A son of Aeacus and Endeïs, was king of the Myrmidons at Phthia in Thessaly.1 He was a brother of Telamon, and step-brother of Phocus the son of Aeacus, by the Nereid Psamathe.2 According to some, Telamon was not a brother, but only a friend of Peleus.3
Peleus and Telamon resolved to get rid of their stepbrother Phocus, because he excelled them in their military games, and Telamon killed him with a disk which he threw at him. The two brothers concealed their crime by removing the body of Phocus, but were nevertheless found out, and expelled by Aeacus from Aegina.4 According to some, Peleus murdered Phocus,5 while others combine the two statements by saying that Peleus threw down Phocus with a disk, while Telamon despatched him with his sword.6
After being exiled from Aegina, Peleus went to Phthia in Thessaly, where he was purified from the murder by Eurytion, the son of Actor, married his daughter Antigone, and received with her a third of Eurytion's kingdom.7 Others relate that he went to Ceyx at Trachis;8 and as he had come to Thessaly without companions, he prayed to Zeus for an army, and the god, to please Peleus, metamorphosed the ants (μύπμηκες) into men, who were accordingly called Myrmidons.9
By Antigone, Peleus is said to have become the father of Polydora and Achilles.10 Peleus accompanied Eurytion to the Calydonian hunt, and involuntarily killed him with his spear, in consequence of which he fled from Phthia to Iolcus, where he was again purified by Acastus.11 According to others,12 Peleus slew Actor, the son of Acastus. At the funeral games of Pelias, Peleus contended with Atalanta, but was conquered,13 whereas, according to Hyginus14 he gained the prize in wrestling. During his stay at Iolcus, Astydameia, the wife of Acastus, fell in love with him, and made proposals to him, which he rejected. In order to take vengeance on him, she sent a message to his wife at Phthia, that he was on the point of marrying Sterope, the daughter of Acastus. On receiving this information, the wife of Peleus hanged herself. Astydameia further charged Peleus before her husband with having made improper proposals to her, and Acastus, unwilling to stain his hand with the blood of the man whom he had hospitably received, and whom he had purified from his guilt, took him to Mount Pelion, where they hunted wild beasts; and when Peleus, overcome with fatigue, had fallen asleep, Acastus left him alone, and concealed his sword, that he might be destroyed by the wild beasts. When Peleus awoke and sought his sword, he was attacked by centaurs, but was saved by Chiron, who also restored to him his sword.15
To this account there are some modifications, for instead of Astydameia, Pindar16 mentions Hippolyte, the daughter of Cretheus, and others relate that after Acastus had concealed the sword of Peleus, Chiron or Hermes brought him another one, which had been made by Hephaestus.17
While on Mount Pelion, Peleus married the Nereid Thetis, by whom he became the father of Achilles, though some regarded this Thetis as different from the marine divinity, and called her a daughter of Chiron.18 The gods took part in the marriage solemnity, and Chiron presented Peleus with a lance,19Poseidon with the immortal horses, Balius and Xanthus, and the other gods with arms.20 According to some, his immortal wife soon left him, though Homer knows nothing of it,21 for once, as he observed her at night while she held the infant Achilles over a fire or in a cauldron of boiling water, in order to destroy in him those parts which he had inherited from his father, and which were mortal, Peleus was terror-struck, and screamed so loud that she was prevented from completing her work. She therefore quitted his house, and returned to her sisters, the Nereides; but Peleus, or, according to others, Thetis herself,22 took the boy Achilles to Chiron, who brought him up.23
Homer mentions only Achilles as the son of Peleus and Thetis, but later writers state that she had already destroyed by fire six children, of whom she was the mother by Peleus, and that as she attempted the same with Achilles, her seventh child, she was prevented by Peleus.24
After this Peleus, who is also mentioned among the Argonauts, in conjunction with Jason and the Dioscuri, besieged Acastus at Iolcus, slew Astydameia, and over the scattered limbs of her body led his warriors into the city.25 Some state that from Mount Pelion Peleus, without an army, immediately returned to Iolcus, slew Acastus and his wife,26 and annexed Iolcus to Haemonia.27
Respecting the feud between Peleus and Acastus, the legends present great differences. Thus we are told, for example, that Acastus, or his sons, Archander and Architeles, expelled Peleus from his kingdom of Phthia,28 or that the flocks which had been given by Peleus to Acastus, as an indemnification for the murder of his son Actor, were destroyed by a wolf, who was forthwith changed by Thetis into a stone,29 or that Peleus, being abandoned during the chase by Acastus, was kindly received by Chiron, and having acquired the possession of flocks, he took them to Irus, as an atonement for his son Eurytion, whom he had killed. But Irus refusing to accept them, Peleus allowed them to wander about without superintending shepherds, until they were attacked by a wolf.30 This wolf was sent by Psamathe, to avenge the murder of Phocus, but she herself afterwards, on the request of Thetis, changed him into stone.31
Phoenix, who had been blinded by his own father Amyntor, and who afterwards became the companion of Achilles, had his sight restored to him by Chiron, at the request of Peleus, who also made him king of the Dolopes.32 Peleus also received in his dominion Epeigeus, son of Agacles, and Patroclus who had fled from his home, and some even relate that Patroclus was the son of Polymele, a daughter of Peleus.33 Peleus, who had once joined Heracles in his expedition against Troy,34 was too old to accompany his son Achilles against that city: He remained at home and survived the death of his son.35
On various monuments Peleus is portrayed as a hunter, naked or wearing a mantle, holding a sword, club, or hunting knife in hand. His marriage to Thetis is painted on the François vase (ca. 570 BCE; Florance). It is also the subject of some paintings from the Renaissance and baroque.
