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Amphitryon was the son of Alcaeus, possibly by Astydameia (or Laonome or Hipponome), making Amphitryon brother to Anaxo and Perimede. Via Alcaeus, Amphitryon was also grandson of the hero Perseus, and via Astydameia, he was also a grandson of Pelops.
When of age, Amphitryon would travel to the nearby kingdom of Mycenae, which at the time was ruled by Amphitryon’s uncle Electryon, another son of Perseus. There, Amphitryon would become a suitor of Alcmene, the daughter of Electryon.
TROUBLE IN MYCENAE
At the time, Mycenae was in dispute with the Teleboans, who were ruled by King Pterelaus, another descendant of Perseus through Perseus’ son Mestor. The sons of Pterelaus left the Taphos and made their way to Mycenae to claim part of the kingdom of Electryon, based upon their descent from Mestor.
King Electryon rejected their claim outright, and so the sons of King Pterelaus commenced pillaging the kingdom of Mycenae. In order to stop them, Electryon dispatched his own sons, and when the two groups finally met each other a battle ensued. In the battle all of the sons of Pterelaus, bar Everes, perished, whilst all the sons of Electryon were also killed, save for the illegitimate son of the king, Licymnius.
The surviving Teleboans left Mycenae with the cattle they had managed to steal; cattle which was eventually left in Elis with Polyxenus, whilst the Teleboans made their escape. Amphitryon would retrieve these cattle from Elis by paying a ransom.
AMPHITRYON KILLS ELECTRYON
Electryon was grateful for the return of the cattle, but the loss of his sons needed to be avenged, and so the king decided to lead his army against Pterelaus and the Teleboans. Electryon decided to leave the kingdom of Mycenae in the hands of Amphitryon, although Amphitryon would not be able to marry Alcmene until the king returned from his expedition.
King Electryon would not depart on the expedition though, for he was accidentally killed by Amphitryon before setting out. One story tells of how a club thrown by Amphitryon hit a cow, bounced off and struck Electryon down.
AMPHITRYON EXILED IN THEBES
Having died without a male heir, the throne of Mycenae was open, despite the fact that Electryon had planned to entrust it to his future son-in-law. Sthenelaus, a brother of Electryon, and another son of Perseus decided to seize the throne, and for having killed the king, even though it was an accident, Amphitryon and Alcmene were exiled from the Peloponnese.
Amphitryon and Alcmene would find sanctuary in Thebes, and there the regent of Thebes, Creon, absolved Amphitryon of any guilt associated with the death of King Electryon. They were joined in Thebes by Licymnius.
AMPHITRYON GOES TO WAR
Alcmene and Amphitryon were still not married though, and Alcmene refused to wed her intended until the deaths of her brother had been avenged, just as her father had planned.
Electryon would have had an army at his beckoning, but Amphitryon was a foreigner in a foreign land. Nevertheless, Amphitryon went to Creon to ask for help.
Creon actually agreed to Amphitryon’s request, but only on the condition that Amphitryon rid Thebes of the Teumessian Fox which was ravaging the kingdom. Dionysus had sent the fox as the Thebans had rejected the god, but Amphitryon was faced with an impossible task, for the Teumessian Fox was destined never to be caught.
Amphitryon had to travel towards Athens to seek the help of Cephalus, for Cephalus’ wife, Procris had given him Laelaps, the hound which was destined to always catch its prey. Cephalus agreed to help Amphitryon in return for a share of the spoils from the future war.
Thus Laelaps was set loose to chase down the Teumessian Fox, now Zeus observed and was faced with the quandary of the uncatchable being chased by the unescapable. Zeus ended the chase by setting the hunted and the hunter amongst the stars, and so Thebes was freed from the ravaging of the fox.
So Amphitryon now had the backing of a force of Creon from Thebes, a force of Cephalus from Athens, and also a force from Argos under Heleus.
