Heracles, Hesione & the Sea Monster, Corinthian black-figure
krater C6th B.C., Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
THE KETOS TROIAS was a gigantic sea-monster sent by Poseidon to plague the land of Troy as punishment for King Laomedon's refusal to pay him for the building of the city's walls. An oracle declared that the only way to be rid of the beast was to offer the king's daughter as sacrifice. Laomedon did so, chaining Hesione to the rocks, where she was rescued by Herakles who despatched the beast with a fish-hook or volley of arrows. The creature may have been associated with the Constellation Cetus.
|PHORKYS (Lycophron Alexandra 470)
TROJAN SEA MONSTER. When Laomedon built Troy, Poseidon and Apollo, who had revolted against Zeus, were doomed to serve Laomedon for wages, and accordingly Poseidon built the walls of Troy, while Apollo attended to the king's flocks on Mount Ida. (Hom. Il. xxi. 446, comp. vii. 452.) According to some, Poseidon was assisted in the building of the walls by Aeacus; and the part constructed by the latter was the weakest, where the wall might be destroyed. (Pind. Ol. viii. 41, with the Schol., and Schol. ad Eurip. Orest. 1373.) Apollodorus (ii. 59) states that Poseidon and Apollo came to Laomedon of their own accord, in order to try him. When the two gods had done their work, Laomedon refused them the reward he had promised them, and expelled them from his dominions. (Hom. Il. xxi. 441, &c.; Horat. Carm. iii. 3, 21.) According to a tradition not mentioned by Homer, Poseidon punished the breach of promise by sending a marine monster into the territory of Troy, which ravaged the whole country. By the command of an oracle, the Trojans were obliged, from time to time, to sacrifice a maiden to the monster; and on one occasion it was decided by lot that Hesione, the daughter of Laomedon himself, should be the victim. But it happened that Heracles was just returning from his expedition against the Amazons, and he promised to save the maiden, if Laomedon would give him the horses which Tros had once received from Zeus as a compensation for Ganymedes. Laomedon promised to give them to Heracles, but again broke his word when Heracles had killed the monster and saved Hesione. Hereupon Heracles sailed with a squadron of six ships against Troy, and killed Laomedon, with all his sons, except Podarces (Priam), and gave Hesione to Telamon. Hesione ransomed her brother Priam with her veil. (Hom. Il. v. 265, 640, &c., xxiii. 348; Schol. ad Il. xx. 145, xxi. 442; Apollod. ii. 5. § 9, 6. § 4; Diod. iv. 32, 49; Hygin. Fab. 89.)
Source: Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology.
Homer, Iliad 20. 145 ff (trans. Lattimore) (Greek epic C8th B.C.) :
"The stronghold of godlike Herakles, earth-piled on both sides, a high place, which the Trojans and Pallas Athene had built him as a place to escape where he could get away from the Ketos (Sea Beast) when the charging monster drove him away to the plain from the sea-shore."
Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 2. 103 (trans. Aldrich) (Greek mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"Poseidon sent a Ketos (Sea-Monster) which would come inland on a flood-tide and grab people on the plain. Oracles proclaimed that there would be release from these adversities if Laomedon were to set his daughter Hesione out as a meal for the Ketos, so he fastened her to the rocks by the seaside. When he saw her lying there, Herakles promised to save her in return for the mares which Zeus had donated as satisfaction for the abduction of Ganymedes. Laomedon agreed to this, and so Herakles slew the monster and rescued the girl."
Lycophron, Alexandra 470 ff (trans. Mair) (Greek poet C3rd B.C.) :
"She [Hesione] it was that the babbler, the father of three daughters, standing up in the council of his townsmen, urged should be offered as dark banquet for the grey hound [the Ketos], which with briny water was turning all the land to mud, spewing waves from his jaws and with fierce surge flooding all the ground. But, in place of the woodpecker [Hesione], he swallowed in his throat a scorpion [Herakles] and bewailed to Phorkys the burden of his evil travail, seeking to find counsel in his pain.”
Lycophron, Alexandra 951 ff :
“Laomedon, stung by the ravages of the gluttonous Ketos, gave to mariners to expose the three daughters of Phoinodamos [who refused to expose his own daughters to the monster, forcing Laomedon to expose his].”
