Xanthos and Xenokleia

Detail of Triumph of Achilles, by Franz von Matsch, 1892

Xanthos (Xanthus) is one of two immortal horses most famously owned by the great hero Achilles. The other horse was Bailos (Bailus). When King Peleos of Phtia married sea goddess and sea nymph Thetis (a Nereid), Poseidon gave him the horses as a wedding present. Later, Peleos gave them to his son Achilles.

Xanthos and Bailos drew Achilles’s chariot during the Trojan War. The Iliad also mentions a third horse, Pedasos. Though Pedasos was mortal, he easily kept up with the two immortal horses.

Sadly, Pedasos was killed by Prince Sarpedon of Lykia. The spear had been aimed for Achilles’s dear friend Patroklos (who may or may not have been his lover), but got Pedasos instead.

Automedon with the Horses of Achilles, by Henri Regnault, 1868

Patroklos fed and groomed the horses, and formed a very close bond with them. He was the only one who was able to fully control them. After Patroklos was killed by Prince Hector of Troy, Xanthos and Bailos stood still on the battlefield and wept.

Achilles took Xanthos to task for letting Patroklos be slain, and Hera violated her own Divine laws by giving Xanthos speech. Xanthos told Achilles a god had killed Patroklos, and that soon Achilles too would be slain by a god. The Furies then rendered Xanthos speechless once more.

Xanthos means “yellow.” Related feminine names are the gorgeous Xanthe, Xanthia, and Xanthina. This is also the root of my favouritest synonym for blonde, “xanthochroid.”

Priestess of Delphi, by John Collier, 1891

Xenokleia (Xenoclea) was the Pythia (High Priestess) by the Oracle of Delphi. Though many other things in Greek mythology are the work of rich imaginations, the Oracle was a real thing, with obvious historical evidence.

Hercules came to the Oracle after throwing Prince Iphitos of Oechalia off a wall in Tiryns. He was having nightmares, and wanted to find out how to stop them. Hercules also wanted to know how to gain atonement for what he’d done. Xenokleia refused to help him, since he hadn’t yet purified himself from his shocking crime. She was also stunned at what he’d done.

Xenokleia addressed him, “You murdered your guest, I have no oracle for such as you.” Hercules was so pissed by this response, he absconded with Xenokleia’s Delphic tripod, the three-legged seat on which the Pythia sat. He refused to return it until she gave him an oracle.

Apollo interceded, and Hercules got into a fight with him. Zeus had to intervene to get them to stop fighting. After the tripod was returned, Xenokleia bathed in the nearby Castalian Spring to purify herself in preparation for giving an oracle.

Xenokleia told Hercules he could only purify himself by serving as a slave for a year. The price he’d fetch would go to Iphitos’s kids, to compensate for his death. Hercules asked who’d buy him, and Xenokleia said it’d be Queen Omphale of Lydia. Hercules agreed to the terms, and began his year of slavery.

The fight between Hercules and Apollo is depicted on a number of Ancient Greek vases.

Xenokleia means “foreign glory,” derived from xenos (foreign, strange) and kleos (glory). The male form is Xenokles.

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4 comments on “Xanthos and Xenokleia

  1. Nick Wilford says:

    Was Hercules’ year of slavery when he had to perform his twelve labours? I think of him as heroic, but his actions in this story are distinctly shady!

  2. jazzfeathers says:

    Really liked these two myth. The one about Xanthos was even moving.
    I’ve always loved the figure of the Pythia, I’m not even sure why. Maybe because it’s a figure of feminine power and wisdome.

    @JazzFeathers
    The Old Shelter – 1940s Film Noir

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