A son of Tithonus and Eos, and brother of Emathion. In the Odyssey and Hesiod he is described as the handsome son of Eos, who assisted Priam with his Ethiopians against the Greeks. He slew Antilochus, the son of Nestor, at Troy.1 Some writers called his mother a Cissian woman (Κισσια), from the Persian province of Cissia.2 As Eos is sometimes identical with Hemera, Memnon's mother is also called Hemera.
Homer makes only passing allusions to Memnon, and he is essentially a posthomeric hero. According to these later traditions, he was a prince of the Ethiopians, and accordingly black;3 he came to the assistance of his uncle Priam, for Tithonus and Priam were step-brothers, being both sons of Laomedon by different mothers.4 Respecting his expedition to Troy there are different legends.
According to some Memnon the Ethiopian first went to Egypt, thence to Susa, and thence to Troy.5 At Susa, which had been founded by Tithonus, Memnon built the acropolis which was called after him the Memnonium.6 According to some Tithonus was the governor of a Persian province, and the favorite of Teutamnus; and Memnon obtained the command of a large host of Ethiopians and Susans to succor Priam.7 A third tradition states that Tithonus sent his son to Priam, because Priam had made him a present of a golden vine.8 Dictys Cretensis9 makes Memnon lead an army of Ethiopians and Indians from the heights of Mount Caucasus to Troy. In the fight against the Greeks he was slain by Achilles.
The principal points connected with his exploits at Troy are his victory over Antilochus, his contest with Achilles, and lastly, his death and the removal of his body by his mother. With regard to the first, we are told that Antilochus, the dearest friend of Achilles after the fall of Patroclus, hastened to the assistance of his father, Nestor, who was hard pressed by Paris. Memnon attacked Antilochus, and slew him.10 According to others, Memnon was fighting with Ajax; and before his Ethiopians could come to his assistance, Achilles came up, and killed Memnon;11 the same accounts represent Antilochus as having been conquered by Hector.12 According to the common account, however, Achilles avenged the death of Antilochus upon Memnon, of whose fate Achilles had been informed by his mother, Thetis. While both were fighting Zeus weighed the fate of the two heroes, and the scale containing that of Memnon sank.13 According to Diodorus14 Memnon was not killed in an open contest, but fell into an ambush in which the Thessalians lay in wait for him. Eos prayed to Zeus to grant her son immortality, and removed his body from the field of battle. She wept for him every morning; and the dew-drops which appear in the morning are the tears of Eos.15
Philostratus16 distinguishes between a Trojan and an Ethiopian Memnon, and believes that the former, who was very young and did not distinguish himself till after the death of Hector, slew Antilochus; and he adds, that Achilles, after having avenged his friend, burnt the armor and head of Memnon on the funeral pile of Antilochus. Some say that the Ethiopian warriors burned the body of Memnon, and carried the ashes to Tithonus;17 or that those who had gone to Troy under his general, Phallas, received his ashes near Paphos, in Cyprus, and gave them to Memnon's sister, Himera, who was searching after his body, and buried them in Palliochis (an unknown place), whereupon she disappeared.18
