A son of Agenor, and king of Salmydessus in Thrace.1 Some traditions called him a son of Phoenix and Cassiopeia, and a grandson of Agenor,2 while others again call him a son of Poseidon.3 Some accounts, moreover, make him a king in Paphlagonia or in Arcadia.4 He was first married to Cleopatra, the daughter of Boreas and Orithyia, by whom he had two children, Oryithus (Oarthus) and Crambis (some call them Parthenius and Crambis5). Afterwards he was married to Idaea (some call her Dia, Eurytia, or Eidothea6), by whom he again had two sons, Thynus and Mariandynus.7
Phineus was a blind soothsayer, who had received his prophetic powers from Apollo.8 The cause of his blindness is not the same in all accounts; according to some he was blinded by the gods for having imprudently communicated to mortals the divine counsels of Zeus about the future;9 according to others Aeëtes, on hearing that the sons of Phrixus had been saved by Phineus, cursed him, and Helios hearing the curse, carried it into effect by blinding him;10 others again relate, that Boreas or the Argonauts blinded him for his conduct towards his sons.11
He is most celebrated in ancient stories on account of his being exposed to the annoyances of the Harpies, who were sent to him by the gods for his cruelty towards his sons by the first marriage. His second wife charged them with having behaved improperly to her, and Phineus punished them by putting their eyes out,12 or, according to others, by exposing them to be devoured by wild beasts,13 or by ordering them to be half buried in the earth, and then to be scourged.14 Whenever Phineus wanted to take a meal the Harpies came, took away a portion of his food, and soiled the rest, so as to render it unfit to be eaten. In this condition the unfortunate man was found by the Argonauts, whom he promised to instruct respecting their voyage, if they would deliver him from the monsters.
A table accordingly was laid out with food, and when the Harpies appeared they were forthwith attacked by Zetes and Calais, the brothers of Cleopatra, who were provided with wings. There was a prophecy that the Harpies should perish by the hands of the sons of Boreas, but that the latter themselves must die if they should be unable to overtake the Harpies. In their flight one of the monsters fell into the river Tigris, which was henceforth called Harpys; the other reached the Echinadian islands, which, from her returning from that spot, were called Strophades. But the Harpy, as well as her pursuer, was worn out with fatigue, and fell down. Both Harpies were allowed to live on condition that they would no longer molest Phineus.15 Phineus now explained to the Argonauts the further course they had to take, and especially cautioned them against the Symplegades.16
According to another story the Argonauts, on their arrival at the place of Phineus, found the sons of Phineus half buried, and demanded their liberation, which Phineus refused. The Argonauts used force, and a battle ensued, in which Phineus was slain by Heracles. The latter also delivered Cleopatra from her confinement, and restored the kingdom to the sons of Phineus, and on their advice he also sent the second wife of Phineus back to her father, who ordered her to be put to death.17 Some traditions, lastly, state that Phineus was killed by Boreas, or that he was carried off by the Harpies into the country of the Bistones or Milchessians.18
On a black-figure bowl (ca. 520 BCE; Würzburg) Pheneus is depicted as an old, bearded blind man whose food is stolen by the Harpies.
- Apollonius Rhodius. Argonautica ii, 178, 237; Scholiast ad eund. ii, 177.
- Scholiast on Apollonius Rhodius, 2.178.
- Pseudo-Apollodorus. The Library i, 9.21.
- Scholiast on Apollonius Rhodius, l.c.; Servius on Virgil’s Aeneid iii, 209.
- Scholiast on Apollonius Rhodius, ii, 140; Plexippus and Pandion, Pseudo-Apollodorus. The Library iii, 15.3; Gerymbas and Aspondus, Scholiast on Sophocles' Antigone, 977; or Polydectus and Polydorus, Ovid. Ibis, 273.
- Scholiast on Apollonius Rhodius, l.c.; Scholiast on Homer's Odyssey xii, 70; Scholiast on Sophocles' Antigone, 980.
- Scholiast on Apollonius Rhodius, ii, 140, 178; Pseudo-Apollodorus. The Library iii, 15.3.
- Apollonius Rhodius. Argonautica ii, 180.
- Pseudo-Apollodorus. The Library i, 9.21.
- Scholiast on Apollonius Rhodius, ii, 207, comp. 181.
- Servius on Virgil's Aeneid iii, 209.
- Sophocles. Antigone, 973.
- Orphic. Argonautica, 671.
- Diodorus Siculus. Historical Library iv, 44; Scholiast on Apollonius Rhodius, ii, 207.
- comp. Scholiast on Apollonius Rhodius, ii, 286, 297; Tzetzes. Chiliades i, 217.
- Pseudo-Apollodorus. The Library i, 3.21 ff.
- Diodorus Siculus. Historical Library iv, 43; Scholiast on Apollonius Rhodius, ii, 207; Pseudo-Apollodorus. The Library iii, 15.3.
- Orphic. Argonautica, 675 ff.; Strabo. Geography vii, p. 302.
- Orphic. Argonautica, 674; Scholiast on Pindar's Pythian Odes xiii, 96.
- 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.