Greek Mythology >> Greek Gods >> Sea Gods >> Proteus


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Of the First (protos)

PROTEUS was a prophetic old sea-god and the herdsman of Poseidon's seals. Menelaus, a hero of the Trojan War, encountered Proteus during his return voyage to Greece, and upon capturing him compelled the god to prophesy the future.

Proteus was specifically associated with the island of Lemnos, the nearby Thracian peninsular of Pallene, and the Egyptian island of Pharos. Like Melikertes he may have been the Greek equivalent of the Phoenician sea-god Melkart. The island of Pharos, which is his home in the Odyssey, possessed a Phoenician trading colony in historical times.



[1.1] POSEIDON (Apollodorus 2.105, Lycophron 112)


[1.1] EIDOTHEA (Homer Odyssey 4.365, Hyginus Fabulae 118)
[1.2] KABEIRO (Pherecydes Frag, Strabo 10.3.21)
[1.3] THEOKLYMENOS, EIDO-THEONOE (by Psamathe) (Euripides Helen 5)
[2.1] POLYGONOS, TELEGONOS (Apollodorus 2.105)
[2.2] 2x SONS (by Torone) (Lycophron Alexandra 112)


PROTEUS (Prôteus), the prophetic old man of the sea (halios gerôn), occurs in the earliest legends as a subject of Poseidon, and is described as seeing through the whole depth of the sea, and tending the flocks (the seals) of Poseidon (Hom. Od. iv. 365, 385, 400; Virg. Georg. iv. 392 ; Theocr. ii. 58; Horat. Carm. i. 2. 7; Philostr. Icon. ii. 17). He resided in the island of Pharos, at the distance of one day's journey from the river Aegyptus (Nile), whence he is also called the Egyptian (Hom. Od. iv. 355, 385). Virgil, however, instead of Pharos, mentions the island of Carpathos, between Crete and Rhodes (Georg. iv. 387; comp. Hom. Il. ii. 676), whereas, according to the same poet, Proteus was born in Thessaly (Georg. iv. 390, comp. Ace. xi. 262). His life is described as follows. At midday he rises from the flood, and sleeps in the shadow of the rocks of the coast, and around him lie the monsters of the deep (Hom. Od. iv. 400; Virg. Georg. iv. 395). Any one wishing to compel him to foretell the future, was obliged to catch hold of him at that time; he, indeed, had the power of assuming every possible shape, in order to escape the necessity of prophesying, but whenever he saw that his endeavours were of no avail, he resumed his usual appearance, and told the truth (Hom. Od. iv. 410, &c. 455, &c.; Ov. Art. Am. i. 761, Fast. i. 369; Philostr. Vit. Apoll. i. 4). When he had finished his prophecy he returned into the sea (Hom. Od. iv. 570). Homer (Od. iv. 365) ascribes to him one daughter, Eidothea, but Strabo (x. p. 472) mentions Cabeiro as a second, and Zenodotus (ap. Eustath. ad Hom. p. 1500) mentions Eurynome instead of Eidothea. He is sometimes represented as riding through the sea, in a chariot drawn by Hippocampae. (Virg. Georg. iv. 389.)

Another set of traditions describes Proteus as a son of Poseidon, and as a king of Egypt, who had two sons, Telegonus and Polygonus or Tmolus. (Apollod. ii. 5. § 9; Tzetz. ad Lyc. 124.) Diodorus however observes (i. 62), that only the Greeks called him Proteus, and that the Egyptians called him Cetes. His wife is called Psamathe (Eurip. Hel. 7) or Torone (Tzetz. ad Lyc. 115), and, besides the above mentioned sons, Theoclymenus and Theonoë are likewise called his children. (Eurip. Hel. 9, 13.) He is said to have hospitably received Dionysus during his wanderings (Apollod. iii. 5. § 1), and Hermes brought to him Helena after her abduction ( Eurip. Hel. 46), or, according to others, Proteus himself took her from Paris, gave to the lover a phantom, and restored the true Helen to Menelaus after his return from Troy. (Tzetz. ad Lyc. 112, 820; Herod. ii. 112, 118.) The story further relates that Proteus was originally an Egyptian, but that he went to Thrace and there married Torone. But as his sons by her used great violence towards strangers, he prayed to his father Poseidon to carry him back to Egypt. Poseidon accordingly opened a chasm in the earth in Pallene, and through a passage passing through the earth under the sea he led him back into Egypt. (Tzetz. ad Lyc. 124; Eustath. ad Hom. p. 686.)

