THE IKHTHYES (or Ichthyes) were a pair of large Syrian river fish who rescued Aphrodite and Eros when they were fleeing from the monster Typhoeus. Others say the two gods disguised themselves as fish to escape the monster, or that the fish assisted in the birth of Aphrodite. In all versions of the story, they were placed amongst the stars as the Constellation Pisces.
These Fishes probably developed into Aphros and Bythos, the fish-tailed Ikhthyokentauroi (Sea-Centaurs) of late classical art, which are shown bringing Aphrodite ashore following her sea-birth.
APHRODITE & EROS RESCUED BY FISHES
Ovid, Fasti 2. 458 ff (trans.Boyle) (Roman poetry C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"Piscis, heaven’s horses. They say that you and your brother (for your stars gleam together) ferried two gods on your backs. Once Dione [Aphrodite], in flight from terrible Typhon (when Jupiter [Zeus] armed in heaven’s defence), reached the Euphrates with tiny Cupidos [Eros] in tow and sat by the hem of Palestine’s stream. Poplars and reeds dominated the tops of the banks; willows, too, offered hope of concealment. While she hid, the wood roared with wind. She pales with fear, and believes a hostile band approaches. As she clutched son to breast, she cries: ‘To the rescue, Nymphae, and bring help to two divinities.’ No delay; she leapt. Twin fish went underneath them; for which, you see, the present stars are named. Hence timid Syrians think it wrong to serve up this species; they defile no mouths with fish."
APHRODITE & EROS DISGUISED AS FISHES
Pseudo-Hyginus, Astronomica 2. 30 (trans. Grant) (Roman mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"Pisces (Fishes). Diognetus Erythraeus says that once Venus [Aphrodite] and her son Cupid [Eros] came in Syria to the river Euphrates. There Typhon, of whom we have already spoken, suddenly appeared. Venus [Aphrodite] and her son threw themselves into the river and there changed their forms to fishes, and by so doing this escaped danger. So afterwards the Syrians, who are adjacent to these regions, stopped eating fish, fearing to catch them lest with like reason they seem either to oppose the protection of the gods, or to entrap the gods themselves."
Ovid, Metamorphoses 5. 319 ff (trans. Melville) (Roman epic C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"Typhoeus, issuing from earth’s lowest depths, struck terror in those heavenly hearts, and they all turned their backs and fled, until they found refuge in Aegyptus and the seven-mouthed Nilus . . . Typhoeus Terrigena (Earthborn) even there pursued them and the gods concealed themselves in spurious shapes . . . Venus [Aphrodite] became a fish."
FISHES & THE BIRTH OF APHRODITE-ASHTARTE
The Greeks were also familiar with the original Syrian story describing the origin of Pisces as the fish who assisted in the birth of Ashtarte.
Pseudo-Hyginus, Fabulae 197 (trans. Grant) (Roman mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"Venus [Ashtarte]. Into the Euphrates River an egg of wonderful size is said to have fallen, which the fish rolled to the bank. Doves sat on it, and when it was heated, it hatched out Venus [Aphrodite], who was later called the Syrian goddess [Ashtarte]. Since she excelled the rest in justice and uprightness, by a favour granted by Jove [Zeus], the fish were put among the number of the stars, and because of this the Syrians do not eat fish or doves, considering them as gods."
- 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.
Other references not currently quoted here: Manilus 2.33 & 2.433; Hyginus Astronomica 2.41