Tombs of Memnon were shown in several places, as at Ptolemais in Syria, on the Hellespont, on a hill near the mouth of the river Aesepus, near Paltou in Syria, in Ethiopia and other places.19 His armor was said to have been made for him by Hephaestus, at the request of his mother; and his sword was shown in the temple of Asclepius, at Nicomedeia.20 His companions, who indulged in excessive wailings at his death, were changed by the gods into birds, called Memnonides, and some of them died of grief.21 According to Ovid,22 Eos implored Zeus to confer an honor on her son, to console her for his loss. He accordingly caused a number of birds, divided into two swarms, to fight in the air over the funeral sacrifice until a portion of them fell down upon the ashes of the hero, and thus formed a funeral sacrifice for him. According to a story current on the Hellespont, the Memnonides every year visited the tomb of Memnon, cleared the ground round about, and moistened it with their wings, which they wetted in the waters of the river Aesepus.23
At a comparatively late period, when the Greeks became acquainted with Egypt, and the colossal statue in the neighborhood of Thebes, the stone of which, when reached by the rays of the rising sun, gave forth a sound resembling that of a breaking chord, they looked upon that statue as representing the son of Eos, or confounded it with their own Helios, although they well knew that the Egyptians did not call the statue Memnon, but Amenophis.24 This colossal figure, made of black stone, in a sitting posture, with its feet close together, and the hands leaning on its seat, was broken in the middle, so that the upper part had fallen down; but it was afterwards restored.25
Several very ingenious conjectures have been propounded respecting the alleged meaning of the so-called statue of Memnon; and some have asserted that it served for astronomical purposes, and others that it had reference to the mystic worship of the sun and light, though there can be little doubt that the statue represented nothing else than the Egyptian king Amenophis.26
The fight of Memnon with Achilles was often represented by Greek artists, as for example, on the chest of Cypselus,27 on the throne of Apollo, at Amyclae,28 in a large group at Olympia, the work of Lycius, which had been dedicated there by the inhabitants of Apollonia,29 in the Lesche at Delphi, by Polygnotus.30 Some Greek vases show a mourning Eos near the body of Memnon, such as on a black-figure Attic amphora (ca. 530 BCE) at the Vatican Museum.
- Hesiod. Theogony, 984 ff.; Homer. Odyssey iv, 188; xii, 522; Pseudo-Apollodorus. The Library iii, 12.4.
- Strabo. Geography, p. 728; Herodotus. Histories v, 49, 52.
- Ovid. Amores i, 8. 4; Letters from the Black Sea iii, 3. 96; Pausanias. Description of Greece x, 31.2.
- Tzetzes on Lycophron, 18.
- Pausanias. Description of Greece i, 42.2.
- Herodotus. Histories v, 53, vii, 151; Strabo. Geography, p. 728; Pausanias. Description of Greece iv, 31.5.
- Diodorus Siculus. Historical Library ii, 22, iv, 75; Pausanias. Description of Greece x, 31.2.
- Servius on Virgil's Aeneid i, 493.
- iv, 4.
- Pindar. Pythian Odes vi, 30 ff.
- Dictys Cretensis, iv, 6.
- Ovid. Heroides i, 15; Hyginus. Fabulae, 113.
- Pindar. Olympian Odes ii, 148; Nemean Odes iii, 110; vi, 83; Quintus Smyrnaeus, ii, 224 ff.; Philostratus of Lemnos. Imagines ii, 7; Plutarch. De Audiendis Poetis, 2.
- Historical Library ii, 22.
- Servius on Virgil's Aeneid i, 493; Ovid. Metamorphoses xiii, 622.
- Heroicus iii, 4.
- Diodorus Siculus. Historical Library, l.c.
- Dictys Cretensis, vi, 10.
- Strabo. Geography, pp. 587, 728.
- Pausanias. Description of Greece iii, 3.6.
- Servius on Virgil's Aeneid i, 755.
- Metamorphoses xiii, 576 ff.
- Pausanias. Description of Greece x, 31.2; comp. Pliny the Elder. Naturalis Historia xxxvi, 7.
- Pausanias. Description of Greece i, 42.2; comp. Callistratus. Descriptions, 9.
- Pausanias. Description of Greece l.c.; Strabo. Geography, p. 816; Philostratus. Heroicus iii, 4; Imagines i, 7; Life of Apollonius of Tyana, vi, 4; Lucian. Toxaris vel amicitia, 27; Tacitus. Annals ii, 61; Juvenal, xv, 5.
- Creuzer. Symbolik, p. 149 ff.; Jablonski. De Memnone; and the various works on Egyptian antiquities.
- Pausanias. Description of Greece v, 19.1.
- ibid. iii, 18.7.
- ibid. v, 22.2.
- ibid. x, 31.2.
- 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.