Ancient History & Civilisation


ACHAEANS often used simply to mean ‘Greeks’; more specifically, an ethnic group of the northern Peloponnese.

ACHELOUS one of the rivers of Thebes.

ACHERON one of the rivers of the Underworld. Its name signifies grief and lamentation.

ACHILLES son of the hero Peleus and the sea-nymph Thetis; greatest of the Greek heroes who fought at Troy; clad in armour forged by Hephaestus, he killed the Trojan champion Hector, but died in battle later, slain by Paris’ arrow.

ACTAEON one of the royal family of Thebes; after boasting that his prowess as a hunter exceeded that of Artemis, he was torn apart by his own hounds as punishment.

ADRASTEIA another name for Nemesis, the divine personification of retribution.

ADRASTUS king of Argos; married his daughters to Tydeus and Polyneices; misguidedly undertook to assist the latter in the expedition against Thebes. He is merely mentioned in the Phoenician Women; he plays a more significant part in the Suppliant Women.

AEACUS father of Peleus and grandfather of Achilles.

AEGEAN SEA the part of the Mediterranean Sea separating Greece from Asia Minor.

AEGINA a nymph, who married Aeacus, grandfather of Achilles; the island Aegina was named after her.

AEGISTHUS son of Thyestes and lover of Clytemnestra, with whom he conspired to murder Agamemnon. Killed by Orestes.

AEGYPTUS descendant of Io, brother of Danaus. His fifty sons pursued their cousins, Danaus’ fifty daughters, and insisted on marrying them despite the girls’ reluctance. On the wedding night all but one of the wives assassinated their husbands. The mass murder and earlier matters of dispute were debated in an Argive court.

AENEAS a Trojan leader, already prominent in the Iliad, regularly represented as prudent and pious.

AENIANS a people who contributed a force to the Trojan War, under the command of their king Gouneus.

AEROPE in the genealogy used by Euripides, the wife of Atreus and mother of Agamemnon and Menelaus.

AETOLIA a large region in central Greece, north of the Gulf of Corinth.

AGAMEMNON king of Argos and Mycenae, leader of the Greek expedition against Troy. Son of Atreus, brother of Menelaus. Father of Iphigenia, Orestes and Electra (also, in some versions, of Chrysothemis). Killed by his wife Clytemnestra.

AGAUE daughter of Cadmus, mother of Pentheus, king of Thebes; under the influence of Dionysiac madness she and her sisters tear her son limb from limb.

AGENOR king of Tyre, father of Cadmus.

AJAX (the greater) son of Telamon, from Salamis; one of the major Greek heroes at Troy.

AJAX (the lesser) son of Oileus; a less significant Greek hero at Troy.


ALPHEUS a river originating in Arcadia in the Peloponnese and passing by the great cult-site of Zeus at Olympia; flows into the Ionian Sea.

AMPHIARAUS one of the Seven against Thebes, and the only one who, being a prophet, foresaw the failure of the expedition and argued against it. He was forced to join it by a promise to his wife. In the end he was miraculously swallowed up by the earth.

AMPHION son of Zeus and Antiope; a marvellous singer and player of music, whose songs enchanted wild beasts and even moved the stones forming the walls of Thebes, which he ruled jointly with his twin brother Zethus.

AMYMONE one of the fifty daughters of Danaus. A spring was named after her.

ANTIGONE daughter of Oedipus and Jocasta; her most famous action, dramatized by Sophocles, was to bury her brother Polyneices despite the edict forbidding this action.

APHRODITE daughter of Zeus; goddess of love and desire.

APIDANUS a river in Thessaly, in northern Greece.

APOLLO son of Zeus and Leto, brother of Artemis; one of the most powerful and dignified of the Olympian gods. He was famous for his good looks, his prowess as an archer, his musical gifts and above all his power of prophesying the future through his oracles, of which that at Delphi was the most famous.

ARABIA as in modern times, a region bordering the extreme south-eastern Mediterranean, east of Egypt.

ARCADIA a mountainous region in the central Peloponnese.

ARES son of Zeus and Hera; god of war, usually regarded as a cruel and threatening figure.

ARES’ HILL (AREOPAGUS) the location of Athens’ most prestigious lawcourt, particularly concerned with homicide. From at least the time of Aeschylus, this was identified as the place where Orestes was tried for matricide.

ARETHUSA name of a spring or stream. The most famous spring of that name was in Sicily, but the name is found in other locations: an Arethusa apparently located near Chalcis in Euboea is mentioned in the Iphigenia at Aulis.

ARGOS city in the northern Peloponnese, often conflated in tragedy with the older site near by, Mycenae.

ARISTAEUS husband of the Theban princess Autonoe, and father of Actaeon.