Source: Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology.



Homer, Odyssey 4. 365 (trans. Shewring) (Greek epic C8th B.C.) :
"Eidothea, daughter of mighty Proteus the ancient sea-god."

Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 2. 105 (trans. Aldrich) (Greek mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"He [Herakles] went onto Torone, where he was challenged to a wrestling match by Polygonos, and Telegonos, sons of Poseidon's son Proteus. He killed them both."

Strabo, Geography 8. 6. 6 (trans. Jones) (Greek geographer C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"Hesiod, in speaking of the daughters of Proteus, says that the Panhellenes wooed them, and Arkhilokos (Archilochus) [lyric poet C7th B.C.] says that ‘the woes of the Panhellenes centered upon Thasos.’"

Strabo, Geography 10. 3. 21 :
"Pherekydes (Pherecydes) [Greek mythographer 5th B.C.] says that three Kabeiroi (Cabeiri) and three Nymphai (Nymphs) called Kabeirides (Cabeirides) were the children of Kabeiro (Cabeiro), the daughter of Proteus, and Hephaistos (Hephaestus)."

Philostratus, Life of Apollonius of Tyana 1. 4 (trans. Conybeare) (Greek biography C1st to C2nd A.D.) :
"Proteus, who changes his form so much in Homer, in the guise of an Aigyption (Egyptian) Daimon . . . I need hardly explain to readers of the poets the quality of Proteus and his reputation as regards wisdom; how versatile he was, and for ever changing his form, and defying capture, and how he had the reputation of knowing both past and future.”

Nonnus, Dionysiaca 1. 14 ff (trans. Rouse) (Greek epic C5th A.D.) :
"In the neighbouring island of Pharos, Proteus of many turns, may he appear in all his diversity of shapes."

See also the sections below.


