Notes for

Ovid, Heroides VIII


Achaean: Literally, the inhabitants of the Greek region of Achaea. "Achaeans" was used by Homer and other writers as a general name for the Greeks at Troy.

Achilles:  Son of the mortal Peleus and the Nereid (sea-nymph) Thetis; grandson of Aeacus.  Thetis tried unsuccessfully to make him immortal; the most popular story of this is that she dipped him in the river Styx, making every portion of his body invulnerable to weapons except the heel of his foot, where she was holding him.  Achilles grew up to be a great warrior, and there was a prophecy that the city of Troy could not be taken without his help.  Thetis also knew of a prophecy that he would die young if he went to Troy, so she sent him to the court of Lycomedes, in Scyros; there he was hidden, disguised as a young girl. During his stay he had an affair with Lycomedes' daughter, Deidameia, and she had a son, Neoptolemus (or Pyrrhus), by him. Achilles' disguise was finally penetrated by Ulysses, and Achilles then went willingly to Troy.  At Troy, Achilles distinguished himself as an undefeatable warrior, but he quarreled with Agamemnon, the chief leader of the Greeks, and withdrew from the fighting.  The war then went badly for the Greeks, but Achilles still refused to fight until his close friend Patroclus was killed.  He then finally reentered the fighting and killed the greatest of the Trojan warriors, Hector, the son of King Priam of Troy.  He defiled Hector's body and refused to give it up for burial until King Priam himself, coming secretly into the Greek camp by night, pleaded with Achilles for his son's return.  Achilles himself was killed by an arrow of Apollo, shot by King Priam's son, Paris.  Paris wounded him in the heel, his only vulnerable spot (and, yes, the "Achilles tendon" is named for him).

Aeacus:  Son of Jove and Aegina; father of Peleus, grandfather of Achilles and great-grandfather of Neoptolemus.  Aeacus was king of the island of Aegina. One of the best-known incidents in his life occurred when his kingdom was virtually wiped out by a plague. He prayed to Jove to send him subjects as numerous as the ants he saw swarming in an oak tree; he then fell asleep, and dreamed that he saw the ants being transformed into men. When he awoke, he found that the dream was true: the ants had been transformed into a host of young men who surrounded his palace and called him their king. He called these new subjects "Myrmidons," from the Greek word for "ant"; the Myrmidons were tireless workers and fierce fighters, who remained intensely loyal to their king. Although both Peleus and his brother Telemon were forced to leave Aegina after the murder of their brother, Phocus, Achilles still commanded fierce warriors called Myrmidons during the Trojan War.  Aeacus was famed for his piety and virtue and became a judge of the dead in the afterlife.

Aegisthus:  Son of Thyestes and grandson of Pelops; cousin of Orestes' father, Agamemnon.  While Agamemnon was absent at the Trojan War, Clytemnaestra, Agamemnon's wife, had an affair with Aegisthus, and the two agreed to murder Agamemnon when he returned.  Afterwards, Aegisthus married Clytemnaestra and became king of Mycenae.  Orestes killed the two of them to avenge his father's death.  See also the note on Orestes.

Andromache:  Wife of the great Trojan hero Hector, who was a son of King Priam of Troy.  After the fall of Troy, Neoptolemus took her as a war-slave; in some accounts, she had a son by him, Molossus.  Later, Neoptolemus gave her in marriage to Helenus, another son of King Priam, who had survived the fall of Troy and became ruler of Epirus.

Apollo:  God of the arts of healing, and of poetry and music.  He is often associated with the sun.  He was strongly associated with prophecy and was famous for his prowess with the bow.  Achilles was supposed to have been killed by one of Apollo's arrows, shot either by Apollo himself or by Paris with Apollo's assistance.  

Argos:  A region in Greece (actually, more than one region was called Argos).  Here it is simply a synonym for "Greece."

