An ancient divinity worshiped in various parts of Greece, as in Thessaly, Ceos, and Boeotia, but especially in the islands of the Aegean, Ionian, and Adriatic seas, which had once been inhabited by Pelasgians.
The different accounts about Aristaeus, who once was a mortal, and ascended to the dignity of a god through the benefits he had conferred upon mankind, seem to have arisen in different places and independently of one another, so that they referred to several distinct beings, who were subsequently identified and united into one. He is described either as a son of Uranus and Gaea, or according to a more general tradition, as the son of Apollo by Cyrene, the granddaughter of Peneus. Other, but more local traditions, call his father Chiron or Carystus.1
The stories about his youth are marvelous, and show him at once as the favorite of the gods. His mother Cyrene had been carried off by Apollo from Mount Pelion, where he found her boldly fighting with a lion, to Libya, where Cyrene was named after her, and where she gave birth to Aristaeus. After he had grown up, Aristaeus went to Thebes in Boeotia, where he learned from Chiron and the Muses the arts of healing and prophecy.
According to some statements he married Autonoë, the daughter of Cadmus, who bore him several sons: Charmus, Callicarpus, Actaeon, and Polydorus.2 After the unfortunate death of his son Actaeon, he left Thebes and went to Ceos, whose inhabitants he delivered from a destructive drought, by erecting an altar to Zeus Icmaeus. This gave rise to an identification of Aristaeus with Zeus in Ceos. From thence he returned to Libya, where his mother prepared for him a fleet, with which he sailed to Sicily, visited several islands of the Mediterranean, and for a time ruled over Sardinia. From these islands his worship spread over Magna Graecia and other Greek colonies. At last he went to Thrace, where he became initiated in the mysteries of Dionysus, and after having dwelt for some time near Mount Haemus, where he founded the town of Aristaeon, he disappeared.3
Aristaeus is one of the most beneficent divinities in ancient mythology: he was worshiped as the protector of flocks and shepherds, of vine and olive plantations; he taught men to hunt and keep bees, and averted from the fields the burning heat of the sun and other causes of destruction; he was a δεός νόμιος (deos nomios), ἀγρεύς (agreus), and ἀλεξητήρ (alexētēr). The benefits which he conferred upon man, differed in different places according to their especial wants: Ceos, which was much exposed to heat and droughts, received through him rain and refreshing winds; in Thessaly and Arcadia he was the protector of the flocks and bees.4
Justin5 throws everything into confusion by describing Nomios and Agreus, which are only surnames of Aristaeus, as his brothers.
- Diodorus Siculus, iv, 81 ff.; Apollonius Rhodius. Argonautica iii, 500 ff., with the Scholiast; Pindar. Pythian Odes ix, 45 ff.
- Hesiod. Theogony, 975.
- Comp. Pausanias. Description of Greece x, 17.3.
- Virgil. Georgics i, 14, iv, 283, 317.
- xiii, 7.
- 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.