Heracles, the legendary son of the Mycenaean princess Alcmene and the Greek god Zeus, was a wide-traveling warrior, adventurer, and a general slayer of countless monsters and villains. Although he was labeled a hero, Heracles was often unscrupulous during his adventures, sometimes killing people who likely should not have been killed, and frequently being too handsy with women who did not consent to his advances. His offenses, curiously, were not restricted to mundane matters and mortal beings; he often came to blows with fellow demigods, and even had violent encounters with several of the major gods, themselves. Heracles might have been a son of Zeus, but he evidently did not feel any kinship with the other gods or their respective offspring. Quite the opposite, Heracles often killed other demigods he came across in his travels. Peculiarly, the children of one specific major god seemed to have suffered the brunt of Heracles’ kin-slaying onslaught. According to the collection of the mythographer, Apollodorus (c. 1st-2nd century), Heracles may have killed as many as ten sons of Poseidon during his travels around the Mediterranean.
(1) King Augeias Of Elis
During Heracles’ troubled life, he was directed by the gods to undertake a long series of near-impossible tasks for King Eurystheus of Tiryns. As the story goes, the tasks were meant to be ten in number, but they turned out to be twelve, as Eurystheus refused to accept two of Heracles feats and therefore sent him on additional replacement quests. One of these missions that Eurystheus gave Heracles was for the hero to clear out in a single day all of the dung left behind by the cattle of King Augeias of Elis. Adding incentive, Augeias pledged that he would give Heracles a tenth of the cattle if the deed could be accomplished. Heracles, not wanting to scoop the droppings by hand, was said to have diverted a river to flow through the cow pasture, clearing out the manure, but also likely causing a great deal of damage. When Heracles reported back and claimed that the mission was accomplished, King Augeias refused to keep his deal (he had also learned by this point that Heracles was doing these quests for Eurystheus without pay). Whatever the reason behind Augeias’ decision to break off the deal, Heracles did not forgive the broken promise. After his obligations to Eurystheus were over, Heracles returned to wage war against King Augeias of Elis, ultimately killing the king. Slain King Augeias was a possible son of Poseidon (although his heritage was disputed). Apollodorus wrote, “according to some, he was a son of the Sun, or according to others, of Poseidon, or again, of Phorbas” (Apollodorus, Library, II.5.6).
(2) Eurytos and (3) Cteatos
The tale of the brothers, Eurytos and Cteatos, is a side-story or continuation of King Augeias’ downfall. When Heracles launched his campaign of revenge against Augeias, it was Eurytos and Cteatos who were the generals tasked by Augeias with the difficult mission of stopping Heracles’ onslaught. Apollodorus described the supposed lineage of these brothers, claiming, “They were sons of Molione and Actor (who was a brother of Augeias), although their real father was said to be Poseidon” (Apollodorus, Library, II.7.2). Perhaps due to their potential godly parentage, Eurytos and Cteatos were able to pose a threat to Heracles. As the story goes, Heracles decided to play it safe and stealthily set an ambush for them while they were traveling to the Isthmian Games. The ambush succeeded and it was after killing these two alleged sons of Poseidon that Heracles was able to complete his campaign of vengeance against King Augeias of Elis.
Rewinding back to the time when Heracles was fulfilling famous tasks for King Eurystheus of Tiryns, one of the missions that Eurystheus sent the hero on was a quest to fetch the belt of the Amazon queen, Hippolyte. Heracles succeeded in this task and, after gaining possession of the belt (reportedly a powerful gift from the war god, Ares), Heracles began his trip back to Eurystheus in Tiryns. Yet, the hero often took detours before really heading back to base, usually getting into trouble and causing mischief and mayhem along the way. One such between-mission episodes resulted in the death of Sarpedon, another son of Poseidon. As the story goes, Heracles made a stop at the home of a certain Poltys of Ainos in the aftermath of the Hippolyte’s belt quest. As he was leaving his host’s lands, Heracles peculiarly killed Sarpedon. Without providing much context or explanation on this tale, Apollodorus concisely wrote, “[Heracles] then called in at Ainos, where he was entertained by Poltys. As he was sailing off, he shot and killed a man of violence on the shore there, Sarpedon, a son of Poseidon and brother of Poltys” (Apollodorus, Library, II.5.9).
