Of Bousiris (town)
BOUSIRIS (Busiris) was a king of Aigyptos (Egypt) who took to sacrificing foreigners to the gods when an oracle revealed that this would bring an end to the eight-year drought afflicting his realm. As Herakles was travelling through the region in his quest for the golden apples, he was seized by the king's men and brought before the altar. Before he could be sacrificed, however, the hero broke free of his bonds and slew the barbarous king.
FAMILY OF BUSIRIS
[1.1] AMPHIDAMAS (Apollodorus 2.5.11)
[2.1] MELITE (Hyginus Fabulae 157)
BUSIRIS (Bousiris), according to Apollodorus (ii. 5. § 11), a son of Poseidon and Lysianassa, the daughter of Epaphus. Concerning this Busiris the following remarkable story is told:--Egypt had been visited for nine years by uninterrupted scarcity, and at last there came a soothsayer from Cyprus of the name of Phrasius, who declared, that the scarcity would cease if the Egyptians would sacrifice a foreigner to Zeus every year. Busiris made the beginning with the prophet himself, and afterwards sacrificed all the foreigners that entered Egypt. Heracles on his arrival in Egypt was likewise seized and led to the altar, but he broke his chains and slew Busiris, together with his son Amphidamas or Iphidamas, and his herald Chalbes. (Apollod. l. c.; Schol. ad Apollon. iv. 1396; comp. Herod. ii. 45; Gell. ii. 6; Macrob. Sat. vi. 7; Hygin. Fab. 31.) This story gave rise to various disputes in later times, when a friendly intercourse between Greece and Egypt was established, both nations being anxious to do away with the stigma it attached to the Egyptians. Herodotus (l. c.) expressly denies that the Egyptians ever offered human sacrifices, and Isocrates (Bus. 15) endeavours to upset the story by showing, that Heracles must have lived at a much later time than Busiris. Others again said, that it was a tale invented to shew up the inhospitable character of the inhabitants of the town of Busiris, and that there never was a king of that name. (Strab. xvii. p. 802.)
Source: Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology.
CLASSICAL LITERATURE QUOTES
Euripides, Busiris (lost play) (Greek tragedy C5th B.C.) :
Euripides dramatized the story of Herakles and Bousiris in a lost satyr-play.
Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 2. 5. 11 (trans. Frazer) (Greek mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"[Herakles (Heracles) travelled across North Africa in his quest for the golden apples of the Hesperides :] After Libya he traversed Aigyptos (Egypt). That country was then ruled by Bousiris (Busiris), a son of Poseidon by Lysianassa, daughter of Epaphos. This Bousiris used to sacrifice strangers on an altar of Zeus in accordance with a certain oracle. For Aigyptos was visited with dearth for nine years, and Phrasios (Phrasius), a learned seer who had come from Kypros (Cyprus), said that the dearth would cease if they slaughtered a stranger man in honor of Zeus every year. Bousiris began by slaughtering the seer himself and continued to slaughter the strangers who landed. So Herakles also was seized and haled to the altars, but he burst his bonds and slew both Bousiris and his son Amphidamas."
Herodotus, Histories 2. 45. 1 - 2 (trans. Godley) (Greek historian C5th B.C.) :
"And the Greeks say many other ill-considered things, too; among them, this is a silly story which they tell about Herakles : that when he came to Egypt, the Egyptians crowned him and led him out in a procession to sacrifice him to Zeus; and for a while (they say) he followed quietly, but when they started in on him at the altar, he resisted and killed them all. Now it seems to me that by this story the Greeks show themselves altogether ignorant of the character and customs of the Egyptians; for how should they sacrifice men when they are forbidden to sacrifice even beasts, except swine and bulls and bull-calves, if they are unblemished, and geese?"
Diodorus Siculus, Library of History 4. 18. 1 (trans. Oldfather) (Greek historian C1st B.C.) :
"After Herakles had slain Antaios (Antaeus) [in Libya] he passed into Aigyptos (Egypt) and put to death Bousiris (Busiris), the king of the land, who made it his practice to kill the strangers who visited that country."
Diodorus Siculus, Library of History 4. 27. 2 - 3 :
[In this late classical rationalisation of the Hesperides myth, the nymphs are described as daughters of a local king named Atlas, and the golden apples are replaced by golden sheep. Herakles travels to Egypt to rescue the maidens who have been kidnapped by King Bousiris. It should be noted that this version of the story is far removed from traditional Greek mythology.]
"Hesperos (Hesperus) begat a daughter named Hesperis, whom he gave in marriage to his brother [Atlas] and after whom the land was given the name Hesperitis; and Atlas begat by her seven daughters, who were named after their father Atlantides, and after their mother, Hesperides. And since these Atlantides excelled in beauty and chastity, Bousiris (Busiris) the king of the Egyptians, the account says, was seized with the desire to get the maidens into his power; and consequently he dispatched pirates by sea with orders to seize the girls and deliver them into his hands.
About this time Herakles, while engaged in the performance of his last Labour [the quest for the golden ‘sheep’ of the Hesperides], slew in Libya Antaios (Antaeus), who was compelling all strangers to wrestle with him, and upon Bousiris in Aigyptos (Egypt), who was sacrificing to Zeus the strangers who visited his country, he inflicted the punishment which he deserved. After this Herakles sailed up Neilos (the Nile) into Aithiopia (Ethiopia), where he slew Emathion, the king of the Aithiopes, who had made battle with him unprovoked, and then returned to the completion of his last Labour."
Plutarch, Life of Theseus 11. 1 (trans. Perrin) (Greek historian C1st to C2nd A.D.) :
"Heracles. That hero punished those who offered him violence in the manner in which they had plotted to serve him, and therefore sacrificed Bousiris (Busiris), wrestled Antaios (Antaeus) to death, slew Kyknos (Cycnus) in single combat, and killed Termeros by dashing in his skull."
