A twitter correspondent started asking me about Oinônê this morning. To be honest, I had only the faintest idea who she was. Now that I know a little more, I am no happier about the world. Cue up some mythical-grade misogyny, a variation on the Potiphar’s wife motif, and some infanticide.
Apollodorus, Bibliotheca, 3.155
“Hektor married Andromache, Êetiôn’s daughter, and Alexandros [Paris] married Oinônê the daughter of Kebren the river. She learned the power of prophecy from Rhea and warned Alexander not to sail to Helen. Because she did not persuade him, she said that if he was wounded, he should come to her because she alone would be able to heal him.
But he did steal Helen from Sparta and, while Troy was attacked, he was struck by Herakles’ arrows from Philoktêtes. He went to Oinône in Ida. She, because she took delight in his suffering, said she would not heal him. Alexandros returned to Troy and was dying, but Oinônê changed her mind and was bringing medicine to heal him only to find him dead. She hanged herself.”
῞Εκτωρ μὲν οὖν ᾿Ανδρομάχην τὴν ᾿Ηετίωνος γαμεῖ, ᾿Αλέξανδρος δὲ Οἰνώνην τὴν Κεβρῆνος τοῦ ποταμοῦ θυγατέρα. αὕτη παρὰ ῾Ρέας τὴν μαντικὴν μαθοῦσα προέλεγεν ᾿Αλεξάνδρῳ μὴ πλεῖν ἐπὶ ῾Ελένην. μὴ πείθουσα δὲ εἶπεν, ἐὰν τρωθῇ, παραγενέσθαι πρὸς αὐτήν· μόνην γὰρ θεραπεῦσαι δύνασθαι. τὸν δὲ ῾Ελένην ἐκ Σπάρτης ἁρπάσαι, πολεμουμένης δὲ Τροίας τοξευθέντα ὑπὸ Φιλοκτήτου τόξοις ῾Ηρακλείοις πρὸς Οἰνώνην ἐπανελθεῖν εἰς ῎Ιδην. ἡ δὲ μνησικακοῦσα θεραπεύσειν οὐκ ἔφη. ᾿Αλέξανδρος μὲν οὖν εἰς Τροίαν κομιζόμενος ἐτελεύτα, Οἰνώνη δὲ μετανοήσασα τὰ πρὸς θεραπείαν φάρμακα ἔφερε, καὶ καταλαβοῦσα αὐτὸν νεκρὸν ἑαυτὴν ἀνήρτησεν.
This story is the one basically told in Parthenius (Love Tales, 4.7). Another version of the tale is preserved in Photios but is attributed to the historian and mythographer Konon (BNJ 26 F1 = Photios, Bibliotheka 186). A few notes of caution: Konon is dated to the 1st century CE; Photios to the 9th Century CE
Konon BNJ 26 F1 = Photios, Bibliotheka 186
[This section] is about how a child Koruthos, who surpassed his father in beauty, was born from Alexander/Paris and Oinône, the woman he married before he kidnapped Helen. His mother sent him to Helen to make Alexandros jealous and devise some evil for Helen. When Koruthos got to ‘know’ Helen, Alexandros arrived in the bedroom, and saw Koruthos sitting near her, and, already enraged out of suspicion, he killed him.
Because of the outrage against herself and the killing of her child, she cursed Alexandros a lot and predicted—for she had the inspiration of prophecy and was skilled in preparing medicines—that he would be wounded by one of the Achaeans some day and because he could not find treatment, he would need her and come home.
Later on, Alexander was wounded in the battle against the Achaeans in front of Troy by Philoktetes and he was suffering terribly. He was brought in a wagon to Idea and sent a herald to ask for Oinône. She arrogantly reproached him, saying that he should go back to Helen. Then Alexander died along the road because of the wound.
A powerful change of mind over took her at the time of his death before she heard of it, and once she gathered some medicine, she rushed to overtake him. Once she learned from the herald that he was dead and that she had killed him, she killed the herald for his arrogance by smashing a stone on his head. She threw herself over Alexander’s corpse and, after repeatedly blaming their shared fate, she hanged herself with her belt.”
