THE IKHTHYES (Ichthyes) were two large Syrian river fish who rescued Aphrodite and Eros when they were fleeing the monster Typhoeus. According to some the two gods instead disguised themselves as fish to escape the monster. The fish were also credited with assisting in the birth of Aphrodite from the sea foam. In all versions of the story they were set amongst the stars as the constellation Pisces.
The Fish were probably the same as (or reimagined as) Aphros and Bythos, the fish-tailed Ikhthyokentauroi (Ichthyocentaurs) (Sea-Centaurs) of late classical art, who are depicted bringing Aphrodite ashore after her birth.
FAMILY OF THE FISH
CLASSICAL LITERATURE QUOTES
APHRODITE & EROS RESCUED BY THE FISH
Ovid, Fasti 2. 458 ff (trans.Boyle) (Roman poetry C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"Piscis (Pisces), 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 [Typhoeus]--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 (Nymphs), 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 FISH
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 [Typhoeus\, 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 (Egypt) and the seven-mouthed Nilus (Nile) . . . Typhoeus Earthborn (Terrigena) even there pursued them and the gods concealed themselves in spurious shapes . . . Venus [Aphrodite] became a fish."
THE FISH & THE BIRTH OF APHRODITE-ASHTARTE
The Greeks were also familiar with the original Syrian story in which the fish of Pisces assisted at the birth of Ashtarte.
Pseudo-Hyginus, Fabulae 197 (trans. Grant) (Roman mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"Venus [Ashtarte-Aphrodite]. 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.