I.e. a young warrior, a son of Achilles and Deidamea, the daughter of Lycomedes, was also called Pyrrhus.1 According to some, however, he was a son of Achilles and Iphigeneia,2 and after the sacrifice of his mother he was carried by his father to the island of Scyros. The name of Pyrrhus is said to have been given to him by Lycomedes, because he had fair (πυρρός) hair, or because Achilles, while disguised as a girl, had borne the name of Pyrrha.3 He was called Neoptolemus because either Achilles or Pyrrhus himself had fought in early youth.4 From his father he is sometimes called Achillides,5 and from his grandfather or great-grandfather, Pelides and Aeacides.6
Neoptolemus was brought up in Scyros in the house of Lycomedes,7 whence he was fetched by Odysseus to join the Greeks in the war against Troy,8 because it had been prophesied by Helenus that Neoptolemus and Philoctetes, with the arrows of Heracles, were necessary for the taking of Troy.9 In order to obtain those arrows Neoptolemus and Odysseus were sent from Troy to the island of Lemnos, where Philoctetes was living, who was prevailed upon to join the Greeks.10
At Troy Neoptolemus showed himself in every respect worthy of his great father, and at last was one of the heroes that were concealed in the wooden horse.11 At the taking of the city he killed Priam at the sacred hearth of Zeus Herceius,12 and sacrificed Polyxena to the spirit of his father.13 When the Trojan captives were distributed, Andromache, the widow of Hector, was given to Neoptolemus, and by her he became the father of Molossus, Pielus, Pergamus,14 and Amphialus.15
Respecting his return from Troy and the subsequent events of his life the traditions differ. According to Homer16 he lived in Phthia, the kingdom of his father, whither Menelaus sent to him Hermione from Sparta, because he had promised her to him at Troy. According to others Neoptolemus himself went to Sparta to receive Hermione, because he had heard a report that she was betrothed to Orestes.17 Servius18 relates that on the advice of Helenus, to whom he subsequently gave Andromache and a district in Epeirus, Neoptolemus returned home by land, because he had been forewarned of the dangers which the Greeks would have to encounter at sea. Some again state that from Troy he first went to Molossia, and thence to Phthia, where he recovered the throne which had in the mean time been taken from Peleus by Acastus.19 Others, that on his return to Scyros, he was cast by storm on the coast of Ephyra in Epeirus, where Andromache gave birth to Molossus, to whom the Molossian kings traced their descent.20 Others lastly say that he went to Epeirus of his own accord, because he would or could not return to Phthia in Thessaly.21 In Epeirus he is also said to have carried off Lanassa, a granddaughter of Heracles, from the temple of the Dodonean Zeus, and to have become by her the father of eight children.22
Shortly after his marriage with Hermione, Neoptolemus went to Delphi, some say to plunder the temple of Apollo, who had been the cause of the death of Achilles, or to take the god to account for his father; and according to others to take offerings of the Trojan booty to the god, or to consult him about the means of obtaining children by Hermione.23 It is owing to this uncertainty that some ancient writers distinguish between two different journeys to Delphi, where he was slain, either by the command of the Pythia,24 or at the instigation of Orestes, who was angry at being deprived of Hermione;25 and according to others again, by the priest of the temple, or by Machaereus, the son of Daetas.26 His body was buried at Delphi, under the threshold of the temple, and remained there until Menelaus caused it to be taken up and buried within the precincts of the temple.27
He was worshiped at Delphi as a hero, as presiding over sacrificial repasts and public games. At the time when the Gauls attacked Delphi he is said to have come forward to protect the city, and from that time to have been honored with heroic worship.28
A bowl by the painter Duris depicts a scene in which Odysseus hands over Achilles' armor to a grave, young Neoptolemus (ca. 480 BCE; Vienna).
- Pseudo-Apollodorus. The Library iii, 13.8; Homer. Odyssey xii, 491 ff.
- Tzetzes on Lycophron, 133; Eustathius on Homer, p. 1187.
- Pausanias. Description of Greece x, 26.1; Hyginus. Fabulae, 97; Eustathius on Homer, p. 1187; Servius on Virgil's Aeneid ii, 469.
- Eustathius, l.c.
- Ovid. Heroides viii, 3.
- Virgil. Aeneid ii, 263; iii, 296.
- Homer. Iliad xix, 326; Sophocles. Philoctetes, 239 ff.
- Homer. Odyssey xii, 508.
- Sophocles. Philoctetes, 115.
- ibid., 1433.
- Homer. Odyssey xii, 508 ff., 521.
- Pausanias. Description of Greece iv, 17.3; x, 27; Virgil. Aeneid ii, 547 ff.
- Euripides. Hecuba, 523.
- Pausanias. Description of Greece i, 11.1.
- Hyginus. Fabulae, 123.
- Odyssey iii, 188; iv, 5 ff.
- Hyginus. Fabulae, 123; Pausanias. Description of Greece iii, 25.1, 26.5.
- on Aeneid ii, 166; iii, 321 ff.
- Dictys Cretensis, vi, 7 ff.; Euripides. Trojan Women, 1125; comp. Homer. Odyssey iv, 9.
- Pindar. Nemean Odes iv, 82; vii, 54 ff.
- Pausanias. Description of Greece i, 11.1; Virgil. Aeneid iii, 333; Justinus, xvii, 3.
- Justinus, l.c.
- Scholiast on Pindar's Nemean Odes vii, 54, 58; on Euripides' Orestes, 1649; Andromache, 51.
- Pausanias. Description of Greece i, 13.7.
- Euripides. Andromache, 891 ff., 1085 ff.; Virgil. Aeneid iii, 330.
- Scholiast on Pindar's Nemean Odes vii, 62; Pausanias. Description of Greece x, 24.4; Strabo. Geography, p. 421.
- Pindar. Nemean Odes vii, 62; Pausanias. Description of Greece x, 24.5.
- Pausanias. Description of Greece i, 4.4; x, 23.3.
- 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.