Or Alpheius (Ἀλφειός), the god of the river Alpheus in the Peloponnese, a son of Oceanus and Thetis.1 According to Pausanias2 Alpheus was a passionate hunter and fell in love with the nymph Arethusa, but she fled from him to the island of Ortygia near Syracuse, and metamorphosed herself into a well, whereupon Alpheus became a river, which flowing from the Peloponnese under the sea to Ortygia, there united its waters with those of the well Arethusa.3
This story is related somewhat differently by Ovid.4 Arethusa, a fair nymph, once while bathing in the river Alpheus in Arcadia, was surprised and pursued by the god; but Artemis took pity upon her and changed her into a well, which flowed under the earth to the island of Ortygia.5 Artemis, who is here only mentioned incidentally, was, according to other traditions, the object of the love of Alpheus. Once, it is said, when pursued by him she fled to Letrini in Elis, and here she covered her face and those of her companions (nymphs) with mud, so that Alpheus could not discover or distinguish her, and was obliged to return.6 This occasioned the building of a temple of Artemis Alphaea at Letrini.
According to another version, the goddess fled to Ortygia, where she had likewise a temple under the name of Alphaea.7 An allusion to Alpheus' love of Artemis is also contained in the fact, that at Olympia the two divinities had one altar in common.8
In these accounts two or more distinct stories seem to be mixed up together, but they probably originated in the popular belief, that there was a natural subterraneous communication between the river Alpheus and the well Arethusa. For, among several other things it was believed, that a cup thrown into the Alpheus would make its reappearance in the well Arethusa in Ortygia.9
Plutarch10 gives an account which is altogether unconnected with those mentioned above. According to him, Alpheus was a son of Helios, and killed his brother Cercaphus in a contest. Haunted by despair and the Erinyes he leapt into the river Nyctimus which hence received the name Alpheus.
The Alpheus is the longest river in the Peloponnese.
- Pindar. Nemean Odes i, 1; Hesiod. Theogony, 338.
- Description of Greece v, 7.2.
- Comp. Scholiast on Pindar's Nemean Odes i, 3.
- Metamorphoses v, 572 ff.
- Comp. Servius on Virgil's Eclogues x, 4; Virgil. Aeneid iii, 694; Statius. Silvae, i, 2, 203; Thebaid i, 271; iv, 239; Lucian. Dialogi Marini, 3.
- Pausanias. Description of Greece vi, 22.5.
- Scholiast on Pindar's Pythian Odes ii, 12.
- Pausanias. Description of Greece v, 14.5; Scholiast on Pindar's Olympian Odes v, 10.
- Strabo. Geography vi, 270, viii., 343; Seneca. Naturales Quaestiones iii, 26; Fulgentius. Mythologies iii, 12.
- Pseudo-Plutarch. De Fluviis, 19.
- 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.