A son of Heracles and Auge, the daughter of king Aleus of Tegea. He was reared by a hind (ἔλαφος, elaphos), and educated by king Corythus in Arcadia. When Telephus had grown up, he consulted the Delphic oracle as to who his mother was. He was ordered to go to king Teuthras in Mysia1 He there found his mother, was kindly received, and married Argiope, the daughter of Teuthras, whom he succeeded on the throne of Mysia.2
According to a different tradition in Hyginus,3 king Teuthras being hard pressed by Idas, who wished to deprive him of his kingdom, solicited the aid of Telephus, who, accompanied by Parthenopaeus, had come into his kingdom, and promised him his throne and the hand of his daughter Auge, if he would deliver him from his enemy. Telephus did so, and thus unwittingly married his own mother Auge. She, however, without knowing her son, would hear nothing of the marriage, and resolved to murder her intended husband. A dragon sent by the gods prevented this crime; and as she confessed her intention to Telephus, he resolved to kill her; but as she invoked the aid of Heracles, the relation between them was discovered, and Telephus led his mother back to his own country.
According to the common tradition, however, Telephus was king of Mysia at the time when the Greeks went to the Trojan war, and when they invaded Mysia, he repelled them, being of all the sons of Heracles the most like his father.4 Dionysus, however, assisted the Greeks, and caused Telephus to stumble over a vine, in consequence of which he was wounded by Achilles.5 Now it was discovered that Telephus himself was a Greek, and he was requested to join in the war against Priam. But he declined it on the plea that his wife Astyoche was a daughter of Priam.6 Other accounts state that Astyoche was a sister of Priam;7 Hyginus calls his wife Laodice, and a daughter of Priam; and some, again, call his wife Hiera, by whom he is said to have been the father of Tarchon and Tyrrhenus.8
The wound which Telephus had received from Achilles could not be cured (hence incurable wounds, proverbially Τηλέφεια τραύματα, Tēlepheia traumata9); and when he consulted the oracle he received the answer, that only he could cure him who had wounded him. Telephus, therefore, in a deplorable condition, went to seek Agamemnon; and on the advice of Clytemnestra he carried off Orestes from his cradle, threatening to kill him unless his father would assist him in getting his wound cured. As the Greeks had received an oracle that without the aid of Telephus they could not reach Troy, a reconciliation was easily brought about, and Achilles cured Telephus by means of the rust of the spear by which the wound had been inflicted; Telephus, in return, pointed out to the Greeks the road which they had to take.10
The adventures of Telephus are in the archaic art often depicted, for example on the so-called Telephus-frieze on the altar at Pergamon (ca. 150 BCE). His battle against the Greeks is depicted by Scopas on the western facade of the temple of Athena at Tegea (ca. 360 BCE). Furthermore, several scenes from his life can be found on Etruscan coffins, gem stones, coins, vases, and murals: Telephus is usually portrayed as a bearded man, naked or clothed, and tormented by his wound. As an infant, suckled by a hind, he appears on a mural at the Basilica of Herculaneum. In front of Telephus lies Arcadia, a personification of the landscape, and Heracles stands at the side, looking back and recognizing his son.
- Pausanias. Description of Greece i, 4.9.
- Pseudo-Apollodorus. The Library iii, 9.1; Diodorus Siculus. Historical Library iv, 33.
- Fabulae, 100.
- Pindar. Olympian Odes ix, 112 ff.; Isthmian Odes v, 52; Pausanias. Description of Greece x, 28, in fin.
- Pindar. Isthmian Odes viii, 109; Dictys Cretensis, ii, 3; Eustathius on Homer, p. 46; Tzetzes on Lycophron, 206. 211; Hyginus. Fabulae, 101.
- Dictys Cretensis, ii, 5.
- Eustathius on Homer, p. 1697.
- Tzetzes on Lycophron, 1242, 1249; Philostratus. Heroicus ii, 18.
- Paul of Aegina, iv, 46.
- Dictys Cretensis, ii, 10; Ovid. Metamorphoses xii, 112; Tristia v, 2, 15; Remedia Amoris, 47; Letters from the Black Sea ii, 26; Philostratus. Life of Apollonius of Tyana ii, 14 ff.
- Pausanias. Description of Greece v, 13.2.
- Pausanias. Description of Greece viii, 34.5; Pseudo-Apollodorus. The Library i, 8.6.
- Pausanias. Description of Greece viii, 4, 5, in fin.
- 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.