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Daughters of Proitos, Proetus, Proetides

The story of the daughters of Proitos is not one with a great deal of consistency in Greek Mythology but I will present it in a consistent way to help the understanding of the meaning of the myth.

Homer, Iliad book 6, line 152:

“There is a city Ephyre in the heart of Argos, pasture-land of horses, and there dwelt Sisyphus that was craftiest of men, Sisyphus, son of Aeolus; and he begat a son Glaucus; [155] and Glaucus begat peerless Bellerophon. “To him the gods granted beauty and lovely manliness; but Proetus in his heart devised against him evil, and drave him, seeing he was mightier far, from the land of the Argives; for Zeus had made them subject to his sceptre. [160] Now the wife of Proetus, fair Anteia, lusted madly for Bellerophon, to lie with him in secret love, but could in no wise prevail upon wise-hearted Bellerophon, for that his heart was upright. So she made a tale of lies, and spake to king Proetus:“Either die thyself, Proetus, or slay Bellerophon, [165] seeing he was minded to lie with me in love against my will.” So she spake, and wrath gat hold upon the king to hear that word. To slay him he forbare, for his soul had awe of that; but he sent him to Lycia, and gave him baneful tokens, graving in a folded tablet many signs and deadly,1 [170] and bade him show these to his own wife’s father, that he might be slain. So he went his way to Lycia under the blameless escort of the gods. ”

The family of the daughters had a very rough beginning. Their father was a twin to Acrisius and it is said they argued, even in the womb. Arisius married Eurydice and had a daughter Danae. Acrisius thought Proitos molested his daughter and so he drove him out of Argos. So Proitos may have been the father of Perseus. Proitos fled to Lycia, on the southwest coast of asia Minor, where he married Anteia, the daughter of king Iobates. The King then helped Proitos form an army which he used to win back some of the territory in Argolis that was claimed by his brother. He was able to capture Tiryns, the Heraion, Midea, and the coast of Argolis. The Cyclopes followed Proitos to Tiryns and they built the famous walls of Tiryns for him.

Within a short while the daughters of Proitos were born. They were Maera, Iphianassa, Lysippe, and Iphinoe. Megapenthes was their son. But raising the daughters did not seem a challenge for Anteia. When the young and tantalizingly handsome Bellerophon arived to be purified at the Heraion Anteia fell madly in love with him. Bellerophon was intent on being relieved of the guilt of murder while Anteia tried desperately to seduce him. Bellerophon was in no mood for such flirtaions and rejected all advances. Because of injured pride and dissapointment Anteia told her husband that Bellerophon had made indecent advances toward her. Proitos was enraged by this story but he did not feel he was able to violate the strict rules of hospitality that protected a guest in his home. So he promised absolution to Bellerophon if he traveled across the Aegean to Lycia and his father-in-law’s home. Proitos then gave a sealed letter for Bellerophon to take to Iobates. In the letter he told Iobates to kill Bellerophon.

Plainly the daughters could not be happy with these developments. Many men courted the daughters but three of the daughters decided not to participate in the initiation ceremonies at the Heraion that were required of young women who planned to be married. The three daughters, Iphianassa, Lysippe, Iphinoe even made nasty comments about Hera. They said they did not need Hera because they were prettier than she anyway. They also said their father was richer than the cult and did not need it for this reason either. Not only were they not initiated but they incurred the anger of Hera and for this reason they went mad.

The local peaple easily recognized their madness because they took off over the wild countryside claiming to be cows. As cows they saw no need to care for their clothes and they soon fell into shreds and exposed their private parts. In addition their beauty was destroyed and their hair began to fall out. As they waved and gyrated it seemed to the locals that they behaved in a lewd manner. Naturally the behavior of his daughters concerned Proitos but he was powerless to intervene.

At this point Melampous arrives on the scene from Pylos where he had cured Iphilos of his inability to have children. When he was young Melampos had raised the offspring of a snake that had been killed. When they were older they crawled onto his shoulders while he slept, and they cleaned the inside of his ears with their tongues. As he slept, he suddenly became terribly frightened for no reason that he could understand. He started awake, still terrified, but in the midst of his fear he found he could understand the language of the birds, and from then on the birds told him what would come to pass. So Melampos had become a seer. When Melampos heard of the madness of the daughters he offered to cure them. But he wanted one third of the kingdom. At first Proitos refused, then he heard that his daughters were worse and his concern was greatly increased when other women in his kingdom began to behave in the same manner. So he returned to Melampous. But now he wanted land for his brother as well. But now his subjects demanded some solution so Proitos agreed to the demands of Melampos.

To pursue the women Melampous gathered the strongest of the young men of Tiryns. This group pursued the women as far as Sicyonia, near the gulf of Corinth on the North of the Peloponessus. There the women found a herd of cattle that they were inclined to join. Unfortunately the bull of the herd did not take kindly to the women and Iphinoe was gored just as the men arrived. They were not able to save her but they were able to bring her home for burial. Melampus and the other men did manage to capture and restrain the other two women. By his prayers to Hera at one of the sacred springs of Arcadia he was able to purify the women and return them to their father unharmed and healthy. Proitos founded a temple of Hera on the spot where they were cured between Sicyon and Titane. Becasue they were cured of madness he founded a temple for Apollo at Sicyon. Melampus married Iphianassa, while his brother Bias married Lysippe.

A few observations can be raised about this story. One view is that it involves initiation and the consequences of not being married. The Heraion was thought to be the place of a fertility festival where the best young women were chosen by a footrace. Perhaps the also held beauty contests. It should be realized that such events might have been ways to prepare young women for marriage, as married women were the realm of Hera. But there was also the notion that young women were wild creatures that needed to be tamed. They were like horses that neede to be broken. So the Proetides merely represent was to happen to all women. There is also the idea that madness is the result of a divine curse. But can madness be cured through divine intervention?

Maera is not mentioned with the mad Proetides as she probably died too soon. She was raped by Zeus and bore a son Locrus and then was killed by Artemis. Homer in the Odyssey, 11.325 metions that she was dead before Odysseus arrived back in Ithaca. Μαῖρα — Maera — ‘the dog star, the sparkler’ (There may be no Indo-European Translation of this name.

Iphianassa — Ἰφιάνασσαν — Iphianassa — ‘mighty queen’ from Greek ‘ἰφι’, ‘by force or might’ and ‘ανάσσω’, ‘queen’ from Indo-European ‘yegwa-‘, ‘power’ and ‘ane-‘, ‘to breathe’.

Lysippe — Λυσιππην — ‘horse tamer’ from Greek ‘λύσις’, ‘loosing, releasing, ransoming’ and ‘ιππος’, ‘horse’ from Indo-European ‘leu-1’, ‘To loosen, divide, cut apart’ and ‘ekwo-‘, ‘horse’.

Iphinoe — Ἰφινόην — Iphinoe — ‘fresh power’ from Indo-European ‘yegwa-‘, ‘power’ and ‘newo’ ‘new, young, fresh’.

In Pseudo-Apollodorus, Library it is written, “Danae is born to Arisus from Lacedaemon’s daughter Eurydice, while Lysippe, Iphinoe, and Iphianassa are born to Proteus from Stheneboea. These later went mad when they grew up, as Hesiod says, because they did not accept the rites of Dionysus ..” . This is consistent with the content of the Oxyrhynchus papyrus. Stheneboea is believed to be another name for Anteia.