Proteus 3 was the king of Egypt, who not seldom is identified with the god Proteus 2. For, among other things, both are connected to the island of Pharos, where Proteus 3 lived and Proteus 2 came to rest every day. Proteus 3 is remembered for having received Dionysus 2, and for keeping Helen in Egypt while Paris went to Troy with a phantom of her fashioned out of clouds. For those who tell this story affirm that Helen never reached Troy.
Times of Proteus 3
It is told that when Egypt had gone through a period of five generations without a ruler, Proteus 3, an obscure man in the sense that nothing is known about his origin, came to the throne. Proteus 3, they say, ruled in Egypt at the time of the Trojan War, but this
assertion is inconsistent with the account that
affirms that he received the roaming Dionysus 2, who after
discovering the vine, was driven mad by Hera and came to Egypt. For
this happened several generations before that great
war. But if, as some believe, Proteus 2 and Proteus 3 are one and the same, then it would be possible for him, being an immortal god, both to receive Dionysus 2 and later
rule Egypt at the time of the Trojan War, as it was
also possible for him to change his shape into that
of an animal, a tree, or even fire. It is also asserted that Proteus 3, as king of Egypt, gained much experience through his association with astrologers. But then again, if he is a god, then he does not need astrologers in order to know anything, but instead the astrologers would be there in order to learn from him.
Greeks believed to be childish
Now, some have thought that the Greeks, being so
childish as to imagine and create fantastic tales
out of everyday occurrences, conceived the idea of Proteus 2 changing his shape for the following reason: Proteus 3, they say, obeying a practice among the Egyptian rulers, wore upon his head now the forepart of a lion, now that of a bull, now a serpent, now trees or fire, as symbols of his sovereignty. And for this reason, some believed that the Greeks, unable to grasp what they had in front of their eyes, thought that Proteus 3 was changing his form when he just changed his crown.
As it has been told many times, Eris threw an apple as a
prize of beauty during the wedding party of Peleus and Thetis. As a
result, the three goddesses who contested the prize
were judged by the shepherd Paris on Mount Ida. But
he, nurturing a strange notion about his role as a
judge, let himself be bribed, so that Aphrodite received the
award, and he was given in exchange the hand of the Helen, queen of Sparta. Next, Paris came to that city,
fetched his bride and took her to Troy, and as the Trojans
refused to restore her to her husband Menelaus, a terrible
war ensued, and Troy was
However, others affirm that Helen never reached Troy, and that the seducer Paris was accompanied by a
phantom fashioned out of clouds, which Hera fashioned. For the
sake of this phantom, they assert, Achaeans and
Trojans slaughtered each other during ten years,
and the city was destroyed. But in the meantime, Hermes carried the real Helen to Egypt, giving her to King Proteus 3, so that he would guard her. And that is what Helen herself
"To Troy I went not: that a phantom
was." (Helen to Menelaus. Euripides, Helen 582).
As there is no great achievement in believing
something which is perfectly ordinary, some have
found that the account of the phantom, which is
sometimes said to have been fashioned and sent to Troy by Zeus himself, deserved more
credibility than the more common tale of the
Achaeans and Trojans slaughtering each other during
a decade for the sake of a real woman. So when Menelaus, they say, came to the court of Proteus 3 in Egypt after the Trojan War, he
discovered there the real Helen and got rid of the
phantom that accompanied him.
Paris' servants revolt
The Egyptian priests have told that when Paris and Helen sailed from Sparta to Troy as lovers, they were
caught by severe winds, and were forced to land in
Egypt, coming to one of the mouths of the river
Nile. On the coast, there was a temple for the
protection of runaway servants. If a servant took
refuge there delivering himself to the god, he
could not be touched. So when some of Paris' servants heard
about the temple, they took their chances, not only
seeking refuge but also bringing an accusation
against their master.
Paris reported to
This is how the Egyptian priests, and also the
warden of the Nile, called Thon or Thonis, learned
the whole story about the abduction of Helen, and the wrong done
to Menelaus. Thonis reported, as it was his duty, everything to Proteus 3, saying that a Trojan stranger had come to Egypt after committing a crime in Hellas, which was that, defrauding his host, he had stolen both wife and property. Being thus informed, King Proteus 3 gave orders to arrest Paris,
and bring him to the court for interrogation.
Proteus 3's ultimatum
Thonis then arrested everybody including the suppliant servants, and after confiscating all values, sent the prisoners to Memphis, where Proteus 3 had his palace. When questioned, Paris was evasive, but his own servants having testified against him, Proteus 3 accused him of having broken the laws of hospitality, adding abduction and theft as well. Having thus judged, Proteus 3 decided to let Paris go, although without Helen and the property,
and he gave him three days to leave Egypt for
another country, or otherwise he would treat him as
if they were at war.
Disbelieving the Trojans
This is how Proteus 3 came to guard Helen and Menelaus' property. And
it is said that when the Trojans were asked to
restore Helen and the property, they told the truth when they denied having them, adding that Proteus 3 had them. The Achaeans, believing they were being mocked, laid siege to the city until they took it, but they heard as victors the same account as before. So finally, crediting what had been declared from the beginning, they sent Menelaus to King Proteus 3 in Egypt.
How the story came about
All this, they say, has been told because a poet
Stesichorus in the sixth century before our era
became blind. Being persuaded that Helen had caused his
blindness in order to punish him for having written
a poem against her, he retracted himself, writing a
new version which restored that woman's virtue. And
after restoring her virtue, he had his own sight
restored, or so they say, for protean versatility
may affect all accounts, those held to be true and
those regarded as fictitious.
Others with identical name
Proteus 1 is son of Aegyptus 1 and Argyphia. He married one of the DANAIDS, either Gorgophone 1 or Scylla 3, and was murdered by his bride during the wedding night.
Proteus 2 is the god
who changes his shape.
Some have told that Proteus 3 succeeded Pheros, son of Sesostris, as king of Egypt. Pheros is said to have become blind, and to have attempted to recover his sight by washing his eyes with the urine of a woman who had never had intercourse with any man but her own husband. He tried first his own's wife urine with no result, and after her that of many other women until he was cured. Then he gathered all women in one place, except the one who had made him see again, and burned them all, marrying afterwards the one who had cured him of his blindness (Hdt.2.111ff.).