BALIOS & XANTHOS
BALIOS and XANTHOS were a pair of immortal horses which the hero Peleus received from Poseidon at his marriage to the goddess Thetis. They drew the chariot of the couple's son Akhilleus (Achilles) during the Trojan War.
FAMILY OF BALIUS & XANTHUS
[1.1] ZEPHYROS & PODARGE (Homer Iliad 16.148, Quintus Smyrnaeus 3.743)
[1.2] PODARGE (Stesichorus Frag 178)
CLASSICAL LITERATURE QUOTES
Homer, Iliad 2. 760 ff (trans. Lattimore) (Greek epic C8th B.C.) :
"Tell me then, Mousa (Muse), who of them all [of the Greeks at Troy] was the best and bravest of the men, and the men's horses . . . Akhilleus (Achilles) was far best of all of them, and the horses also, who carried the blameless son of Peleus."
Homer, Iliad 16. 148 ff :
"For him [Akhilleus (Achilles)] Automedon [his charioteer] led the fast-running horses under the yoke, Xanthos (Xanthus) and Balios (Balius), who tore with the winds' speed, horses stormy Podarge [the Harpyia (Harpy)] once conceived of Zephyros (West Wind) and bore, as she grazed in the meadow beside the swirl of the Okeanos (Oceanus). In the traces beside these he put unfaulted Pedasos whom Akhilleus brought back once he stormed Eetion's city. He, mortal as he was, ran beside the immortal horses."
Homer, Iliad 17. 426 ff :
"But the horses of Aiakides (Aeacides) [Akhilleus (Achilles)] standing apart from the battle wept, as they had done since they heard how their charioteer [Patroklos (Patroclus)] had fallen in the dust at the hands of murderous Hektor (Hector). In truth Automedon, the powerful son of Diores, hit them over and over again with the stroke of the flying lash, or talked to them, sometimes entreating them, sometimes threatening. They were unwilling to go back to the wide passage of Helle and the ships, or back into the fighting after the Akhaians (Achaeans), but still as stands a grave monument which is set over the mounded tomb or a dead man or lady, they stood there holding motionless in tis place the fair-wrought chariot, leaning their heads along the ground, and warm tears were running earthward from underneath the lids of the mourning horses who longed for their charioteer, while their bright manes were made dirty as they streamed down either side of the yoke from under the yoke pad.
As he watched the mourning horses the son [Zeus] of Kronos (Cronus) pities them, and stirred his head and spoke to his own spirit : ‘Poor wretches, why then did we ever give you to the lord Peleus, a mortal man, and you yourselves are immortal and ageless? Only so that among unhappy men you also might be grieved? Since among all creatures that breathe on earth and crawl on it there is not anywhere a thing more dismal than man is. At least the son of Priamos (Priam), Hektor, shall not mount behind you in the carefully wrought chariot. I will not let him. Is it not enough for him that he has the armour and glories in wearing it? But now I will put vigour into your knees and your spirits so that you bring back Automedon out of the fighting safe to the hollow ships . . .’
So spoke Zeus, and breathed great vigour into the horses, and they shaking the dust from their manes to the ground lightly carried the running chariot among Akhaians and Trojans."
Homer, Iliad 19. 392 ff :
"[Akhilleus (Achilles) yokes his horses for war :] Automedon and Alkimos (Alcimus), in charge of the horses, yoked them, and put the fair breast straps about them, and forced the bits home between their jaws, and pulled the reins back against the compacted chariot seat, and one, Automedon, took up the shining whip caught close in his hand and vaulted up to the chariot, while behind him Akhilleus helmed for battle took his stance shining in all his armour like the sun when he crosses above us, and cried in a terrible voice on the horses of his father : ‘Xanthos, Balios, Bay and Dapple, famed sons of Podarge, take care to bring in another way your charioteer back to the company of the Danaans, when we give over fighting, not leave him to lie fallen there, as you did Patroklos (Patroclus).’
