A remembered moment in the life of Calchas: Iphigenia about to be sacrificed is saved by Artemis who substitutes a deer. To the right Agamemnon covers his face. 3208: The sacriﬁce of Iphigenia (depicting also Calchas, Artemis and Agamemnon). Painting by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, 1696-1770. Hamburger Kunsthalle.
"Calchas, the seer, shall rue beginning the sacrifice with his barley-meal and lustral water. Why, what is a seer? A man who with luck tells the truth sometimes, with frequent falsehoods, but when his luck deserts him, collapses then and there." (Achilles to Clytaemnestra. Euripides, Iphigenia in Aulis 955).
"Now indeed I see how worthless the seers' doings are, and how full of falsehood ... Why do we consult prophets? We ought to sacrifice to the gods and ask a blessing, but leave divination alone; for this was invented otherwise, as a bait for a livelihood, and no man grows rich by sacrifices if he is idle. But sound judgment and discernment are the best of seers." (Messenger. Euripides, Helen 745-755).
"You see the vastness of that naval army, and the numbers of bronze-clad warriors from Hellas, who can neither make their way to Ilium's towers nor raze the far-famed citadel of Troy, unless I offer you according to the word of Calchas the seer." (Agamemnon to Iphigenia. Euripides, Iphigenia in Aulis 1260).
Calchas is the seer of untiring voice that the Achaeans had with them when they sailed against Troy. He has been called the best of bird-diviners, knowing past, present, and future. But being somewhat envious, he died of grief after meeting a superior colleague.
His family's trade
Almost everybody in Calchas' family was a seer. His father Thestor 1 was a seer and so was Calchas' brother Theoclymenus 1, and his sister Leucippe 3 was a priestess of Apollo, god of prophecy.
His sister kidnapped
Calchas had yet another sister called Theonoe 1. It is said that once, when she was playing by the shore, a band of pirates coming from the sea kidnapped her and took her to Caria in southwestern Asia Minor. There she was sold to King Icarus 2, who bought her to be a concubine.
His father cast into prison
When Thestor 1 realised that her daughter had disappeared, he went searching for her. And since things do not happen for nothing, as a result of shipwreck he landed precisely in Caria. Having thus become an intruder in a foreign land, he was cast into chains, not in whatever place, but precisely at the place where his daughter Theonoe 1 was staying. And there he was kept as a servant.
Another sister becomes priest
Back home Leucippe 3 found herself without father and sister, and so she asked the oracle at Delphi whether she should
search for them. And the oracle replied:
the earth as my priest, and you will find
them." (The oracle to Leucippe 3. Hyginus, Fabulae 190).
So on hearing the oracle's answer, she cut her
hair, and following the instructions, went from
land to land, searching for her relatives in the
attire of a priest.
Sister in love with her own sister
When she finally arrived to Caria, her sister Theonoe 1 saw her, and believing she was a handsome priest, she fell in love with Leucippe 3, wishing to lie with her. But when Leucippe 3, being no priest and no man, refused, Theonoe 1 gave orders to lock the love-reluctant priest in a room, giving instructions to some of the servants to come to the room and murder him. And since things would not happen for nothing, they chose precisely the servant Thestor 1 to perform the horrible deed. That is how Thestor 1 was sent unknowingly to slay his own daughter Leucippe 3, receiving the sword from her other daughter Theonoe 1. And while all these things were taking place, no one recognised the other, as if seers could see even less than ordinary people.
Thestor 1 holds the sword
So Thestor 1 entered the room holding the sword in his hand, and since things do not happen for nothing, he had the good idea of uttering his own name, saying that he was Thestor 1, that he had lost two daughters named Leucippe 3 and Theonoe 1, and that he was a miserable man, for now he had been ordered to commit a crime. In short: he told the whole story to his own daughter, who was a part of it. Now, Thestor 1 was not the kind of man who commits crimes and later excuses himself saying that he was obeying orders. But instead, seeing himself in such a terrible plight, he had the unusual courage of turning the weapon against himself. However, Leucippe 3, having heard her father's name, wrested the sword from him, and resolved, aided by her father, to go and kill Theonoe 1. But once again words came before deeds, names were uttered, and all three discovered who they were. This is how this family found itself, and Thestor 1 could return home, carrying with him the gifts he received from King Icarus 2. Despite all what happened, there had been those who have counted Theonoe 1, daughter of Thestor 1, among those women who were most chaste.
For reasons that have not been reported, the
most influential seer to join the Achaean
expedition against Troy was
Calchas, who was recruited by Agamemnon in Megara, where the seer
dwelt. But nothing is known about his performances
before this time, except that he once said, when Achilles was nine years
old, that Troy could not be
taken without him. Six years later, when the ACHAEAN LEADERS, before sailing, gathered the powerful alliance at Aulis, which is a Boeotian harbor opposite the large island of Euboea, signs appeared that were interpreted by Calchas: a serpent darted from the altar during a sacrifice to Apollo, and coming to a nest in a nearby plane-tree, it devoured the eight sparrows in it along with the mother bird. After the meal, the serpent turned into stone, and so Calchas, counting the number of animals involved, inferred that Troy would be taken at the
end of a period of ten years.