Homer, Odyssey 4. 365 ff (trans. Shewring) (Greek epic C8th B.C.) :
"Away from the shore [of Aigyptos (Egypt)], in the wash of waves, there lies an island that men call Pharos, as far out as a ship can sail in a whole day with a fresh breeze behind her. It has a fine harbour; crews put in there to draw their water from deep places, and then launch their ships from there on to the high seas. In this place the gods kept me [Menelaus] for twenty days; there was not a sign of breezes blowing seaward, such as speed a ship over the wide expanse of ocean.
And now our food would have failed utterly, and with it the courage of my men, had not a goddess had pity on me 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. Then I set out once more to where the ships were beached on the sand, and as I walked there my heart was thronged with thoughts. I reached my ship at the sea's edge, and we made our supper. And then mysterious night came on, and we sank to rest by the breaking surf.
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. All the morning we waited there in patience; then the seals came thronging out of the sea and lay side by side near the breaking billows. At noon the old god came out of the sea as well, and found the sleek seals already there; he began to pass down the whole line of them, counting them, and among his flock he counted ourselves first of all, never guessing that treachery was afoot; after this, he himself lay down. Then with a shout we rushed upon him and locked our arms about him; but the ancient god had not forgotten his craft and cunning. He became in turn a bearded lion, a snake, a panther, a monstrous boar; then running water, then a towering and leafy tree; but we kept our hold, unflinching and undismayed, and in the end this master of dreaded secrets began to tire. So he broke into speech and asked outright : ‘Son of Atreus, which of the gods taught you this strategy, to entrap and overpower me thus? What do you want from me?’
These were his words. I answered him : ‘Old seer, you know that already; why seek to lead me astray with questions? You know already how all this while I have stayed a prisoner in this island, unable to contrive deliverance and eating my heart away. Tell me yourself--since the 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 he answered: ‘Plainly, the thing demanded of you was to make choice offerings to Zeus and the other gods before you set sail; that was the way to reach your own country soonest over the wine-dark sea. Fate ordains that you shall not see your kith and kin, shall not reach your land and well-sited house until you have sailed once more into the Nile's rain-fed waters and sacrificed sacred hecatombs to the deathless gods whose home is wide heaven; then, not before, the gods will grant you the homeward journey that you desire.’
These were his words, and my heart sank to hear him bid me return to Aigyptos (Egypt) over the misty sea, a long voyage and a hard one. Nevertheless I answered him: ‘Old sage, I will do all this as you instruct me. But tell me this too, in full and truly. Have all the Akhaians (Achaeans) [Greeks] returned [from Troy] by ship unharmed, all that Nestor and I left behind when we sailed from Troy, or has one or another of them perished by some unlooked for fate, perhaps aboard his own ship, perhaps in his kinsmen's arms when his thread of war was spun to its end?’
So I spoke, and at once he answered : ‘Son of Atreus, why ask me thus? Better for you not to know these things, not to learn what my mind holds. I tell you, you will not be long dry-eyed when you have heard the whole truth. Of those you ask for, many have died, many are left [Proteus tells of the death of Aias and the murder of Agamemnon] . . . ’
So he spoke; my spirit was crushed within me; I sank down on the sand and wept, and my heart lost the desire to live, or to look longer upon the sunlight. I wept, I wallowed upon the ground till the bout of bitterness was past. Then the old god began again : ‘Son of Atreus, cease from this long and stubborn weeping; we shall find no remedy in that. Rather endeavour as soon as may be to return to your land again. Perhaps you will find the murderer living; perhaps Orestes already will have slain him, and you may join in the funeral feast.’
So he spoke, and for all my sorrow I felt my heart and soul and manhood revive within me; then in rapid flight my words went out to him : ‘For these two I now know the truth. But there is a third; tell me of him--the man still alive but kept a prisoner by ocean stretching wide around him.’
So I spoke, and at once he answered : ‘It is Laertes' son [Odysseus] whose home is in Ithaka (Ithaca). I have seen him on a certain island, weeping most bitterly: this was in the domains of the nymphe Kalypso (Calypso), who is keeping him with her there perforce and thwarting return to his own country. He has no ships and oars and crew to take him over the wide expanse of ocean. As for yourself, King Menelaos (Menelaus), it is not your fate to die in Argos, to meet your end in the graxing-land of horses. The Deathless Ones will waft you instead to the world's end, the Elysian fields where yellow-haired Rhadamanthys is. There indeed men live unlaborious days. Snow and tempest and thunderstorms never enter there, but for men's refreshment Okeanos (Oceanus) sends out continually the high-singing breezes of the west. All this the gods have in store for you, remembering how your wife is Helene and how her father is Zeus himself.’
So he spoke, and sank down through the billowy sea."

Aeschylus, Proteus (lost play) (Greek tragedy C5th B.C.) :
The satyr-play of Aeschylus' Orestea, the Proteus described Menelaus' capture of the prophetic sea-god Proteus on the island of Pharos.

Euripides, Helen 1 ff (trans. Vellacott) (Greek tragedy C5th B.C.) :
"Helene of Troy : This is Aigyptos (Egypt); here flows the virgin river, the lovely Neilos (Nile), who brings down melted snow to slake the soil of the Aigyptian plain with the moisture heaven denies. Proteus, while he lived, was King here, ruling the whole of Aigyptos 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, for she had divine knowledge of all things present and to come--a gift inherited from her grandfather Nereus . . .
The Helene who sent to Phrygia as a prize for Troy to defend and the Greeks to fight for--that Helene was not I, only my name. Zeus did not forget me: I was taken by Hermes, wrapped in a cloud, borne through the secret plaes of the upper air, and set down here in the palace of Proteus, whom Zeus picked out as the most honourable of all men, so that I might preserve my chastity inviolate for Menelaus . . .
As long as Proteus lived my marriage was not threatened; now he is in his dark grave, and his son Theoklymenos is pestering me to marry him. So in loyalty to my true husband I have come here as a suppliant to the tomb of Proteus, praying him to preserve me for Menelaus; so that even if my name is reviled in Hellas, here in Aigyptos (Egypt) I may keep my body free from reproach."