ARTEMIS daughter of Zeus and Leto; sister of Apollo, and like him an archer; virgin goddess, associated with hunting and wild animals.

ASIA in Euripides a fairly vague term for the lands east of Greece, from the Hellespont as far as India. More specifically, Asia Minor, what is now mostly Turkey.

ASOPUS a river near the border between Attica and Boeotia, running south of Thebes.

ATALANTA a beautiful young woman who resisted marriage until won by Hippomenes, who defeated her in a race. Their son was the attractive Parthenopaeus, one of the Seven against Thebes.

ATHENA daughter of Zeus; virginal goddess of wisdom and patroness of Athens.

ATHENS the main settlement in Attica, in central Greece. See further General Introduction.

ATREUS former king of Argos and Mycenae, father of Agamemnon and Menelaus.

ATTICA the country around Athens and controlled by her, in central Greece.

AULIS a Greek town in Boeotia, opposite Euboea; the place where the great fleet of Greek forces assembled to set out for Troy. Because of unfavourable winds, Agamemnon was forced to sacrifice his daughter Iphigenia before they could leave there.

AUTONOE one of the daughters of Cadmus, mother of Actaeon.

AXIUS a river in Macedonia.

BACCHANT a follower (usually female) of Bacchus, inspired with irrational ecstasy, often wild and violent in action.


BACTRIA an extensive region in eastern Asia, between the River Oxus and the Hindu Kush; in classical times at least partly under the control of the Persian empire, and little known to Greeks.

BOEOTIA a state in Greece, north of Attica; Thebes was its chief city.

BROMIUS a cult-title of Dionysus, meaning ‘the roaring one’.

CADMEANS the Thebans, so called because Cadmus founded Thebes and brought their race into being.

CADMUS son of Agenor from Tyre; founder of Thebes after he had slain a monstrous dragon guarding the site. He sowed the dragon’s teeth, from which sprang forth warriors, the first men of Thebes.

CALCHAS the prophet and adviser of the Greek army during the Trojan war. Although sympathetically presented in Homer, he gains a more sinister reputation in later times.

CAPANEUS one of the Seven against Thebes, famous for his sacrilegious boasting, for which he was struck down by Zeus’ thunderbolt.

CASSANDRA Trojan princess, daughter of Priam and Hecabe; priestess of Apollo, who attempted to seduce or rape her, but she resisted. He had given her the power of prophecy, but in anger at her rejection of him, he negated it by declaring that her predictions would never be believed.

CASTALIA a sacred spring on Mount Parnassus, near Delphi. Those who wished to consult the Delphic oracle were required to purify themselves in this spring first.

CASTOR like his brother Pollux (or Polydeuces), a son of Zeus by Leda; brother of Helen and Clytemnestra. In some stories only one of them was immortal, but they are normally paired as the Dioscuri or Heavenly Twins, elevated after death to divine status and placed among the stars (the constellation Gemini, ‘the Twins’). They were thought to watch over sailors at sea.

CECROPS early mythical king of Athens, allegedly half man, half snake, and said to have been born from the earth itself.

CENTAURS mythical creatures, half horse, half man. They were ambiguous in other ways: some (particularly the wise Cheiron, tutor of Achilles) were kind and benevolent to men, while others were dangerous or potentially violent. This violent side was notoriously revealed when the Centaurs got drunk at the marriage of Pirithous and Hippodamia; a pitched battle ensued (the battle of the Lapiths and Centaurs).

CHALCIS a town on the island of Euboea.

CHEIRON a wise and virtuous Centaur, who educated a number of heroes, notably Achilles.

CHRYSOTHEMIS daughter of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra; a less important figure than her sisters Electra and Iphigenia and her brother Orestes.

CILICIA a country on the eastern part of the southern coast of Asia Minor. In Homer the Cilicians inhabit the southern Troad.

CITHAERON, MOUNT, western part of the mountain range separating northern Attica from Boeotia. Here Oedipus was exposed as an infant.

CLYTEMNESTRA wife of Agamemnon, whom she murdered on his return from Troy, partly because of his treatment of Iphigenia, her daughter. Also mother of Orestes, Electra and Chrysothemis.

COLONUS a small village-community in Attica. In Sophocles’ Oedipus at Colonus and related texts Oedipus finds refuge from his wanderings there.

COROEBUS son of Mygdon; in the Rhesus, one of the sentries on watch in the Trojan camp. A Trojan ally of this name figures in Virgil’s Aeneid as a suitor of Cassandra; possibly he figured in the early Greek epics now lost.

CORYBANTES male priests, part of the entourage of Cybele, the Great Mother Goddess.

CORYCIA the ‘Corycian heights’ mentioned in the Bacchae as a haunt of Dionysus were on the ridges of Parnassus.