- Homer. Iliad xxiv, 535.
- Comp. Homer. Iliad xvi, 15; xxi, 189; Ovid. Metamorphoses vii, 477; xii, 365; Apollonius Rhodius. Argonautica ii, 869; iv, 853; Orphic. Argonautica, 130.
- Pseudo-Apollodorus. The Library iii, 12.6.
- ibid. iii, 12.6; comp. Horace. Epistula Ad Pisones, 96.
- Diodorus Siculus, iv, 72; comp. Pausanias. Description of Greece ii, 29.7; x, 30.2.
- Tzetzes on Lycophron, 175.
- Homer. Iliad xvi, 175; Pseudo-Apollodorus. The Library iii, 13.1.
- Ovid. Metamorphoses xii, 266 ff.
- Tzetzes on Lycophron, 175.
- Eustathius on Homer, p. 321.
- Pseudo-Apollodorus. The Library iii, 12.2; comp. Ovid. Fasti ii, 39 ff.
- Tzetzes on Lycophron, 175, 901.
- Pseudo-Apollodorus. The Library iii, 9.2.
- Fabulae, 273.
- Pseudo-Apollodorus. The Library iii, 13.3.
- Nemean Odes iv, 92, v, 46; comp. Scholiast on Apollonius Rhodius, i, 224; Scholiast on Aristophanes' Clouds, 1059; Horace. Carmina iii, 7. 18.
- Apollonius Rhodius. Argonautica i, 204; Aristophanes. Clouds, 1055.
- Apollonius Rhodius. Argonautica i, 558; comp. Thetis.
- Homer. Iliad xvi, 143; xxiv, 61 ff., which, however, according to Pindar's Nemean Odes iii, 56, Peleus made for himself.
- Pseudo-Apollodorus. The Library iii, 13.5; Homer. Iliad xvi, 381; xvii, 443; xviii, 84.
- Iliad xviii, 86, 332, 441.
- Orphic. Argonautica, 385.
- Pseudo-Apollodorus. The Library iii, 13.6.
- Apollonius Rhodius. Argonautica iv, 816; Lycophron, 178; Ptolemaeus Hephaestus, 6.
- Pseudo-Apollodorus. The Library iii, 13.7; comp. i, 9.16; Apollonius Rhodius. Argonautica i, 91; Orphic. Argonautica, 130; Hyginus. Fabulae, 14.
- Scholiast on Apollonius Rhodius, i, 224; Pindar. Nemean Odes iii, 59.
- Thessaly; Pindar. Nemean Odes iv, 91.
- Euripides. Trojan Women, 1127, with the Scholiast.
- Tzetzes on Lycophron, 175, 901.
- Antoninus Liberalis, 38.
- Tzetzes on Lycophron, 175; Ovid. Metamorphoses xii, 351 ff., 400.
- Lycophron, 421; Homer. Iliad ix, 438, 480.
- Homer. Iliad xvi, 571; xiii, 89; Pseudo-Apollodorus. The Library iii, 13.8.
- Pindar. Olympian Odes viii, 60.
- Homer. Iliad xviii, 434, Odyssey xii, 495.
- Aken, Dr. A.R.A. van. (1961). Elseviers Mythologische Encyclopedie. Amsterdam: Elsevier.
- 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.