The Sons of Odysseus, Part 3: Kirke’s Children (except for Telegonos)

In earlier posts I went over the seventeen named sons of Odysseus and then laid out a plan to start figuring out where and when they come from, organizing the discussion around the mother. Last week, I focused on the named children of Penelope—everyone knows that she gave birth to Telemakhos. Less well known: a son born after Odysseus’ return, named Arkesilaos or Ptoliporthes.

After children with Penelope, most common in the tradition, however, are children ascribed to Odysseus and Kirkê. The earliest mention of this comes from Hesiod’s Works and Days (1011-1017):

“Kirkê, the daughter of Helios, Hyperion’s son,
After having sex with Odysseus, gave birth to
Agrios and Latînos, blameless and strong.

And she also gave birth to Telegonos thanks to golden Aphrodite.
Her sons rule far away in the recess of the holy islands
Among the glorious Tursênians.”


Κίρκη δ’ ᾿Ηελίου θυγάτηρ ῾Υπεριονίδαο
γείνατ’ ᾿Οδυσσῆος ταλασίφρονος ἐν φιλότητι
῎Αγριον ἠδὲ Λατῖνον ἀμύμονά τε κρατερόν τε·
[Τηλέγονον δὲ ἔτικτε διὰ χρυσῆν ᾿Αφροδίτην·]
οἳ δή τοι μάλα τῆλε μυχῷ νήσων ἱεράων
πᾶσιν Τυρσηνοῖσιν ἀγακλειτοῖσιν ἄνασσον.


There’s more to be said about these three children (and Telegonos will get his own post), but before I get to them, I did mention earlier that Dionysus of Halicarnassos mentions three children from Kirkê (with the fragmentary historian Xenagoras as his authority), but gives them very different names (Dionys. Hal. A. R. I, 72):

“Three children were born from Circe and Odysseus, Rhomos, Antias, and Ardias. Because they founded three cities, they gave them their own names…”


Ξεναγόρας δὲ ὁ συγγραφεὺς, ᾿Οδυσσέως καὶ Κίρκης υἱοὺς γενέσθαι τρεῖς, ῾Ρῶμον, ᾿Αντίαν, ᾿Αρδέαν· οἰκίσαντας δὲ τρεῖς πόλεις, ἀφ’ ἑαυτῶν θέσθαι τοῖς κτίσμασι τὰς ὀνομασίας.


No other tradition presents these three sons. Their names and their association with Italian geographical sites, however, do align with general trends in the sons of Kirkê and Odysseus, (again) with the exception of Telegonos.

Let’s go back to that Hesiod passage: it lists Agrios and Latinus and has her sons ruling among the Tyrsenians, who seem to be a reference to Etruscans. The line concerning Telegonos is considered by some an interpolation, which makes it easy to discuss him elsewhere. But, it is worth noting that some authors pair them together: the Geopontica ( makes Latinus the brother of Telegonos and child of Kirkê (ασὶ γὰρ Λατῖνον τὸν Τηλεγόνου μὲν ἀδελφόν, Κίρκης δὲ παῖδα) who established/founded the Roman akropolis before Aeneas (κτίζοντα τὴν ἀκρόπολιν πρὸ τῆς Αἰνείου παρουσίας).


The passage pairing these two establishes that basic theme of Kirkê’s sons with Odysseus (those from Xenagoras and those from Hesiod excepting Telegonos): they are associated with toponyms in the Western Mediterranean/Adriatic. This is part of Odysseus’ position as a cult-hero and ancestor of city-founders during the period of colonization (on which, in general, see Irad Malkin’s The Returns of Odysseus (1998)).

Lykophron (and others) add another son to this mix, Ausôn, whose name was reflected in the Ausones (and whom Scymnus gives to Kalypso) and whose geographical localization extend Odysseus’ genealogical reach past Sicily. Here are passages from Eustathius, Scymnus and the Scholia to Lykophron.


Eustathius Comment. Ad Od. 1.1.


“This is also clearly different among many others, that both the Latinus of history and Ausôn are sons from Odysseus and Kirkê according to some. They each held power over their eponymous lands; and the tribes there were named from them. The name of the city in Iberia, Odyssea, agrees with these accounts….”


καὶ τοῦτο δηλοῖ δίχα πολλῶν ἄλλων, καὶ ὁ τῆς ἱστορίας Λατῖνος, καὶ ὁ Αὔσων, οἱ ἐξ ᾿Οδυσσέως καὶ Κίρκης κατά τινας. οἳ καὶ τῆς ὁμωνύμου αὐτοῖς χώρας ἐκράτησαν, καὶ ἀφ’ ἑαυτῶν τὰ ἔθνη ἐκάλεσαν. ὁμολογεῖ δὲ τούτοις καὶ ἡ ἐν ᾿Ιβηρίᾳ πόλις ᾿Οδύσσεια.


Scymnus ad Nicomedem Regem 222-230


“The Pelagian islands lie in the approach, Kyrnos and Sardis, which is said to be the biggest island after Sicily. Once before these were called the Seirenides and the Islands of Kirkê. Below these are the Ombrikoi, which are not the islands which Latinus who was born from Kirkê and Odysseus settled. The Ausonians have hold of the land there, and it was Ausôn it seems who settled it, a child of Odysseus and Kalypso.”


