Greek Mythology >> Greek Gods >> Rustic Gods >> River Gods >> Ismenos (Ismenus)


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River Ismenus

ISMENOS (Ismenus) was a River-God of Boiotia in central Greece. There were two quite distinct traditions about this River-God. According to some he was a son of the river Asopos who emigrated to the region. According to others the river's first god was a son of Okeanos (Oceanus) named Kaanthos (Caanthus). When Apollon abducted his sister Melia--Naiad-nymphe of the Ismenian spring--he set fire to the god's temple in Thebes. Apollon was wroth and shot him dead. Kaanthos was then succeeded as River-God by his nephew Ismenos, the son of Apollon and Melia.

The Ismenos River had its headwaters in the western foothills of Mount Kithairon (Cithaeron). Flowing east it passed the town of Thebes, before turning north and emptying into Lake Hylika (Hylica). The stream was fed by a number of well-known springs including the Dirke (Dirce), Strophie and Ismene. The most important of the neighbouring rivers were the Termessos to the north, Lamos in the west and Asopos in the south-east.



[1.1] OKEANOS & TETHYS (Pausanias 9.10.5)


[2.1] ASOPOS & METOPE (Apollodorus 3.156, Diodorus Siculus 4.72.1)
[2.2] OKEANOS & TETHYS (Hyginus Preface)


[3.1] APOLLON & MELIA (Pausanias 9.10.5)


[1.1] DIRKE, STROPHIA (Callimachus Hymn to Delos)
[1.2] DIRKE (Nonnus Dionysiaca 44.10)
[2.1] ISMENIS (Statius Thebaid 9.318)
[3.1] Perhaps DERKETIS


ISME′NUS (Ismênos), a son of Asopus and Metope, from whom the Boeotian river Ladon was believed to have derived its name of Ismenus. (Apollod. iii. 12. § 6.) The little brooks Dirce and Strophie, in the neighbourhood of Thebes, are therefore called daughters of Ismenus. (Callim. Hymn. in Del. 77; comp. Euirip. Bacch. 519; Diod. iv. 72.) According to other traditions, Ismenus was a son of Amphion and Niobe, who when struck by the arrow of Apollo leaped into a river near Thebes, which was called Ismenus, after him. (Apollod. iii. 5. § 6; Plut. de Fluv. 2.)

CAANTHUS (Kaanthos), a son of Oceanus and brother of Melia. He was sent out by his father in search of his sister who had been carried off, and when he found that she was in the possession of Apollo, and that it was impossible to rescue her from his hands, he threw fire into the sacred grove of Apollo, called the Ismenium. The god then killed Caanthus with an arrow. His tomb was shewn by the Thebans on the spot where he had been killed, near the river Ismenius. (Paus. ix. 10. § 5.)

Source: Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology.


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Pindar, Fragment 29 (trans. Sandys) (Greek lyric C5th B.C.) :
"Shall we sing of Ismenos (Ismenus) , or of Melia with her golden distaff ((lacuna)) . . or Thebe with her purple snood ((lacuna)) . . or the bridal of white-armed Harmonia."

Corinna, Fragment 2 (trans. Campbell, Vol. Greek Lyric IV) (C6th B.C.) :
"Shall we sing of Ismenos (Ismenus) or gold-distaffed Melia."

Aeschylus, Seven Against Thebes 271 ff (trans. Weir Smyth) (Greek tragedy C5th B.C.) :
"[During the War of the Seven Against Thebes :] Eteokles (Eteocles) [King of Thebes] makes his vow. ‘And now to the gods who guard our city's land, both those who dwell in the plain and those who watch over its meeting-place, to Dirke's (Dirce's) springs and the waters of Ismenos (Ismenus), I vow that, if things go well and the city is saved, the citizens shall redden the gods' altars with the blood of sheep and sacrifice bulls to the gods.’"

Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 3. 156 (trans. Aldrich) (Greek mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"The Asopos river was born of Okeanos (Oceanus) and Tethys . . . Metope, herself a daughter of the river Ladon, married him and bore two sons, Ismenos (Ismenus) and Pelagon, and twenty daughters."

Callimachus, Hymn 4 to Delos 75 ff (trans. Mair) (Greek poet C3rd B.C.) :
"[The Rivers and Springs fled at the approach of the pregnant goddess Leto, fearing the wrath of Hera should they offer refuge :] Fled too, Aonia [Boiotia] on the same course, and Dirke (Dirce) and Strophia [i.e. the springs of Thebes], holding the hands of their sire, dark-pebbled Ismenos (Ismenus); far behind followed Asopos (Asopus), heavy-kneed, for he was marred by a thunderbolt."

