Greek Mythology >> Heroines >> Cyrene (Kyrene)


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Of Cyrene (town)

KYRENE (Cyrene) was a Thessalian princess, the daughter of King Hypseus of the Lapiths. She was a famed huntress who guarded her father's herds on Mount Pelion, slaying wild beasts with javelin and sword. One day, when she was wrestling a lion, the god Apollon spied her and was inflamed with love. He carried her off to the Hill of Myrtles (Myrtoessa) in Libya where she bore him a son named Aristaios (Aristaeus). The boy was placed in the care of the wise Kentauros Kheiron (Chiron) and became a demi-god of beekeeping and other rustic pursuits. The Greeks later founded the colony of Kyrene on the site in Libya where she deposited by the god.

According to some Kyrene was a Naiad-Nymphe daughter of the river-god Peneios (Peneus). It is not clear if this was a separate tradition or if King Hypseus was thought to have been cuckolded by the god.



[1.1] HYPSEUS (Pindar Pythian Ode 9.5, Callimachus Hymn 2.85, Diodorus Siculus 4.81.1, Nonnus Dionysiaca 29.179)
[1.2] HYPSEUS & KHLIDANOPE (Servius ad Aeneid 4.42)
[2.1] PENEIOS (Hyginus Fabulae 161, Virgil Georgics 4.320)


[1.1] ARISTAIOS (by Apollon) (Hesiod Catalogues Frag 93, Pindar Pythian Ode 9.5, Apollonius Rhodius 2.490, Diodorus Siculus 4.81.1, Virgil Georgics 4.320, Nonnus Dionysiaca 13.300)
[2.1] IDMON (by Apollon) (Hyginus Fabulae 14)


CYRE′NE (Kurênê), a daughter of Hypseus or Peneius by Chlidanope, a granddaughter of Peneius and Creusa, was beloved by Apollo, who carried her from mount Pelion to Libya, where Cyrene derived its name from her. She became by Apollo the mother of Aristaeus. (Pind. Pyth. ix. 5. &c.; Apollon. Rhod. i. 500, &c.; Diod. iv. 81; Serv. ad Aen. iv. 42, 317; Hygin. Fab. 161.) It is a mere mistake that Justin (xiii. 7) calls Anthocus, Nomius, and Argaeus sons of Cyrene [i.e. because these were simply titles of the god Aristaeus].

Source: Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology.


Hesiod, Catalogues of Women Fragment 92 (from Scholiast on Pindar, Pythian 9. 6) (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C8th or 7th B.C.) :
"Or like her, beautiful Kyrene (Cyrene), who dwelt in Phthia by the water of Peneios (Peneus) and had the beauty of the Kharites (Charites, Graces)."

Hesiod, Catalogues of Women Fragment 93 (from Servius on Vergil, Georgics 1 .14) :
"He invokes Aristaios (Aristaeus), that is, the son of Apollon and Kyrene (Cyrene)."

