Neleus (Ancient Greek: Νηλεύς) was a mythological king of Pylos. In some accounts, he was also counted as an Argonaut instead of his son, Nestor.
Some have said that Neleus is son of Hippocoon, but others affirm that he was the son of Cretheus, son of Aeolus, son of Hellen (the eponym of the Hellenes), son of Deucalion, the man who survived the Flood.
Still others say that Neleus' father was Poseidon, and that his mother was Tyro, daughter of Salmoneus and Alcidice. Salmoneus was son of Aeolus; so if Neleus were the son of Cretheus, he would have to be the cousin of Tyro, who is otherwise called his mother.
Tyro's mother Alcidice was daughter of Aleus, an Arcadian king son of Aphidas, son of Arcas, son of Zeus and Callisto.
Tyro, who is said to have been brought up by Cretheus, fell in love with the river god Enipeus (a river in Thessaly), and as she came often to the waters of the river to chant her love, Poseidon, taking the form of the river, lay with her.
As this had been done in secret, she abandoned her twins Neleus and Pelias when they were born. However, a horse keeper found the exposed children, and saved them.
Neleus and Pelias were then reared by Sidero, their stepmother, who treated Tyro unkindly. So, when the twins were grown up, they discovered the truth about their mother and attacked Sidero, who then took refuge in the precinct of Hera.
However, this was of no avail to the woman, because Pelias, without a shadow of respect for the shrine, killed her on the altars, thus incurring the hate of the goddess, and setting up a firm base for his own destruction.
For King Pelias, who succeeded Cretheus on the throne of Iolcus, sent Jason to go in quest of the Golden Fleece, which originated the expedition of the Argonauts that Jason led to Colchis in the Caucasus.
And although not being in the original plan, Jason abducted the king's daughter Medea, and she, on her arrival to Iolcus, became the ruin of Pelias.
Neleus, banished, founds a city
It could be thought that Neleus was banished on account of Sidero's outrageous death, but it is said that his brother Pelias banished him for reasons unknown.
So Neleus came to Messenia, in the southwestern Peloponnesus, and founded the city of Pylos where he ruled as king. Others affirm that the city Pylos was founded by Pylas, who never could enjoy it because Neleus and his company of Iolcans took possession of it, transforming it into a flourishing city.
It is also said that in those times, Neleus and his brother Pelias held the Olympian games in common.
Neleus married Chloris, daughter of King Amphion of Thebes, and one of the few Niobids who escaped the wrath of the sweet children of Leto, Apollo and Artemis. It is told that Apollo and Artemis paid back for this slaughter, because they granted Nestor, son of Neleus and Chloris, life for three generations, thus compensating for the lives they had shortened when they killed Chloris's sisters and brothers.
Neleus' daughter Pero was given in marriage to Bias, who later became King of Argos. Since there were many suitors, Neleus demanded, on exchange for his daughter's hand, that the cattle of Phylacus should be brought to him. Phylacus was son of King Deion of Phocis, son of Aeolus.
The seer Melampus
As the cattle were in Phylace (a Thessalian city west of the Gulf of Pagasae), being guarded by a fearful dog that no one could approach, Bias asked help from his brother, the seer Melampus, who promised to assist him while foretelling his own detection in the act of stealing them. But he also added that the cattle should be his after being in prison for one year.
Melampus then went to Phylace, and everything took place in exactly the way he had prophesied. While he was being kept prisoner in a cell, he heard the worms in the roof talking with each other and revealing how much of the building they had already gnawed. And as it was very little left, Melampus asked to be transferred to another cell, and when this was done, the cell fell in. Having realised that his prisoner was an extraordinary seer, Phylacus released him and bade him say how his son Iphiclus might get children, promising the cattle as a reward.
And as Melampus knew many things, Iphiclus got his virility restored due to the complicated manipulations of the seer. In this way Melampus got the cattle, and having driven them to Pylos, he received from Neleus the bride, whom he gave to his brother Bias.
This Iphiclus, who was said to be able to run over the fruit of the asphodel and not break it, and run upon wheaten ears and not hurt the fruit, is the father of Protesilaus, the first of the Achaeans to land on Trojan soil and the first among them to die. Both Protesilaus, and the other son of Iphiclus, Podarces, were among the Suitors of Helen, and later became leaders of Phylace against Troy.
Purification of Heracles
On one occasion, Heracles came to Neleus in Pylos in order to receive purification for having killed Iphitus, the man who gave Odysseus his famous bow. However, Neleus refused on account of his friendship with Iphitus's father Eurytus, the prince of Oechalia who had received the mentioned bow from Apollo. Others say, however, that Heracles wished purification for having murdered his own wife Megara.
In any case, later, during his military campaigns in the Peloponnesus, Heracles invaded Messenia (after the conquest of Elis, but before he attacked Lacedaemon) on the ground of Neleus' refusal to purify him. He took Pylos, and killed all the sons of Neleus, except Nestor, who had taken refuge in Gerenia, or just happened to be there receiving education. It is also said that Neleus' son Periclymenus escaped death, transforming himself into an eagle through a favor granted by Poseidon.
Results of the war
Later the Heraclides claimed, in order to justify their rights to the kingdom of Messenia, that Heracles, after occupying Pylos, had entrusted the kingdom to Nestor. Some assert that Heracles, in the course of these battles, killed Neleus too, and that he wounded Hades, who had sided with the Pylians, as had also the Lacedaemonians, whom Heracles attacked after conquering Pylos.
War with Elis
Some think that the war between Messenian Pylos and Elis took place after the invasion of Heracles, and that, when the Elean and Pylian armies clashed, Neleus was still alive and fearing for the life of his only son Nestor, who in this war became a renowned warrior, as Nestor himself says.
Neleus was, according to some, killed by Heracles during the latter's invasion of Messenia. Others say that Neleus died of disease at Corinth, being buried near the Isthmus in a place that was never shown to anyone.
Hyginus, Fabulae 10 & 14.4
Pausanias, Graeciae Descriptio 4.2.5
Aristarchus in scholia on Iliad, 11. 692
Scholia on Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica, 1. 152 — apparently following Odyssey 11. 285, where only Nestor, Chromius and Periclymenus are enumerated
Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 1.9.9
Diodorus Siculus, Bibliotheca historica 4.68.6
Hyginus, Fabulae 10
Ovid, Metamorphoses 2.689
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