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Greek Mythology

Son of the god Apollo and the water nymph Cyrene. Aristaeus was a bee keeper, and one day, all of his bees mysteriously died. He asked his mother for help, and she told him that he would have to capture the sea god Proteus. This was a daunting task, as Proteus could change into a number of different forms, and Aristaeus would have to hold him captive throughout these metamorphoses. Aristaeus headed for the sea and captured Proteus, not letting go until the god relented and agreed to help. Proteus told him to make a sacrifice to the gods and to leave the remains at the sacrifice location; he was to return to examine the carcasses after nine days. Aristaeus did so, and on the ninth day, he found one of the carcasses filled with a swarm of bees.

E2 Dictionary of Classical Mythology


The son of the Nymph Cyrene, the daughter of Hypseus, the king of the Lapiths who was himself the son of the Naiad Creusa and the Thessalian river-god Peneus (Table 23). One day when Apollo was hunting in the valley of Pelion, he saw Cyrene and transported her in his golden chariot to Libya where she bore him a son named Aristaeus. When the child was born, Apollo placed him in the care of his great-grandmother Gaia (Creusa was the daughter of Gaia and Poseidon) and of the Seasons (the Horae). According to another tradition, Aristaeus was brought up by Chiron, the Centaur. Then the Muses completed his education by teaching him the arts of medicine and divination. They entrusted him with the care of their flocks of sheep which grazed in the plain of Phthia in Thessaly. The nymphs also taught him the arts of dairy farming and bee-keeping, as well as the culture of the vine. In his turn, he taught men the skills that the goddesses had taught him.

Aristaeus married Autonoe, the daughter of Cadmus and fathered a son named Actaeon. He is also credited with a whole range of discoveries about hunting, notably the use of pits and netting. Actaeon in due course became a hunter like him and thereby met his death. Virgil tells how Aristaeus one day pursued Orpheus' wife Eurydice along a river. In her flight, Eurydice was bitten by a snake and died. Her death brought on Aristaeus the wrath of the gods, who punished him by causing an illness among his bees. Aristaeus, in despair, called for help on his mother, the Nymph Cyrene, who dwelt in a crystal palace beneath the waters of the Peneus. When he was admitted to her presence she told him that the only person who could say what was causing his misfortune was the sea-god Proteus. Aristaeus went off to question Proteus and caught him resting on a rock, surrounded by a herd of seals which he was looking after on behalf Poseidon. Taking advantage of the fact that Proteus was asleep, Aristaeus tied him up and forced him to answer, for Proteus did not like questioners. On this occasion, he told Aristaeus that the gods were punishing him for Eurydice's death and gave him advice on how to get some new swarms of bees.

There is also a story that Aristaeus took part in the conquest of India with Dionysus at the head of an Arcadian army. During a plague which caused much damage to the Cyclades at the time of the year when the star Sirius brings back the hottest days, the inhabitants asked Aristaeus for help and he settled in Ceos. There he built a great altar to Zeus and every day he offered sacrifices to Sirius and Zeus on the mountains. Zeus, moved by his prayers, sent the Etesian winds, which cooled the atmosphere and blew away the unhealthy air. Ever since then, each year these winds rise at the hot season and purify the air of the Cyclades. Aristaeus was held in honour in Arcadia, where he had introduced bee-keeping. He was also honoured in Libya, in the region of Cyrene, whither he was said to have followed his mother and where he planted the precious herb called Silphium, which produced both a cure and a spice.


Table of Sources:
- Paus. 8, 2, 4; 10, 17, 3ff.
- Nonnus, Dion. 5, 229ff.; 13, 300ff.
- Apoll. Rhod. Arg. 2, 500ff. with schol.
- Hesiod Theog. 977
- Ovid, Pont. 4, 2, 9
- Virgil, Georg. 4, 317ff.
- Cic. De Div. 1, 57

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