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[11]

Cretheus founded Iolcus and married Tyro, daughter of Salmoneus, by whom he had sons, Aeson, Amythaon, and Pheres.1 Amythaon dwelt in Pylus and married Idomene, daughter of Pheres, and there were born to him two sons, Bias and Melampus. The latter lived in the country, and before his house there was an oak, in which there was a lair of snakes. His servants killed the snakes, but Melampus gathered wood and burnt the reptiles, and reared the young ones. And when the young were full grown, they stood beside him at each of his shoulders as he slept, and they purged his ears with their tongues. He started up in a great fright, but understood the voices of the birds flying overhead, and from what he learned from them he foretold to men what should come to pass.2 He acquired besides the art of taking the auspices, and having fallen in with Apollo at the Alpheus he was ever after an excellent soothsayer.


1 Compare Hom. Od. 11.258ff.; Tzetzes, Scholiast on Lycophron 175.

2 As to the mode in which Melampus learned the language of birds, and with it the art of divination, from serpents in return for the kindness which he had shown to their species, see Scholiast on Ap. Rhod., Argon. i.118; compare Eustathius on Hom. Od. xi.292, p. 1685; Pliny, Nat. Hist. x.137. Helenus and Cassandra are said to have acquired their prophetic power in like manner. As children they were left overnight in a temple of Apollo, and in the morning serpents were found licking their ears. See Scholiast on Hom. Il. vii.44; Tzetzes, Scholiast on Lycophron, Introd. vol. i. pp. 266ff., ed. C. G. Müller. Polybius said that perhaps we and all men might have understood the language of all animals if a serpent had washed our ears (Porphyry, De abstinentia iii.4). In the folk-tales of many lands, men are said to have obtained a knowledge of the language of animals from serpents, either by eating the flesh of serpents or in other ways. See Frazer, “The Language of Animals,” The Archaeological Review`, i. (1888), pp. 166ff.

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