Then from beneath the yoke the gleam-footed horse answered him, Xanthos, and as he spoke he bowed his head, so that all the mane fell away from the pad and swept the ground by the cross-yoke; the goddess of the white arms, Hera, had put a voice in him : ‘We shall still keep you safe for this time, o hard Akhilleus. And yet the day of your death is near, but it is not we who are to blame, but a great god and powerful Destiny. For it was not because we were slow, because wee were careless, but it was that high god, the child of lovely-haired Leto [Apollon], who killed him among the champions and gave the glory to Hektor (Hector). But for us, we two could run with the blast of the West Wind (Zephryos) who they say is the lightest of all things; yet still for you there is destiny to be killed in force by a god and a mortal.’
When he had spoken so the Erinyes (Fury) stopped the voice in him, but deeply disturbed, Akhilleus of the swift feet answered him : ‘Xanthos, why do you prophesy my death? This is not for you. I myself know well it is destined for me to die here far from my beloved father and mother.’"
Euripides, Rhesus 184 ff (trans. Vellacott) (Greek tragedy C5th B.C.) :
"Hektor (Hector) : Then what greater prize than these will you ask me for?
Dolon : Akhilleus' (Achilles') horses. The prize must be worth the toil when one stakes one's life on Fortune's dice.
Hektor : Ah! but your desires clash with mine about those horses; for they are immortal and born from immortals, who bear the son of Peleus on his headlong course. Poseidon, lord of the ocean, broke them and gave them to Peleus, so runs the legend. Yet, for I urged you on, I will not break my word; I will give to you Akhilleus' team, a fair possession for your house.
Dolon : I thank you; in receiving then, I assert that I am taking a fairer gift than any other Phrygian for my bravery. Yet you should not be envious; you have other things to gladden your heart, in your kingship over this land."
Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 3. 170 (trans. Aldrich) (Greek mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"They [Peleus and Thetis] were married on [Mount] Pelion, and the gods celebrated the marriage with hymns and a banquet. Kherion (Chiron) gave Peleus a spear of ash-wood, and Poseidon gave him immortal horses named Balios and Xanthos."
Quintus Smyrnaeus, Fall of Troy 3. 743 ff (trans. Way) (Greek epic C4th A.D.) :
"[After the death of Akhilleus (Achilles) at Troy :] Nor stayed the Immortal Steeds [Balios and Xanthos] of Aiakos' (Aeacus') son tearless beside the ships; they also mourned their slain king : sorely loth were they to abide longer mid mortal men or Argive steeds bearing a burden of consuming grief; but fain were they to soar through air, afar from wretched men, over the Okeanos' (Oceanus') streams, over Tethys'--the Sea Queen's--caverns, unto where divine Podarge bare that storm-foot twain begotten of Zephyros (the West-wind) clarion-voiced yea, and they had accomplished their desire, but the Gods' purpose held them back, until from Skyros' (Scyrus') isle Akhilleus' fleetfoot son should come. Him waited they to welcome, when he came unto the war-host; for the Moirai (Moirae, Fates), daughters of holy Khaeos (Chaos), at their birth had spun the life-threads of those deathless foals, even to serve Poseidon first, and next Peleus the dauntless king, Akhilleus then the invincible, and, after these, the fourth, the mighty-hearted Neoptolemos, whom after death to the Elysian Plain they were to bear, unto the Blessed Land, by Zeus' decree. For which cause, though their hearts were pierced with bitter anguish, they abode still by the ships, with spirits sorrowing for their old lord, and yearning for the new."
Quintus Smyrnaeus, Fall of Troy 8. 28 ff :
"[Akhilleus' (Achilles') son Neoptolemos drives his father's horses at Troy :] Drawn by the immortal horses [Xanthos and Balios] of his sire [Akhilleus] . . . Onward they whirled him, those immortal steeds, the which, when now he longed to chase the foe back from the ships, Automedon, who wont to rein them for his father, brought to him. With joy that pair bore battleward their lord, so like to Aiakos' (Aeacus') son, their deathless hearts held him no worser than Akhilleus' self."