Lycophron, Alexandra 112 ff (trans. Mair) (Greek poet C3rd B.C.) :
"[Paris] fondling in empty arms a chill embrace and a dreamland bed [a phantom substituted for Helene (Helen)]. For the sullen husband [Proteus], whose spouse is Torone of Phlegra, even he to whom laughter and tears are alike abhorred and who is ignorant and reft of both; who once on a time crossed from Thrake unto the coastland [of Libya] which is furrowed by the outflow of Triton; crossed not by sailing ship but by an untrodden path . . . made his ways beneath the sea, avoiding the stranger-slaying wrestling [Herakles] of his sons [Tmolos and Telegonos] and sending to his sire [Poseidon] prayers which were heard, even that he should set him with returning feet in his fatherland, whence he had come as a wanderer to Pallenia [in Thrake (Trhace)] . . . a doer of justice and arbiter of Helios' (the Sun's) daughter Ikhnaia (Ichnaea), shall asail thee [Paris] with evil words and rob thee of thy bridal [Helene], casting thee forth in they desire from thy wanton dove."

Lycophron, Alexandra 846 ff :
"And he [Menelaus] shall visit the fields which drink in summer [Aigyptos (Egypt)] and the stream of Asbystes [the Nile] and the couch of the ground where he shall sleep among evil-smelling beasts [the seals of Proteus]."

Pausanias, Description of Greece 3. 18. 10 - 16 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.) :
"[Illustrated on the throne of the statue of Apollon at Amyklai (Amyclae) in Lakonia :] There are also represented . . . the story of Menelaus and the Aigyption (Egyptian) Proteus from the Odyssey.”

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 (Hecatomb), a hundred animals being slain.”


Ovid, Fasti 1. 363 ff (trans.Boyle) (Roman poetry C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"Aristaeus [the demi-god who invented beekeeping] wept, when he saw all his bees killed and honeycombs abandoned incomplete. His sea-blue mother [the Naiad Kyrene (Cyrene)] 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.’
The youth approaches the seer and binds the limp arms of the sleeping old man of the ocean. Proteus uses his art to shift and feign his looks, but soon resumes shape, mastered by chains. Lifting his dripping face and sea-blue beard, he said : ‘You seek a technique to recover bees? Sacrifice a bullock and inter its carcass: the one interred will supply what you seek.’
The shepherd follows orders. From the putrid ox swarms bubble. One life axed bred a thousand."

