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Αμφιτρυων

The son of Alceus, the king of Tiryns and Astydamia, the daughter of Pelops (Table 2 and Table 31). He took part in the war between his uncle and brother-in-law Electryon and the latter's great-nephew, Pterelas; Electryon was king of Mycenae, but Pterelas claimed the kingdom by virtue of his descent from Mestor, one of the brothers of Electryon. The sons of Pterelas came at the head of an army of Paphians who lived on the island of Paphos (which lies off the coast of Acarnania) to lay waste Mycenean territory and to carry off the flocks of Electryon. All the sons of Electryon and of Pterelas lost their lives in the fighting except for one from each family: Licymnius of the former and Eueres of the latter. The men of Paphos managed to escape, taking with them the flocks which they entrusted to Polyxenus, the king of Elis. But Amphitryon managed to recover them by paying a ransom and brought them back to Mycenae.

Then Electryon determined to avenge his sons by mounting a campaign against Pterelas and his people the Teleboeans. While he was away he entrusted his kingdom and his daughter Alcmene to Amphitryon, who swore to respect her until the king returned. But Electryon did not in the end go to war. Just as Amphitryon was returning the stolen flocks to him, a cow went mad and when Amphitryon threw the staff which he had in his hand at it, the staff bounced off the cow's horns and in so doing hit and killed Electryon. Sthenelas the overlord of Argos, to whom the kingdom of Mycenae belonged, took the opportunity to banish Amphitryon who fled, with Alcmene and Licymnius, to Thebes where he was purified of his murder by Creon, the king.

But Amphitryon was still bound by his oath and so could not marry Alcmene while she also refused to agree to the marriage until her brothers' deaths had been avenged. Accordingly Amphitryon had to mount an expedition against Pterelas and the Teleboeans for which he asked Creon's help. Creon did not refuse but made it a pre-condition that Amphitryon should rid Thebes of a fox which was laying the country waste. This fox, the fox of Teumessa, could not be caught by running, so Amphitryon asked for the hound of Procris, an animal native to Crete, which was reputed to run faster that anything that it chased. However the hound was unable to outpace the fox so Zeus, out of respect for the Fates and in order to find a way out, changed both the animals into stone statues.

Amphitryon, having thus met the condition laid down by Creon, secured the Thebans as allies against the Teleboeans, and with other contingents, including those led by Cephalus of Attica, Panopeas of Phocis, and Heleius from the Argolid (who was the son of Perseus), laid waste the island of Paphos. But there again he came up against a magic obstruction. So long as Pterelas lived the town of Paphos could not be captured, and Pterelas' life was linked with a single golden hair hidden among the rest of his head. His daughter Comaetho, however, fell in love with Amphitryon and cut the fatal hair from her father's head. Pterelas died, and Amphitryon was able to take possession of the whole island of Paphos. Thereafter, he killed Comaetho and returned to Thebes laden with booty.

At this point Zeus, with the features of Amphitryon, came to Alcmene and obtained what Amphitryon himself had asked for in vain. However that same night Amphitryon returned and consummated his marriage with Alcmene who simultaneously conceived Iphicles by Amphitryon and Heracles by Zeus. When her unconscious infidelity was disclosed to him by the seer Tiresias, Amphitryon's first impulse was to punish her, but Zeus intervened and precented him. Once reconciled with his wife, Amphityon took an active part in bringing up Heracles by teaching him how to drive a chariot. There is also a story that, in order to tell which child was his and which that of Zeus, he brought two snakes into their room when they were ten months old. Iphicles was frightened but Heracles strangled both snakes and his showed that Iphicles was of mortal and Heracles of divine descent. Another tradition has it that the two snakes were sent by Hera. Later, when Heracles was displaying the violence of his inherited disposition by killing his music teacher Linus, Amphitryon, fearing a similar fate if he annoyed the boy, sent him into the country to look after the oxen. This was how the hero came to kill the lion which was attacking Amphitryon's flocks in the mountains of Cithaeron.

Amphitryon met his death while fighting at Heracles' side in the struggle which the Thebans were conducting against the Minyans of Orchomenos, a town near Thebes (see also Erginus).

{E2 DICTIONARY OF CLASSICAL MYTHOLOGY}

Table of Sources:
- Apollos. Bibl. 2, 4, 6f
- Hesiod, Scutum 11ff.; 79ff.
- Tzetzes on Lyc. Alex. 932
- Euripides, HF 16ff.
- Paus. 9, 9, 1
- Antoninus Liberalis Met. 41
- Ovid, Met. 6, 762f
- Hdt. 5, 59
- Paus. 1, 37

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