Pindar, Pythian Ode 9. 6 ff (trans. Conway) (Greek lyric C5th B.C.) :
"Kyrene (Cyrene), she it was who once Apollon of the flowing hair seized from the windswept vales of Pelion, and in his golden car bore off the huntress maid; and of a land, most richly blessed with flocks and fruits, made her the enthroned queen, to find in this third root of earth's mainland [i.e. to the third continent which was Africa] a smiling and fertile home.
And Aphrodite of the silver feet welcomed this guest from Delos, laying the touch of her light hand upon his god-built car, and o'er the sweet bliss of their bridal she spread love's shy and winsome modesty, plighting in joint wedlock the god and maiden daughter of wide-ruling Hypseus. He was the king of the proud Lapithai (Lapiths), a hero of the seed of the great god Okeanos (Oceanus), child of the second generation, whom in the famous dells of Pindos (Pindus) once the Nymphe, daughter of Gaia (Gaea, the Earth), Kreousa (Creusa) bore, sharing the joys of love with the river-god Peneios (Peneus). And by Hypseus was reared this maid, Kyrene of the lovely arms. But she loved not the pacing tread this way and that beside the loom, nor the delights of merry feasts with her companions in the household. But the bronze-tipped javelin and the sword called her to combat and slay the wild beasts of the field; and in truth many a day she gave of peaceful quiet to her father's cattle. But of sleep, sweet companion of her pillow, little she spared to steal upon her eyes towards the dawn of day.
Once as she battled with a fearsome lion, alone, without a spear, Apollon, far-shooting god of the broad quiver, came upon her; and straightway called from out his dwelling Kheiron (Chiron) and thus addressed him : ‘Son of Philyre, come from your holy cave, and marvel at a woman's spirit and mighty vigour; with what undaunted mind she wages battle, a young maid with a heart that rides o'er every labour, and a spirit never shaken by the cold storms of fear. What mortal father begot this maid? And from what race of men has she been reft, to dwell within the dark dells of these clouded mountains? For her soul breeds a boundless wealth of valour. It is right to lay on her the touch of an ennobling hand, or even to pluck the flower of love, sweeter than honey?’
Then spoke the inspired Kentauros (Centaur), gentle laughter gleaming beneath his kindly brows and of his wisdom made straightway this answer : ‘Secret, great Phoibos (Phoebus), are the keys of wise Persuasion (Peitho) to love's true sanctities; both gods and men alike, in reverent modesty, are loth to taste in the open light of day the first sweet fruits of love. Yet thou, for whom even to savour falsehood is sacrilege, art led by they desire's delight thus to dissemble. Dost thou ask, o king, of what race is the maiden? . . . Yet if I needs must rival my wisdom against thine, thus shall I speak : to this glade didst thou come to be a husband to this maid, with the intent to carry her far o'er the sea, to a choice garden of great Zeus. There thou shalt set her to rule o'er a city, and gather an island folk to be her people, where a high hill crowns the plain. And soon shall Libya, queen of spreading meadows, gladly welcome to her gold halls thy glorious bride; and forthwith will she freely give her, to be her own lawful domain, a portion of land yielding all manner of rich fruits, and beasts for the hunter's chase. There shall she bear a son, whom glorious Hermes will take from his fond mother's breast, and carry to the enthroned Horai (Horae, Seasons) and Mother Gaia; and they will gently nurse the babe upon their knees, and on his lips distil ambrosia and nectar, and shall ordain him an immortal being, a Zeus or holy Apollon, a joy to men who love him. And he shall ever be at hand to tend their flocks, Agreus (Hunter) his name to some, to others Nomios (Pasturer), and some will call him Aristaios (Aristaeus).’
So Kheiron spoke and decreed for the god his bridal's dear fulfilment. Swift is the act, and short thereto the paths when gods make speed to achieve an eager end. That day that very day saw the decision, and in a chamber of rich gold in Libya they lay together. There she is guardian of a city rich in beauty."

Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica 2. 498 ff (trans. Rieu) (Greek epic C3rd B.C.) :
"Folk say that once upon a time there was a shepherdess called Kyrene (Cyrene) who used to graze her flocks in the water-meadows of Peneios (Peneus). She was a virgin and she prized her maidenhood. But one day when she was tending her sheep down by the river, Apollon carried her off from Haimonia [Thessaly] and set her down among the Nymphai (Nymphs) of the land in distant Libya near the Myrtousian Mount. There she bore him a son called Aristaios (Aristaeus), who is remembered now in the cornlands of Haimonia as Agreus (the Hunter) and Nomios (the Shepherd). Kyrene herself was left in Libya by Apollon, who in token of his love made her a Nymphe and huntress with the gift of a long life. But he took his infant son away to be brought up by Kheiron (Chiron) in his cave."

Callimachus, Hymn 2 to Apollo 85 ff (trans. Mair) (Greek poet C3rd B.C.) :
"Greatly, indeed, did Phoibos (Phoebus) [Apollon] rejoice as the belted warriors of Enyo danced with the yellow-haired Libyan women, when the appointed season of the Karneian feast came round. But not yet could the Dorians approach the foundations of Kyre (Cyre) [i.e. the Dorians founded the colony of Kyrene in North Africa]. But dwelt in Azilis thick with wooded dells. These did the Lord himself [Apollon] behold and showed to his bride [Kyrene (Cyrene)] as he stood on horned Myrtoussa [i.e. the Hill of Myrtles in Kyrene] where the daughter of Hypseus slew the lion that harried the kind of Eurypylos. No other dance more divine hath Apollon beheld, nor to any city hat he given so many blessings as he hath given to Kyrene, remembering his rape of old."

Callimachus, Hymn 3 to Artemis 208 ff :
"Kyrene (Cyrene) thou [Artemis] madest they comrade, to whom on a time thyself didst give two hunting dogs, with whom the maiden daughter of Hypseus beside the Iolkian tomb [the funeral games of Pelias] won the prize . . . These were the first who wore gallant bow and arrow-holding quivers on their shoulders; their right shoulders bore the quiver strap, and always the right breast showed bare."