Virgil, Georgics 4. 387 ff (trans. Fairclough) (Roman bucolic C1st B.C.) :
“[When Aristaios' (Aristaeus') bees suddenly died his mother, the nymph Kyrene (Cyrene), advised him to seek out the prophetic sea-god Proteus for an answer :] ‘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--what is, what hath been, what is in train before long to happen--for so has it seemed good to Neptunus [Poseidon], whose monstrous herds and unsightly seals he pastures beneath the wave. 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. For of a sudden he will become a bristly boar, a deadly tiger, a scaly serpent, or a lioness with tawny neck; or he will give forth the fierce roar of flame, and thus slip from his fetters, or he will melt into fleeting water and be gone. But the more he turn himself into all shapes, the more, my son, should you tighten his fetters, 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, whither many a wave is driven by the wind, then separates into receding inlets--at times a haven most sure for storm-caught mariners. Within, Proteus shelters himself with the barrier of a huge rock. Here the Nymph stations the youth in ambush, away from the light; she herself, veiled in mist, stands aloof.
And now Sirius (the Dog Star), fiercely parching the thirsty Indians, was ablaze in heaven, and the fiery Sun had consumed half his course; the grass was withering and the hollow streams, in their parched throats, were scorched and baked by the rays down to the slime, when Proteus came from the waves, in quest of his wonted cave. About him the watery race of the vast deep gamboled, scattering afar the briny spray. The seals lay them down to sleep, here and there along the shore; he himself--even as at times the warder of a sheepfold on the hills, when Vesper [Hesperos] brings the steers home from pasture, and the cry of bleating lambs whets the wolf's hunger--sits down on a rock in the midst and counts their number. Soon as the chance came to Aristaeus, he scarce suffered the aged one to settle his weary limbs, before he burst upon him with a loud cry and surprised him in fetters as he lies. On his part, the seer forgets not his craft, but changes himself into all wondrous shapes--into flame and hideous beast and flowing river.
But when no stratagem wins escape, vanquished he returns to himself, and at last speaks with human voice : ‘Why, who,’ he cried, ‘most presumptuous of youths, bade you invade our home? Or what seek you hence?’
But he : ‘You know, Proteus; you know of yourself, nor may one deceive you in aught, but give up your wish to deceive. Following the counsel of Heaven, we are come to seek hence an oracle for our weary fortunes.’
So much he spoke. On this the seer, yielding at last to mighty force, rolled on him eyes ablaze with grey-green light, and grimly gnashing his teeth, thus opened his lips to tell of fate's decrees : ‘It is a god, no other, whose anger pursues you: Great is the crime you are paying for; this punishment, far less than you deserve, unhappy Orpheus arouses against you--did not Fate interpose--and rages implacably for the loss of his bride. [He then tells the story of how Aristaios caused the death of Eurydike (Eurydice) and his journey to the underworld.] . . .’
Thus Proteus, and at a bound plunged into the deep sea, and where he plunged, whirled the water into foam beneath the eddy."


Ovid, Metamorphoses 11. 221 & 247 ff (trans. Melville) (Roman epic C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"Old Proteus once had said to [the Nereis] Thetis, ‘Bear a child, fair goddess of the waves. For you shall be the mother of a youth whose deeds in his brave years of manhood shall surpass his father's and he'll win a greater name.’
Therefore, for fear the world might ever have a greater than himself, Jove [Zeus] shunned the bed of Thetis, fair sea-goddess, though his heart was fired with no cool flame, and in his place as lover bade his grandson Aeacides [Peleus] take in his embrace the virgin of the waves . . . Peleus surprised her, winding his two strong arms around her neck. And had she not resorted to her arts and changed her shape . . . her third was a stripy tigress--Aeacides [Peleus], terrified, released his hold on her and let her go. He prayed then to the Sea-gods (Di Pelagi), offering wine poured on the water, smoke of incense, flesh of sheep, till Carpathius [Proteus] from his briny deep said, ‘Aeacides [Peleus], you shall gain the bride you seek if, while she's sleeping in her rocky cave, you catch her off her guard and truss her tight with ropes that won't give way and, though she takes a hundred spurious shapes don't be deceived but grapple it, whatever it is until she forms again the shape she had before.’
So Proteus spoke and sank into the sea, his wavelets washing over his last words."

Statius, Thebaid 1. 25 ff (trans. Mozley) (Roman epic C1st A.D.) :
"‘There is danger to me,’ said she [Thetis], ‘in yonder fleet [the ships of Paris returning to Troy with Helene], and threat of deadly harm; I recognise the truth of Proteus' [the prophetic sea-god's] warnings [i.e. the prophesy of the death of Akhilleus (Achilles) in the Trojan War].’"

Statius, Achilleid 1. 134 :
"[The Nereid Thetis speaks :] ‘I [Thetis] take my son down to the void of Tartarus, and dip him a second time in the springs of Styx. The Carpathian seer [Proteus of the Carpathian Sea] bids me banish these terrors [of the prophesied death of Akhilleus (Achilles) in the Trojan War] by the ordinance of a magic rite, and purify the lad in secret waters [of Styx] beyond the bound of heaven's vault, where is the farthest shore of Oceanus and father Pontus is warmed by the ingliding stars.’"