Diodorus Siculus, Library of History 4. 72. 1 (trans. Oldfather) (Greek historian C1st B.C.) :
"Asopos (Asopus) made his home in Phlios (Phlius) [Sikyonia], where he married Metope, the daughter of Ladon, to whom were born two sons, Pelasgos (Pelasgus) and Ismenos (Ismenus) . . . One of his sons, Ismenos, came to Boiotia (Boeotia) and settled near the River which received its name from him."

Pausanias, Description of Greece 9. 10. 5 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.) :
"Higher up than the Ismenian sanctuary [of Thebes] you may see the fountain [Ismenian spring] which they say is sacred to Ares, and they add that a Drakon was posted by Ares as a sentry over the spring. By this fountain is the grave of Kaanthos (Caanthus). They say that he was brother to Melia and son to Okeanos (Oceanus), and that he was commissioned by his father to seek his sister, who had been carried away. Finding that Apollon had Melia, and being unable to get her from him, he dared to set fire to the precinct of Apollon that is now called the Ismenian sanctuary. The god, according to the Thebans, shot him.
Here then is the tomb of Kaanthos. They say that Apollon had sons by Melia, to wit, Teneros (Tenerus) and Ismenos (Ismenus). To Teneros Apollon gave the art of divination, and from Ismenos the river got its name. Not that the river was nameless before, if indeed it was called Ladon before Ismenos was born to Apollon."

Pseudo-Hyginus, Preface (trans. Grant) (Roman mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"From Oceanus and Tethys [were born] the Oceanides . . . Of the same descent Rivers : Strymon, Nile, Euphrates, Tanais, Indus, Cephisus, Ismenus, Axenus, Achelous, Simoeis, Inachus, Alpheus, Thermodon, Scamandrus, Tigris, Maeandrus, Orontes."