 Οἰνώνη. ἡ κ̄γ̄· ὡς ᾽Αλεξάνδρου τοῦ Πάριδος καὶ Οἰνώνης, ἣν ἐγήματο πρὶν ἢ τὴν ῾Ελένην ἁρπάσαι, παῖς Κόρυθος γίνεται, κάλλει νικῶν τὸν πατέρα. τοῦτον ἡ μήτηρ ῾Ελένηι προσέπεμψε, ζηλοτυπίαν τε κινοῦσα ᾽Αλεξάνδρωι καὶ κακόν τι διαμηχανωμένη ῾Ελένηι. ὡς δὲ συνήθης ὁ Κόρυθος πρὸς ῾Ελένην ἐγένετο, ᾽Αλέξανδρός ποτε παρελθὼν εἰς τὸν θάλαμον καὶ θεασάμενος τὸν Κόρυθον τῆι ῾Ελένηι παρεζόμενον καὶ ἀναφλεχθεὶς ἐξ ὑποψίας εὐθὺς ἀναιρεῖ.
(2) καὶ Οἰνώνη τῆς τε εἰς αὐτὴν ὕβρεως καὶ τῆς τοῦ παιδὸς ἀναιρέσεως πολλὰ ᾽Αλέξανδρον ἀρασαμένη καὶ ἐπειποῦσα (καὶ γὰρ ἦν ἐπίπνους μαντείας καὶ τομῆς φαρμάκων ἐπιστήμων) ὡς τρωθείς ποτε ὑπ᾽ ᾽Αχαιῶν καὶ μὴ τυγχάνων θεραπείας δεήσεται αὐτῆς, οἴκαδε ἤιει. (3) ὕστερον δ᾽ ᾽Αλέξανδρος ἐν τῆι πρὸς ᾽Αχαιοὺς ὑπὲρ Τροίας μάχηι τρωθεὶς ὑπὸ Φιλοκτήτου καὶ δεινῶς ἔχων δι᾽ ἀπήνης ἐκομίζετο πρὸς τὴν ῎Ιδην· καὶ προεκπέμψας κήρυκα ἐδεῖτο Οἰνώνης· ἡ δὲ ὑβριστικῶς μάλα τὸν κήρυκα διωσαμένη πρὸς ῾Ελένην ἰέναι ᾽Αλέξανδρον ἐξωνείδιζε. καὶ ᾽Αλέξανδρος μὲν κατὰ τὴν ὁδὸν ὑπὸ τοῦ τραύματος τελευτᾶι. τὴν δὲ μήπω πεπυσμένην τὴν τελευτὴν μειάμελος ὅμως δεινὸς εἶχε, καὶ δρεψαμένη τῆς πόας ἔθει φθάσαι ἐπειγομένη. ὡς δ᾽ ἔμαθε παρὰ τοῦ κήρυκος ὅτι τεθνήκοι καὶ ὅτι αὐτὴ αὐτὸν ἀνήιρηκεν, ἐκεῖνον μὲν ἀντὶ τῆς ὕβρεως λίθωι τὴν κεφαλὴν πατάξασα ἀναιρεῖ, τῶι δ᾽ ᾽Αλεξάνδρου νεκρῶι περιχυθεῖσα καὶ πολλὰ τὸν κοινὸν ἀμφοῖν καταμεμψαμένη δαίμονα ἑαυτὴν ἀνήρτησε τῆι ζώνηι.
A couple of takeaways from this one. First, it seems that Oinône knew about Paris’ lust for Helen before he departed for Sparta and remained behind on Mt. Ida once he returned to Troy. Second, it is entirely unclear when the child returns to Troy to tempt Helen. This story is a variation on the same story told about Phoinix in book 9 (his mother had him seduce his father’s lover; his father exiled him). No one in this story looks great (except for Koruthos, he looks real great). Paris is, well, a jerk. Poor Oinône is depicted as a witch-prophetess who, despite all the abuse, still loves her terrible husband.
Like Apollodorus’ version above, Ovid’s Heroides (5) do not mention the son. The earliest extant reference to Oinône seems to be Hellanicus, but some speculation links her to Bacchylides fr. 20d (where three letters OIN[….] seem to refer to a wife of Paris. See Gantz Early Greek Myth, 1993 n. 67 on page 839
4 thoughts on “First-Wives’ Club: Oinone and Her Son”
When I did my (quite awful) Trojan War novel, one of the few deviations from the myth that I allowed myself was that Oinone did *not* regret letting Alexander die. (I also left Korythos out altogether…though I did use him as a character duped into evil in an unrelated post-Trojan War novel that was centered on the next generation…)
Sounds splendid. I would imagine her happily letting him perish too!