Atreus:  King of Mycene.  He was the son of Pelops and the father of Agamemnon (Orestes' father) and Menelaus (Hermione's father). He was the grandson of Tantalus, whose family was blighted by curses from the gods for five generations; the family history includes power struggles, murders, incest, cannibalism, and more. The misfortunes of the house of Atreus were favorite subjects for Greek tragic dramatists.  The murder of Agamemnon by his cousin, Aegisthus, and the subsequent revenge by Orestes were simply the latest chapters in the saga.  For more details on Orestes' part in the family curse, see the note on Orestes.

Danaean:  Another name for the Greeks who fought at Troy.

Dardanian foreigner:  Paris.  Dardania was a town near Troy, founded by Dardanus, the ancestor of the Trojans.  Hence "Dardanian" is used roughly as a synonym for "Trojan."

descendant of Aeacus:  Achilles.

descendant of Tantalus:  Agamemnon, the father of Orestes, was the supreme commander of the Greek forces at Troy.  Agamemnon was the great-grandson of Tantalus.

father, father-in-law:  Menelaus, father of Hermione; hence the father-in-law of Orestes, since he was the legitimate "husband" of Hermione in her own view.  Menelaus was away at the Trojan War throughout most of Hermione's childhood.

father of Pelops:  Tantalus.

forefather of our family:  JoveTantalus was the son of Jove, and both Hermione and Orestes were descended from Tantalus.

grandfather:  Tyndareus.

guest from Mount Ida:  Paris

hateful arms:  Orestes killed his mother, Clytemnaestra, and his step-father, Aegisthus.  Hence he was guilty of parricide (the killing of one's parents), a crime that was viewed with special revulsion.  He undertook the killings in revenge for his own father's murder.  For details on these killings, see the note on Orestes.

Helen:  Wife of Menelaus, king of Sparta, and mother of Hermione.  Helen was the daughter of the human woman Leda and the god Jove, who came to her in the form of a swan.  She was generally acknowledged to be the most beautiful and desirable woman in the world, and all the kings of Greece wanted to marry her.  Her human father (or step-father), Tyndareus, was afraid that fighting would break out among the disappointed suitors, so he delayed selecting a husband for Helen.  Ulysses suggested that Tyndareus make all the suitors swear an oath beforehand to defend the rights of the one who was finally chosen, so that anyone who tried to interfere with the marriage would face massive opposition.  This was done, and Helen was married to Menelaus, king of Sparta.  So when Paris eloped with (or abducted) Helen with the aid of the goddess Venus, all the kings of Greece joined together in an expedition to bring her back from Troy.  The marriage of Paris and Helen led to the Trojan War and the eventual destruction of Troy.

Hermione:  Daughter of Menelaus (king of Sparta) and Helen.  Hermione was a small child when her mother was abducted by (or eloped with) Paris, the son of King Priam of Troy.  The Trojan War then followed, in which an alliance of Greek kings, including Menelaus, laid siege to Troy for ten years in order to bring Helen back.  Hermione was left at home in Sparta while both of her parents were absent during this time.  Accounts of Hermione's career vary, but in the one that Ovid is relying on, she was originally betrothed (i.e., promised in marriage) to Orestes, the son of Menelaus' brother, King Agamemnon of Mycenae.  Ovid indicates that it was Hermione's grandfather, Tyndareus, who arranged the betrothal.  When Menelaus returned from the Trojan War, however, he gave her in marriage to Neoptolemus (also known as Pyrrhus), the son of the great Greek hero Achilles.  In most accounts, she finally becomes Orestes' bride; in at least one version, Orestes kills Neoptolemus in order to get her.

Hippodameia:  Daughter of King Oenomaus of Pisa and wife of Pelops.  Oenomaus had decreed that any suitor might carry Hippodameia off, but that he himself would pursue them and would kill anyone he was able to overtake. He had already killed twelve or thirteen suitors this way. However Pelops (or Hippodameia herself in some accounts) persuaded Oenomaus' charioteer, Myrtilus, to remove the linchpins from the king's chariot; Oenomaus was thrown from the vehicle, became entangled in the reins, and was dragged to his death. Pelops then killed Myrtilus by throwing him into the sea, either because he had tried to rape Hippodameia or because Pelops resented sharing the credit for success in the chariot race. Myrtilus, as he was dying, cursed the house of Pelops, and this curse blighted the lives of Pelops' sons (Atreus and Thyestes), and his grandsons (Agamemnon and Aegisthos, and perhaps Menelaus as well, if Helen's abduction is counted in).