The Mysian intermezzo
Some say these events took place in the second
year after the abduction of Helen by the seducer Paris. They add that the
Achaean fleet, having sailed against Troy, landed by mistake in
Mysia and that, after skirmishing against the
Mysians, they returned home, and only assembled at
Aulis again after an interval of eight years.
Although the Achaean army was chased from Mysia,
the king of this country, Telephus, son of Heracles 1, was
wounded by Achilles. As
the wound would not heal, Telephus asked the
oracle which replied that the wound would be cured
when the one who wounded him should turn physician.
That is why Telephus,
in a beggar's attire, sailed to Argos, where Achilles was staying,
begging to be healed by him and offering to show
the Achaeans the course to steer for Troy, as a reward. And Achilles healed him by
scraping off the rust of his spear. Seeing his
health restored, Telephus did as he had
promised, and they say that the accuracy of his
information was confirmed by Calchas by means of
his own splendid art.
Calchas recommends to sacrifice fair Iphigenia
After this the Achaeans gathered for the second
time at Aulis. However, the fleet could not sail
because of unfavorable wind conditions. In front
of this inconvenience, Calchas conceived a most
extraordinary idea. He declared that the fleet
would not be able to sail unless the fairest among Agamemnon's daughters
were sacrificed to Artemis.
According to Calchas' deep insights, the goddess
was claiming compensation after having heard the
thoughtless words that Agamemnon had uttered
while hunting a deer:
"Artemis herself could not do it
Apollodorus, Epitome 3.21).
It is also said that Artemis wished Agamemnon to
pay for the omission of his father Atreus, who did not
sacrifice to her the golden lamb, as he should have
These are the events that led to the sacrifice
daughter Iphigenia at
Aulis. But others do not charge the goddess with
such absurd demands, and affirm that when the
Achaeans were about to commit this crime based on
their own inventions, Artemis appeared and saved Iphigenia, taking her to Tauris (see also Agamemnon and Orestes 2). In any case, the winds became favorable and the
Achaeans, being able to sail through the Egean,
landed in Asia Minor and started the war known as
the Trojan War.
Apollo punishes Agamemnon's arrogance
In the tenth year of the war, Apollo, coming down from
heaven darker than night although he is called the
bright one, decimated the Achaean army through
pestilence. This he did in order to punish the
arrogance of Agamemnon, who had dismissed one of his priests with insults, refusing to give him back his daughter which he, the king, held captive. Nobody knew the origin of this pestilence except
Calchas, but being the king himself responsible for
the calamity, the seer was afraid of talking in the
council, and with truthful words accuse Agamemnon. But when Achilles promised him
protection, saying that no one, not even the king,
would be ever allowed to lay hands on him, Calchas
declared that Agamemnon was to
blame, for he had dishonoured Apollo's priest, and did
not release his daughter nor accept the ransom that
the priest had offered. Consequently, he also
recommended to give the girl back to his father.
Reward for accuracy
And this is how Agamemnon marked
evil, never yet have you spoken to me a pleasant
thing; ever is evil dear to your heart to prophesy,
but a word of good you have never yet spoken, nor
brought to pass." (Agamemnon to Calchas,
Homer, Iliad 1.105).
New prophecies of Calchas
When the war had lasted ten years and Ajax 1 and Achilles and many
others had perished, the Achaeans consulted again
their seer Calchas, and now he said that Troy could not be taken
unless they had the bow and arrows of Heracles 1 fighting on
their side. As these were held by Philoctetes, who had
been abandoned by the army in Lemnos, an embassy was
sent to fetch both the weapons and the archer.
Paris' death ends in Helenus 1 leaving the
Philoctetes arrived to Troy and, among
others, he killed Paris.
But still it was not possible to take the city and
put an end to the war. When Paris was dead, there was a dispute among his brothers Deiphobus 1 and the seer Helenus 1, as to
which of them should marry beautiful Helen. And when Deiphobus 1 imposed himself, Helenus 1 left the city and retired to Mount Ida.
Helenus 1 captured
At this point Calchas declared that his
colleague Helenus 1 was
in possession of the oracles that protected the
city of Troy. When this was
known, Odysseus (for
seers talk and others do) laid and ambush and
captured the Trojan seer, who was forced by his
enemies to tell how the city could be taken, as no
art of divination could reveal what was inside him.
again and dies
The Achaeans then, using brutality against Helenus 1 during
interrogation, came to know, about the importance
of Neoptolemus, the
bone of Pelops 1, and
the Palladium. This is
how Neoptolemus was
fetched and joined the war, killing, among many
others, Telephus, the
man who, after being healed by Achilles at Argos, had shown to the
Achaeans the course to steer for Troy. For Telephus, after those
events, came with a great army of Mysians to assist
the Trojans, whom initially he had betrayed.
