The fifty daughters of Danaus, whose names are given by Apollodorus1 and Hyginus,2 though they are not the same in both lists. They were betrothed to the fifty sons of Aegyptus, but were compelled by their father to promise him to kill their husbands, in the first night, with the swords which he gave them. They fulfilled their promise, and cut off the heads of their husbands with the exception of Hypermnestra alone, who was married to Lynceus, and who spared his life.3 According to some accounts, Amymone and Bebryce also did not kill their husbands.4 Hypermnestra was punished by her father with imprisonment, but was afterwards restored to her husband Lynceus.
The Danaides buried the corpses of their victims, and were purified from their crime by Hermes and Athena at the command of Zeus. Danaus afterwards found it difficult to obtain husbands for his daughters, and he invited men to public contests, in which his daughters were given as prizes to the victors.5 Pindar mentions only forty-eight Danaides as having obtained husbands in this manner, for Hypermnestra and Amymone are not included, since the former was already married to Lynceus and the latter to Poseidon. Pausanias6 mentions, that Automate and Scaea were married to Architeles and Archander, the sons of Achaeus. According to the Scholiast on Euripides,7 the Danaides were killed by Lynceus together with their father.
Notwithstanding their purification mentioned in the earlier writers, later poets relate that the Danaides were punished for their crime in Hades by being compelled everlastingly to pour water into a vessel full of holes.
Strabo8 and others relate, that Danaus or the Danaides provided Argos with water, and for this reason four of the latter were worshiped at Argos as divinities; and this may possibly be the foundation of the story about the punishment of the Danaides. Ovid calls them by the name of the Belides, from their grandfather, Belus; and Herodotus,9 following the titles of the Egyptians, says, that they brought the mysteries of Demeter Thesmophorus from Egypt to the Peloponnese, and that the Pelasgian women there learned the mysteries from them.
The Danaides are: Hypermnestra, Gorgophone, borne to him by Elephantis; Automate, Amymone, Agave, and Scaea, borne to him by Europa; Hippodamia, Rhodia, Cleopatra, Asteria, Hippodamia, Glauce, Hippomedusa, Gorge, Iphimedusa, and Rhode, borne to him by Atlantia or Phoebe; Pirene, Dorium, Phartis, Mnestra, Evippe, Anaxibia, and Nelo, borne to him by an Ethiopian woman; Clite, Sthenele, and Chrysippe, borne to him by Memphis; Autonoë, Theano, Electra, Cleopatra (2), Eurydice, Glaucippe, Anthelea, Cleodora, Evippe, Erato, Stygne, and Bebryce, borne to him by Polyxo; Actaea, Podarce, Dioxippe, Adite, Ocypete, and Pylarge, borne to him by Pieria; Hippodice and Adiante, borne to him by Herse; Callidice, Oeme, Celaeno, and Hyperippe, borne to him by Crino.
On a black-figure krater (sixth century BCE) the Danaides are depicted as winged women who pour water into a bottomless cask. A Roman relief portrays them without wings, wearing sleeveless robes. Their punishment is also depicted on a mural in the House of the Odysseus-landscapes in Rome (ca. 40 BCE).
- Horace. Carmina iii, 11. 25.
- Hyginus. Fabulae, 168.
- Ovid. Metamorphoses iv, 462,; Heroides, xiv.
- Servius on Virgil's Aeneid x, 497.
- Smith, William. (1870). Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology. London: Taylor, Walton, and Maberly.
- Tibullus, i, 3. 79.
This article incorporates text from Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology (1870) by William Smith, which is in the public domain.