Strabo, Geography 13. 1. 32 (trans. Jones) (Greek geographer C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"Herakles waged an unjust one [war against Troy] `on account of the horses of Laomedon'. But writers set over against this reason the myth that it was not on account of the horses but of the reward offered for Hesione and the Ketos (Sea-monster)."
Diodorus Siculus, Library of History 4. 42. 1 (trans. Oldfather) (Greek historian C1st B.C.) :
“They [the Argonauts] encountered a storm and were carried to Sigeion in the Troad. When they disembarked there, it is said, they discovered a maiden bound in chains upon the shore, the reason for it being as follows. Poseidon, as the story runs, became angry with Laomedon the king of Troy in connection with the building of its walls, according to the mythical story, and sent forth a Ketos (Sea-Monster) to ravage the land. By this monster those who made their living by the seashore and the farmers who tilled the land contiguous to the sea were being surprised and carried off. Furthermore, a pestilence fell upon the people and a total destruction of their crops, so that all the inhabitants were at their wits end because of the magnitude of what had befallen them. Consequently the common crowd gathered together into an assembly and sought for a deliverance from their misfortunes, and the king, it is said, dispatched a mission to Apollon to inquire of the god regarding what had befallen them. When the oracle, then, became known, which told that the cause was the anger of Poseidon and that only then would it cease when the Trojans should of their free will select by lot one of their children and deliver him to the monster for his food, although all the children submitted to the lot, it fell upon the king’s daughter Hesione. Consequently, Laomedon was constrained by necessity to deliver the maiden and to leave her, bound in chains, upon the shore. Here Herakles, when he had disembarked with the Argonauts and learned from the girl of her sudden change of fortune, rent asunder the chains which were about her body and going up to the city made an offer to the king to slay the Ketos. When Laomedon accepted the proposal and promised to give him as a reward his invincible mares, Herakles they say, did slay the Ketos and Hesione given the choice either to leave her home with her saviour or to remain in her native land with her parents. The girl, then chose to spend her life with the stranger, not merely because she preferred the benefaction that she had received to the ties of kinship, but also because she feared that a Ketos might again appear and she be exposed by the citizens to the same fate as that from which she had just escaped.”
Diodorus Siculus, Library of History 4. 32. 1 :
"When Herakles was on the expedition with Iason to get the golden fleece and had slain the Ketos (Sea-Monster), Laomedon had withheld from him the mares which he had agreed to give him.”
Quintus Smyrnaeus, Fall of Troy 6. 283 ff (trans. Way) (Greek epic C4th A.D.) :
"There where swift Hellespont meets the outer sea, lay the Ketos (Sea-monster) slain by his ruthless shafts, while from Hesione he rent her chains."
Philostratus the Younger, Imagines 12 (trans. Fairbanks) (Greek rhetorician C3rd A.D.) :
"[Ostensibly a description of an ancient Greek painting :] Hesione. It is not, I think, at anyone’s command that the noble Herakles is undertaking this labour, nor is it possible to say this time that Eurystheus is causing him travail; rather we must say that, having made valour his master, he is submitting to tasks of his own choosing. Else why is he confronting so terrible a monster (kêtos)? For you see what big eyes it has, that turn about their encircling glance and glare so terribly, and that pull down over themselves the overhanging brow all savage and covered with spines; and how sharp is the projecting snout that reveals jagged 'teeth in triple row,' some of which are barbed and bent back to hold what they have caught, while others are sharp-pointed and rise to a great height; and you see how huge a head emerges from its crooked and supple neck. The size of it is indeed incredible, when briefly described, but the sight of it convinces the incredulous. For as the monster’s body is bent not at one point along but at many points, the parts which are under the sea are indeed visible, though in a way to deceive the accuracy of vision because of their depth, while the other parts rise from the water and would look like islands to those unacquainted with the sea.
The monster (kêtos) was at rest when we first encountered it; but now it is in motion with a most violent onrush and raises a great noise of splashing even though the weather is calm, and yonder wave which is raised by the force of its charge surges, on the one hand, around its exposed parts as it flows over them and makes them show white beneath, and, on the other, dashes against the shore; and the bending of its tail, which tosses the sea far aloft, might be compared to the sails of a ship shining with many colours.
