Droll and thievish gnomes who play a part in the story of Heracles. Their number is commonly stated to have been two, but their names are not the same in all accounts, — either Olus and Eurybatus, Sillus and Triballus, Passalus and Aclemon, Andulus and Atlantus, or Candulus and Atlas.1 Diodorus,2 however, speaks of a greater number of Cercopes.
They are called sons of Theia, the daughter of Oceanus; they annoyed and robbed Heracles in his sleep, but they were taken prisoners by him, and either given to Omphale, or killed, or set free again because they amused him with their antics.3
The place in which they seem to have made their first appearance, was Thermopylae,4 but the comic poem Kerkopes (Κέρκωπες), which bore the name of Homer, probably placed them at Oechalia in Euboea, whereas others transferred them to Lydia,5 or the islands called Pithecusae, which derived their name from the Cercopes who were changed into monkeys by Zeus for having cunningly deceived him.6
It became a proverbial cry among the Greeks when two men were seen quarreling — "Ne insidas in Melampygum!", "Look out for Melampygos!" (i.e. Heracles).
One of the metopes of Temple C on Selinus (ca. 550 BCE) shows Heracles carrying them on a pole. Several archaic amphorae display the same scene.
- Suidas, s.v.; Scholiast on Lucian's Alexander, 4; Tzetzes. Chiliades v, 75.
- iv, 31.
- Tzetzes on Lycophron, 91.
- Herodotus. Histories vii, 216.
- Suidas, s.v. Εὐρύβατος.
- Ovid. Metamorphoses xiv, 90 ff.; Pomponius Mela, ii, 7.
- Aken, Dr. A.R.A. van. (1961). Elseviers Mythologische Encyclopedie. Amsterdam: Elsevier.
- Cobham Brewer, E. (2001). The Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. Cassell reference.
- 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.