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"… but the gods gave no more children to Helen
once she had borne her first and only child, the lovely
Hermione, with the beauty of
Aphrodite the golden." (Homer, Odyssey 4.13).

"… in every way I can I shrink from my mate as away from a foe." (Hermione. Ovid, Heroides 8.110).

Hermione, princess of Sparta, was left behind when her mother Helen sailed to Troy with the seducer Paris. Later, she was promised as wife to both Orestes 2 and Neoptolemus which caused a deadly row between the two.

The orphan

Those who have just become lovers often feel that the presence of children add nothing to their overwhelming passion while ruining the intimacy their infatuation demands. So when Helen and Paris left Hellas as lovers, they, not wishing to renounce gold, put most of the Spartan property on board before they sailed away to Troy. But Hermione—the nine years old daughter of Helen and Menelaus—they left behind (Apd.Ep.3.3). Some time later, also her father sailed to Troy though his trip was no love cruise, but a bellicose enterprise engaging many kingdoms of Hellas, which, having gathered a huge fleet, were determined to obtain by any means the restoration of both Helen and the property. Thus Hermione remained in Sparta, deprived of both her parents and being raised by her aunt Clytaemnestra, for the time the Trojan War lasted, that is, ten years. And for that, she laments

"In my childhood I had no mother; my father was ever in the wars—though the two were not dead, I was reft of both." (Ovid, Heroides 8.89).

and reproaches her mother

"I went out to meet you when you came back home—and the face of my mother was unknown to me! That you were Helen I none the less knew, because you were most beautiful; but you—you had to ask who your daughter was!" (Ovid, Heroides 8.97).

Contradictory promises

It is told (Apd.Ep.6.14). that Menelaus made contradictory promises concerning the marriage of his daughter: that he first promised her to her cousin Orestes 2, but later, on the battlefields of Troy, he promised her to Neoptolemus. That is why Orestes 2, after the war, speaks in this manner to Hermione:

"For you were mine to begin with, and you are married to Neoptolemus only by the baseness of your father. Before he attacked Troy, he gave you to me to be my wife, but later he promised you to your present husband as a reward if he sacked Troy." (Euripides, Andromache 969).

But others affirm that there were no double promises, and represent Hermione saying to Orestes 2:

"I was given to you by Tyndareus … but my father … had promised me to Aeacus' son (i.e, Neoptolemus), not knowing this … " (Ovid, Heroides 8.31).

In any case it has been remarked (Pau.1.33.7). that Neoptolemus indeed was Hermione's first husband, but that she stayed by Orestes 2's side in all his plights. That is why she also tells Orestes 2:

"… yet my grandsire, as being first in order, has rank above my father." (Ovid, Heroides 8.34).

thereby showing her agreement with Tyndareus' decision, and regarding herself as the wife of Orestes 2.

Married to Neoptolemus

Nevertheless, when the Trojan War was over, Neoptolemus fetched Hermione and took her to his home in Epirus (the Adriatic coastal region of Greece between the Ambracian Gulf and Illyria, today called Albania). Violently, she says:

"… he (Neoptolemus). dragged me with hair all disarrayed into his palace …" (Hermione to Orestes 2. Ovid, Heroides 8.10).

Some affirm that this was possible because Orestes 2, being at that time maddened by the ERINYES for having murdered his mother Clytaemnestra, could not offer any resistance. It is said (Hom.Od.4.1ff). that Menelaus had a marriage feast and was sending forth Hermione with horses and chariots to Neoptolemus at the time when Telemachus arrived at Menelaus' court looking for his father. Neoptolemus had already begotten sons, Amphialus 1 and Molossus, by his captive concubine Andromache, former wife of Hector 1. But it is also told (Hyg.Fab.123). that Neoptolemus came to Sparta to claim Hermione from Menelaus, once he had heard that his betrothed had been given to Orestes 2 in marriage. So Menelaus took Hermione from Orestes 2 and gave her to Neoptolemus. Some add (Eur.And.960ff.). that Orestes 2 at the time was insane and weakened on account of his mental disorders, his exile, and his family troubles. Being so, he did not wish at the time to blame Menelaus, and instead begged Neoptolemus to renounce his claim to marry Hermione. When he was insolently rebuked by Neoptolemus, who abused him as a matricide and as a victim of folly, Orestes 2, though robbed of his marriage, chose to take a humble tone and wait. Thus the conflict between Achilles and Agamemnon for the sake of a woman (Briseis) experienced a revival through their sons.

