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[14] And when Orestes went mad, Neoptolemus carried off his wife Hermione, who had previously been betrothed to him in Troy1; and for that reason he was slain by Orestes at Delphi. But some say that he went to Delphi to demand satisfaction from Apollo for the death of his father, and that he rifled the votive offerings and set fire to the temple, and was on that account slain by Machaereus the Phocian.2

1 In this passage Apollodorus appears to follow the account given by Euripides in his Andromache, (Eur. And. 967-981). According to that account, Menelaus gave his daughter Hermione in marriage to her cousin Orestes, the son of Agamemnon and Clytaemnestra. But in the Trojan war he afterwards promised the hand of Hermione to Neoptolemus, if Neoptolemus should succeed in capturing Troy. Accordingly on his return from the war Neoptolemus claimed his bride from her husband Orestes, who was then haunted and maddened by the Furies of his murdered mother Clytaemnestra. Orestes protested, but in vain; Neoptolemus insolently reproached him with his crime of matricide and with the unseen avengers of blood by whom he was pursued. So Orestes was obliged to yield up his wife to his rival, but he afterwards took his revenge by murdering Neoptolemus at Delphi. This version of the legend is followed also by Hyginus, Fab. 123. An obvious difficulty is presented by the narrative; for if Menelaus had given his daughter in marriage to Orestes, how could he afterwards have promised her to Neoptolemus in the lifetime of her first husband? This difficulty was met by another version of the story, which alleged that Hermione was betrothed or married to Orestes by her grandfather Tyndareus in the absence of her father Menelaus, who was then away at the Trojan war; that meantime, in ignorance of this disposal of his daughter, Menelaus had promised her hand to Neoptolemus before Troy, and that on his return from the war Neoptolemus took her by force from Orestes. See Eustathius on Hom. Od. iv.3, p. 1479; Scholiast on Hom. Od. iv.4; Ovid, Her. viii.31ff.; Serv. Verg. A. 3.330, compare on 297. According to the tragic poet Philocles, not only had Hermione been given in marriage by Tyndareus to Orestes, but she was actually with child by Orestes when her father afterwards married her to Neoptolemus. See Scholiast on Eur. Andr. 32. This former marriage of Hermione to Orestes, before she became the wife of Neoptolemus, is recognized by Verg. A. 3.330, and Ovid, Heroides, viii. passim, but it is unknown to Homer. On the other hand, Homer records that Menelaus betrothed Hermione to Neoptolemus at Troy, and celebrated the marriage after his return to SpartaHom. Od. 4.1-9). Sophocles wrote a tragedy Hermione , the plot of which seems to have resembled that of the Andromache of Euripides. See The Fragments of Sophocles, ed. A. C. Pearson, vol. ii. pp. 141ff. Euripides does not appear to have been consistent in his view that Neoptolemus forcibly deprived Orestes of Hermione and married her himself; for in his play Orestes (Eur. Or. 1653-1657) he makes Apollo prophesy to Orestes that he shall wed Hermione, but that Neoptolemus shall never do so.