CREON one of the royal family of Thebes, brother of Jocasta. After the deaths of Oedipus’ sons, he assumed the kingship.

CRONUS father of Zeus and mightiest of the previous generation of immortal Titans, whom Zeus and other gods overthrew.

CURETES mythical attendants on the goddess Rhea.

CYBELE a great goddess of nature and fertility, worshipped in Phrygia and absorbed into Greek myth, where she was sometimes identified with Demeter, sometimes with Rhea. Her genealogical relation to the Olympians is left vague. A major cult-centre was at Mount Dindyma.

CYCLOPS (plural CYCLOPES) a one-eyed giant, hostile to men. The most famous Cyclops was Polyphemus in Homer’s Odyssey, who trapped Odysseus and his men on their wanderings, and ate many of them before the hero managed to devise an escape. Cyclopes were thought to have helped in the building of some of the most ancient Greek cities, including Mycenae and Tiryns.

CYPRIS, or the CYPRIAN Aphrodite, who was born from the sea off Cyprus, and who was held in special honour there.

CYPRUS large island in the eastern Mediterranean.


DANAUS father of the fifty girls known as the Danaids, and more generally conceived as the ancestor of the Danaans (which is sometimes a general title for Greeks but often more specifically means Argives).

DANAUS’ SONS the Argives (see DANAUS).

DARDANUS first founder and king of Troy; hence the Trojans are sometimes called ‘Dardanians’.

DELOS an island (one of the Cyclades), in the middle of the Aegean sea; birthplace of Apollo and Artemis and a major cult-centre.

DELPHI a town in the mountainous region of Phocis in central Greece, location of the temple and oracular shrine of Apollo.

DEMETER goddess of fertility in nature, presiding over the crops and other products of the earth; mother of Persephone.

DIOMEDES son of Tydeus; one of the most successful Greek heroes at Troy.

DIONYSUS son of Zeus by Semele; god of wine and other natural forces; often seen as a wild and irrational deity, bringer of madness.

DIOSCURI (‘sons of Zeus’) Castor and Polydeuces, the Heavenly Twins; see CASTOR.

DIRCE a wicked queen of Thebes, killed by Amphion and Zethus. After her death her name was associated with a stream near Thebes.

DITHYRAMBUS a title of Dionysus, alluding to a type of lyric song (usually associated with excited emotion) performed in his honour, the dithyramb.

DODONA a sanctuary of Zeus in Epirus in north-western Greece; one of the oldest Greek oracular shrines.

DOLON a Trojan who undertakes a spying mission for Hector, but is killed for his pains.

DORIAN the Dorians were one of the major ethnic groups of the Greeks, often contrasted with the Ionians. Athens was of Ionian descent, Sparta Dorian. Forms of dress and architectural styles were named after these groups: ‘Dorian’ regularly suggests something austere and dignified.

ECHIDNA the name means snake. A monster of the underworld, half woman and half serpent.

ECHINAE a group of islands off Acarnania (western Greece), near Ithaca.

ECHION one of the ‘Sown Men’ of Thebes, father of Pentheus.

ELECTRA daughter of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra; sister of Orestes, whom she supports in the murder of their mother. She subsequently married Orestes’ friend Pylades.

ELECTRAN GATE one of the seven gates of Thebes. There is no connection with the Electra who belongs to Agamemnon’s family.

ELIS a Greek state in the north-western Peloponnese. Olympia, where the Olympic games took place, was located there.

EPAPHUS son of Zeus and Io, begotten not by intercourse but with a single touch of the god’s hand (the name means ‘he of the touch’). Ancestor of Danaus and Aegyptus.

EPEIANS a force from Elis, part of the expedition against Troy; also mentioned in the catalogue of ships in Homer.

EREBUS ‘Darkness’. One of the gods sprung from Chaos; also commonly used as a name for the underworld.

ERECHTHEUS an early king of Athens, father of Creusa. Hence the Athenians are sometimes called Erechtheids or ‘sons of Erechtheus’.

EROS ‘Love’, personified as a boy with a bow and arrows; son of Aphrodite and like her responsible for afflicting mortals with passion. The more familiar name of Cupid is Latin in origin.

ETEOCLES son of Oedipus, and ruling after his father in Thebes. The war of the Seven against Thebes arose because he failed to honour the agreement he had made to share power with his brother Polyneices. The two eventually killed each other in combat.

ETRUSCAN a general ethnic name referring to a people of Italy; Etruscan metalwork was famous, and they were often said to have invented the trumpet.

EUBOEA a large island off the coast of Attica and Boeotia.

EUMELUS son of Admetus and Alcestis, grandson of Pheres; in the catalogue of ships in Homer, his mares are described as being the swiftest in the Greek host.

EUMENIDES ‘the Kindly Ones’, a euphemistic way of referring to the Furies.