Statius, Thebaid 9. 318 ff (trans. Mozley) (Roman epic C1st A.D.) :
"[During the War of the Seven Against Thebes :] Crenaeus, the youthful son of Faunus [Pan] and the Nympha Ismenis [i.e. a daughter of the River Ismenos], rejoiced to fight in his mother's water--Crenaeus, who first saw the light in the trusted stream and was cradles in the green banks of his native river. So thinking that there the Elysian Sisters [i.e. the Moirai, Fates] had no power, merrily, now from this bank now from that, he crosses his caressing grandsire : the wave supports his footsteps, whether he go downstream or athwart the flood; nor when he goes counter does the River one whit delay him, but flows backward likewise . . . Then bold alike with weapons and saucy speech he challenges Hippomedon [one of the Seven] : ‘This is no poisonous Lerna, no Herculaean Hydras drink thesee waters, 'tis a sacred River that thou art defiling, ay, sacred,--so shalt thou find it to thy cost, thou wretch!--and gods have been nourished by its streams.’
Nought said the other, but advanced upon him; in a denser mass the flood resisted him, and checked his hand, but yet he drave home the wound for all his hindering, and pierced utterly life's secret chambers. The River [Ismenos] shuddered at the horrid deed, ye woods on either shore lamented, and deeper groans resounded from the hollow banks . . .
Father Ismenos, reclining in that secret cavern whence winds and clouds do drink and the rain-bringing bow is nourished, and whence comes a fuller harvest to the Tyrian fields, when from afar, spite of his own waters' roar, he caught the sound of lamentations and his daughter's [Ismenis'] earliest groans, uplifted his moss-grown neck and his ice-weighted hair; the tall pine fell from his loosened grasp, and the urn dropped and rolled away. Along the banks the woods and lesser Rivers marvel at him as he thrusts forth his face encrusted with age-long mire; so majestically he rises from the flood, lifting his foamy head and his breast astream with the echoing fall of rivulets from his dark-blue beard. One of the Nymphae (Nymphs) meets her father and tells him of his daughter's tears and his grandson's fate, and shows him the bloodstained author of the deed and seizes his right hand; high he stands in the deep river, ad smiting his face and horns entwined with green sedge, thus begins sore troubled with deep-mouthed utterance : ‘Is this thy reward, O ruler of the gods above [Zeus], for that so oft I played the accomplice-friend to thy adventures [in seducing various Theban maidens]? . . . And that I have nurtured the foremost of thy [Thebes'] sons? Do they too feel so mean a gratitude? Of a truth the Tirynthian [Heracles] crawled an infant by this river; with these waters I quenched thy Bromius [Dionysos] as he burned. See the carnage and the corpses I carry on my stream, choked utterly with weapons as it is and hidden beneath unwonted heaps. Continuous warfare besets my channel, every wave breathes horror, and souls new-slain wander above me and beneath, and join bank to bank in darkness. Yet I, that River invoked with holy cries, I, whose praise it is to lave in my pure fount the soft wands and horns of Bacchus [Dionysos], am blocked with dead, and seek a difficult passage to the sea; so great a stream of gore fills not the impious meres of [the Thracian Rivers] Strymon, and foaming Hebrus reddens not so deeply when Gradivus [Ares] is at war. Does not thy fostering wave rebuke thee and thy violence, O Liber [Dionysos], who hast long forgotten thy parents? Is Eastern Hydaspes more easily subdued? But thou who boastfully exultest in the spoils and slaughter of an innocent lad, thou shalt not return in triumph from this stream to mighty Inachus of fierce Mycenae, unless it be that I am mortal and thou of heavenly race.’
So spake he, gnashing his teeth, and gave the sign to his already raging waters : cold [Mount] Cithaeron sends succour from the hills, and bids his ancient snows and stores of frost be moving; to the flood his brother [the River] Asopos unites his secret stores, and supplies streams from wide-open veins [i.e. subterranean channels]. He himself explores the hollow earth's recesses, and tries torpid lakes and pools and lazy fens, and lifting skyward his greedy countenance sucks down the moisture of the clouds and drains dry the air. Already he flowed with a tide that rose above either lofty bank, already Hippomedon, who of late stood higher than mid-channel's depth, with unmoistened arms and shoulders is marvelling that the stream has grown above his stature. All round him the billows swell and the angry tempest rises high . . . Not otherwise does the Teumesian River [Ismenos] batter Hippomedon with its seething flood and ever is hurled back by the shield on his left arm, and anon the dark tide in its foaming onslaught surges over his buckler, pours back with shattered waves and returns in greater volume; moreover, not content with the watery mass, it plucks at the trees that support the crumbling banks and whirls along aged boughs and stones torn from its bed. River and hero are locked in unequal combat, and furious grows the god; for the other retreats not, nor is weakened by any threats, but advancing attacks the oncoming billows, and holding out his shield divides the stream. His feet stand firm though the ground recedes, and with straining sinews he holds fast to slippery rocks, and by struggling and clinging with his knees he maintains the foothold that the treacherous mud undermines, and thus he taunts besides : ‘Whence, Ismenos, this sudden wrath? Or from what deeps hast thou drawn these forces, slave of an unwarlike god, who knowest nought of blood save in women's revels, when the Bacchic pipe is bleating, and frenzied matrons defile the three-yearly festival?’
He spoke, and on the instant the god assailed him, his visage a welter of rain and clouded by floating sand; nor was he fierce in speech, but with an oak-trunk thrice and four times smote his adversary's breast with all the might of a god's wrath, rising to the blow; he at last turned his steps, the buckler stricken from his arm, and beat a slow retreat. The waters press after him, and the River follows in triumph as he gives ground; the Tyrians [Thebans] too vex him from above with stones and iron hail, and drive him back from either bank. What can he do, beset by flood and battle? No flight is there now for the unhappy man, no room for a glorious death.
Rising from the grassy brim there stood an ash-tree, on the doubtful verge of land and waters but more friendly to the waters, and held the stream in the dominion of its mighty shadow. The succour of this tree . . . he grasped with clutching fingers, nor did it endure the strain, but, overcome by a weight too great for its hold, gave way, and, torn from the roots whereby it entered the River and gripped the thirsty ground, dropped from on high and hurled itself and the bank together on the dismayed hero, nor brooking him further, bridged and dammed the stream with sudden downfall. Hither all the waves come surging, and an inescapable whirlpool of mud and hollow eddies rises and falls. And now the tortuous flood surrounds the shoulders, now the neck of the warrior; compelled at last to confess despair he exclaims : ‘For shame! great Mars [Ares]! wilt thou drown this life of mine in a river? Must I then sink beneath sluggish lakes and meres like a shepherd caught in the cruel waters of a sudden torrent? Have I verily not deserved to fall by the sword?’
Moved by his prayers Juno [Hera] at length accosts the Thunderer [Zeus] : ‘. . . Shall my Hippomedon go to feed the cruel monsters of the deep? Surely thou didst once allow the conquered to have the last rites of the tomb? Where are the flames [of the pyres] that followed he Cecropian fray? Where is Theseus' fire?’
He spurns no this consort's righteous plea, but lightly glanced towards Cadmus' walls: the waters beheld his nod and sank to rest. [But Hippomedon is slain all the same by enemy arrows as soon as he leaves the waters]."

Nonnus, Dionysiaca 44. 10 ff (trans. Rouse) (Greek epic C5th A.D.) :
"Dirke (Dirce) [the Naiad-nymphe of the Theban spring] danced, spouting her whirling waters along with her father Ismenos (Ismenus)."





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