In the tenth year of the war, as Calchas had
prophesied, the Achaeans took Troy through the stratagem
of the WOODEN HORSE,
inside which Calchas himself was hidden together
with other warriors. The victors were ruthless against the defeated, perpetrating many crimes against defenceless citizens. And the reason why bloody murders are often,
under this kind of circumstances, accompanied by
sexual abuses and rapes, will probably remain an
enigma only partially explained. For it is a great
perversion and one of the worst offences that can
be conceived to combine sexual activity with the
spilling of blood, and thus attempt to humiliate
the defeated and deprive them of their dignity.
However, it is not the victims who lose their
dignity, for they cannot help to be abused, but
instead the perpetrators are degraded by their own
deeds. And this sickness of the soul, which affects
soldiers who do not deserve that title, corrupts
their own bravery and makes them appear as
perverted cowards. And this is what happened to Ajax 2, who found the sack
of Troy to be a sexually
exiting experience. For he, who had shown to be a
brave man, erased with one single act all his
deeds, revealing himself as a bandit instead of a
soldier when he raped the Trojan seeress Cassandra in the midst
of the confusion created by the battle. So when the fleet was about to sail back home,
Calchas detained it saying that Athena was angry on
account of the impiety of Ajax 2, who had dragged his victim out of the
Gods punish Ajax 2 and
those who ignored his crime
Some Achaeans said that Ajax 2 should be punished
for his crime, but at the end no tribunal found him
guilty, and for that reason both Poseidon and Athena attacked Ajax 2 and destroyed him.
And they punished the Achaeans too, turning their
return home into a catastrophe. For the gods
repudiate Ajax 2's way of
"sleeping with the enemy", and despise those who
are reluctant to lawfully punish such outrages.
Calchas wanders in Asia Minor
After the end of the Trojan War, the Achaean army was dispersed and many of their leaders took different ways to return home (see Map: The Returns). Calchas journeyed southwards through Asia Minor in company of Amphilochus 2, Polypoetes 1, and Leonteus 1. Amphilochus 2, who is said to have founded Amphilochian Argos in Aetolia, arrived late to the war at Troy. He was the son of Alcmaeon 1 and Manto 1, although some say that this was Amphilochus 1, the son of Amphiaraus and Eriphyle. Alcmaeon 1 was himself son of Amphiaraus and Eriphyle, and Manto 1 was the seeress and priestess of Apollo daughter of the
seer Tiresias. Polypoetes 1 led the Gyrtonians against Troy. He was the son of Pirithous, the
notorious friend of Theseus. Leonteus 1 led the LAPITHS against Troy and was the son of Coronus 1, son of Caeneus 1 who, having being the woman Caenis, was turned into an invulnerable man by Poseidon, and later
buried alive by the CENTAURS. When this group arrived to Colophon, they were received by the seer Mopsus 2, who, as Amphilochus 2, was son of Manto 1, although by a different father, either Apollo or
Rhacius, the Cretan who conquered Caria. Now, an oracle had said that Calchas was destined to die when he met a seer superior to himself and this seer proved to be Mopsus 2. When these two men met they naturally began to dispute, for colleagues often look at each other with envious eyes, putting their own personal prestige in the first place and the science they practise in a subordinate position.
Dispute between seers and death
So Calchas, wishing to test the colleague he already regarded as a kind of foe, asked him about the number of figs on a wild fig tree. Mopsus 2 answered that they were ten thousand, specifying the measure that would hold them all, except one fig at the top of the tree. And when his words were proved, Calchas closed his eyes and died. But others have said that Calchas instead asked how many pigs a pregnant sow carried. To this, Mopsus 2 replied that they were three, and that one of them was female. In the same way, the story goes, when this proved to be true Calchas died of the grief that caused him the superiority of his colleague. Yet others say that both answered this question, but only Mopsus 2's answer proved to be true, and that the answer was that the number of pigs were nine, instead of eight as Calchas had said, and that they, being all male, would be farrowed the next day at the sixth hour. Still others have combined the pigs and the figs in the dispute between the two seers, but all have said that Calchas lost the contest and died of grief, being buried at Notium, which is between Ephesus and Colophon. In addition, there are those who affirm that the dispute between Bopsus 2 and Calchas was about a military campaign. It is told that a when certain Lycian king called Anphimachus was going off to war, Mopsus tried to dissuade him by predicting defeat, but Calchas, predicting victory, encouraged him. So when Amphimachus was defeated, Calchas killed himself. It is not clear who this Amphimachus was, or whether he could be identical with the son of Nomion 2 (Amphimachus 3) mentioned in the Iliad. One of the sons of Nomion 2 (either Nastes or Amphimachus 3) was killed by Achilles (Iliad.2.867-875). But this passage is not very explicit, and Amphimachus 3 is, besides, called a "Carian", not a "Lycian".