EUMOLPUS king of a Thracian people who assisted the Eleusinians in a war against Athens in the time of King Erechtheus.

EURIPUS, RIVER the narrow strait separating Euboea from Boeotia.

EUROPA beloved of Zeus, and by him mother of the Lycian hero Sarpedon (referred to as ‘son of Europa’, but not named, in the Rhesus).

EUROTAS a major river in the southern Peloponnese, running through Spartan territory.

EURYTUS in the Iphigenia at Aulis leader of the Epeians from Elis. In the Iliad it is Eurytus’ son, Thalpius, who goes to Troy.

EVIUS a cult-title of Dionysus, associated with the cry of ‘evoe’, an expression of joy and ecstasy.

FURIES a Fury is a daemonic and dangerous creature who was thought to persecute evil-doers in life and after death; hence any horrific and avenging figure, especially female. The Furies’ most famous role in mythology is as pursuers of Orestes, whom they hounded after he had killed his mother.

GANYMEDE a beautiful Trojan boy who was carried away by Zeus because of his beauty; he became the cup-bearer of Zeus on Olympus as well as sharing his bed.

GERAESTUS a promontory at the southern tip of the island of Euboea.

GERENIAN from the Iliad onwards, a title attached to Nestor, of uncertain meaning.

GLAUCUS son of Nereus, and like him a prophetic sea-divinity.

GORGON a type of hideous female monster with snakes for hair, so horrible that to look at one outright would turn a man to stone. The most famous Gorgon, Medusa, was slain by Perseus, who chopped off her head by looking not at her, but at her reflection in his shield. A Gorgon’s head adorned the shield of Athena.

GOUNEUS king of the Aenians; mentioned in Homer’s catalogue of ships.

GRACES minor goddesses who embody the graceful beauty and pleasure of life, often associated with the Muses and represented singing or dancing.

HADES (a) one of the three most powerful Olympians, the others being Zeus and Poseidon. They divided up the universe, and Hades drew the underworld as his domain; (b) the underworld itself.

HAEMON son of Creon of Thebes, betrothed to Antigone.

HARMONIA daughter of Ares and Aphrodite; wife of Cadmus of Thebes.

HEBE ‘youth’. Consort of Heracles; divine personification of youthful beauty.

HECATE a sinister goddess associated with darkness, witchcraft and ghosts. Sometimes, however, she is identified with Artemis and viewed more positively.

HECTOR son of Priam and Hecabe, and prince of Troy; the most valiant of the Trojan warriors. Eventually killed by Achilles, after which Troy was doomed.

HELEN daughter of Zeus and the mortal woman Leda; wife of Menelaus and mother of Hermione. According to the usual legend, she was carried away or seduced by the Trojan Paris. The Trojan war was fought to get her back. She eventually returned to Sparta and lived with her husband (though in the Orestes this ending is modified).

HELIOS the sun, personified as a god. He is sometimes associated with or even identified with Apollo, who was also often regarded as a god of light (and whose sister Artemis presided over the moon).

HEPHAESTUS son of Zeus and Hera; god of fire and of the arts of craftsmanship, especially metalwork, but lame and often treated disparagingly by his fellow divinities. His forges were thought to be located under Mount Etna.

HERA queen of the gods and consort of Zeus; presides over marriage; often associated with Argos, one of her favourite cities.

HERACLES son of Zeus and Alcmene; greatest of the Greek heroes, famous for his many victories over monsters and barbaric peoples; enslaved by Eurystheus and compelled to perform twelve labours. Eventually deified and married to Hebe.

HERMES son of Zeus and the nymph Maia; messenger of the gods.

HERMIONE daughter of Helen and Menelaus; she remained in Greece while Helen went with Paris to Troy.

HIPPOMEDON an Argive, one of the Seven against Thebes.

HOMOLOIDAN GATE one of the seven gates of Thebes

HYMEN or HYMENAEUS perhaps originally a celebratory cry at wedding ceremonies, but often taken as name of a god presiding over such events.

IDA a mountain range in the Troad, where the young Paris was exposed as a child and grew up.

ILIUM another name for Troy.

INACHUS mythical first king of Argos, usually regarded as divine embodiment of the river that bears his name. Father of Io.

INO one of the daughters of Cadmus; sister of Agaue.

IO daughter of Inachus; beloved by Zeus; ancestress of Agenor and the Tyrian people; also of Danaus and his daughters. See further note 1 to Phoenician Women.

IONIA, IONIAN SEAS ‘Ionia’ refers to the region inhabited by Greeks of that ethnic group in Asia Minor; but the ‘Ionian seas’ referred to in the Phoenician Women mean the sea to the west of central Greece, separating Corcyra and the mouth of the Corinthian gulf from Italy and Sicily.

