“Used to Love Her…” Achilles, Penthesileia, and a Love-Child?

While discussing unexpected variants in Greek myths today with twitter friends Carly Silver and Emily Hauser (whose forthcoming third book For the Immortal takes its readers to the world of the Amazons, just as her earlier For the Winner and For the Most Beautiful retell the tales of Atalanta and Helen respectively), I learned another new thing today: some traditions give Achilles a “love-child” with Penthesileia [Carly’s great phrase].. And the child’s name is Kaustros (Causter/Cayster).

One of the very humbling things about studying myth–once you accept that there is no central version and realize that audiences kept writing themselves and their local traditions into myth (and vice versa)–is that it is pretty much impossible to know it all. Rather than get discouraged by this, I actually find it exciting–it infuses some work with child-like wonder and makes other work feel like an episode of CSI: Ancient Greece  (or something like that).

The sources for this child are pretty limited–and it does not seem that any specifically name Achilles as father (which is ok–I look forward to seeing what she does with the character):

Schol A ad. Il. 2.461d ex [cf. Eusth. Comm ad I 1.387]

“Kaüstros is a son of Penthesileia the Amazon. He married Derketô in Askalon and fathered from her Semiramis. Among the Syrians, Derketô is called Atargatis.”

(Porph. ?) Κάϋστρος υἱὸς Πενθεσιλείας τῆς ᾿Αμαζόνος, ὃς ἐν ᾿Ασκάλωνι ἔγημεν τὴν Δερκετὼ καὶ ἐξ αὐτῆς ἔσχεν τὴν Σεμίραμιν. | ἡ δὲ Δερκετὼ παρὰ Σύροις καλεῖται ᾿Αταργατῖς. A

Atargatis is sometimes a mermaid-like deity (as is Derketô).

Pretty much the same information is repeated in several different texts, for example:

Etym. Magn. [=Kallierges 493.10, s.v. Kaüstros; cf. Ps. Herod.]

“Kaüstros: a river in Lydia, from Kaüstros. And Kaüstros is a son of Penthesileia the Amazon. He married Derketô in Askalon and fathered from her Semiramis. She’s the one who had the walls of Babylon built.”

     Κάϋστρος: Ποταμὸς Λυδίας· ἀπὸ Καΰστρου· Κάϋστρος δέ ἐστιν υἱὸς Πενθεσιλείας τῆς ᾿Αμαζόνος, ὃς ἐν ᾿Ασκάλωνι ἔγημε τὴν Δερκετὼ, καὶ ἐξ αὐτῆς ἔσχε τὴν Σεμίραμιν, ἥτις καὶ τὰ Βαβυλώνια τείχη κατεσκεύασε.

For many, this story is surprising and strange, because the famous vase images and the tales that are told in most of the citations above are that Achilles fell in love with Penthesileia while or after killing her

Image result for Greek Vase Achilles and Penthesilea

A Black-figure vase from the British Museum: 1836,0224.127

We do, however, have other versions of this.

Eustathius, Comm. Ad Od. 11.538, 1696.51

“Tellis tells the tale that Penthesileia killed Achilles but that, after Thetis asked Zeus, he resurrcted him and Achilles killed her in turn. Penthesileia’s father sued Thetis for this but Poseidon judged against Ares.”

…Τέλλις δὲ ἱστορεῖ Πενθεσίλειαν ἀνελεῖν τὸν ᾽Αχιλλέα, αἰτησαμένης δὲ Θέτιδος τὸν Δία ἀναστῆναι αὐτὸν καὶ ἀντανελεῖν ἐκείνην. ῎Αρεα δὲ πατέρα Πενθεσιλείας δίκην λαχεῖν Θέτιδι· κριτὴν δὲ γενόμενον Ποσειδῶνα κατακρῖναι ῎Αρην.

Photios, Novel History = BNJ 61 F 1a

“The Sixth book has the following table of contents: how Achilles, killed by Penthesileia, returned to life after his mother made this request, and then returned to Hades after killing Penthesileia”

τὸ δὲ ς̄ βιβλίον (sc. Πτολεμαίου) κεφάλαια περιέχει τάδε· ὡς ᾽Αχιλλεὺς ὑπὸ Πενθεσιλείας ἀναιρεθείς, δεηθείσης αὐτοῦ τῆς μητρὸς Θέτιδος, ἀναβιοῖ, καὶ ἀνελὼν Πενθεσίλειαν εἰς ῞Αιδου πάλιν ὑποστρέφει.

The story of Achilles and Penthesileia is likely the inspiration for this song by Guns n’ Roses

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