Diodorus Siculus, Library of History 4. 81. 1 (trans. Oldfather) (Greek historian C1st B.C.) :
"Aristaios (Aristaeus) was the son of Apollon and Kyrene (Cyrene), the daughter of Hypseus the son of Peneios (Peneus), and the manner of his birth is given by certain writers of myths as follows: Apollon became enamoured of a maiden by the name of Kyrene, who was reared in the neighbourhood of Mount Pelion and was of surpassing beauty, and he carried her off from there to that part of the land of Libya where in later times he founded a city and named it, after her, Kyrene. Now Apollon begat by Kyrene in that land a son Aristaios and gave him while yet a babe into the hands of the Nymphai (Nymphs) to nurture . . .
We are further informed that Aristaios left descendants behind on the island of Keos and then returned to Libya, from where he set forth with the aid of his mother, [Kyrene] a Nymphe, and put ashore on the island of Sardinia. Here he made his home, and since he loved the island because of its beauty, he set out plantings on it and brought it under cultivation, whereas formerly it had lain waste."

Anonymous (perhaps Pamprepius of Panopolis), Fragments (trans. Page, Vol. Select Papyri III, No. 140) (Greek poetry C4th A.D.) :
"Kyrene (Cyrene) calls me, and Phoibos (Phoebus) [Apollon] constrains me and drags me to the knees of that dear nymphe and huntress. Up friends, to the seat of Ptolemaios the Warrior [i.e. the town of Kyrene], where the Mousai Libystides (Libyan Muses) are still calling me." [N.B. The poet is inspired to sing of the town of Kyrene which is here personified as the nymphe Kyrene.]

Pseudo-Hyginus, Fabulae 161 (trans. Grant) (Roman mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"Sons of Apollo . . . Aristaeus by Cyrene, daughter of Peneus."

Pseudo-Hyginus, Fabulae 14 :
"Argonauts Assembled . . . Idmon, son of Apollo and the Nympha Cyrene."

Ovid, Fasti 1. 363 ff (trans.Boyle) (Roman poetry C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"Aristaeus wept, when he saw all his bees killed and honeycombs abandoned incomplete. His sea-blue mother [Cyrene the Naias] could scarcely console his pain, and attached these final words to her speech : ‘Stop your tears, my boy. Proteus will lighten your loss, and tell you how to regain what is gone. But so he does not baffle you by altering appearance, clamp his two hands in strong chains.’ [Aristaios follows his mother's instructions and Proteus tells him how to recover his bees.]"