This wonderful man [Herakles], however, has no fear of these things, but the lion’s skin and the club are at his feet ready for use if he should need them; and he stands naked in the attitude of attack, thrusting forward his left leg so that it can carry the whole weight of his body as he shifts it to secure swiftness of movement, and while his left side and left hand are brought forward to stretch the bow, his right side is drawn back as his right hand draws the string to his breast. We need not seek the reason for al this, my boy, for the maiden who is fastened to the rocks is exposed as prey for the monster, and we must believe her to be Hesione, the daughter of Laomedon. And where is her father? Within the walls of the city, it seems to me, in a look-out where he can see what is going on. For you see the circuit of the city and the battlements full of men, and how they stretch out their arms towards heaven in prayer, overcome no doubt with prodigious fear lest the monster (kêtos) even attack the city wall, since it rushes forward as if it meant to go ashore. As for the beauty of the maiden, the occasion precludes my describing it in detail, for her fear for her life and the agony occasioned by the sight she sees are withering the flower of her beauty; but nevertheless those who see her may conjecture from her present state what its full perfection is."
Pseudo-Hyginus, Fabulae 31 (trans. Grant) (Roman mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"He [Herakles] killed at Troy the Cetus to whom Hesione was offered."
Pseudo-Hyginus, Fabulae 89 :
"Neptunus [Poseidon] and Apollo [Apollon] are said to have built a wall around Troy. King Laomedon vowed that he would sacrifice to them from his blocks whatever should be born that year in his kingdom. This vow he defaulted on through his avarice. Other writers say that he promised to little. Because of this Neptunus sent a Cetus [Ketos] to plague Troy, and for this reason the king sent to Apollo for advise. Apollo angrily replied that if Trojan maidens were bound and offered to the monster, there would be an end to the plague. When many girls had been devoured, and the lot fell on Hesione, and she was bound to the rocks, Hercules and Telamon came there, The Argonauts being on their way to Colchis, and killed the Cetus."
Ovid, Metamorphoses 11. 207 ff (trans. Melville) (Roman epic C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"With Tridentiger (the god who wields the trident) [Poseidon], father of the main, assuming mortal shape, he [Apollon] built the walls for Phrygia’s monarch, striking at the start a golden bargain for those battlements. The work stood built : the king denied the debt, with perjury to cap his perfidy. `You’ll pay for this!’ said Rector Maris (Ocean’s lord) and sloped all his vast waters to the shores of Troiae, tight-fisted Troiae, and filled the land to form a seascape, swept away the farmers’ wealth and whelmed the countryside beneath the waves. Nor did this punishment suffice; the king’s daughter was claimed as well to satisfy a Monstrum Aequoreum (Monster of the Deep). Chained to the rocks, Alcides [Herakles] rescued her and claimed his fee, the promised horses, and, the price of that great task denied him, seized the battlements, twice-perjured battlements, and conquered Troiae. Nor did his battle-comrade Telamon leave without honour there--Hesione was the reward he won."
Valerius Flaccus, Argonautica 2. 450 ff (trans. Mozley) (Roman epic C1st A.D.) :
"Hercules with Telamon at his side passed along the shore that broke back in a pleasant inlet, a voice fell upon their ears, ever and anon sounding mournfully as each wave broke and murmured away again. Full of amaze they went slowly, following the viewless track of the voice; now its sounds distinct: a maiden abandoned to a cruel death was calling all men and gods to help her. At this the heroes press on more keenly, resolved to bring succour , , , Hercules halted, and straining his gaze upwards sees upon a high crag galling shackles and the worn face of a maiden, her eyes brimful to the verge of weeping. The hero spoke : `Maiden, what is thy name and thy family? What lot is thine, tell me? Wherefore do bonds strain thy hands?’