2 The murder of Neoptolemus at Delphi, as Apollodorus observes, was variously related. According to Euripides, Neoptolemus paid two visits to Delphi. On the first occasion he went to claim redress from Apollo, who had shot his father Achilles at Troy (see above, Apollod. E.5.3). On the second occasion he went to excuse himself to the god for the rashness and impiety of which he had been guilty in calling the deity to account for the murder; and it was then that Orestes, enraged at having been robbed of his wife Hermione by Neoptolemus, waylaid and murdered his rival in the temple of Apollo, the fatal blow being struck, however, not by Orestes but by “a Delphian man.” See Eur. And. 49-55, Eur. And. 1086-1165; compare Eur. Or. 1656ff. This is the version of the story which Apollodorus appears to prefer. It is accepted also by Hyginus, Fab. 123, Velleius Paterculus i.1.3, Serv. Verg. A. 3.297, 330, and somewhat ambiguously by Dictys Cretensis vi.12ff. The murder of Neoptolemus by Orestes is mentioned, but without any motive assigned, by Heliodorus ii.34 and Justin xvii.3.7. A different account is given by Pindar. He says that Neoptolemus went to consult the god at Delphi, taking with him first-fruit offerings of the Trojan spoil; that there he was stabbed to death by a man in a brawl concerning the flesh of the victim, and that after death he was supposed to dwell within the sacred precinct and to preside over the processions and sacrifices in honour of heroes. See Pind. N. 7.34(50)-47(70); compare Pind. Pa. 6.117ff.P The Scholiast on the former of these passages of Pindar, Scholiast on Pind. Pa. 42(62), explains the brawl by saying that it was the custom of the Delphians to appropriate (ἁρπάζειν) the sacrifices; that Neoptolemus attempted to prevent them from taking possession of his offerings, and that in the squabble the Delphians despatched him with their swords. This explanation seems to be due to Pherecydes, for a Scholiast on Eur. Or. 1655 quotes the following passage from that early historian: “When Neoptolemus married Hermione, daughter of Menelaus, he went to Delphi to inquire about offspring; for he had no children by Hermione. And when at the oracle he saw the Delphians scrambling for (διαρπάζοντας) the flesh, he attempted to take it from them. But their priest Machaereus killed him and buried him under the threshold of the temple.” This seems to have been the version of the story followed by Pausanias, for he mentions the hearth at Delphi on which the priest of Apollo slew Neoptolemus (Paus. 10.24.4), and elsewhere he says that “the Pythian priestess ordered the Delphians to kill Pyrrhus (Neoptolemus), son of Achilles” (Paus. 1.13.9; compare Paus. 4.17.4). That the slayer of Neoptolemus was called Machaereus is mentioned also by a Scholiast on Eur. Andr. 53 and by Strab. 9.3.9, who says that Neoptolemus was killed “because he demanded satisfaction from the god for the murder of his father, or, more probably, because he had made an attack on the sanctuary.” Indeed, Asclepiades, in his work Tragodoumena, wrote as follows: “About his death almost all the poets agree that he was killed by Machaereus and buried at first under the threshold of the temple, but that afterwards Menelaus came and took up his body, and made his grave in the precinct. He says that Machaereus was a son of Daetas.” See Scholiast on Pind. N. 7.42(62). The story that Neoptolemus came to Delphi to plunder the sanctuary, which is noticed by Apollodorus and preferred by Strabo, is mentioned by Paus. 10.7.1 and a Scholiast on Pind. N. 7.58, Boeckh. It is probably not inconsistent with the story that he went to demand satisfaction from, or to inflict punishment on, the god for the death of his father; for the satisfaction or punishment would naturally take the shape of a distress levied on the goods and chattels of the defaulting deity. The tradition that the slain Neoptolemus was buried under the threshold of Apollo's temple is remarkable and, so far as I remember, unique in Greek legend. The statement that the body was afterwards taken up and buried within the precinct agrees with the observation of Paus. 10.24.6 that “quitting the temple and turning to the left you come to an enclosure, inside of which is the grave of Neoptolemus, son of Achilles. The Delphians offer sacrifice to him annually as to a hero.” From Pind. N. 7.44(65)ff. we learn that Neoptolemus even enjoyed a preeminence over other heroes at Delphi, being called on to preside over the processions and sacrifices in their honour. The Aenianes of Thessaly used to send a grand procession and costly sacrifices to Delphi every fourth year in honour of Neoptolemus. The ceremony fell at the same time as the Pythian games. See Heliodorus, Aeth. ii.34-iii.6. It is a little difficult to understand how a man commonly accused of flagrant impiety and sacrilege should have been raised to such a pitch of glory at the very shrine which he was said to have attacked and robbed. The apparent contradiction might be more intelligible if we could suppose that, as has been suggested, Neoptolemus was publicly sacrificed as a scapegoat, perhaps by being stoned to death, as seems to have been the fate of the human victims at the Thargelia, whose sacrifice was justified by a legend that the first of their number had stolen some sacred cups of Apollo. See Harpocration, s.v. φάρμακος; and as to the suggestion that Neoptolemus may have been sacrificed as a scapegoat, see J. Toepffer, “Thargelienbrauche,” Beiträge zur griechischen Altertumswissenschaft (Berlin, 1897), pp. 132ff., who points out that according to Eur. And. 1127ff. Neoptolemus was stoned as well as stabbed at the altar of Apollo. As to the custom of burying the dead under a threshold, see Folk-Lore in the Old Testament, iii.13ff.

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