That is, "the good singer," a Thracian who is described as having come to Attica either as a bard, a warrior, or a priest of Demeter and Dionysus. The common tradition, which, however, is of late origin, represents him as a son of Poseidon and Chione, the daughter of Boreas and the Attic heroine Orithyia.
According to the tradition in Apollodorus,1 Chione, after having given birth to Eumolpus in secret, threw the child into the sea. Poseidon, however, took him up, and had him educated in Ethiopia by his daughter Benthesicyme. When he had grown up, he married a daughter of Benthesicyme; but as he made an attempt upon the chastity of his wife's sister, Eumolpus and his son Ismarus were expelled, and they went to the Thracian king Tegyrius, who gave his daughter in marriage to Ismarus; but as Eumolpus drew upon himself the suspicion of Tegyrius, he was again obliged to take to flight, and came to Eleusis in Attica, where he formed a friendship with the Eleusinians. After the death of his son Ismarus, however, he returned to Thrace at the request of king Tegyrius.
The Eleusininians, who were involved in a war with Athens, called Eumolpus to their assistance. Eumolpus came with a numerous band of Thracians, but he was slain by Erichthonius. The traditions about this Eleusinian war, however, differ very much. According to some, the Eleusinians under Eumolpus attacked the Athenians under Erichthonius, but were defeated, and Eumolpus with his two sons, Phorbas and Immaradus, were slain.
Pausanias2 relates a tradition that in the battle between the Eleusinians and Athenians, Erechtheus and Immaradus fell, and that thereupon peace was concluded on condition that the Eleusinians should in other respects be subject to Athens, but that they alone should have the celebration of their mysteries, and that Eumolpus and the daughters of Celeus should perform the customary sacrifices. When Eumolpus died, his younger son Ceryx succeeded him in the priestly office. According to Hyginus,3 Eumolpus came to Attica with a colony of Thracians, to claim the country as the property of his father, Poseidon.
Mythology regards Eumolpus as the founder of the Eleusinian mysteries, and as the first priest of Demeter and Dionysus; the goddess herself taught him, Triptolemus, Diocles, and Celeus, the sacred rites, and he is therefore sometimes described as having himself invented the cultivation of the vine and of fruit-trees in general.4 Respecting the privileges which his descendants enjoyed in Attica, see Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities.5
As Eumolpus was regarded as an ancient priestly bard, poems and writings on the mysteries were fabricated and circulated at a later time under his name. One hexameter line of a Dionysiac hymn, ascribed to him, is preserved in Diodorus.6 The legends connected him also with Heracles, whom he is said to have instructed in music, or initiated into the mysteries.7 The difference in the traditions about Eumolpus led some of the ancients to suppose that two or three persons of that name ought to be distinguished.8
The tomb of Eumolpus was shown both at Eleusis and Athens.9
Eumolpus is depicted, but not very often, on Greek vases. He appears (included with an inscription) on the red-figure skyphos-vase attributed to Macron (ca. 490-480 BCE) at the British Museum in London. The name of Eumolpus was found on three vases from the fifth century BCE. Some scholars believe that Eumolpus is represented also in the scene with Heracles on the so called Pourtales Vase from the British Museum.
- The Library iii, 15.4.
- Description of Greece i, 38.3.
- Fabulae, 46; comp. Strabo. Geography vii, p. 321.
- Homeric Hymns. Hymn to Demeter, 476; Pliny the Elder. Naturalis Historia vii, .53; Ovid. Metamorphoses x, 93.
- s.v. Εὐμολπίδαι.
- i, 11; Suidas, s.v.
- Hyginus. Fabulae, 273; Theocritis, xxiv, 108; Pseudo-Apollodorus. The Library ii, 5.12.
- Hesychius, s.v. Εὐμολπίδαι; Scholiast on Oedipus at Colonus, 1051; Photius. Lexicon s.v. Εὐμολπίδαι.
- Pausanias. Description of Greece i, 38.2.
- Isocrates. Panathenaicus, 78.
- Plato. Menexenus, p. 239.
- Plutarch. Parallel Lives, 20.
- Scholiast on Euripides' Phoenician Women, 854.
- Smith, William. (1870). Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology. London: Taylor, Walton, and Maberly.
- Thucydides, ii, 15.
This article incorporates text from Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology (1870) by William Smith, which is in the public domain.