ALCMAEON AND THE NECKLACE

WHEN Alcmaeon returned from Thebes, he decided to fulfill the second part of the oracle, the bidding to avenge his father. His bitterness toward his mother increased when he discovered that she had accepted bribes not only to betray her husband, but to play her son false as well. He overrode his scruples and slew her with his sword. Then he took the necklace and the veil and left the house of his parents, for which he had come to feel nothing but loathing. Now though the oracle had bidden him avenge his father, the murder of his mother was against the laws of nature, and so the gods could not allow it to go unpunished. They sent the Furies to pursue him, and afflicted him with madness. Bereaved of his senses he came to King Oicleus in Arcadia, but the goddesses of vengeance left him no peace, and he was forced to continue his wanderings. At last he found a refuge in another city of Arcadia, in Psophis, where Phegeus was king. He purified Alcmaeon and gave him his daughter Arsinoë in marriage, and now it was she who became the possessor of the fatal necklace and veil. Alcmaeon had been healed of his madness, but all the curse was not taken from him, for the land which had received him grew barren because of his presence. He questioned an oracle but was given small comfort: he would find peace when he came to a country which had not been on the face of the earth at the time he had killed his mother. Without hope, Alcmaeon left his wife and his little son Clytius and set out into the wide world. After long wanderings he found what the oracle had predicted. Coming to the river Achelous, he discovered an island which had emerged from the waters only a short time since. On this he settled, and the curse dropped from him.

But his release and his happiness only served to make him insolent and overbearing. He forgot Arsinoë and his small son and married lovely Callirrhoë, daughter of the river-god Achelous, and by her had two sons, Acarnan and Amphoterus. Now since rumor had spread the tale of the priceless treasures Alcmaeon carried with him, his wife soon asked to see the shimmering necklace and the filmy veil. But these Alcmaeon had left with his first wife when he went from her in secret. He did not wish Callirrhoë to know of this former marriage, and so he invented some faraway place where he claimed to have stored his treasures, and offered to fetch them. In this way he returned to Psophis and his first wife, and in excuse for his long absence told her and her father that a residue of madness had driven him from them, and was still not wholly dispelled. “There is only one way to rid me utterly of this curse,” he said craftily. “I have been told that if I take the necklace and veil I once gave you to Delphi, as a votive offering, all will be well at last.” And Phegeus and his daughter believed his deceitful words and gave him what he asked. With a glad heart Alcmaeon left with his loot, not dreaming that those treasures were bound to bring destruction upon him as they had upon others. But one of his servants, who knew his secret, told King Phegeus of his second wife and that he had taken the necklace and veil only to bring them to her. And now the brothers of deserted Arsinoë followed in his tracks, lurked for him in ambush, and slew him as he went his way unsuspectingly. They took the treasures from him and brought them back to their sister, boasting that they had avenged her. But Arsinoë loved Alcmaeon, even when she learned of his perfidy, and cursed her brothers for having killed him. And now the fatal gifts were to prove their strength upon Arsinoë herself. Her resentful brothers thought no punishment too harsh for their sister’s ingratitude. They seized her, locked her in a chest, bore her away to Tegea, to King Agapenor, to whom they were bound by ties of hospitality, and accused her of having murdered Alcmaeon. And so she died a most wretched death.

In the meantime Callirrhoë had learned of her husband’s sad end, and her sorrow was tinged with the desire for swift revenge. She threw herself on her face and implored Zeus to work a miracle, to let her little sons Acarnan and Amphoterus grow suddenly into manhood, that they might punish the slayers of their father. Because Callirrhoë was guiltless and devout, Zeus heard her prayers. Her sons, who had gone to bed as children, awoke as men full of vigor and the lust for vengeance. They left on their mission and first went to Tegea. There they arrived at the very moment the sons of Phegeus reached the city with their unhappy sister Arsinoë and were about to depart for Delphi in order to dedicate those fatal gifts of Aphrodite to the oracle of Apollo. When the youths fell upon them to avenge the murder of their father, Agenor and Pronous did not know who their attackers were, and before they could even discover the reason for the onslaught, they died by the sword. The sons of Alcmaeon then justified their action to Agapenor and told him the true story of what had happened. Next they travelled to Psophis in Arcadia, entered the palace, and killed both King Phegeus and his queen. Escaping pursuit they reached their island in safety and brought their mother the news of vengeance taken. At the advice of their grandfather Achelous, they journeyed to Delphi and gave both necklace and veil to the oracle of Apollo. When this was accomplished, the curse which had hung over the family of Amphiaraus was at last dispelled, and his grandchildren, the sons of Alcmaeon and Callirrhoë, recruited settlers in Epirus and founded Acarnania. After the murder of his father, Clytius, son of Alcmaeon and Arsinoë, left his kinsmen on his mother’s side with loathing and found a refuge in Elis.

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