Greek Mythology >> Kings >> Pterelaus (Pterelaos)


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Wings of the People

PTERELAOS (Pterelaus) was a king of the Taphian islands whose five sons travelled to Mykenai (Mycenae) to try and claim their great-grandfather's throne. When they were turned away by King Elektryon, they attempted to steal his cattle but were challenged by the king's sons. In the fight which ensued all nine of the Elektryonides and all but one of the sons of Pterelaos were slain--only Eueres escaped alive. Elektyron then commanded his son-in-law Amphitryon to recover the cattle and avenge the slaughter of his sons. With the help of his uncle Heleios, Kreon (Creon) of Thebes, Kephalos (Cephalus) of Attika and Panopeus of Phokis, Amphitryon invaded the Taphian islands.
King Pterelaos, however, could not so easily be defeated for he possessed a lock of golden hair which rendered him immortal--a gift bestowed upon him by his grandfather Poseidon. But during the course of the war, Pterelaos' daughter Komaitho (Comaetho) fell in love with Amphitryon and agreed to betray her father by cutting off his magical lock in return if he would marry her. While Amphitryon was away on this campaign, Zeus sired Herakles on his wife Alkmena.

Pterelaos' name means "Wings of the People" from the Greek words pteron and laos.

The story of a king with a magical lock of hair betrayed by his daughter repeats itself in the myth of King Nisos of Megara and his daughter Skylla.


[1.1] TAPHIOS (Apollodorus 2.4.5)


[2.1] KOMAITHO (Apollodorus 2.4.6, Lycophron 930)


PTERELAUS (Pterelaos), a king of the Taphian islands. While Electryon, the brother of Alcaeus, was reigning at Mycenae, the sons of Pterelaus together with the Taphians invaded his territory, demanded the surrender of the kingdom, and drove away his oxen. The sons of Electryon entered upon a contest with the sons of Pterelaus, but the combatants on both sides all fell, so that Electryon had only one son, Licymnius, left, and Pterelaus likewise only one, Eueres. The Taphians, however, escaped with the oxen, which they entrusted to Polyxenus, king of the Eleans. Thence they were afterwards brought back to Mycenae by Amphitryon after he had paid a ransom. Electryon now resolved upon avenging the death of his sons, and to make war upon the Taphians. During his absence he entrusted his kingdom and his daughter Alcmene to Amphitryon, on condition that he should not marry her till after his return from the war. In order to win the hand of Alcmene, Amphitryon prepared to avenge the death of Alcmene's brothers on the Taphians (Teleboans). Assisted by Cephalus, Panopeus, Heleius, and Creon, Amphitryon now attacked and ravaged the islands of the Taphians, but could not subdue them so long as Pterelaus lived. This chief had on his head one golden hair, the gift of Poseidon, which rendered him immortal. His daughter Comaetho, who was in love with Amphitryon, cut off this hair, and after Pterelaus had died in consequence, Amphitryon took possession of the islands; and having put to death Comaetho, he gave the islands to Cephalus and Heleius, and returned to Thebes with his spoils. (Apollod. ii. 4. § 6, 7; Paus. ix. 10. § 4; Herod. v. 9.)

Source: Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology.


Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 2. 4. 5 - 6 (trans. Frazer) (Greek mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"And he [Perseus] had sons by Andromeda . . . in Mykenai (Mycenae) he had Alkaios (Alcaeus) and Sthenelos (Sthenelus) and Heleios (Heleius) and Mestor and Elektryon (Electryon), and a daughter Gorgophone, whom Perieres married.
[Perseus' son] Alkaios had a son Amphitryon and a daughter Anaxo by Astydameia, daughter of Pelops . . .
[Perseus' son] Mestor had [a daughter] Hippothoe by Lysidike (Lysidice), daughter of Pelops. This Hippothoe was carried off by Poseidon, who brought her to the Ekhinadian (Echidnades) Islands, and there had intercourse with her, and begat Taphios (Taphius), who colonized Taphos and called the people Teleboans, because he had gone far from his native land. And Taphios had a son Pterelaos (Pterelaus), whom Poseidon made immortal by implanting a golden hair in his head. And to Pterelaos were born sons, to wit, Khromios (Chromius), Tyrannos (Tyrannus), Antiokhos (Antiochus), Khersidamas (Chersidamas), Mestor, and Eueres (Everes).
[Perseus' son] Elektryon married Anaxo, daughter of Alkaios, and begat a daughter Alkmena (Alcmena), and sons, to wit, Stratobates, Gorgophonos, Phylonomos, Kelaineus (Celaeneus), Amphimakhos (Amphimachus), Lysinomos, Khirimakhos (Chirimachus), Anaktor (Anactor), and Arkhelaos (Archelaus); and after these he had also a bastard son, Likymnios (Licymnius), by a Phrygian woman Midea.
When Elektryon reigned over Mykenai (Mycenae), the sons of Pterelaos came with some Taphians and claimed the kingdom of Mestor, their maternal grandfather, and as Elektryon paid no heed to the claim, they drove away his kine; and when the sons of Elektryon stood on their defence, they challenged and slew each other. But of the sons of Elektryon there survived Likymnios, who was still young; and of the sons of Pterelaos there survived Eueres, who guarded the ships. Those of the Taphians who escaped sailed away, taking with them the cattle they had lifted, and entrusted them to Polyxenos (Polyxenus), king of the Eleians; but Amphitryon ransomed them from Polyxenos and brought them to Mykenai. Wishing to avenge his sons' death, Elektryon purposed to make war on the Teleboans, but first he committed the kingdom to Amphitryon along with his daughter Alkmena, binding him by oath to keep her a virgin until his return. However, as he was receiving the cows back, one of them charged, and Amphitryon threw at her the club which he had in his hands. But the club rebounded from the cow's horns and striking Elektryon's head killed him. Hence [Perseus' son] Sthenelos laid hold of this pretext to banish Amphitryon from the whole of Argos, while he himself seized the throne of Mykenai and Tiryns . . .
Amphitryon went with Alkmena and Likymnios to Thebes and was purified by Kreon (Creon) and gave his sister Perimede to Likymnios. And as Alkmena said she would marry him when he had avenged her brothers' death, Amphitryon engaged to do so, and undertook an expedition against the Teleboans, and invited Creon to assist him . . .
Supported by his allies, to wit, Kephalos (Cephalus) from Thorikos (Thoricus) in Attika, Panopeus from Phokis, Heleios (Heleius), son of Perseus, from Helos in Argolis, and Kreon from Thebes, Amphitryon ravaged the islands of the Taphians. Now, so long as Pterelaos lived, he could not take Taphos; but when Komaitho (Comaetho), daughter of Pterelaos, falling in love with Amphitryon, pulled out the golden hair from her father's head, Pterelaos died, and Amphitryon subjugated all the islands. He slew Komaitho, and sailed with the booty to Thebes, and gave the islands to Heleios and Kephalos; and they founded cities named after themselves and dwelt in them."

Lycophron, Alexandra 930 ff (trans. Mair) (Greek poet C3rd B.C.) :
"Afraid of the spear and the impetuous phalanx, he [Epeios, the builder of the Trojan horse,] pays for the false oath of his father [Panopeus] regarding the spear-won herds [of Pterelaos (Pterelaus)], which wretchedman, when the towers of Komaitho (Comaetho) were confounded by the army in the cause of loving marriage, he dared to swear by [Athena] Aloitis Kydonia Thraso, and by [Apollon] the god of Krestone, Kandaon or Mamertos, warrior wolf. He even within his mother's womb arrayed hateful battle against his brother with blows of his hands, while he looked not yet on the bright light of Tito, nor had yet escaped the grievous pains of birth. And for his false oath the gods made his [Panopeus'] son grow to be a coward man, a good boxer but a skulker in the mellay of the spear."
[N.B. Epeios, son of Panopeus, was cursed by the gods with cowardice for his father had foresworn his oath to Komaitho when he promised her that she might marry Amphitryon in return for the cutting off her father's magical lock of hair.]




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