The combined armies easily took the outlying islands of the Teleboans, but the main island of Taphos refused to yield. King Pterelaus was said to be immortal because of his golden hair, and so there was stalemate until the disloyalty of Comaetho, the daughter of Pterelaus came to the fore.
Comaetho had fallen in love with Amphitryon, and so one night cut off the hair of her father, leaving him vulnerable, and soon the king was dead, and the kingdom taken by Amphitryon and his allies. The treachery of Comaetho did her no good though, for when Taphos fell, Amphitryon put Comaetho to the sword.
The kingdom of Pterelaus was divided between Heleus and Cepehlaus, with Cephelaus being given the island of Same, which subsequently became known as Cephalonia
AMPHITRYON AND ALCMENE
Amphitryon himself would return to Thebes and his beloved Alcmene.
Alcmene was a beautiful woman and the god Zeus decided to have his way with her before Amphitryon could, and so the day before Amphitryon returned to Thebes, disguised himself as Amphitryon and came to Alcmene. Zeus, in the guise of Amphitryon brought news of the war and various spoils of the war, and so Zeus and Alcmene lay together.
The next day Amphitryon returned and was somewhat taken aback when Alcmene wasn’t overjoyed to see him, although in her mind she had already given her love the welcome the day before. Nevertheless, Amphitryon and Alcmene lay together, but afterwards Amphitryon consulted the seer Tiresias, who told Amphitryon just what had occurred.
Alcmene was of course pregnant with twins, one the son of Zeus, Heracles, and one the son of Amphitryon, Iphicles; and although the pregnancy was delayed by the intrigue of Hera, soon Amphitryon was a father.
As Heracles grew up, Amphitryon remained an important military leader for Creon, and when war erupted between Thebes and Euboea, Amphitryon led the Theban army, killing Chalcodon, the king of the Euboeans in the major battle of the war.
THE DEATH OF AMPHITRYON
Amphitryon was said to have died when Heracles was still relatively young, and perhaps unsurprisingly for a man whose life was dominated by warfare, Amphitryon would die on the battlefield.
At the time of the death of Amphitryon, Thebes was paying tribute to Erginus, ruler of the Minyans. Erginus’ father, Clymenus, had been killed whilst in Thebes, either whilst attending a feast, or through the actions of Menoeceus the father of Creon, or one of his servants. The tribute was possibly 100 head of cattle each year.
When the emissaries of King Erginus were making their way to Thebes, they encountered the youthful Heracles. Heracles decided that the time of tribute was to end, and Heracles chopped off the hands, ears and noses of the emissaries, and sent the messengers and their body parts back to Boeotia.
Such an action could not go unpunished and so King Erginus led the Minyan army towards Thebes.
Amphitryon would march out with the Theban army to meet the threat, with Heracles by his side, and in the battle that followed the Thebans emerged victorious, killing King Erginus in the process; and the Minyans would then have to pay tribute to the Thebans. The victory came at a price though, for Amphitryon would also die upon the same battleground.
Amphitryon’s widow Alcmene, would subsequently marry Rhadamanthys, the son of Zeus exiled from Crete, and it was said that Rhadamanthys would teach his new stepson Heracles the art of the bow.
Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 2.4.5
Pausanias, Graeciae Descriptio 8.14.2
Roman, L., & Roman, M. (2010). Encyclopedia of Greek and Roman mythology., p. 59
Christenson, David (Feb–Mar 2001). "Grotesque Realism in Plautus' "Amphitruo"". The Classical Journal. 96 (3): 243–260.
Pausanias, Description of Greece with an English Translation by W.H.S. Jones, Litt.D., and H.A. Ormerod, M.A., in 4 Volumes. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1918. Online version at the Perseus Digital Library
Pausanias, Graeciae Descriptio. 3 vols. Leipzig, Teubner. 1903. Greek text available at the Perseus Digital Library.
Plautus' Amphitruo, DM Christenson - 2000 - Cambridge University Press.
Pseudo-Apollodorus, The Library with an English Translation by Sir James George Frazer, F.B.A., F.R.S. in 2 Volumes, Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1921.
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