᾿Εν τῷ πόρῳ κεῖνται δὲ νῆσοι πελάγιαι,
Κύρνος τε καὶ Σαρδὼ, μεγίστη λεγομένη
μετὰ τὴν Σικελίαν νῆσον, αἵ τε πρίν ποτε
Σειρηνίδες Κίρκης τε νῆσοι λεγόμεναι.
Εἰσὶ δ’ ἐπάνω μὲν τῶν Πελασγῶν ᾿Ομβρικοί, …
οὓς ᾤκισ’ οὐκ Κίρκης ᾿Οδυσσεῖ γενόμενος
Λατῖνος, Αὔσονές τε μεσόγειον τόπον
ἔχοντες, Αὔσων οὓς συνοικίσαι δοκεῖ,
᾿Οδυσσέως παῖς καὶ Καλυψοῦς γενόμενος.


Scholia to Lykophron, 44.1-8: Reports both parentages for Auson


Αὔσονες δὲ οἱ ᾿Ιταλοὶ s Αὐσονῖτις ἡ ᾿Ιταλικὴ T ἀπὸ Αὔσονος τοῦ παιδὸς ᾿Οδυσσέως καὶ Κίρκης. ss4 cf. EM 17115 sch. DP 78 ἄλλοι δὲ ἀφ’ ἑτέρου Αὔσονος εἶπον (702). s4 Αὔσων ὁ ᾿Ιταλὸς <ἀπὸ Αὔσονος, ὃς ἐκ Καλυψοῦς ἐγεννήθη τῷ ῎Ατλαντι.> Steph.


So Latinus and Auson are paired as ethnonyms connecting myth, history and geography to an Odysseus, or better, a possible Odysseus. The variations themselves are interesting because despite their origin and time, they use Odysseus, the wandering wayfarer, as a touchstone. Note how Ausôn shifts from son of Odysseus and Kirkê to son of Kalypso and Odysseus and then, according to the Lykophron scholion, a son of Atlas and Kalypso. Similar shifting occurs with Latinus and Herakles.

Of the named sons of Kirkê, Latinus is the easiest to trace. Even traditions that don’t make him a direct son of Odysseus, still aim to link the founding of a city in Italy to Odysseus (as in the strange combining of Aeneas and Odysseus I mentioned earlier). For example, some traditions have Kirkê giving birth to Latinus with Telemachus (see West 1966, 434: see Hyginus fab. 127).


To be fair there are multiple Latini and, in a motif that is repeated, he is sometimes said to be from the line of Herakles instead of Odysseus (Dio. Hal. Rom. Ant βασιλεὺς μὲν ᾿Αβοριγίνων ἦν Λατῖνος ὁ Φαύνου, γόνος δὲ ῾Ηρακλέους, πέμπτον δὲ καὶ τριακοστὸν ἔτος ἔχων τὴν ἀρχήν). The Suda provides some similar information.

“Latinoi: They are now called Romans. For, the son of Herakles, Telephos, was called Latinus and he changed the name of the people who long-ago were called Ketians to Latini….”

Suda s.v Latinoi: Λατῖνοι· οἱ νῦν ῾Ρωμαῖοι· Τήλεφος γὰρ υἱὸς ῾Ηρακλέους, ὁ
ἐπικληθεὶς Λατῖνος, μετωνόμασε τοὺς πάλαι Κητίους λεγομένους Λατί-ους.

Generally speaking, it is clear then that Latinus is a toponym/ethnonym that connects Odysseus to the west genealogically from an early period. Conflicting genealogies that attach him to Herakles are unsurprising given the overlapping journeys of the two heroes and the waxing and waning of Odyssean popularity. The early account of Hesiod strengthens the Odyssean claim, for me. Other records are a bit late.

But this alteration of fathers and the act of choosing between heroic genealogies makes me rethink a famous passage in the Odyssey. When Athena asks Telemachus if Odysseus is his father, Telemachus responds (petulantly or enigmatically, depending on your perspective):

“My mother says I am his son. But I don’t know it myself.
For no one is a witness to his own begetting.”

μήτηρ μέν τέ μέ φησι τοῦ ἔμμεναι, αὐτὰρ ἐγώ γε
οὐκ οἶδ’· οὐ γάρ πώ τις ἑὸν γόνον αὐτὸς ἀνέγνω.

This doubt about parentage, lineage and identity is clearly a necessary part of the Odyssean tradition if we imagine (1) multiple children and (2) shifting genealogies available/known to the audience of the Odyssey. Even without that as a certainty, I cannot now read Telemachus’ comments without imagining the epic ‘winking’ at other possible fathers and sons.

When it comes to that other brother mentioned, the evidence isnt’t nearly as good. Attempts have been made to associate Agrios with Italy (just like Latinus, obviously; Agrios is positioned as an ancestor of the Thracian Agrianes). For a brief survey, see West 1966, 433-4). But others have believed that Agrios is later Faunus (or Silvius) who is a rural king and understood by Nonnus to be a son of Poseidon and Circe (see West 1966, 434).


Nonnus, Dionysiaca 13.328-42:


τοῖς ἔπι Φαῦνος ἵκανε πυρισφρήγιστον ἐάσσας
Σικελίης τριλόφοιο Πελωρίδα πέζαν ἐρίπνης,
τὸν βυθίῳ Κρονίωνι συναπτομένη τέκε Κίρκη,
σύγγονος Αἰήταο πολύθρονος, ἣ παρὰ λόχμῃ
ᾤκεε πετραίοιο βαθύσκια κύκλα μελάθρου.

3 thoughts on “The Sons of Odysseus, Part 3: Kirke’s Children (except for Telegonos)

Leave a Reply