Quintus Smyrnaeus, Fall of Troy 8. 155 ff :
"[Neoptolemos speaks :] ‘The steeds which bear me were my godlike sire's; these Zephyros (the West-wind) begat, the Harpyia (Harpy) bare: over the barren sea their feet can race skimming its crests: in speed they match the winds. Since then thou know'st the lineage of my steeds.’"
Quintus Smyrnaeus, Fall of Troy 9. 215 ff :
"Straightway he [Neaptolemos] hearkened [to the midst of the battle], and scourged the steeds immortal on to that wild fray : bearing their lord they flew swiftly o'er battle-highways paved with death."
Diodorus Siculus, Library of History Book 6 Fragment 3 (from Eustathius, Commentary on the Iliad 19. 1190) (trans. Oldfather) (Greek historian C1st B.C.) :
"Diodoros says, following the account preserved in the myths, that Xanthos and Balios were formerly Titanes (Titans) and had come to the aid of Zeus, Xanthos as a companion of Poseidon and Balios of Zeus; and in the battle they asked that their shape might be changed, since they were ashamed to be seen by their brethren the Titanes, and their request was granted; and it was these horses which were given to Peleus. This explains, Diodoros says, why Xanthos is able to prophesy his death to Akhilleus (Achilles)."
Philostratus the Elder, Imagines 2. 2 (trans. Fairbanks) (Greek rhetorician C3rd A.D.) :
"[The kentauros Kheiron (centaur Chiron) teaches Akhilleus (Achilles) to ride :] ‘Some day you shall ride on Xanthos and Balios; and you shall take many cities and slay many men, you merely running and they trying to escape you.’ Such is Kheiron's prophecy for the boy, a prophecy fair and auspicious and quite unlike that of Xanthos. [I.e. In the Iliad Xanthos foretells Akhilleus' death.]"
Ptolemy Hephaestion, New History Book 5 (summary from Photius, Myriobiblon 190) (trans. Pearse) (Greek mythographer C1st to C2nd A.D.) :
"Xanthos and Balios, the horses of Akhilleus (Achilles), once belonged to Gigantes (Giants) and they were the only ones to fight alongside the gods against their brothers."
Ptolemy Hephaestion, New History Book 6 (summary from Photius, Myriobiblon 190) :
"Peleus, it is said, received on the occasion of his marriage [to Thetis] . . . from Poseidon some horses, Xanthos and Balios."
Oppian, Cynegetica 1. 225 ff (trans. Mair) (Greek poet C3rd A.D.) :
"To Horses beyond all mortal creatures cunning Nature has given a subtle mind and heart. Always they know their own dear charioteer and they neigh when they see their glorious rider and greatly mourn their comrade when he falls in war. Ere now in battle a horse [Xanthos] has burst the bonds of silence and overleapt the ordinance of nature and taken a human voice and a tongue like that of man."
Virgil, Georgics 3. 89 ff (trans. Fairclough) (Roman bucolic C1st B.C.) :
"Such [of the finest horses] was Cyllarus, tamed by the reins of Amyclaean Pollux, and those whose fame Greek poets recount, the two steeds of Mars [Ares], and the pair of the great Achilles."
- Homer, The Iliad - Greek Epic C8th B.C.
- Apollodorus, The Library - Greek Mythography C2nd A.D.
- Diodorus Siculus, The Library of History - Greek History C1st B.C.
- Philostratus the Elder, Imagines - Greek Rhetoric C3rd A.D.
- Ptolemy Hephaestion, New History - Greek Mythography C1st - 2nd A.D.
- Oppian, Cynegetica - Greek Poetry C3rd A.D.
- Quintus Smyrnaeus, Fall of Troy - Greek Epic C4th A.D.
- Virgil, Georgics - Latin Bucolic C1st B.C.
A complete bibliography of the translations quoted on this page.