Her husband's concubine

In Neoptolemus' home in Epirus or in Phthia (or else in Scyros—the island in the Aegean Sea northeast of Euboea (Pau.3.25.1).), there arose a conflict between Hermione and Andromache, the concubine he had obtained as a prize after the sack of Troy. For as time went by and Hermione remained childless, she grew jealous of Andromache, saying that by secret spells the concubine made her barren. Thus, seeing her own position threatened, Hermione plotted against Andromache's life. And while Neoptolemus was at Delphi, wishing to make amends to Apollo for having demanded reparation for his father's death, Menelaus came to Neoptolemus' palace and decided, on behalf of his daughter, to kill Andromache and put the life of Andromache's child Molossus in Hermione's hands. Andromache then sought protection in the sanctuary of Thetis, but Menelaus captured little Molossus and threatened to cut the child's throat if she refused to abandon the shrine. It seemed inconceivable to Andromache that such a famous man as Menelaus could act so cowardly, and that is why she exclaims:

"Oh Fame! How many thousands nobodies there are whom Fame blows up to importance and authority … Did a coward like you lead the warriors of Hellas against Priam to conquer Troy?" (Andromache to Menelaus. Euripides, Andromache 325).

She chose her own death, but when she had left the shrine, Neoptolemus' grandfather Peleus arrived, and with the protection, as he said, of both gods and troops, prevented Menelaus to kill Andromache, or do any harm to her child. Menelaus then left the palace declaring that as a stranger he did not intend to commit violence, but he promised to return, for he would not submit to it either. Her father having returned to Sparta, Hermione started fearing Neoptolemus, thinking that he would kill her at his return for having plotted against Andromache and the child, or perhaps make her a concubine in the house where she was queen. But while Neoptolemus was still away, Orestes 2 came to recover Hermione. For, as he saw it, Hermione was living with Neoptolemus only because of Menelaus' broken promise. And when they met, Hermione herself asked him to taker her away, and she became the wife of Orestes 2. Later Orestes 2, having assembled troops, came to Delphi in order to end the life of the man who had insulted him and robbed his wife. He first stirred up the Delphians against the suppliant, saying that Neoptolemus had come in order to rob Apollo's temple, and not as he declared, on a pious pilgrimage to win the favor of the god. The Delphians then joined the troops of Orestes 2, and screened by the foliage of the laurel-trees, they all waited outside the temple with drawn swords. And when Neoptolemus came out, he was killed in the battle that took place, and many, they say, were those who came with their weapons and stones to strike and hack at him, destroying his body with countless wounds.

Hermione as hostage

But it is also told (Euripides, Orestes). that Menelaus, Hermione and Orestes 2 had already have a dreadful meeting before the above related events: One week after the murder of Clytaemnestra by Orestes 2, Menelaus arrived from Troy at the harbor of Nauplia. His wife Helen he sent on ahead to join Hermione, who, during the war, had been brought up in the palace by Clytaemnestra (her aunt ). When Menelaus arrived, he met Orestes 2, who had not eaten or washed, destroyed by grief, and the victim of insane fits, during which he seemed to see the ERINYES, persecuting and lashing him. And besides grief and remorse there was another torment: the Argives were considering to punish the matricide, and after voting, to stone Orestes 2 and his sister Electra 2 to death. It was to avert this threat that Orestes 2 asked Menelaus for help, reminding him of the assistance that he had received from Agamemnon when Helen was abducted. But Menelaus was not ready to give him assistance, and just promised to beg the citizens and Tyndareus, who grieved his daughter Clytaemnestra, for mercy. For he deemed resistance impossible, as the whole city was a trap, and armed men were everywhere. Besides, opposing Tyndareus, his wife's father and the man from whom he expected to inherit the Spartan throne, was not, as Menelaus deemed, his wisest choice. Orestes 2 did not appreciate his uncle's reluctance to assist him:

