Greek Hero

Euphemus

Poseidon of Milos

Poseidon of Milos, statue discovered near the Greek island of Milos (125–100 BCE)

National Archaeological Museum of Athens, Athens (cropped and retouched). George E. Koronaios, Wikimedia CommonsCC BY-SA 4.0

Overview

Euphemus, son of Poseidon and a mortal woman,[1] was a hero connected with the foundation of Cyrene, a Greek city in North Africa. Endowed with the ability to walk on water, Euphemus was an impressive hero who took part in several famous expeditions, including the voyage of the Argonauts and, in some traditions, the Calydonian boar hunt. 

While sailing with the Argonauts, he was given a clod of earth, which he was instructed to drop into the sea to ensure his descendants would one day rule over Libya. Euphemus dropped (or lost) the clod near the island of Thera, and it was from there that his descendants eventually colonized Cyrene in Libya, becoming the powerful dynasty of the Battiads.

Etymology

The etymology of the name “Euphemus” (Greek Εὔφημος, translit. Eúphēmos) is fairly straightforward. The name is made up of two elements: the Greek prefix εὐ- (eu-), meaning “well, good,” and the verb φημί (phēmí) or φάσκω (pháskō), meaning “to speak, say” (itself a word with Indo-European roots). “Euphemus” can thus be translated as “he who is well-spoken of” or “he who is renowned.”

Pronunciation

  • English
    Greek
    EuphemusΕὔφημος (translit. Eúphēmos)
  • Phonetic
    IPA
    [yoo-FEE-muhs]/yʊˈˈfi məs/

Attributes

General

As the son of a god and a mortal, Euphemus could be described as a demigod. His most distinguishing characteristic was his ability to walk on water—a power that reflected his descent from Poseidon, the god of the sea.[2]

Iconography

A few artistic representations of Euphemus are known from antiquity. According to Pausanias, Euphemus was shown on the famous Cypselus Chest (ca. 550 BCE) as one of the heroes who took part in the funeral games of Pelias, the king who had sent Jason to fetch the Golden Fleece. It seems that Euphemus was represented as the winner of the chariot race.[3]

A meeting between Euphemus and the god Triton was also illustrated in a bronze statue group—probably a first-century CE Roman copy of a third-century BCE Greek original.[4]

Family

Euphemus’ father was Poseidon, the ruler of the sea and one of the most powerful gods of the Greek pantheon. His mother’s name and identity varied depending on the source: she may have been Mecionice of Hyrie, the daughter of either Eurotas or Orion;[5] Europa, the daughter of Tityus;[6] or Doris/Oris, the daughter of Eurotas.[7]

Poseidon of Milos

Poseidon of Milos, statue discovered near the Greek island of Milos (125–100 BCE)

National Archaeological Museum of Athens, Athens (cropped and retouched). George E. Koronaios, Wikimedia CommonsCC BY-SA 4.0

Euphemus married Laonome, the daughter of Amphitryon and Alcmene and thus the half-sister of the great Heracles.[8] While sailing with the Argonauts, Euphemus also took a lover named Lamache, who gave him a daughter, Leucophanes. This Leucophanes was said to have been the ancestor of Battus, who many generations later founded the Greek colony of Cyrene in North Africa.[9]

Mythology

Euphemus, the Argonauts, and Cyrene

Ancient sources agree that Euphemus was one of the Argonauts—the heroes who sailed with Jason to steal the Golden Fleece.[10] Indeed, Euphemus seems to have been born for the role: the ability to walk on water would certainly have been an asset on a great voyage across the Aegean and Black Seas.

Even so, Euphemus was not the most distinguished or prominent of the Argonauts; he was eclipsed by heroes such as the winged twins Calais and Zetes (the “Boreads”), Castor and Polydeuces (the “Dioscuri”), and, of course, Jason himself. But Euphemus occasionally took a more active role in the voyage.

