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02/12/2007
Phineus

Aikaterinh Balla
Source: C.E.T.I.
© Region of Eastern Macedonia and Thrace
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Phineas is mentioned in the sources as son of either Agenor, king of Phoenicia originating from Phoenix, or son of Phoenix, founder of the tribe of the Phoenicians, or son of Poseidon, god of the sea. Early references mention him as a king of Arcadia that later enters the cycle of Argonauts and is transferred east.

Many works have dealt with the myth of Phineus thus creating a great variety of versions. The most widespread of all has it that the homeland of Phineus was Salmydessus in the European Thracian coast of Pontus, and that he was the king of Thrace. He was first married to Cleopatra, the daughter of Boreas and Oreithyia, by whom he had two sons, who either remain anonymous in sources or are given several names like Plexippus and Pandion, Parthenius and Carambis or Terymbas and Aspondus. By his second marriage, Phineus again had two sons, Thynus and Mariandynus. His second wife is usually called in sources as Idaea and she is the daughter of Dardanos or of the king of the Scythians and more rarely she is known as Eurytia, or Eidothea.

According to Sophocles, Phineus was dominated by his second wife who hated her husbandís sons by his first marriage with Cleopatra. So either the stepmother or Phineus himself blinded the two young men and put them in prison. This conduct enraged Zeus who set a dilemma to the criminal father; the latter had to choose between dying immediately or live a life without the light of Helios (god of the sun). Phineus preferred the second option, which infuriated Helios who sent the Harpyes to torture him. However, according to another version of the myth, Phineus was blinded by Boreas. Still, the most prevalent version of the myth has it that Phineus, who had received the gift of prophetic powers at a young age from Apollo, offered very easily oracles to the people revealing the divine thoughts of the gods. That explains why, not only he had been blinded but also condemned to long term old age and starvation, as the gods sent him the Harpyes, the mythical monstrous creatures.

These winged monsters that always took part in disasters, stole or tainted the food of Phineus. So the old king of Thrace ended up leaving alone and wretched waiting for salvation that he already knew, as a seer, it would not take long to find. Meanwhile, the neighbouring inhabitants visited him to receive his oracles and, in return, offered him plenty of food; yet Phineus was unable to savour it.

The salvation of the seer came when the Argonauts passed by his land. Jason and his companions had started a voyage from Iolcus in Thessaly and were heading to Colchis at the eastern coast of the Euxine Pontus. They had to find the Golden Fleece and take it back to Iolcus, so that Jason could ascend to the throne as a lawful pretender. Phineus promised to assist them in their expedition on the condition they would deliver him from the terrible Harpyes.

The Boreadae, the twin winged sons of Boreas and Oreithyia, undertook this task among the Argonauts. Their names were Zetes and Calais and represent the smooth and the strong wing respectively. The Boreadae, also brothers of Cleopatra, the first wife of Phineus, placed as a bait a table with food in front of Phineus and waited alert for the Harpyes to appear. When these creatures made their threatening approach, Zetes and Calais began to chase them far across the mountains and the seas. The persecution lasted long and when the Boreadae were about to kill their victims, Iris, their sister, or according to others, Hermes sent by the gods, appeared in order to prevent them. Then the Harpyes promised not to molest again the much-afflicted seer and the sons of Boreas rejoined their companions. Phineus was grateful for being offered salvation and instructed the Argonauts what course they should further take so that Argo, the ship, would pass across the Symplegadae with caution and go on safely with their voyage. It is also said the Thracian king had his sight restored by Asclepius, god of medicine, who had joined the Argonauts.