In Greek mythology, Pēleús ( _el. Πηλεύς) was a hero who was already known to Homer. [Peleus is mentioned in Homer's "Odyssey" during the conversation between Odysseus and the dead Achilles.] Peleus was the son of Aeacus, king of the island of Aegina, [The island lies in the Saronic Gulf opposite the coast of Epidaurus; it had once been called Oenone, Pausanias was informed.] and Endeïs, the oread of Mount Pelion in Thessaly; [In poetry he and Telamon are sometimes the "Endeides", the "sons of Endeis"; see, for example, Pausanias 2.29.10.] he became the father of Achilles. He and his brother Telamon were friends of Heracles, serving in his expedition against the Amazons and his war against King Laomedon. Though there were no further kings in Aegina, the kings of Epirus claimed descent from Peleus. [Pausanias, 2.29.4.]

Peleus and Telamon, his brother, killed their half-brother, Phocus, perhaps in a hunting accident, and fled Aegina to escape punishment. In Phthia, Peleus was purified by Eurytion and married Antigone, Eurytion's daughter. Peleus accidentally killed Eurytion during the hunt for the Calydonian Boar and fled from Phthia.

Peleus was purifed of the murder of Eurytion in Iolcus by Acastus. Astydameia, Acastus' wife, fell in love with Peleus but he scorned her. Bitter, she sent a messenger to Antigone to tell her that Peleus was to marry Acastus' daughter; Antigone hanged herself.

Astydameia then told Acastus that Peleus had tried to rape her. Acastus took Peleus on a hunting trip and hid his sword, then abandoned him right before a group of centaurs attacked. Chiron, the wise centaur, returned Peleus' sword and Peleus managed to escape. He pillaged Iolcus and dismembered Astydameia, then marched his army between the rendered limbs. After Antigone's death, Peleus married the sea-nymph Thetis and fathered Achilles by her. As a wedding present, Poseidon gave Peleus two immortal horses: Balius and Xanthus. Their wedding feast, however, was also the beginning of the quarrel that led to the Judgement of Paris and eventually to the Trojan War.

Thetis attempted to render her son Achilles invulnerable. In a familiar version, she dipped him in the River Styx, holding him by one heel, which remained vulnerable. In an early and less popular version of the story, Thetis anointed the boy in ambrosia and put him on top of a fire to burn away the mortal parts of his body. She was interrupted by Peleus and she abandoned both father and son in a rage, leaving his heel vulnerable (a nearly identical story is told by Plutarch, in his "On Isis and Osiris", of the goddess Isis burning away the mortality of Prince Maneros of Byblos, son of Queen Astarte, and being likewise interrupted before completing the process). Peleus gave him to Chiron, on Mt. Pelion "(which took its name from Peleus)", to raise.

Peleus in hero-cult

Though the tomb of Aeacus remained in a shrine enclosure in the most conspicuous part of the port city, a quadrangular enclosure of white marble sculpted with bas-reliefs, in the form in which Pausanias saw it, with the tumulus of Phocus near by, [Pausanias, 2.29.6-7] there was no "temenos" of Peleus at Aegina. Two versions of Peleus' fate account for this; in Euripides' "Troades", Acastus, son of Pelias, has exiled him from Phthia; [Scholia on Euripides, "Troades" 1123-28 note that in some accounts the "sons" of Acastus have cast him out, and that he was received by Molon in his exile] and subsequently he died in exile; in another, he was reunited with Thetis and made immortal. In Antiquity, according to a fragment of Callimachus' lost "Aitia", [One of the fragmentary Oxyrhynchus papyri, noted by Lewis Richard Farnell, "Greek Hero Cults and Ideas of Immortality: the Gifford Lectures", "The Cults of Epic Heroes: Peleus" 1921:310f.] there was a tomb of Peleus in Ikos (modern Alonissos), an island of the northern Sporades; there Peleus was venerated as "king of the Myrmidons" and the "return of the hero" was celebrated annually. [Farnell 1921:310f; Farnell remarks on "some ethnic tradition that escapes us, but which led the inhabitants to attach the name of Peleus to some forgotten grave," so deep was the cultural discontinuity between Mycenaean Greece and the rise of hero-cults in the 8th century BCE.] And there was his tomb, according to a poem in the Greek Anthology. [Greek Anthology, 7.2.] The only other reference to veneration of Peleus comes from the Christian Clement of Alexandria, in his polemical "Exhortation to the Greeks". Clement attributes his source to a "collection of marvels" by a certain "Monimos" of whom nothing is known, and claims, in pursuit of his thesis that "daimon"-worshipers bcome as cruel as their gods, that in "Pella of Thessaly human sacrifice is offered to Peleus and Cheiron, the victim being an Achaean". [George William Butterworth, ed. and tr."Clement of Alexandria", "Exhortation to the Greeks" 1919:93. ] Of this, the continuing association of Peleus and Chiron is the most dependable detail. [By way of apology for Clement, Farnell suggests "human sacrifice was occasionally an adjunct of hero-cults, and this at Pella may have been an exceptional rite prescribed at a crisis by some later oracle." (Farnell 1921:311). Dennis D. Hughes, "Human Sacrifice in Ancient Greece" (Routledge, 1991) offers a skeptical view of the actuality of human sacrifices during historical times.]

Peleus in tragedy

A "Peleus" by Sophocles is lost.



*pseudo-Apollodorus, "Bibliotheke" I, ix, 16 and III, ix,2 and xii, 6- xiii,7; "Epitome" vi, 13.
*Apollonius Rhodius, "Argonautica" IV,805- 879
*Ovid, "Metamorphoses" VIII, 299-381.
*Homer, "Iliad" XVIII, 78-87;
*Euripides, "Andromache".

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