, I trow, by this her haste hath brought her nigh. Yon Trojan men, though Peleus' son hath died, shall have small heart for battle, while myself am yet alive, and thou, and noble Atreus' son, the king.’
So spake the mighty son of Telamon, but knew not that a dark and bitter doom for him should follow hard upon those games by Fate's contrivance. Answered Tydeus' son ‘O friend, if Thetis comes indeed this day with goodly gifts for her son's funeral-games, then bide we by the ships, and keep we here all others. Meet it is to do the will of the Immortals: yea, to Akhilleus too, though the Immortals willed it not, ourselves must render honour grateful to the dead.’
So spake the battle-eager Tydeus' son. And lo, the Bride of Peleus gliding came forth of the sea, like the still breath of dawn, and suddenly was with the Argive throng where eager-faced they waited, some, that looked soon to contend in that great athlete-strife, and some, to joy in seeing the mighty strive. Amidst that gathering Thetis sable-stoled set down her prizes, and she summoned forth Akhaia's champions : at her best they came . . . [First was the competition of song.]
That noble song [of Nestor] acclaiming Argives praised; yea, silver-looted Thetis smiled, and gave the singer fleetfoot horses, given of old beside Kaikos' mouth by Telephos to Akhilleus . . .
Then Thetis set amidst the athlete-ring ten kine, to be her prizes for the footrace, and by each ran a fair suckling calf. These the bold might of Peleus' tireless son had driven down from slopes of Ida, prizes of his spear. To strive for these rose up two victory-fain, Teukros . . . and Aias . . . these twain with swift hands girded them about with loin-cloths, reverencing the Goddess-bride of Peleus, and the Sea-maids, [i.e. the contest was normally performed naked but for the presence of the goddesses] who with her came to behold the Argives' athlete-sport . . . [The wrestling contest takes place.]
Then Thetis, queen of Goddesses, gave to them [the wrestlers] four handmaids [slave-girls of Akhilleus] . . .
[No-one challenged king Idomeneus in the contest of boxing.] In their midst gave Thetis unto him a chariot and fleet steeds, which theretofore mighty Patroklos from the ranks of Troy drave, when he slew Sarpedon, seed of Zeus . . .
[More warriors come forth to box.] Then Thetis sable-stoled gave to their glad hands [the boxers] two great silver bowls which Euneus, Jason's warrior son in sea-washed Lemnos to Akhilleus gave to ransom strong Lykaon . . .
[Aias then wins the archery contest.] Then Peleus' bride gave unto him the arms of godlike Troilos, the goodliest of all fair sons whom Hekuba had borne in hallowed Troy . . .
[Aias wins the bar throwing contest.] So then the Nereis gave to him the glorious arms from godlike Memnon stripped . . .
[Agapenor wins the foot-race.] And Thetis gave him the fair battle-gear of mighty Kyknos, who had smitten first Protesilaus, then had reft the life from many more, till Peleus' son slew him . . .
[Euryalos wins the javelin-throwing contest.] The Aiakid hero's mother gave to him a deep wide silver oil-flask, ta'en by Akhilleus in possession, when his spear slew Mynes, and he spoiled Lyrnessos' wealth . . .
[Aias then uncontested wins the prize in hand and foot fighting.] Gleaming talents twain of silver he from Thetis' hands received, his uncontested prize . . .
[Menelaus wins the chariot races.] Menelaus with exceeding joy of victory glowed, when Thetis lovely-tressed gave him a golden cup, the chief possession once of Eetion the godlike; ere Akhilleus spoiled the far-famed burg of [Asian] Thebes . . .
[Then Agamemnon wins the horseback racing contest.] Then Thetis gave to Atreus' son, while laughed his lips for joy, god-sprung Polydoros' breastplate silver-wrought. To Sthenelos [who came second] Asteropaios' massy helm, two lances, and a taslet strong, she gave. Yea, and to all the riders who that day came at Akhilleus' funeral-feast to strive she gave gifts."
Quintus Smyrnaeus, Fall of Troy 5. 1 & 334 ff :
"[At the funeral games of Akhilleus (Achilles):] So when all other contests had an end, Thetis the Goddess laid down in the midst great-souled Akhilleus' arms divinely wrought; and all around flashed out the cunning work wherewith Hephaistos (the Fire-god) overchased the shield fashioned for Aiakos' son, the dauntless-souled . . .
Then mid the Argives Thetis sable-stoled in her deep sorrow for Akhilleus spake; ‘Now all the athlete-prizes have been won which I set forth in sorrow for my child. Now let that mightiest of the Argives come who rescued from the foe my dead: to him these glorious and immortal arms I give which even the blessed Deathless joyed to see.’
Then rose in rivalry, each claiming them, Laertes' seed [Odysseus] and godlike Telamon's son, Aias (Ajax), the mightiest far of Danaan men [to lay claim to the armour of Akhilleus] . . .