According to Apollonius of Rhodes, Euphemus was the Argonaut entrusted with sending the dove through the Symplegades, or “Clashing Rocks”; when the dove made it through the cliffs (which were constantly slamming into each other), the Argonauts understood it as a sign from the gods that they would make it through as well.[11]

Symplegades by Cornelis Bloemaert

Symplegades by Cornelis Bloemaert (17th century)

The Metropolitan Museum of ArtPublic Domain

But the myth of Euphemus really begins on the Argonauts’ return journey. Following a storm, the men were washed ashore on the sands of Libya, in North Africa. After much wandering in the desert, they finally came upon a mysterious deity (called either Eurypylus or Triton, depending on the source). 

This deity gave Euphemus a clod of earth and promised him that the fourth generation of his descendants would return to Libya and found an important city there. The god then helped the Argonauts return to sea.

During the voyage home, however, Euphemus dropped the clod of earth near the island of Thera (in one tradition, the island actually arose from the clod). It is unclear whether he did this accidentally or based on advice he had received in a dream. Either way, Euphemus had dropped the clod prematurely; he was supposed to wait until the Argonauts reached Taenarum, on the Laconian coast of the Peloponnese.[12]

Because of this, the witch Medea—who had helped the Argonauts steal the Golden Fleece, and who was accompanying them on their return journey—prophesied that Euphemus’ descendants would not reach Libya until the seventeenth generation now, rather than the fourth. 

In spite of this delay, Euphemus still became the ancestor of the Battiads, the family that would someday establish and rule over the Greek colony of Cyrene. The first of the Battiads, Battus, claimed descent from Euphemus and a Lemnian woman (sometimes called Lamache), with whom Euphemus had had a child during the voyage of the Argonauts. 

According to myth, Euphemus’ descendants first traveled to Sparta before settling in Thera, where Euphemus had dropped the clod of earth. It was from Thera that Battus—born in the seventeenth generation after Euphemus, as legend had foretold—set out to settle Cyrene in North Africa in 631 BCE.[13]

Other Exploits

The Greeks knew Euphemus chiefly for his role as an Argonaut and as the mythical ancestor of the Battiads. But he was sometimes said to have taken part in other exploits as well. 

Euphemus participated in the famous funeral games for Pelias, the villainous king of Iolcus who had sent Jason to fetch the Golden Fleece; it was said that Euphemus won the chariot race during these games.[14] According to the Roman mythographer Hyginus, Euphemus also participated in the Calydonian boar hunt.[15]

References

Notes

  1. His mother’s name varied depending on the source. She was either Mecionice of Hyrie, the daughter of Eurotas or Orion; Europa, the daughter of Tityus; or Doris/Oris, the daughter of Eurotas (see notes 5–7 below for sources for each name).

  2. Hesiod, frag. 253 Merkelbach-West; Apollonius of Rhodes, Argonautica 1.182; Hyginus, Fabulae 14.

  3. Pausanias, Description of Greece 5.17.9.

  4. This statue group formerly belonged to the famous Trivulzio Collection in Milan. On Euphemus in ancient art, see Rainer Vollkommer, “Euphemos,” in Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae (Zurich: Artemis, 1990), 4:67–68.

  5. Hesiod, frag. 253 Merkelbach-West; John Tzetzes, Chiliades 2.613ff, on Lycophron’s Alexandra 886; scholia on Pindar’s Pythian Ode 4.9/15b.

  6. Pindar, Pythian Ode 4.45; Hyginus, Fabulae 14.

  7. John Tzetzes, Chiliades 2.613ff.

  8. Hesiod, frag. 253 Merkelbach-West.

  9. John Tzetzes on Lycophron’s Alexandra 886; scholia on Pindar’s Pythian Ode 4.455b.

  10. Apollonius of Rhodes, Argonautica 1.179ff; Apollodorus, Library 1.9.16; Hyginus, Fabulae 14; Valerius Flaccus, Argonautica 1.363ff; Orphic Argonautica 205–6.

  11. Apollonius of Rhodes, Argonautica 4.1551ff.

  12. Pindar, Pythian Ode 4.19ff; Apollonius of Rhodes, Argonautica 4.1223ff; Diodorus of Sicily, Library of History 4.56.6.