Trembling and casting down her eyes in sorrow and shame she replied : `I do not deserve these sufferings; thou seest here the last gifts of my parents, these rocks covered over with purple and gold. Our stock sprang from Ilus, happy once until envious Fortuna (Fortune) deserted the home of Laomedon. First of all there fell a sickness and the temperate airs were driven from the clear sky; the country blazed with pyre rivalling pure, when there burst forth a roar, and waves that made all Ida’s forests with their lairs shudder. Lo! Of a sudden there rose from the sea a Beast, of monstrous bulk; not by any mountain, not by the sea we know couldst thou measure it. A band of young maidens is sacrificed to its rage amid the tears and embraces of parents. This the lot, this doth horned Ammon [oracle of Zeus in Libya] command--that a maiden’s life and her body that drew death’s lot to be doomed; ‘tis me that the cruel urn condemns to the rocks. But oh! if once again Heaven inclines to the Phrygians, and if thou art he whose coming augury and Heaven’s omens promised, he for whom my father now feeds snow-white Horses in the pasture of his vow, the pledged reward for saving my life, say Yea and rescue both me and wasted Troy from the dragon, for so thou canst; since never did I behold so broad a breast while Neptunus [Poseidon] was raising the walls to meet the stars, nor had Apollo such mighty shoulders or such a quiver.’
The place lent strength to her words, the doleful aspect too of the captive shore, the funeral pyres and the sky that hooded o’er the city . . .
Meanwhile far off Neptunus [Poseidon] gave the signal, and at the same moment a roar came from the gulf, the dragon’s home, and the curse of Sigeum drove the waters on a heap, while its flashing eyes flicker beneath a blue-grey film, and a sound of thunder shakes the maw circled with a triple row of fangs, as its tail reaches backward over the sea it has covered, and the proud neck sweeps the streaming coils onward. The burden of its thousand folds is upon the waters, and they lap its flanks and move with it, while the storm it makes drives it speeding forward to the terror-stricken shores . . . Lo! Telamon stands in amaze at the hero growing fiercer with the frenzy of the chosen battle, at the swelling muscles and the body so huge in its armour, and how the loaded quiver smites his back. But he, with a prayer to his father and the gods of the sea and his own weapons, leapt upon a rock, while he shuddered at the sea stirred to tis depths and the towering dragon’s vast coils . . . At the same instant the beast reared its awful bulk and its mountainous back, drawing nearer with its huge shadow; one would think all Ida trembled and was being dashed in pieces and that towers overthrown rose up again. Hercules grasped his bow and piled it with all his cloud of arrows. It stirred no more than great Eryx from its foundations . . . Now the space is short, and useless for the flying shaft. Oh, then he groaned! The madness of that vain task! The silent shame, and the maiden pale once more; he casts his weapons from him, bethinks him of the rocks and stones at hand, and nay that time with the wind’s help or the crashing sea had loosened, he breaks off, wrenching them from the bottom of the deep sea. And now the monster is upon them with all its coils, now closer than ever it gapes upon its wretched victim. High in the midst of the waters stands Hercules, awaiting its onset, and swifter than the neck can rise he strikes it down with a rock; then redoubles the shattering blows of his knotted club, until the beast sinks beneath the waves, its coils slackening along all the shallows; the Idaean mother [Rhea] with her votaries and the rivers from the hilltops raise lament. . . . Straightaway Hercules springs up the crags to the top of the harsh rocks, and frees the maiden’s hands from the fetters that bind her to the cliff, and girds his armour on his vaunting shoulders. Thence with triumphant steps he passes across the safe shore to meet the king [Laomedon of Troy].”
- Homer, The Iliad - Greek Epic C8th B.C.
- Apollodorus, The Library - Greek Mythography C2nd A.D.
- Quintus Smyrnaeus, Fall of Troy - Greek Epic C4th A.D.
- Lycophron, Alexandra - Greek Poetry C3rd B.C.
- Strabo, Geography - Greek Geography C1st B.C. - C1st A.D.
- Diodorus Siculus, The Library of History - Greek History C1st B.C.
- Philostratus the Younger, Imagines - Greek Rhetoric C3rd A.D.
- Hyginus, Fabulae - Latin Mythography C2nd A.D.
- Ovid, Metamorphoses - Latin Epic C1st B.C. - C1st A.D.
- Valerius Flaccus, The Argonautica - Latin Epic C1st A.D.