IPHIGENIA daughter of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra. Her father was forced to sacrifice her in order to gain favourable winds for the Greek fleet; according to the version followed in Iphigenia among the Taurians, she was rescued by Artemis and carried off to the remote land of the Tauri.

ISMENUS a river in Theban territory.

IXION king of the Lapiths; one of the great sinners of myth, traditionally the first Greek to kill a kinsman. He also attempted to rape Hera, and was punished in the underworld by being bound for ever to a rotating wheel of fire.

JOCASTA wife of Laius and mother of Oedipus, whom she later married without knowing his true identity. By Oedipus she had four children; see further initial note to Phoenician Women.


LABDACUS king of Thebes and father of Laius.

LAERTES former king of Ithaca and father of Odysseus.

LAITUS according to the Iphigenia at Aulis, one of the Sown Men of Thebes and a captain of the Theban contingent to Troy. He is briefly mentioned in the Iliad’s catalogue of ships.

LAIUS king of Thebes; husband of Jocasta and father of Oedipus, who inadvertently killed his father.

LEDA wife of the Spartan Tyndareus, mother of Helen, Clytemnestra, Castor and Pollux.

LERNA a marshy area near Argos, chiefly famous as the abode of the monstrous Hydra.

LETO a goddess or Titaness who bore Apollo and Artemis to Zeus on the island of Delos.

LIBYA part of North Africa, sometimes loosely used to refer to the whole continent other than Egypt.

LINUS a shadowy figure. The refrain ailinon in songs of lamentation was thought to mean ‘alas for Linus’, and so stories about Linus were devised, e.g. that he was a music teacher of Heracles, slain by his pupil in a fit of anger.

LOCRIS a region north of the Gulf of Corinth; the domain of the lesser Ajax.

LOXIAS a title of Apollo, perhaps meaning ‘crooked’ or ‘slanting’, with reference to his ambiguous oracles.

LYCIA a region in southern Asia Minor.

LYDIA a region in the centre of west Asia Minor, bounded by Mysia in the north, Phrygia in the east and Caria in the south.

LYDIAS a river in Macedonia.

MAENADS another name for the Bacchants, followers of Dionysus. The name means ‘mad ones’.

MAENALUS, MOUNT a mountain in Arcadia in southern Greece; the ‘maid of Maenalus’ is Atalanta, mother of Parthenopaea, because she was exposed there at birth.

MAIA one of the Pleiads, daughters of Atlas; mother of Hermes by Zeus.

MALEA, CAPE a promontory at the south-easternmost point of the Peloponnese. It was a region notorious for unsettled weather, and many sailors in legend, as no doubt in life, were driven off course near Malea.

MECISTEUS a Greek whose son Euryalus is mentioned as going to Troy in the Homeric catalogue of ships. ‘The son of Mecisteus’ is similarly referred to in the catalogue of the Iphigenia at Aulis, but without his name being given.

MEDES the inhabitants of Media, an Asian empire which preceded that of the Persians.

MEGES son of Phyleus; according to the catalogue in the Iphigenia at Aulis, king of the Taphians in the expeditionary force against Troy, but apparently subordinate to Eurytus.

MENELAUS son of Atreus and younger brother of Agamemnon; king of Sparta; husband of Helen. The Trojan war was fought by the Greeks on his behalf, to recover her.

MENOECEUS (1) a Theban, father of Creon and of Jocasta.

MENOECEUS (2) son of Creon.

MERIONES a Greek hero in the expedition against Troy; in the Iliad closely associated with Idomeneus.

MUSAEUS a poet-prophet and bringer of culture and mysteries; closely associated with Orpheus. See Rhesus 945–7 and note 44.

MUSES nine in number, goddesses of the arts and especially poetry; daughters of Memory.

MYCENAE in very ancient times, a great centre of power and wealth in the Peloponnese. By Euripides’ time it was eclipsed and indeed destroyed by Argos, with which in many passages it is virtually identified.

MYGDON father of Coroebus, a Trojan warrior.

MYRMIDONS followers of Achilles in the expedition against Troy.

MYRTILUS charioteer of King Oenomaus, suborned and subsequently murdered by Pelops.

MYSIA a region of Asia Minor, north of Lydia and to the east of the Troad.

NAUPLION or NAUPLIA a town in the Peloponnese near Argos, serving as its port.

NEISTIAN GATE one of the seven gates of Thebes.

NEMESIS personification of the power of retribution for crimes.

NEOPTOLEMUS son of Achilles, brought up in Scyros while his father was in Troy. After Achilles’ death he joined the expedition and played a part in the final sack of Troy.

NEREIDS sea-nymphs, daughters of Nereus. The best known was Thetis, mother of Achilles.

NEREUS a sea-divinity, often conceived as part man and part fish. He had the gift of prophecy.

