EIDOTHEA was a prophetic sea-nymph daughter of the shape-shifting marine god Proteus. When Menelaus was returning home from Troy, his fleet was becalmed on the island of Pharos near Egypt. Eidothea took pity on the hero and told him how he might capture her father and force him to reveal prophecies which would enable his escape from the island.
Her name means "Knowing-Goddess" or "Shapely-Goddess" from the Greek words eidô and thea.
She was probably identified with the Thrakian sea-nymph Kabeiro (Cabeiro).
FAMILY OF EIDOTHEA
[1.1] PROTEUS (Homer Odyssey 4.365, Hyginus Fabulae 118)
[1.2] PROTEUS & PSAMATHE (Euripides Helen 1)
EIDO′THEA (Eidothea), a daughter of the aged Proteus, who instructed Menelaus, in the island of Pharos at the mouth of the river Aegyptus, in what manner he might secure her father and compel him to say in what way he should return home. (Hom. Od. iv. 365, &c.)
THEO′NOE (Theonoê). A daughter of Proteus and Psammathe, who is said to have been in love with Canobus, the helmsman of Menelaus, who died in Egypt, in consequence of the bite of a snake. She is also called Eido or Eidothea. (Eurip. Helen. 11 ; Aristoph. Thesm. 897 ; Plat. Cratyl. p. 407; Hom. Od. iv. 363.)
Source: Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology.
Knowing or Shapely (eidô, eidos)
Intelligent Goddess (thea, noos)
CLASSICAL LITERATURE QUOTES
Homer, Odyssey 4. 365 ff (trans. Shewring) (Greek epic C8th B.C.) :
"[After the Trojan War the fleet of Menelaus was blown off course, made shore on the island of Pharos near Egypt and was there becalmed :]
And now our food would have failed utterly, and with it the courage of my men, had not a goddess had pity on me [Menelaus] and rescued me; this was Eidothea, daughter of mighty Proteus the ancient sea-god. I touched her heart as I had no other's when she came upon me wandering in solitude apart from my companions (they had kept roaming about the island, fishing with bent hooks, because hunger gnawed their bellies). She halted near me and addressed me : ‘Stranger, have you no sense, no wits at all? Or are you so reckless wilfully? Do you take pleasure in your distress? All this while you have stayed a prisoner in this island, unable to contrive deliverance while your men grow more and more disheartened.’
So she spoke, and I answered her : ‘Goddess, whoever you may be, I will tell you all. Not by my own choice do I stay a prisoner here; I must have offended the Deathless Ones whose home is wide heaven itself. Rather it is for you to tell me--because gods know everything--which of the Deathless Ones it is who has thwarted me in my journeying and keeps me pent here. Tell me also of my return--how am I to go forth again over the teaming ocean?’
So I spoke, and at once the goddess answered : ‘I will tell you, stranger, without deceit. An ancient sea-god comes often to this place--he is unerring and he is deathless--Proteus of Aigyptos (Egypt), a vassal of Poseidon who knows the sea throughout its depths; they say that he is the father who begot me. If only you could ambush and capture him! Then he will tell you of your return, the means to pass over the teaming ocean and all the long journey home. And beyond all this, he will tell you, if so you wish (are you not a king?), what good or evil has come to pass in your own palace while you have been far away on your long and toilsome journey.’
So she spoke, and I answered her, ‘You yourself must contrive some way to entrap this ancient god; if not, he may see me or sense me all too soon, and then he will elude me. It is hard for a mortal man to bend an immortal to his will.’
These were my words. The goddess answered : ‘So be it, stranger; I will tell you all without deceit. When the sun in its course has reached mid-sky, the sage old sea-god leaves his ocean--the west wind blows then, and the ruffled water is dark enough to hide him. Once ashore, he lies down to sleep under the arching caves, and around him is a throng of seals, the brood of the lovely Halosydne [Amphitrite]; they too have come up through the grey waters, and they too lie down to sleep, smelling rankly of the deep brine below. To this spot I myself will take you as soon as tomorrow dawns, and will range you all side by side--because you must carefully choose three comrades, the bravest you have beside your vessels. I will tell you all the deluding arts of the ancient god. First he will pass along all the seals and count them; then, having viewed them and made his reckoning, he will lie down among them all like a shepherd among his flock of sheep. As soon as you see him lying down, you must all summon up your strength and courage and hold him fast there despite his struggles and his endeavours to elude you. He will seek to foil you by taking the shape of every creature that moves on earth, and of water and of portentous fire; but you must hold him unflinchingly and you must press the harder. When at length he puts away all disguise and questions you in the shape he had when you saw him resting, then cease from your constraint; then, O king, let the ancient sage go free and ask him which of the gods is thwarting you and how you are to reach home again over the teeming ocean.’
So she spoke, and sank down through the billowy sea . . . Dawn comes early, with rosy fingers. When she appeared, I began to walk along the shore of the wide-wayed ocean, with many a prayer to the gods meanwhile. I had three of my companions with me, those that on any venture I trusted most. The goddess, I said, had sunk down through the wide and yielding waters; now she returned, bringing back the skins of four seals, all newly flayed--such was her scheme to deceive her father. She hollowed out hiding-places for us inside the sea-sand, then sat there waiting; when we had come right up to her, she made us lie down side by side and threw a skin over each of us. Our lying there might have been intolerable, for a hideous stench of the briny creatures distressed us monstrously; who would choose a sea-calf for bedfellow? But the goddess found us rescue and remedy. She brought every one of us ambrosia and put it underneath his nostrils; it smelt delectably; and so she countered the bestial stench."
Euripides, Helen 1 ff (trans. Vellacott) (Greek tragedy C5th B.C.) :
"Proteus, while he lived, was King here, ruling the whole of Aigyptos (Egypt) from his palace on the island of Pharos. Now Proteus married Psamathe, one of the Sea-Nymphai (Nymphs), and formerly the wife of Aiakos (Aeacus). She bore Proteus two children : a son, Theoklymenos (Theoclymenus)--a name contradicted by his impious life--and a daughter, the apple of her mother's eye, called Eido when she was a child; when she grew up and was ripe for marriage they called her Theonoe [i.e. Eidothea], for she had divine knowledge of all things present and to come--a gift inherited from her grandfather Nereus."
Pseudo-Hyginus, Fabulae 118 (trans. Grant) (Roman mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"In Egypt Proteus, the prophetic old man of the sea, is said to have dwelt, he who used to change himself into all sorts of shapes. By the advice of his daughter Idothea Menelaus bound him with a chain, so that he would tell him when he wouold reach home. Proteus told him that the gods were angry because Troy had been taken, and on that account an offering should be made which the Greeks call Hekatombe, a hundred animals being slain."
Nonnus, Dionysiaca 1. 36 ff (trans. Rouse) (Greek epic C5th A.D.) :
"Let Homer [the poet] and deep-sea Eidothea keep the rank skin of the seals for Menelaos."
- Homer, The Odyssey - Greek Epic C8th B.C.
- Euripides, Helen - Greek Tragedy C5th B.C.
- Nonnus, Dionysiaca - Greek Epic C5th A.D.
- Hyginus, Fabulae - Latin Mythography C2nd A.D.
Other references not currently quoted here: Dionysius Periegeta 259.
A complete bibliography of the translations quoted on this page.