Virgil, Georgics 4. 317 ff (trans. Fairclough) (Roman bucolic C1st B.C.) :
"Aristaeus the shepherd, quitting Tempe by the Peneus, when--so runs the tale--his bees were lost through sickness and hunger, sorrowfully stopped beside the sacred fount at the stream's head, and with much complaint called on his mother thus : ‘O mother, mother Cyrene, who dwell in this flood's depths, why, from the gods' glorious line--if indeed, as you say, Thymbraean Apollo is my father--did you give me birth, to be hated of the fates? Or whither is your love for me banished? Why did you bid me hope for Heaven? Lo, even this very crown of my mortal life, which the skilful tending of crops and cattle had scarce wrought out for me for all my endeavour--though you are my mother, I resign. Come, and with your own hand tear up my fruitful woods; put hostile flame to my stalls, destroy my crops, burn my seedlings, and swing the stout axe against my vines, if such loathing for my honour has seized you.’
But his mother heard the cry from her bower beneath the river's depths. About her the Nymphs were spinning fleeces of Miletus, dyed with rich glassy hue--Drymo and Xantho, Ligea and Phyllodoce, their shining tresses floating over snowy necks; Nesaea and Spio, Thalia and Cymodoce [four Nereids]; Cydippe and golden-haired Lycorias--a maiden one, the other having but felt the first birth-throes; Clio and Beroe, her sister, daughters of Oceanus both, both arrayed in gold, and both in dappled hides [i.e. as huntresses]; Ephyre and Opis, and Asian Deiopea, and fleet Arethusa, her arrows laid aside at last. Among these Clymene was telling of Vulcanus' [Hephaistos'] baffled care, of the wiles and stolen joys of Mars [Ares], and from Chaos on was rehearsing the countless loves of the gods. And while, charmed by the strain, they unrolled the soft coils from their spindles, again the wail of Aristaeus smote upon his mother's ear, and all upon their crystal thrones were startled. Yet, first of all the sisters, Arethusa, looking forth, raised her golden head above the water's brim, and cried from afar : ‘O sister Cyrene, not vain was your alarm at this loud lament. 'Tis even he, your own beloved, your Aristaeus, standing sadly and in tears by the waters of our father, and crying out on you by name for cruelty.’
To her the mother, her soul smitten with strange dread cries : ‘O bring him, bring him to us; lawful it is for him to tread the threshold divine.’ And withal, she bade the deep streams part asunder far, that so the youth might enter in. And lo, the wave, arched mountain-like, stood round about, and, welcoming him within the vase recess ushered him beneath the stream. And now, marveling at his mother's home, a realm of waters, at the lakes locked in caverns, and the echoing groves, he went on his way, and, dazed by the mighty rush of waters, he gazed on all the rivers, as, each in his own place, they glide under the great earth . . .
Soon as he reached the bower with its hanging roof of stone, and Cyrene heard the tale of her son's idle tears, the sisters, in due order, pour on his hands clear spring-waters, and bring smooth-shorn napkins. Some load the board with the feast, and in turn set on the brimming cups; the altars blaze up with Panchaean fires. Then cried his mother : ‘Take the goblets of Maeonian wine; pour we a libation to Oceanus!’ And she prayed to Oceanus, universal father, and the sister Nymphs, who guard the hundred forests and a hundred streams. Thrice with clear nectar she sprinkles the glowing hearth; thrice the flame, shooting up to the rooftop, gleamed afresh.
With this omen to cheer his heart, she thus her self began : ‘In Neptunus' [Poseidon's] Carpathian flood there dwells a seer, Proteus, of sea-green hue, who traverses the mighty main in his car drawn by fishes and a team of two-footed steeds. Even now he revisits the havens of Thessaly and his native Pallene. To him we Nymphs do reverence, and aged Nereus himself; for the seer has knowledge of all things . . . Him, my son, you must first take in fetters, that he may unfold to you all the cause of the sickness, and bless the issue. For without force he will give you no counsel, nor shall you bend him by prayer. With stern force and fetters make fast the captive; thereon alone his wiles will shatter themselves in vain. I myself, when the sun has kindled his noonday heat, when the grass is athirst, and the shade is now welcome to the flock, will guide you to the aged one's retreat, whither when weary he retires, so that you may assail him with ease as he lies asleep. But when you hold him in the grasp of hands and fetters, then will manifold forms baffle you, and figures of wild beasts . . . until after his last changes of body he become such as you saw when he closed his eyes at the beginning of slumber.’
She spoke, and shed abroad ambrosia's fragrant stream, wherewith she steeped her son's whole frame : and lo, a sweet effluence breathed from his smoothened locks, and vigour and suppleness passed into his limbs. There is a vast cavern, hollowed in a mountain's side . . . here the Nymph stations the youth in ambush, away from the light; she herself, veiled in mist, stands aloof . . . [Aristaeus captures Proteus and learns that the Dryades have cursed him for his role in the death of Eurydice.] Proteus, and at a bound plunged into the deep sea . . .
Cyrene stayed, and straightway spoke to the startled youth : ‘You may dismiss from your mind the care that troubles it. This is the whole cause of the sickness, and hence it is that the Nymphs, with whom she used to tread the dance in the deep groves, have sent this wretched havoc on your bees. You must offer a suppliant's gifts, sue for peace, and pay homage to the gentle maidens of the woods; for they will grant pardon to prayers, and relax their wrath. But first I will tell you in order the manner of your supplication. Pick out four choice bulls, of surpassing form, that now graze among your herds on the heights of green Lycaeus, and as many heifers of unyoked neck. For these set up four altars by the stately shrines of the goddesses, and drain the sacrificial blood from their throats, but leave the bodies of the steers within the leafy grove. Later, when the ninth Dawn displays her rising beams, you must offer to Orpheus funeral dues of Lethe's poppies, slay a black ewe, and revisit the grove. Then with Eurydice appeased you should honour her with the slaying of a calf.’ Tarrying not, he straightway does his mother's bidding."

Nonnus, Dionysiaca 13. 300 ff (trans. Rouse) (Greek epic C5th A.D.) :
"He [Aristaios (Aristaeus)] was the son of Kyrene (Cyrene), that deer-chasing second Artemis, the girl lionkiller, who bore him to the love of Phoibos; when handsome Apollon carried her abroad to sandy Libya in a robber's car for a bridal equipage."

Nonnus, Dionysiaca 16. 86 ff :
"Did not Apollon himself in the woods lift Kyrene's (Cyrene's) nets."

Nonnus, Dionysiaca 25. 180 ff :
"There was Kyrene (Cyrene), a champion in the leafy forest with her lionslaying hands, that girl did an exploit quite as good, when she also mastered a male lion with a woman's grip which he could not shake off."

Nonnus, Dionysiaca 29. 179 ff :
"[Aristaios] like his bowfamous sire [Apollon], full of the pre-eminent courage of his archeress mother, Kyrene (Cyrene) daughter of Hypseus in the olden time."





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