Isthmus:  The narrow strip of land connecting mainland Greece to the Peloponnesus. 

Jove:  King of the gods.  Jove was the father of Tantalus, and the great-great-great-grandfather of both Orestes and Hermione.  He was also the father of Helen and grandfather of Hermione.  

Lacedaemon:  Sparta, home of Hermione.  Hermione's father, Menelaus, was king of Sparta.

Leda:  Mother of Helen and husband of Tyndareus; grandmother of HermioneJove became enamored of Leda, and came to her in the form of a swan.  He either seduced her or raped her.  She then gave birth to four children, two girls and two boys:  Helen and Clytemnaestra, and Pollux and Castor.  Helen and Pollux were the children of Jove, and Clytemnaestra and Castor were the children of Tyndareus (in some accounts, both Pollux and Castor were the sons of Jove, and become gods themselves).  In some accounts, Leda also had a fifth child, a daughter named Phoebe

man of Scyros:  Neoptolemus (Pyrrhus), son of Achilles and of Deidemeia, daughter of King Lycomedes of Scyros.  For the circumstances of Achilles' connection with Deidameia, see the note on Achilles.

master:  Neoptolemus (Pyrrhus).

Menelaus:  King of Sparta and father of Hermione.  Menelaus was married to Helen, and when Helen was abducted by (or eloped with) Paris, son of King Priam of Troy, the kings of Greece formed an alliance and made war on Troy in order to get her back.  For more details on this episode, see the notes on Paris and Helen.

mother:  Helen.

Mount Ida:  Mountain near TroyParis was supposed to have grown up on the slopes of Mount Ida.

Orestes:  Son of Agamemnon (king of Mycenae and brother of Menelaus) and Clytemnaestra (sister of Helen).  Hence Orestes and Hermione are first cousins through both their mothers and their fathers.  In Ovid's version of Orestes' story, Orestes was betrothed (i.e., promised in marriage) to Hermione at an early age.  Orestes' father, Agamemnon, was chief commander of the Greek forces that laid siege to Troy during the Trojan War.  The siege lasted ten years, and after Troy was finally destroyed, it took Agamemnon some time to get back home to Mycenae.  While he was away, Clytemnaestra had an affair with Agamemnon's cousin, Aegisthus, and the two of them plotted to kill Agamemnon when he finally returned.  The plot succeeded, and Aegisthus became king of Mycenae.  Orestes, with the support of his sister, Electra, then exacted revenge for the murder of his father, killing both Aegisthus and Clytemnaestra.  As retribution for this killing, he was hounded by the Furies, fearsome goddesses of vengeance;  he wandered, half-mad, across Greece for a long period of time before he was purified of his guilt and released by the Furies.  Meanwhile, Hermione's father, Menelaus, had given Hermione in marriage to Neoptolemus (also known as Pyrrhus), the son of the great Greek hero Achilles.  In most accounts, Orestes and Hermione finally marry; in at least one version, Orestes kills Neoptolemus in order to get her.

Paris:  Son of King Priam of Troy and his wife, Hecuba.  When he was a young adult, he was asked to judge which of three goddesses was the most beautiful--Juno, Minerva, or Venus.  Each goddess tried to bribe him--Juno with a kingdom, Minerva with wisdom, and Venus with the love of the most beautiful woman in the world.  Paris chose Venus.  In return, he won Helen as his wife.  However, Helen was already married to Menelaus, king of Sparta, and after Paris eloped with (or abducted) her, the kings of the other Greek cities banded together and led a military expedition to get her back.  (For more background on this, see the note on Helen.)  The result was the Trojan War, a ten-year siege of the city of Troy that led to its fall.  Paris was famed as an archer, and he is supposed to have fired the arrow that killed the greatest of the Greek warriors, Achilles.  Paris in turn was killed by one of the poisoned arrows of Hercules, fired by the Greek warrior Philoctetes.  

