Melampus

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In Greek mythology, Melampus, or Melampous (Greek: Μέλαμπος),[1] was a legendary soothsayer and healer, originally of Pylos, who ruled at Argos. He was the introducer of the worship of Dionysus, according to Herodotus, who asserted that his powers as a seer were derived from the Egyptians[2] and that he could understand the language of animals. A number of pseudepigraphal works of divination were circulated in Classical and Hellenistic times under the name Melampus. According to Herodotus and Pausanias (vi.17.6), on the authority of Hesiod, his father was Amythaon, whose name implies the "ineffable" or "unspeakably great";[3] Melampus and his heirs were thus Amythaides of the "House of Amythaon".

Contents

Homer

In Homer's Odyssey,[4] a digression concerning the lineage of Theoclymenus, "a prophet, sprung from Melampus' line of seers",[5] sketches the epic narrative concerning Melampus with such brevity that its details must have been familiar to Homer's audience. With brief hints, a sequence of episodes is alluded to, in which we discern strife in Pylos between Melampus and Neleus, who usurps Melampus's "great high house", forcing him into heroic exile. Melampus spends a year as bondsman in the house of Phylacus, "all for Neleus' daughter Pero". At his extremity, Melampus is visited by "the mad spell a Fury, murderous spirit, cast upon his mind. But the seer worked free of death" and succeeded at last in rustling Phylacus's cattle back to Pylos, where he avenged himself on Neleus and gave Pero in marriage to his brother Bias. But Melampus's own destiny lay in Argos, where he lived and ruled, married and sired a long line, also briefly sketched in Homer's excursus.

Later myths

At a later date the narrative was embellished with anecdotal detail: Melampus lived in Pylos during the reign of Anaxagoras or possibly Proetus. The king offered a reward for anybody that could heal his son, who suffered from a strange malady. Melampus killed an ox and talked to the vultures that came to eat the corpse. They said that the last time they had had such a feast was when the king had made a sacrifice. They told Melampus that the prince had been frightened of the big, bloody knife and the king tossed it aside to calm the child. It had hit a tree and injured a hamadryad, who cursed the prince with the sickness. The hamadryad told Melampus that the boy would be healed if the knife was taken out of the trunk of the tree and boiled, then the prince should drink the rusty water that resulted. Melampus followed her directions and, as payment for the cure, demanded two thirds of the kingdom for himself, and one third for his brother, Bias. The king agreed.

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