NESTOR king of Pylos; one of the oldest Greeks to go to Troy, and because of his age and wisdom highly respected by Agamemnon and the other leaders.

NIOBE Theban princess, wife of Amphion; her children were killed by Apollo and Artemis because she had boasted that she was more successful at child-bearing than their mother Leto.

NIREUS already referred to in Homer as the most beautiful of the Greek heroes in the expedition against Troy.

NYSA a mountain of uncertain location, usually referred to as a place where Dionysus is celebrated.

OCEAN or OCEANUS in early Greek thought, conceived as a vast river circling the known world, and often personified as the greatest of river gods.

ODYSSEUS one of the chief leaders of the Greeks at Troy; son of Laertes, king of Ithaca, husband of Penelope. He was the favourite of Athena, and a cunning deviser of plans; often he was represented as too clever for his own good, and even as an immoral schemer.

OEAX brother of Palamedes.

OEDIPUS son of Laius and Jocasta; becomes king of Thebes but is dethroned when the truth about his past is discovered; curses his sons Eteocles and Polyneices, who in the end kill one another. See further Preface and note 1 to Phoenician Women.

OENEUS father of Tydeus, one of the Seven against Thebes.

OENONE an island south of Attica ruled by Aeacus, subsequently renamed after his wife Aegina.

OGYGIAN GATE one of the seven gates of Thebes.

OILEUS father of the lesser Ajax.

OLYMPUS a legendary figure from Phrygia or Mysia who was said to have invented the Phrygian flute or pipe. He is briefly alluded to in the Iphigenia at Aulis.

OLYMPUS, MOUNT a mountain in northern Greece, on the borders of Macedonia and Thessaly. Because of its majestic height, it was considered the home of the gods, though the name is sometimes used more loosely, to describe a remote heavenly realm.

ORESTES son of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra, brother of Electra. After growing up in Phocis near Delphi, he returned to Argos to avenge his father’s death.

ORPHEUS a gifted poet and musician whose singing could spellbind even wild beasts and who endeavoured to charm the powers of the underworld into releasing his dead wife – in some versions successfully.

PAEONIA part of Rhesus’ domain, in northwestern Thrace.

PALAMEDES a clever and inventive Greek on the expedition against Troy. Odysseus, jealous of his gifts, framed him and brought about his death.


PAN son of Hermes; half goat, half man, this lesser deity is a figure of the wild and is often thought to induce frenzy and fits of madness (hence ‘panic’).

PANGAION a mountain range in Thrace, where the river-god Strymon way-laid and made love to the Muse, Rhesus’ mother.

PANTHOUS a Trojan leader, probably the same as the Panthus who appears in book 2 of Virgil’s Aeneid.

PAPHOS a city in Cyprus, and site of a famous temple to Aphrodite, near the place where she was said to have arisen from the sea.

PARIS Alexander or Alexandros, son of Priam and prince of Troy. Paris was the name given to him by the shepherds who rescued him when he was exposed in infancy. He judged Aphrodite the most beautiful of all goddesses, and was rewarded with Helen; but the consequence was the Trojan war.

PARNASSUS a mountain north of Delphi, sacred to Apollo and the Muses.

PARRHASIA a small locality in Arcadia, in the Peloponnese, where Orestes is to undergo a brief period of exile as a result of his matricide.

PARTHENOPAEUS handsome son of Atalanta, a member of the Seven against Thebes.

PELASGIA a term loosely used to refer to the area occupied by the original pre-Greek inhabitants of the Greek mainland; hence ‘Greece’ generally.

PELEUS son of Aeacus, king of Phthia, in Thessaly; a hero of the generation before the Trojan war; married to the sea-nymph Thetis, he became the father of Achilles.

PELION, MOUNT a mountain in Thessaly, in north-eastern Greece, inhabited by Cheiron and the Centaurs.

PELOPS son of Tantalus and early king of Pisa, father of Atreus and Thyestes. He gave his name to the Peloponnese, the massive southern part of Greece.

PENTHEUS son of Agaue and Echion, grandson of Cadmus; king of Thebes and opponent of Dionysus.

PERGAMUM or PERGAMA a name given to the inner citadel of Troy; also, more generally, used to refer to Troy itself.

PERICLYMENUS son of Poseidon and one of the defenders of Thebes against the Argive assault.

PERSEPHONE daughter of Demeter, and often associated with her in cult. Abducted by Hades, she was eventually obliged to spend part of the year on earth and part in the underworld with her husband.

PERSEUS one of the great heroes of Greek myth, slayer of the Gorgon, Medusa. He was a forebear of the even greater hero Heracles.