Peleus:  Father of Achilles, grandfather of Neoptolemus (Pyrrhus).

Pelops:  Pelops was the son of Tantalus and the grandson of Jove. When he was a boy, his father cut him into pieces, stewed his flesh in a cauldron, and served him as a feast for the gods. The gods detected the trick and restored Pelops to life; a single piece of his shoulder had been eaten by the goddess Ceres, and this they replaced with ivory. After his restoration, Pelops was an even more beautiful young man than before; the god Neptune fell in love with him and gave him a winged chariot.  Pelops subdued the area of Greece which became known as the Peloponnesus. During the time of the Trojan War, the Greeks brought his bones to Troy because of a prophecy that only by doing so could they conquer the city.

Phoebe:  Daughter of Leda, and sister of Helen.  There are few stories associated with her.

Phrygian:  Phrygia was an area in Asia Minor, near Troy.  In poetry, "Phrygian" was often used as a synonym for "Trojan."

Pyrrhus, Neoptolemus:  Son of Achilles, the greatest of the Greek heroes to fight at Troy, and Deidameia, daughter of King Lycomedes of Scyros.  He is called both Neoptolemus and Pyrrhus.  Neoptolemus was summoned to fight at Troy after the death of his father, where he distinguished himself in battle.  He was one of the warriors who was chosen to hide inside the Trojan horse in order to get within the gates of Troy; during the sack of Troy, he killed Priam, Troy's king, at the altar of Jove, an episode which Virgil's Aeneid describes in vivid and rather savage terms.  After his return from Troy, Menelaus gave his daughter, Hermione, in marriage to Neoptolemus, in spite of her previous betrothal to Orestes.   Accounts of his later career vary; in one of them, Orestes kills him at Delphi and takes Hermione.  Most accounts do have Hermione and Orestes married in the end. 

son of Peleus:  Achilles, father of Neoptolemus (Pyrrhus).

swan:  Jove took on the form of a swan in order to seduce (or rape) Helen's mother, Leda.

Taenaris:  A cape or promontory at the southern end of the Peloponnesus in Greece.  It was in Laconia, the region of Sparta, where Helen lived.  Hence, "woman of Taenaris" refers to Helen.  

Tantalus:  The son of Jove and the king of Sipylos. He was the founding ancestor of the house of Atreus and was the great-great-grandfather of both Orestes and Hermione.  He was uniquely favored among mortals since he was invited to share the food of the gods. However, he abused the guest-host relationship and was punished in the afterlife by being "tantalized" with hunger and thirst in Tartarus: he was immersed up to his neck in water, but when he bent to drink, it all drained away; luscious fruit hung on trees above him, but when he reached for it the winds blew the branches beyond his reach.  For the most famous version of his crime against the gods, see the note on Pelops.  His descendants lived under curses from the gods for a number of generations.

Titan:  Helios, the god of the sun.  He was one of the Titans, the group of deities who were displaced by the "Olympian" gods under the leadership of Jove.  He is usually represented as driving a chariot and team of horses across the sky each day.

Troy:  City in Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey).  Its king was Priam, and it was the home of Paris; it was one of the wealthiest cities of the time.  After Paris brought Helen to Troy, Greek armies besieged the city for ten years, trying to get her back.  They finally got into the city by means of a trick.  They left a huge wooden horse, apparently as a divine offering, and withdrew their troops.  The Trojans brought this "Trojan horse" into the city, believing that Troy could never fall with the horse inside.  The horse was full of Greek warriors, who crept out at night, let the other Greek troops into the city, and then sacked and burned Troy.

twin brothers:  Pollux and Castor, also called the Dioscuri, who were Helen's brothers.  For more details, see the note on Leda.

Tyndareus:  Human father (or step-father) of Helen, and grandfather of Hermione.  For more details, see the note on Helen.

your father, my uncle:  Agamemnon, whose murder Orestes had avenged.  Agamemnon was the father of Orestes, and the brother of Hermione's father, Menelaus.  For details of this vengeance, see the note on Orestes.

 

 

 

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Last updated 06/23/2013