[The Greek leaders awarded the armour to Odysseus and after that] into the great deep Thetis plunged, and all the Nereides with her. Round them swam Sea-monsters many, children of the brine. Against the wise Prometheus bitter-wroth the Sea-maids were, remembering how that Zeus, moved by his prophecies, unto Peleus gave Thetis to wife, a most unwilling bride. Then cried in wrath to these Kymothoe: ‘O that the pestilent prophet [Prometheus] had endured all pangs he merited, when, deep-burrowing, the eagle tare his liver aye renewed!’"
Quintus Smyrnaeus, Fall of Troy 5. 636 ff :
"Then thrust they [the corpse of Aias (Ajax) who killed himself after losing the armour of Akhilleus to Odysseus] in the strength of ravening flame, and from the sea there breathed a wind, sent forth by Thetis, to consume the giant frame of Aias."
Anonymous, Epicedeion for a Professor of the University of Berytus (trans. Page, Vol. Select Papyri III, No. 138) (Greek poetry C4th A.D.) :
"As once the Mousai (Muses) nine, Olympian maids of Zeus, wailed in mourning around Thetis, daughter of Nereus, weeping for her son [Akhilleus], the leader of the Myrmidones."
Statius, Silvae 2. 7. 96 (trans. Mozley) (Roman poetry C1st A.D.) :
"Even so did Thetis swoon to see Pelides [Akhilleus] fall, pierced by the hand of coward Paris."
TROJAN WAR : NEOPTOLEMOS AT TROY
Neoptolemos was the only son of Akhilleus (Achilles) and the only grandson of the goddess Thetis.
Quintus Smyrnaeus, Fall of Troy 8. 24 ff (trans. Way) (Greek epic C4th A.D.) :
"Exulted Thetis' heart when from the sea she saw the mighty strength of her son's son [Neoptolemos brought to join the Trojan War]."
Quintus Smyrnaeus, Fall of Troy 8. 492 ff :
"[Neoptolemos celebrates his victory over Eurypylos in the Trojan War:] Mid triumphant mirth he feasted in kings' tents: no battle-toil had wearied him; for Thetis from his limbs had charmed all ache of travail, making him as one whom labour had no power to tire."
Quintus Smyrnaeus, Fall of Troy 9. 182 ff :
"Peleides' fierce-heart son [Neoptolemos] of other ranks made havoc. Thetis gazed rejoicing in her son's son, with a joy as great as was her grief for Akhilleus slain."
Quintus Smyrnaeus, Fall of Troy 11. 238 ff :
"Yet not against Aeneas Akhilleus' son [Neoptolemos] upraised his father's spear, but elsewhither turned his fury: in reverence for Aphrodite [mother of Aeneas], Thetis splendour-veiled turned from that man her mighty son's son's rage and giant strength on other hosts of foes."
Quintus Smyrnaeus, Fall of Troy 13. 63 ff :
"[The Greek troops sail back to Troy following the ruse of the Wooden Horse:] Fast rowed the host the while; on swept the ships over the great flood: Thetis made their paths straight, and behind them sent a driving wind speeding them."
TROJAN WAR : THE RETURN TO GREECE
Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca E6. 5 (trans. Aldrich) (Greek mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"Thetis came to persuade Neoptolemos to wait two days [before departing from Troy] and make sacrifices, and he obeyed her. But the others left and were overtaken by storms."
Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca E6. 6 :
"Aias fell into the sea and was drowned [when his ship was wrecked by Athena on the return from Troy]. After his body was cast ashore, Thetis buried it on Mykonos."
Ptolemy Hephaestion, New History Book 4 (summary from Photius, Myriobiblon 190) (trans. Pearse) (Greek mythographer C1st to C2nd A.D.) :
"Some authors . . . say that she [Helene] was removed during the voyage of the Greeks home by Thetis, metamorphosed into a seal [--in anger for the death of Akhilleus]."
Seneca, Troades 878 ff (trans. Miller) (Roman tragedy C1st A.D.) :
"[After the fall of Troy, Helene speaks of Polyxena's marriage to the ghost of Akhilleus, son of Thetis:] Thee will great Tethys call her own, thee, all the goddesses of the deep [the Nereides], and Thetis, calm deity of the swelling sea; wedded to Pyrrhus . . . Nereus shall call thee daughter."
EVENTS AFTER THE RETURN TO GREECE
Pausanias, Description of Greece 3. 26. 7 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.) :
"Here [at Kardamyle, Messenia] not far from the beach is a precinct sacred to the daughters of Nereus. They say that they came up from the sea to this spot to see Pyrrhos [Neoptolemos] the son of Akhilleus, when he was going to Sparta to wed Hermione [daughter of Menelaos]."
- Homer, The Iliad - Greek Epic C8th B.C.
- Homer, The Odyssey - Greek Epic C8th B.C.
- Pindar, Odes - Greek Lyric C5th B.C.
- Pindar, Fragments - Greek Lyric C5th B.C.
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- Seneca, Troades - Latin Tragedy C1st A.D.
- Statius, Silvae - Latin Poetry C1st A.D.
- Photius, Myriobiblon - Byzantine Greek Scholar C9th A.D.