Salmoneus was a figure of ancient Greek myth, whose peculiar ancient tale was preserved by writers such as Diodorus Siculus (1st century BCE), Virgil (c. 70-19 BCE), and Pseudo-Apollodorus (1st-2nd century). As the ancient myths tell, Salmoneus was an ancient king who ruled a kingdom on the western coast of the Peloponnese region of Greece. All labels derived from his name, with Salmoneus reigning from a city called Salmone and administering a larger Kingdom of Salmonia. If Salmoneus sounds like a megalomaniac, rest assured that this presumption is correct, for arrogance and egotism were indeed central elements to his character. According to the tales, Salmoneus’ presumptiveness became so inflated that he began to imitate the high-god, Zeus. He was said to have been quite elaborate in this charade, going so far as to use ridiculous schemes to poorly re-create the sounds and sights of thunder and lighting. Worst of all, however, was Salmoneus’ decision to reroute all his peoples’ religious offerings, diverting the items away from temples and shrines of the gods to be instead delivered to himself. These actions outraged Zeus, who ultimately decided to unleash a barrage of lightning on Salmoneus. The quantity of white-hot lighting was enough to not only obliterate the megalomaniac king, but to also erase the whole kingdom of Salmonia from the earth. On this wild tale, Pseudo-Apollodorus wrote:
“[Salmoneus] claimed that he himself was Zeus, and depriving the god of his sacrifices, he ordered that they should be offered to himself instead. And he dragged dried animal skins and bronze kettles behind his chariot, saying that he was making thunder; and he hurled flaming torches into the sky, saying that he was making lighting. Zeus struck him down with a thunderbolt, and destroyed the city that he had founded, with all its inhabitants” (Apollodorus, Library, 1.9.7).
Such is the odd myth of Salmoneus. Poets, such as Homer and Virgil, wrote brief descriptions of Salmoneus and his immediate family being in the realm of the dead. Salmoneus’ daughter, Tyro, resided in honor there, holding a prominent position in the entourage of Persephone, the queen of the dead. Her father, however, was contrastingly sentenced to dramatic punishment. As envisioned by Virgil, “no torches for him, no smoky flicker of pitch-pines, no, he [Zeus] spun him headlong down in a raging whirlwind” (Virgil, The Aeneid, Book 6, approximately line 585). This punishment, along with the destruction of himself and his kingdom, was Salmoneus’ price for impersonating a god.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribution: (De planeet Jupiter en zijn invloed op de wereld, Johann Sadeler (I), naar Maerten de Vos, 1585, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons and the Rijksmuseum).
- Apollodorus, The Library of Greek Mythology, translated by Robin Hard. New York, Oxford University Press, 1997.
- The Aeneid by Virgil, translated by Robert Fagles. New York: Penguin Classics, 2006.