PERSIA in historical times, the most powerful eastern kingdom known to the Greeks. In the prologue to the Bacchae Dionysus describes his eastern conquests, and anachronistically refers to his journeys across ‘Persia’s sunny uplands’.

PHARSALUS town in southern Thessaly, part of the domain of Achilles’ father Peleus.

PHERES father of Admetus and former ruler of Pherae in north-eastern Greece; grandfather of Eumelus.

PHILAMMON father of the poet Thamyris.

PHOCIS the larger territory surrounding Delphi, to the west of Boeotia.

PHOEBE a daughter of Tyndareus and Leda, hence sister to Helen and Clytemnestra; mentioned in the Iphigenia at Aulis, but mythologically unimportant.

PHOEBUS another name for Apollo.

PHOENICIA the territory at the easternmost part of the Mediterranean: its chief ancient cities were Sidon and Tyre.

PHRYGIA area in western Asia Minor; often used more loosely to refer to Asia and the ‘barbarian’ territories generally. Hence ‘Phrygians’ often = ‘Trojans’.

PHTHIA a region in Thessaly, the kingdom of Achilles’ father Peleus and subsequently of his son Neoptolemus.

PHYLEUS father of Meges, one of the Greek heroes who went to Troy.

PIERIA a district in Macedonia, on the northern slopes of Mount Olympus, a place associated with the Muses; hence they are referred to as ‘Pierian maids’ or ‘daughters of Pieria’.

PLEIAD (plural PLEIADES) seven daughters of the Titan Atlas and of Pleione. They were pursued by Orion and turned into a constellation. They are associated with the marking of the seasons for farming activity.

POLYBUS king of Corinth; he and his wife, being childless, adopted the foundling Oedipus when he was discovered exposed on the mountain side.

POLYDEUCES Latinized as ‘Pollux’; one of the Dioscuri or Heavenly Twins; see CASTOR.

POLYDORUS son of Cadmus and Harmonia; father of Labdacus.

POLYNEICES son of Oedipus and Jocasta, brother of Eteocles, whom he challenges in war for the throne of Thebes. In the end the two brothers kill each other.

POSEIDON god of the sea and also of other threatening natural forces such as earthquakes.

PRIAM king of Troy, husband of Hecabe. He was the father of many children, especially Hector, Alexander (also called Alexandros or Paris), Polyxena, Cassandra. At the sack of Troy he was killed by Neoptolemus.

PROETEAN GATE one of the seven gates of Thebes.

PROMETHEUS a Titan, who assisted Zeus in seizing power on Olympus and helped him in other ways (including enabling him to give birth to Athena); in some myths the creator of mankind, whom he befriended and to whom he gave the gift of fire. He was famous for his wisdom and ingenuity.

PROTESILAUS one of the Greek warriors on the expedition against Troy; traditionally he was the first to die when the army first entered battle.

PYLADES son of Strophius, king of Phocis, and close friend of Orestes, who was brought up in Strophius’ court. He accompanied Orestes in disguise to Argos, joined him in the killing of Aegisthus and Clytemnestra, and subsequently married Electra.

PYLOS a city on the western coast of the Peloponnese, ruled by Nestor.

PYTHIAN a title of Apollo, commemorating his slaying of the snake Python, which previously guarded the oracle at Delphi; hence also an adjective meaning ‘to do with Apollo, or Delphi’.

PYTHO another name for Delphi. The story was that Apollo had killed a huge snake (python), who had possessed the shrine before him. Hence Apollo bore the title ‘Pythian’. The Pythian Games were held at Delphi.

RHEA mother of Zeus, Hera and other Olympian gods; consort of Cronus; often regarded as mother of all gods, and later treated as equivalent to Cybele.

RHESUS a Thracian warrior, allied to the Trojans. He figures already in book 10 of the Iliad; see further Preface to Rhesus.


SALAMIS an island off the coast of Attica, home of Telamon and his sons Ajax and Teucer.

SARDIS a major city of Lydia in Asia Minor.

SATYRS hybrid creatures, half man, half beast (often goat-like); followers of Dionysus; boisterous and lustful in their habits.

SCYTHIA a rather vague term used by the Greeks to refer to the lands to the north and east of the eastern Mediterranean, often regarded as wild, uncivilized and inhabited by nomadic tribes. Herodotus (book 4) discusses the Scythians at length.

SELENE the moon-goddess; in Hesiod she is sister to Helios (the sun) and Eos (dawn), but genealogies vary.

SEMELE mother of Dionysus by Zeus. For the details see notes 1 and 9 to the Bacchae.

SIDON like Tyre, a major city of Phoenicia.

SIMOIS a river of the plain of Troy.

SIPYLUS, MOUNT a mountain in Lydia in Asia Minor. In an angry speech in the Iphigenia at Aulis Achilles oddly refers to it as the place of origin of the Atridae, presumably because their ancestor Tantalus was also father of Niobe, who was preserved there in rock-form.

