The winged ARGONAUTS, Calais and Zetes, come to deliver Phineus 2 from the HARPIES. 3118: Calais, Zetes, Phineus and the HARPIES. Engraving by Bernard Picart, 1673-1733.
"Once before I saw some
creatures in a painting, carrying off the feast of
Phineus ..." (The Pythian priestess. Aeschylus, Eumenides 50).
Phineus 2 is the blind king and seer from Salmydessus in Thrace. He is variously alleged to have been blinded by the gods for foretelling men the future; or by Boreas 1 and the ARGONAUTS, for having
blinded his own sons at the instigation of their
stepmother; or by Poseidon, for having revealed to the children of Phrixus 1 how they could sail from Colchis to Hellas. The gods also sent the HARPIESwinged female creaturesto him, so that whenever a table was laid for Phineus 2, they flew down from the sky, snatching up most of the victuals; and what little they left stank so that nobody could touch it. But the ARGONAUTS chased the HARPIES away, and Phineus 2, out of gratitude, revealed to them the course of their voyage.
Phineus 2's long life
Phineus 2's genealogical background is, as several other aspects of his life, most uncertain. His alleged father, King Agenor 1 of Phoenicia, lived several generations before the time of the ARGONAUTS, and the same may be said of Phoenix 1, who sometimes is called son of Agenor 1. However, some have said that Phineus 2 preferred long life to sight; so he may be assumed to have lived the time of several generations.
Part of Phoenician emigration
Dispersed in their search for their lost sister Europa, some of Agenor 1's sons came to Thrace and nearby countries: Thasus founded a city on Thasos, the northernmost large island in the Aegean Sea off the coast of Thrace; and Cadmus lived for some time with his mother Telephassa in Thrace. But Phineus 2 became king of Salmydessus, a Thracian city on the Black Sea.
Phineus 2 was given the gift of prophecy by Apollo, but because he
did not use it properly, revealing to men the
deliberations of the gods with full details, he was
blinded by Zeus, who also
sent the HARPIES to take the food away from his
lips. For, they say, Zeus wishes to deliver oracles to men in an incomplete fashion, so that they may still need to know the will of heaven. But Phineus 2 used his prophetic capacities to reveal more than it was allowed, and for that he was punished. However, others say that the Boreades Calais and Zetes, who had wings on head and feet, took Phineus 2's sight away to punish him for having blinded his own sons at the instigation of their stepmother. And still others affirm that Phineus 2 was blinded for having shown the way to Phrixus 1, the man who was borne through the sky from Hellas to Colchis by the Ram with the Golden Fleece.
The king the ARGONAUTS found
According to some, the ARGONAUTS found in Salmydessus a blind old king, who was
being tortured by the HARPIES. These disgusting
creatureswho have been called the hounds of Zeus and were said to snatch both things and living beingshad the bodies of birds and the faces of girls. When a table was laid for Phineus 2, they flew down from the sky and snatched up most of the food, and what little they left stank so that nobody could touch it. Phineus 2 looked like a lifeless dream, bowing over his staff and feeling the walls. His limbs trembled for weakness and age as he crept on his withered feet, and his skin was caked with dirt. The HARPIES starved him to such an extent that nothing but the skin held his bones together. When Phineus 2, they tell, heard the voices of the ARGONAUTS,
hebeing a seerknew that these were the
men who would deliver him from the HARPIES. He
asked the ARGONAUTS to help him get rid of these monsters, and Calais and Zetes, driving the HARPIES away to the Strophades Islands, freed him from his punishment. For these two brothers wished very much to help him who had married their sister Cleopatra 5.
It is said that when the Boreades were about to
tore the HARPIES into pieces, Iris 1 leapt down from the
sky and forbid them to do so, saying:
"It is not
lawful, sons of Boreas, to strike with your swords
the Harpies, the hounds of mighty Zeus; but I myself will give you a
pledge, that hereafter they shall not draw near to
Phineus." (Iris 1 to the Boreades. Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica 2.289).