Philostratus, Life of Apollonius of Tyana 1. 4 (trans. Conybeare) (Greek biography C1st to C2nd A.D.) :
"To his [the C1st A.D. pagan prophet Apollonios of Tyana's] mother, just before he was born, there came an apparition (phasma) of Proteus, who changes his form so much in Homer, in the guise of an Aigyptian (Egyptian) Daimon. She was in no way frightened, but asked him what sort of child she would bear. And he answered: ‘Myself.’ ‘And who are you?’ she asked. ‘Proteus,’ answered he, ‘the god of Aigyptos (Aigyptios theos).’ Well, I need hardly explain to readers of the poets the quality of Proteus and his reputation as regards wisdom; how versatile he was, and for ever changing his form, and defying capture, and how he had the reputation of knowing both past and future. And we must bear Proteus in mind all the more, when my advancing story shows the hero to have been more a prophet than Proteus."

Valerius Flaccus, Argonautica 2. 318 ff (trans. Mozley) (Roman epic C1st A.D.) :
"The ever-changing Proteus steered their course [i.e. the Argonauts, as they approached the island of Lemnos,] thither from the Pharian caves, drawn by a team of seals across the waters."

Nonnus, Dionysiaca 21. 279 ff (trans. Rouse) (Greek epic C5th A.D.) :
"Then the vinegod [Dionysos] threw off his earlier cares and entered upon rejoicing; for he had heard in the sea the whole story [of the punishment of Lykourgos (Lycurgus) who had driven Dionysos to refuge the sea] from Torone's lord Proteus, the earthshaking shock in Arabia the inhospitable, and how Lykourgos wandered blind with stumbling feet.”

Nonnus, Dionysiaca 43. 81ff :
"[When Poseidon led the Sea-Gods into battle against Dionysos and his allies in the Indian War:] Poseidon replied [to Dionysos] in threatening tones : ‘. . . Let many a Bassaris driven by the wet pike of Proteus drift and toss aimlessly on the sea.’"

Nonnus, Dionysiaca 43. 225 ff :
"[When Poseidon led the Sea-Gods into battle against Dionysos and his allies in the Indian War :] Proteus left the flood of the Isthmian sea of Pallene, and armed him in a cuirass of the brine, the sealskin. Round him in a ring rushed the swarthy Indians at the summons of Bakkhos (Bacchus), and crowds of the woollyheaded men embraced the shepherd of the seals in his various forms. For in their grasp the Old Man Proteus took on changing shapes, weaving his limbs into many mimic images. He spotted his body into a dappleback panther. He made his limbs a tree, and stood straight up on the earth a selfgrown spire, shaking his leaves and whistling a counterfeit whisper to the North Wind. He scored his back well with painted scales and crawled as a serpent; he rose in coils squeezing his belly, and with a dancing throb of his curling tail's tip he twirled about, lifted his head and spat hissing from gaping throat and grinning jaws a shooting shower of poison. So from one shadowy shape to another in changeling form he bristled as a lion, charged as a boar, flowed as water--the Indian company clutched the wet flood in threatening grasp, but found the pretended water slipping through their hands. So the crafty Old Man changed into many and varied shapes . . . Flocks of sea-monsters ringed the Old Man on his expedition to dry land, water splashed with a heavy roar from the open mouths of the sand-loving seals."


Orphic Hymn 25 to Proteus (trans. Taylor) (Greek hymns C3rd B.C. to 2nd A.D.) :
"To Proteus. Proteus I call, whom fate decrees to keep the keys which lock the chambers of the deep; first-born, by whose illustrious power alone all nature's principles were clearly shown. Pure sacred matter to transmute is thine, and decorate with forms all-various and divine. All-honoured, prudent, whose sagacious mind knows all that was and is of every kind, with all that shall be in succeeding time, so vast thy wisdom, wondrous and sublime: for all things Nature first to thee consigned, and in thy essence omniform confined. O father, to the mystics' rites attend, and grant, a blessed life a prosperous end."