  13. See Herodotus, Histories 4.147ff.

  14. Pausanias, Description of Greece 5.17.9 (describing the Cypselus Chest).

  15. Hyginus, Fabulae 173.

Primary Sources

Greek

Our most important source for Euphemus’ myth is the fourth Pythian Ode of Pindar (ca. 518–ca. 438 BCE), which describes the voyage of the Argonauts. Pindar placed a special emphasis on Euphemus, even going so far as to suggest that the true purpose of the voyage of the Argonauts was for Euphemus to become the ancestor of the Battiads.

Later, Apollonius of Rhodes (third century BCE) gave a detailed account of the clod of earth and the future founding of Cyrene by Euphemus’ descendants in Book 4 of his Argonautica (1223ff). 

The mythographer Apollodorus or “Pseudo-Apollodorus” (first century BCE or later) also mentioned Euphemus in his summary of the myths of Jason and the Argonauts in Book 1 of the Library. Much later, Euphemus was named as one of the Argonauts in the Orphic Argonautica (fifth/sixth century CE).

There are scattered references to Euphemus in other literary works as well. Pausanias (ca. 115–180 CE), for instance, mentions Euphemus in his description of the Cypselus Chest in the Description of Greece (5.17.9).

Roman

Euphemus is more obscure in Roman literature. Hyginus or “Pseudo-Hyginus” (first century CE or later) named Euphemus as an Argonaut as well as one of the Calydonian boar hunters in his Fabulae (14, 173). Euphemus also appears as one of the Argonauts in the Argonautica of Valerius Flaccus (first century CE).

Other

Additional information on Euphemus, including his role in works that are now lost, can be found in texts, reference works, and commentaries produced during the Byzantine and medieval periods. For further references, see the notes.

Secondary Sources

  • Dräger, Paul. “Euphemus.” In Brill’s New Pauly, edited by Hubert Cancik, Helmuth Schneider, Christine F. Salazar, Manfred Landfester, and Francis G. Gentry. Published online 2006. http://dx.doi.org/10.1163/1574-9347_bnp_e405550.

  • ]Escher-Bürkli, Jakob. “Euphemos (2).” In Paulys Realencyclopädie der classischen Altertumswissenschaft, edited by Georg Wissowa and August Friedrich Pauly, vol. 6.1, 1168–69. Stuttgart: Metzler, 1907.

  • Gantz, Timothy. “Iason and the Argo.” In Early Greek Myth: A Guide to Literary and Artistic Sources, 340–73. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993.

  • Hard, Robin. “Jason and the Argonauts.” In The Routledge Handbook of Greek Mythology, 8th ed., 392–417. New York: Routledge, 2020.

  • Kearns, Emily. “Euphemus.” In The Oxford Classical Dictionary, 4th ed., edited by Simon Hornblower, Antony Spawforth, and Esther Eidinow, 550. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.

  • Smith, William. “Jason.” In A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology. London: Spottiswoode and Company, 1873. Perseus Digital Library. Accessed March 18, 2021. http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.04.0104%3Aalphabetic+letter%3DI%3Aentry+group%3D2%3Aentry%3Djason-bio-1

  • Vollkommer, Rainer. “Euphemos.” In Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae, vol. 4, 67–68. Zurich: Artemis, 1990.

  • von Sybel, L. “Euphemos (1).” In Ausführliches Lexikon der griechischen und römischen Mythologie, edited by W. H. Roscher, vol. 1, 1407–8. Leipzig: Teubner, 1884–90.

Citation

Kapach, Avi. “Euphemus.” Mythopedia, September 04, 2023. https://mythopedia.com/topics/euphemus.

Kapach, Avi. “Euphemus.” Mythopedia, 4 Sep. 2023. https://mythopedia.com/topics/euphemus. Accessed on 2 Oct. 2023.

Kapach, A. (2023, September 4). Euphemus. Mythopedia. https://mythopedia.com/topics/euphemus

Authors

  • Avi Kapach

    Avi Kapach is a writer, scholar, and educator who received his PhD in Classics from Brown University

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