And when Calais and Zetes saw the goddess take
an oath by the waters of the Styx, they turned back
and joined the rest of the ARGONAUTS. For this reason the islands where they parted, which until then had been called the Floating Islands, were called the Islands of Turning (Strophades). Some have said that Calais and Zetes died while
they were chasing the HARPIES, but according to
others they were later killed by Heracles 1. And this
happened, they say, because the two brothers stayed
the search for Heracles 1, who went lost while searching for his friend Hylas, who in turn had
disappeared in Mysia. So, when the ARGONAUTS had returned to Hellas, and they had participated
in the games over the death of King Pelias 1, Heracles 1, having
learned that Calais and Zetes had persuaded the
other ARGONAUTS to leave him in Mysia, slew them both on the island
of Tenos, which is one of the Cyclades.
The seer's help
When the ARGONAUTS, through Calais and Zetes, freed Phineus 2, he showed them how to pass the Symplegades or Clashing Islands, which are at the entrance of the Black Sea: He told them to send out a dove, assuring them
that they would pass through if the dove went
through and they then exerted all their strength in
rowing. But they should turn back, he said, if the
dove perished. In similar manner, he advised them
to defeat the Stymphalian birds by noise, as Heracles 1 had done in Arcadia. So when the birdsusing their feathers as arrowsattacked them, the ARGONAUTS seized shields and spears and, like the CURETES
once did to protect the child Zeus, they dispersed the
birds by the noise.
The plot of Idaea 2
But others have said that the encounter between the winged brothers and Phineus 2 was of a completely different nature: They affirm that Cleopatra 5 married Phineus 2 and had children, Plexippus 2 and Pandion 3, by him. Phineus 2, however, married a second woman Idaea 2, who falsely accused her stepsons of corrupting her virtue. On learning this, some say, Phineus 2 blinded his own sons by Cleopatra 5; but according to others, they were kept in prison, along with their mother, where they were tortured until the ARGONAUTS arrived and set them free.
When the ARGONAUTS landed in Thrace, they came upon Plexippus 2 and Pandion 3, who were continuously whipped inside the burial vault within which they had been imprisoned. The youths made supplication to the ARGONAUTS, and implored that they be delivered from their torture. For, they claimed, they were the victims of their unscrupulous mother-in-law Idaea 2, who had falsely accused them of rape. As for Phineus 2, he yielded to Idaea 2 every desire, being as he was very much in love with her. Likewise, he believed Idaea 2's charge: that his sons by Cleopatra 5 had attacked her in order to please their mother. So when the ARGONAUTS talked to Phineus 2 on their behalf, he met them with bitter words, and told them not to interfere with his land's internal affairs, adding that no father exact punishments against his sons of his free will, but that these children had committed crimes of a great magnitude. But this kind of talk did not persuade the Boreades Calais and Zetes, since they were brothers of Cleopatra 5. So they decided to rush to aid her sons, tearing apart the chains that encircled the young men. However, Phineus 2 and his Thracians, disliking this new turn, hastened to join battle against them; but then the rest of the ARGONAUTS intervened, and Heracles 1 slew Phineus 2.
Death of Idaea 2
This is how the ARGONAUTS, on their way to Colchis, made themselves masters of Salmydessus in Thrace and, capturing the royal palace, took Cleopatra 5 and her sons out of prison. When Plexippus 2 and Pandion 3 were thus given the rule, they wished to put their stepmother Idaea 2 to death under torture. But Heracles 1 persuaded
them to abstain from vengeance, and the brothers
sent her back to her father in Scythia, urging that she be punished for her crimes. For this the brothers gained reputation of being just in their dealings, and the Scythians condemned her to death. Yet others have said that Phineus 2 was not killed during this conflict, but instead blinded by Calais and Zetes, who, in that way, avenged their sister's children, who in turn had been blinded by Phineus 2.
Others with identical name
- Phineus 1 was betrothed to Andromeda. Phineus 3 is son of impious Lycaon 2.