Plato, Euthyphro 15d (trans. Fowler) (Greek philosopher C4th B.C.) :
"[Plato uses Proteus as a metaphor for the reluctant speaker :] Like Proteus, you must be held until you speak."

Plato, Ion 541e (trans. Lamb) :
"[Plato uses Proteus as a metaphor for the twisting arguments of a debate :] You are a perfect Proteus in the way you take on every kind of shape, twisting about this way and that, until at last you elude my grasp."

Philostratus the Elder, Imagines 2. 17. 11 (trans. Fairbanks) (Greek rhetorician C3rd A.D.) :
"In that it stands in the midst of the its birds, the tern is like Proteus among his seals, but it is superior to Proteus in that it does not sleep."

Philostratus the Elder, Imagines 2. 17. 12 :
"[From a description of a painting of some islands :] Now the marvel of the source of the springs [on one of the islands], whether one should assume that they come from the earth or should locate them in the sea, Proteus here shall decide; for he has come to render judgment on this point." [N.B. Presumably Proteus was painted in this scene.]

Ovid, Metamorphoses 2. 6 ff (trans. Melville) (Roman epic C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"In the waves the Sea-gods (Di Caerulei) dwelt, Aegeon, his huge arms entwined around the backs of giant whales, ambiguous Proteus, Triton with his horn."

Ovid, Metamorphoses 8. 731 ff :
"Some have the gift to change and change again in many forms, like Proteus, creature of the encircling seas, who sometimes seemed a lad, sometimes a lion, sometimes a snake men feared to touch, sometimes a charging boar, or else a sharp-horned bull; often he was a stone, often a tree, or feigning flowing water seemed a river or water's opposite a flame of fire."

Ovid, Metamorphoses 13. 918 ff :
"I [Glaukos (Glaucus)] am a Sea- God (Deus Aquae). Over the open sea not Proteus, no, nor Triton nor Palaemon Athamantiades has greater power than I."

Seneca, Hercules Furens 1204 ff (trans. Miller) (Roman tragedy C1st A.D.) :
"Come now, savage monsters of the deep (ponti monstra) [Ketea (Cetea)], now, vast sea, and whatever Proteus has hidden away in the furthest hollow of his waters, and hurry me off, me who felt triumph in crime so great, to your deep pools."

Statius, Silvae 3. 2. 1 (trans. Mozley) (Roman poetry C1st A.D.) :
"Then let Proteus of manifold shape and twy-formed Triton swim [protectively] before [the ship], and Glaucus."


Poseidippus, Epigrams (trans. Page, Vol. Select Papyri III, No. 104a) (Greek elegiac C2nd B.C.) :
[Epigram composed to celebrate the erection of the lighthouse on the island of Pharos (282-281 B.C.) which was said to have been dedicated to Proteus, in the reign of Ptolemy I Soter.]
"Lord Proteus : the saviour of Hellenes, this watchman of Pharos, was built by Sostratos, son of Dexiphanes, a Knidian (Cnidian). In Egypt there are no mountain-peaks, as in the islands : but low lies the breakwater where ships may harbour. Therefore this tower, cleaving the sky straight and upright, shines in the daytime countless leagues away: and all night long the sailor who runs with the waves shall see a great light blazing from its summit. And he may run even to the Bull's Horn, and yet not miss Zeus Soter (the God of Safety), O Proteus, whosoever sails this way."





Other references not currently quoted here: Theocritus 2.58, Horatius Carm. 1.2.7, Philostratus Icon. 2.17, Ovid Art of Love 1.761, Tzetzes on Lycophron 112, 124 & 820, Diodorus Siculus 1.62, Plato Euthydemus 288b.


A complete bibliography of the translations quoted on this page.