Amphitryon and Alcmene

Published March 12, 2015 by Iphis of Scyros

I was supposed to write this earlier in the week so I wouldn’t be writing a post after class.  That isn’t what happened.

Then I was going to write it before class.  That isn’t what happened.

Today has not been a good day.  (I may well be bitching about it tomorrow.  Fair warning.)


When the great hero Perseus died, he left behind many sons, among them Electryon, Alcaeus and Sthenelus.  Electryon inherited rule of Mycenae, Tiryns and the rest of the Argolid, and the others could only bask in his glory.

Alcaeus had a son named Amphitryon, who was passionately in love with Alcmene, the daughter of his uncle Electryon, and eventually he worked up his courage to ask his uncle for his cousin’s hand in marriage.

But Amphitryon had bad timing.  The Taphians had recently raided the Argolid to steal Electryon’s cattle.  In the process of the raid, all of Electryon’s sons had been killed.  Electryon, distraught with grief, could not bear to lose another child in any way, so he forbade the marriage.

Amphitryon begged and begged for the chance to marry his beloved.

Finally, Electryon relented.  A little bit.  “I’ll let you marry Alcmene,” he said, “but only if you will first avenge my sons.  Kill the Taphians and recover my cattle, and then you can marry my daughter.”

Amphitryon thought this was a fair arrangement–he had many fond memories of his cousins, after all!–and he agreed without complaint.

Amphitryon followed after the Taphians with a band of loyal followers to help him.  Because they were not burdened by herding cattle, they found that the tracks they were following became fresher and fresher with each passing day.

But the Taphians were aware that they were being followed.  Fearing for their lives, they hid the cattle in a cave near Elis, and picked up their pace, fleeing for their homeland as if the Furies themselves were pursuing them.  Coming across the cattle, Amphitryon and his followers had a quandary.

Should they continue their pursuit, knowing that someone else might make off with the cattle while they were away?

Should the troops stay behind to guard the cattle while Amphitryon alone went after the Taphians to avenge his cousins, even knowing that he would probably be killed in the process if he did so?

Should they take the cattle back to Tiryns while the Taphians got ever further away?

Eventually, they decided that Amphitryon would take the cattle back while his men continued to track the Taphians.  Amphitryon was a skilled herdsman, so there should have been no problem for him to drive the cattle back alone.  And mostly there was not.

But there was one animal that would not stay with the herd.  What Amphitryon could not know was that the animal was not simply misbehaving; it was being goaded to act that way by Zeus himself.  Because Zeus had plans for Amphitryon, and especially for Alcmene.

By the time they reached Tiryns, Amphitryon had taken to throwing a wooden club at the rebellious animal to bring it back in line.  The last time he threw that club, it flew too far, and struck his uncle Electryon in the head, killing him.

Amphitryon was horrified by what he had done, but Alcmene knew that it had been an accident, and she forgave him for killing her father.  But his other uncle, Sthenelus, he could not forgive him.  Because he was king now, and Amphitryon was a threat to his throne; if Amphitryon and Alcmene were allowed to remain in the Argolid and they had a son, then that son might try to take the throne away from any sons that Sthenelus might someday have.  He couldn’t allow that!

So he banished Amphitryon for murder.  Even though they were not married yet, Alcmene followed Amphitryon as he left the Argolid, partially out of duty as his wife-to-be, and partially out of the love she had come to feel for him.

They made their way to Thebes, where King Creon purified Amphitryon of the homicide, and gave them a fine home to live in.  The wedding feast was soon celebrated for Amphitryon and Alcmene, but Alcmene would not allow her new husband to share her bed yet.

“If you want to make me your true wife, then you must avenge my brothers first,” she told him.  “That was the price you promised my father, and you haven’t delivered it yet.  He would never forgive me for marrying you without my brothers being avenged.”

Amphitryon was crushed to have to put off the joys of his wedding night yet again, but he knew he had no choice, so he agreed to his bride’s terms, and was soon riding after the Taphians.

He met up with his men who had been tailing the Taphians, and soon he avenged his brothers-in-law.  Then an eager Amphitryon turned his sights towards Thebes, and hurried home to his long delayed nuptials…

Yeah, that was a weird stopping place, I know.  And if it wasn’t already nearly 10:00, I might keep going, but…as it is, the birth of Heracles will wait for next week.

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