"You coward! Did you once command an army? Yes, to win a woman; not to help your friends…Traitor! Have you forgotten Agamemnon? (Orestes 2 to Menelaus. Euripides, Orestes 720).

That was Orestes 2's plight: mad, abandoned (except for his sister and Pylades), and threatened by a death sentence. But the resourceful Pylades, for whom life was not worth if he lost his friend, conceived the following plan: to kill Helen, who was in the house making a list of all the valuables, and thereby send Menelaus raving mad. Orestes 2 found this idea so brilliant that he declared to be ready to die twice if they could bring this deed off. So they started immediately to plan how they would attack the Trojan body-guard that protected her, a group of chaps, who, used to polish her mirrors and set out her scents, were not supposed to cause them any serious trouble; these they intended to shut up in various rooms. This murder, they thought, would be a popular one. For Helen was hated in the whole of Hellas by all those who had lost a relative or friend in the Trojan War. And by killing her, Pylades reasoned, Orestes 2's name of "matricide" would be forgotten, giving place to the title "Killer of the killer of thousands, Helen." In the midst of the enthusiasm that this plan aroused in them, they even started hoping to escape after the murder and avoid death. And Electra 2 came with her own contribution to the plan: to take Hermione as a hostage, and threat to kill her if Menelaus would dare to make any move after Helen's death. All this was attempted. But during the confusion that ensued when Hermione was to be captured and the body-guard avoided, Helen escaped. So when Menelaus arrived, he had already heard that Helen was not dead, but instead he found his daughter Hermione with a sword's edge at her throat. Escape was no longer possible, so Orestes 2 threatened to kill Hermione and set fire to the palace unless Menelaus went to the assembly and persuaded the citizens to spare their lives. The taking of hostages is a dire deed, difficult to solve for all parties involved. So difficult, that sometimes neither authorities, nor armed forces, and not even poets are able to find a way out. That is why Apollo had to come down from heaven and put things aright. The god, it is said, took Helen with him to heaven, telling Menelaus to get a new wife, to reign in Sparta, yield to Orestes 2 the throne of Argos and Mycenae, and marry him to Hermione. So it was done (though not immediately). In time Orestes 2 ruled over a realm vaster than his father's, and having married Hermione, had by her a son Tisamenus 2, who, however, was overthrown by the HERACLIDES. The children of Tisamenus 2 emigrated to Ionia in Asia Minor where they founded cities. Orestes 2 was killed in Arcadia by the bite of a snake, but the death of Hermione has never been reported.


The name of the coastal city Hermione (near Troezen, and facing the island of Hydra in eastern Argolis) comes from its founder Hermion, son of Europs 2, son of Phoroneus (Pau.2.34.4).











Orestes 2

Tisamenus 2

Tisamenus 2 inherited the throne of Mycenae after Orestes 2. It was under his reign that the HERACLIDES (Temenus 2 and Cresphontes) succeeded in returning to the Peloponnesus. Some affirm that he was killed by them, whereas others say that he was killed in battle against the Ionians. His children Daimenes, Sparton 1, Tellis, Leontomenes, and Cometes 4 led the Achaeans who settled in Ionia after the return of the HERACLIDES (Apd.2.8.2-3; Pau.2.18.6-7, 7.1.8, 7.6.2).

Related sections Neoptolemus, Orestes 2  

Apd.3.11.1; Apd.Ep.6.14; Eur.And.152 and passim; Eur.Ore.107 and passim; Pau.1.33.8, 2.18.6, 10.16.4; QS.6.90

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