SISYPHUS a king of Corinth with a reputation for cleverness and unscrupulousness. He was sometimes said to be the real father of Odysseus. He was said even to have tried to cheat death itself. In the end he was imprisoned in the underworld and set the perpetual task of pushing a gigantic boulder up a hill; the reason for his punishment is variously reported.

SOWN MEN OF THEBES the original citizen warriors of Thebes, who sprang up from the earth when Cadmus sowed the dragon’s teeth (see note 1 to Phoenician Women). The myth symbolizes the ferocity of the Thebans.

SPARTA chief city of Laconia, kingdom of Menelaus and Helen; in historical times one of the dominant cities of the Peloponnese and regularly opposed to Athens. This antagonism is often projected back into the mythical period.

SPHINX a monstrous female creature that threatened Thebes and devoured her citizens until Oedipus, by solving her riddle, brought about her death.

STHENELUS son of Capaneus; one of the Greek leaders in the Trojan war; friend of Diomedes.

STROPHIUS king of Phocis and ally of Agamemnon; father of Pylades.

STRYMON a river in Thrace; as a personified river-god, father of Rhesus.

TALAUS (1) grandfather of Euryalus, a member of the Greek expedition to Troy.

TALAUS (2) father of Adrastus, king of Argos.

TALTHYBIUS herald of the Greek army at Troy and particularly of Agamemnon.

TANTALUS (1) ancestor of Agamemnon and his family.

TANTALUS (2) according to the Iphigenia at Aulis, the name of Clytemnestra’s first husband. This is probably a Euripidean invention.

TAPHOS one of the larger of the group of islands known as the Echinae, off western Greece.

TARTARUS one of the deepest regions of the underworld, where the wicked are condemned to suffer punishment.

TEIRESIAS blind prophet of Thebes, who appears frequently in tragedy, usually in order to give advice to rulers who are reluctant to accept it.

TELAMON son of Aeacus, brother of Peleus and father of the greater Ajax and of Teucer; king of the island of Salamis, and one of the heroes of the generation before the Trojan war.

TEUMESSUS a town in Boeotia, east of Thebes.

THAMYRIS legendary Thracian poet and musician, who was blinded by the Muses when he foolishly dared to compete with them.

THEBES chief city of Boeotia, north of Athens.

THEMIS an ancient goddess, daughter of Earth and Sky, and protectress of justice. Her name means ‘order, law, propriety’. In early times she presided over the Delphic oracle.

THESEUS son of Aegeus and Aethra; most famous of the mythical kings of Athens.

THESPROTIA a region in Epirus in north-western Greece, notable for being the location of the great oracle of Dodona.

THESSALY a region of north-eastern Greece.

THESTIUS father of Leda, the mother of Helen and Clytemnestra.

THETIS a goddess of the sea, who married Peleus and bore him the hero Achilles. She abandoned Peleus and returned to the sea, but never entirely forgot her mortal connections.

THRACE a region to the extreme north-east of the Greek mainland, beyond Macedonia; southern Greeks regarded it as primitive and savage.

THRONIUM a city which formed part of the domain of the lesser Ajax, in Ozolian Locris; mentioned in the list of his territories in Homer’s catalogue, and also referred to in the Iphigenia at Aulis.

THYESTES son of Pelops and brother of Atreus; father of Aegisthus, whose usurpation of Agamemnon’s throne was partly a form of revenge for the crime of Atreus, who had killed Thyestes’ other sons and served them up to their unsuspecting father for dinner.

THYMBRA a town close to Troy. It supplied contingents for the Trojan defence forces.

TMOLUS a large mountain in Lydia overshadowing the city of Sardis; associated with Bacchic worship.

TROJANS the people of Troy, defeated by the Greeks in the Trojan war. Most famous are their king Priam and his sons Hector, the outstanding warrior killed by Achilles, and Paris, who started the war by abducting Helen.

TROY a city in Asia Minor, ruled by Priam and his family. In earlier times its kings included Dardanus and Laomedon. Its citadel was known as Pergama or Pergamon. The Greeks destroyed it at the end of the ten-year Trojan war.

TYDEUS one of the Seven against Thebes; father of Diomedes.

TYNDAREUS father of Helen and Clytemnestra, Castor and Pollux (some of these had Zeus as their real father, particularly Helen, but terms such as ‘daughter of Tyndareus’ are still used in a loose way).

TYRE a city of Phoenicia, supposedly founded by Agenor, father of Cadmus.

ZEPHYRUS the west wind, usually gentle and favourable.


ZEUS the most powerful of the Olympian gods and head of the family of immortals; father of Apollo, Athena, Artemis and many other lesser gods, as well as of mortals such as Heracles.

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