(5) Ialebion and Dercynos (6)
Another mission that King Eurystheus of Tiryns sent Heracles on was to obtain the cattle of a monstrous creature named Geryon (whose lair was located in the vicinity of Spain) and bring the animals back to Tiryns. As this task caused Heracles to travel widely through the Mediterranean region, it allowed for several more encounters with the unlucky offspring of Poseidon to ensue. According to the myths, after Heracles had killed Geryon and took the cattle, he herded the animals up and around the northern shores of the Mediterranean. In the course of this return trip, Heracles and his cattle were said to have wandered into Italy, and it was there that Heracles ran into the next few sons of Poseidon. It did not take long for the first encounter to occur—he was said to have been attacked by two sons of Poseidon in the region of Liguria, in northern Italy. On this Apollodorus wrote, “[Hercules] passed through Abderia and arrived in Liguria, where Ialebion and Dercynos, sons of Poseidon, tried to rob him of the cattle, but he killed them and travelled on through Tyrrhenia” (Apollodorus, Library, II.5.10). After killing these latest sons of Poseidon, Heracles and the cattle continued down into the Italian Peninsula and Heracles was said to have crossed over to Sicily, where he would encounter the next possible son of Poseidon.
(7) King Eryx of the Elymoi
When Heracles entered Sicily, the next demigod that he met was King Eryx, who ruled a people called the Elymoi (although his kingdom was simply known as the Kingdom of Eryx). Eryx was said to have been undoubtedly a son of a deity, but his parentage was disputed. One tradition, cited by the Greek-Sicilian historian Diodorus Siculus (c. 1st century BCE), claimed that Eryx was a son of the goddess, Aphrodite. In contrast, Apollodorus—keeping the trend going—said that Eryx was yet another son of Poseidon. Whatever his ancestry might have been, it did not give King Eryx any advantage over Heracles. In the end, Eryx and Heracles were said to have engaged in a wrestling match, and in the course of their bout, Heracles killed the demigod king of the Elymoi.
During one of his longer labors for King Eurystheus of Tiryns (either the mission to obtain Geryon’s cattle or the quest to fetch golden apples of the Hesperides), Heracles encountered another godly offspring named Antaeus (or Antaios) in Libya. He reportedly was a son of Poseidon, but he also had ties to the earth goddess Gaia, for he reportedly drew strength from the ground on which he stood. Antaeus was one of the more diabolical figures that Heracles encountered. He fiendishly was said to have killed travelers who entered his domain, and he used their skulls to decorate his local temple of Poseidon. Antaeus tried to add Heracles’ skull to the collection, but Heracles lifted Antaeus off of the ground and crushed the man to death.
In that same Libyan-Egyptian region, Heracles ran into yet another murderous figure who had a habit of killing travelers. This next contender was Bousiris (or Busiris), a mythical ruler of a realm in Egypt. Bousiris, Apollodorus claimed, was a “son of Poseidon and Lysianassa” who “used to sacrifice strangers on an altar of Zeus, in accordance with an oracle; for barrenness had gripped the land of Egypt for nine years, and Phrasios, a skilled diviner who had come from Cyprus, said that the barrenness would come to an end if they slaughtered a male foreigner in honour of Zeus every year” (Apollodorus, Library, II.5.11). According to the myths, Bousiris tried to sacrifice Heracles, but the plan backfired and instead it was Heracles who killed Bousiris.
(10) King Eurypylos of Cos
Heracles’ encounter with King Eurypylos of Cos came later in the life of the hero, when Heracles was said to have been adventuring around Troy. The connection between Heracles and this next son of Poseidon was one of chance and blunders; but, nevertheless, this clash of demigods would reach the same outcome as all of the others. Apollodorus wrote, “As Heracles was sailing back from Troy, Hera sent violent storms against him, which so angered Zeus that he suspended her from Olympos. Heracles wanted to sail in to Cos, but the Coans, taking him for the leader of a band of pirates, tried to prevent his approach by hurling stones. He turned to force and seized the island by night, killing its king, Eurypylos, son of Astypalaia and Poseidon” (Apollodorus, Library, II.7.1). A divine storm and a case of misidentification, therefore, led to the death of yet another son of Poseidon at the hands of Heracles.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribution: (Copy (printed in 1901) of a scene presumably featuring Heracles fighting Geryon, from an Attic black-figure amphora, ca. 550-540 B.C, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons and the New York Public Library Digital Collections).
- Apollodorus, The Library of Greek Mythology, translated by Robin Hard. New York, Oxford University Press, 1997.
- The Library of History, by Diodorus Siculus, edited by Giles Laurén (Sophron Editor, 2014).