Pseudo-Plutarch, Greek and Roman Parallel Stories 38 (trans. Babbitt) (Greek historian C2nd A.D.) :
"Bousiris (Busiris), the son of Poseidon and Anippê, daughter of Neilos (the Nile), with treacherous hospitality was wont to sacrifice such persons as passed his way. But there came upon him vengeance for those that had perished by his hand. For Herakles attacked him with his club and slew him. So [says] Agathon of Samos."
Pseudo-Hyginus, Fabulae 31 (trans. Grant) (Roman mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"Incidental Labors of Hercules [Heracles] . . . He slew Antaeus, son of Earth, in Libya . . . [He slew] in Egypt, Busiris, whose custom it was to sacrifice visitors. When Hercules heard of his customary practice, he allowed himself to be led to the altar with the fillet of sacrifice, but when Busiris was about to invoke the gods, Hercules with his club killed him and the attendants at the sacrifice as well."
Pseudo-Hyginus, Fabulae 56 :
"In Egypt in the land of Busiris, son of Neptune [Poseidon], when there was a famine, and Egypt had been parched for nine years, the king summoned augurs from Greece. Thrasius, his brother Pygmalion's son, announced that rains would come if a foreigner were sacrificed, and proved his words when he himself was sacrificed."
Pseudo-Hyginus, Fabulae 157 :
"Sons of Neptune [Poseidon] . . . Metus by Melite, daughter of Busiris."
Ovid, Metamorphoses 9. 180 ff (trans. Brookes More) (Roman epic C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"[Heracles speaks :] ‘I slew Busiris, who defiled his temples with the strangers' blood? . . . I took his mother's strength from fierce Antaeus.’"
Ovid, Heroides 9. 69 ff (trans. Showerman) (Roman poetry C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"[Deianeira criticises Herakles for dressing up as a woman while in the service of Queen Omphale :] ‘Had Busiris seen you in that garb, he whom you vanquished would surely have reddened for such a victor as you. Antaeus would tear from the hard neck the turban-bands, lest he feel shame at having succumbed to an unmanly foe.’"
Virgil, Georgics 3. 4 ff (trans. Fairclough) (Roman bucolic C1st B.C.) :
"Who knows not [the tales of] pitiless Eurystheus, or the altars of detested Busiris?"
Seneca, Hercules Furens 480 ff (trans. Miller) (Roman tragedy C1st A.D.) :
"His [Heracles'] own work it is that Eryx was crushed by his own gauntlets and that Libyan Antaeus shared Eryx' fate; that the altars which dripped the blood of strangers drank, and justly, too, Busiris' blood."
Seneca, Hercules Oetaeus 25 ff :
"[Heracles recounts his labours :] ‘No longer doth the Libyan Antaeus renew his strength; before his own altars hath Busiris fallen; by my sole hand hath Geryon been o'erthrown . . . Whatever hostile earth hath gendered is fallen, by my right hand laid low; the anger of the gods hath been set at naught.’"
Seneca, Hercules Oetaeus 1785 ff :
"[Following the death of Heracles, his mother Alcmena laments that the sons of his foes may seek to avenge themselves upon her :] ‘What lands shall an aged woman seek, hated by savage kigns, if spite of all any savage king is left alive? Oh, woe is me! All sons who lament their murdered sires will seek revenge from me; they all will overwhelm me. If any young Busiris or if any young Antaeus terrifies the region of the burning zone, I shall be led off as booty.’"
Seneca, Troades 1106 ff :
"No blood of children stained the altars of Busiris, cruel though he was."
Statius, Thebaid 12. 155 ff (trans. Mozley) (Roman epic C1st A.D.) :
"Sooner may one prevail upon the merciless altars of Busiris." [N.B. Busiris is here used in a metaphor for ruthlessness.]
Claudian, Rape of Properpine 2. 47 ff (trans. Platnauer) (Roman poetry C4th A.D.) :
"[In a list of Heracles' feats :] Cacus' flames were quenched and Nile ran rich with Busiris' blood."
- Herodotus, Histories - Greek History C5th B.C.
- Apollodorus, The Library - Greek Mythography C2nd A.D.
- Diodorus Siculus, The Library of History - Greek History C1st B.C.
- Plutarch, Lives - Greek Historian C1st - 2nd A.D.
- Plutarch, Parallel Stories - Greek Historian C1st - 2nd A.D.
- Hyginus, Fabulae - Latin Mythography C2nd A.D.
- Ovid, Metamorphoses - Latin Epic C1st B.C. - C1st A.D.
- Ovid, Heroides - Latin Poetry C1st B.C. - C1st A.D.
- Virgil, Georgics - Latin Bucolic C1st B.C.
- Seneca, Hercules Furens - Latin Tragedy C1st A.D.
- Seneca, Hercules Oetaeus - Latin Tragedy C1st A.D.
- Seneca, Troades - Latin Tragedy C1st A.D.
- Statius, Thebaid - Latin Epic C1st A.D.
- Claudian, Rape of Proserpine - Latin Poetry C4th A.D.
Other references not currently quoted here: Gellius 2.6, Macrobius Saturnalia 6.7, Scholiast on Apollonius Rhodius' Argonautica 4.1396, Tzetzes Scholiast on Lycophron 2.367, Ovid Art of Love 2.647, Scholiast on Ovid's Ibis 397, Servius on Virgil's Aeneid 8.300 & Georgics 3.5, Philargyrius on Vergil's Georgics 3.5, Lactantius Placidus on Statius' Thebaid 12.155.