A son of Zeus and Aegina, a daughter of the river god Asopus. He was born in the island of Oenone or Oenopia, whither Aegina had been carried by Zeus to secure her from the anger of her parents, and whence this island was afterwards called Aegina.1 According to some accounts Aeacus was a son of Zeus and Europa.
Some traditions related that at the time when Aeacus was born, Aegina was not yet inhabited, and that Zeus changed the ants (μύρμηκες, myrmēkes) of the island into men (Myrmidons) over whom Aeacus ruled, or that he made men grow up out of the earth.2 Ovid,3 on the other hand, supposes that the island was not uninhabited at the time of the birth of Aeacus, and states that, in the reign of Aeacus, Hera, jealous of Aegina, ravaged the island bearing the name of the latter by sending a plague or a fearful dragon into it, by which nearly all its inhabitants were carried off, and that Zeus restored the population by changing the ants into men. These legends, as Müller justly remarks (Aeginctica), are nothing but a mythical account of the colonization of Aegina, which seems to have been originally inhabited by Pelasgians, and afterwards received colonists from Phthiotis, the seat of the Myrmidones, and from Phlius on the Asopus.
Aeacus while he reigned in Aegina was renowned in all Greece for his justice and piety, and was frequently called upon to settle disputes not only among men, but even among the gods themselves.4 He was such a favorite with the latter, that, when Greece was visited by a drought in consequence of a murder which had been committed,5 the oracle of Delphi declared that the calamity would not cease unless Aeacus prayed to the gods that it might; which he accordingly did, and it ceased in consequence. Aeacus himself showed his gratitude by erecting a temple to Zeus Panhellenius on Mount Panhellenion,6 and the Aeginetans afterwards built a sanctuary in their island called Aeaccum, which was a square place enclosed by walls of white marble. Aeacus was believed in later times to be buried under the altar in this a sacred enclosure.7
A legend preserved in Pindar8 relates that Apollo and Poseidon took Aeacus as their assistant in building the walls of Troy. When the work was completed, three dracones rushed against the wall, and while the two of them which attacked those parts of the wall built by the gods fell down dead, the third forced its way into the city through the part built by Aeacus. Hereupon Apollo prophesied that Troy would fall through the hands of the Aeacides. Aeacus was also believed by the Aeginetans to have surrounded their island with high cliffs to protect it against pirates.9
Several other incidents connected with the story of Aeacus are mentioned by Ovid.10 By Endeïs Aeacus had two sons, Telamon and Peleus and by Psamathe a son, Phocus, whom he preferred to the two others, who contrived to kill Phocus during a contest, and then fled from their native island.
In works of art Aeacus was represented bearing a scepter and the keys of Hades.15
- Pseudo-Apollodorus. The Library iii, 12.6; Hyginus. Fabulae, 52; Pausanias. Description of Greece ii, 29.2; comp. Nonnus. Dionysiaca vi, 212; Ovid. Metamorphoses vi, 113; vii, 472 ff.
- Hesiod. Fragments, 67, ed. Göttling; Pseudo-Apollodorus. The Library iii, 12.6; Pausanias, l.c.
- Metamorphoses vii, 520; comp. Hyginus. Fabulae, 52; Strabo. Geography viii, 375.
- Pindar. Isthmian Odes viii, 48 ff.; Pausanias. Description of Greece i, 39.5.
- Diodorus Siculus, iv, 60, 61; Pseudo-Apollodorus. The Library iii, 12.6.
- Pausanias. Description of Greece ii, 30.4.
- ibid. ii, 29.6.
- Olympian Odes viii, 39 ff.
- Pausanias. Description of Greece ii, 29.5.
- Metamorphoses vii, 506 ff.; ix, 435 ff.
- ibid. xiii, 25; Horace. Carmina ii, 13. 22.
- Gorgias, 523; compare Apology, 41; Isocrates. Evagoras, 5.
- Pausanias. Description of Greece ii, 29.6; Hesychius, s.v.; Scholiast on Pindar's Nemean Odes xiii, 155.
- Pindar. Nemean Odes viii, 22.
- Pseudo-Apollodorus. The Library iii, 12.6; Pindar. Isthmian Odes viii, 47 ff.
- Smith, William. (1870). Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology. London: Taylor, Walton, and Maberly.
This article incorporates text from Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology (1870) by William Smith, which is in the public domain.