In ancient Greek mythology, a man named Aleos was said to have ruled the Kingdom of Tegea in the Arcadian region of the Peloponnesian Peninsula. Besides being attributed with the founding of a temple to Athena in the region, King Aleos was also well-known for his family’s run-in with the mighty hero, Heracles (or Hercules). For that story, however, King Aleos is a less important character than his daughter, Auge.
Princess Auge, so the story goes, was a free-spirited young woman who evidently had a habit of slipping away from her attendants and guards to take disguised strolls through her father’s lands. It was during one of these lone adventures that Auge crossed paths with Heracles, who just happened to be traveling through the Tegean kingdom at that time. What happened next varied from storyteller to storyteller. In a tradition recorded by Hecataeus (c. 6th century BCE), Auge and Heracles fell in love and had an affair. Yet, unfortunately for Auge, later writers such as Diodorus Siculus (c. 1st century BCE), Pseudo-Apollodorus (c. 1st and 2nd century CE) and Pausanias (c. 2nd century CE) usually followed a different tradition that claimed Auge’s encounter with Heracles was anything but consensual. Diodorus Siculus wrote that Heracles “had done violence to her” (Library, 4.33), whereas Pausanius claimed Auge was “outraged by Heracles” (Description of Greece, 8.47.4), and Apollodorus more bluntly stated that Heracles “debauched” or “raped” the princess (Library, 2.7.4). Whatever the case, once Heracles was done with his unheroic deed, he promptly hit the road to continue on with his adventures.
Princess Ague, shocked and scared after her experience, made her way home back to her father’s palace, where she decided to stay silent about what happened. Yet, as often happened when ancient Greek women had encounters with gods and demigods, Auge soon discovered that she was pregnant. Despite her condition, she continued trying to keep her situation a secret, but the natural course of pregnancy ultimately caused eyes in the palace to shift to Auge’s belly. Word soon reached King Aleos, and when he heard that his unwed daughter was mysteriously pregnant, his reaction was one of outrage and anger—all, sadly, directed at Princess Auge.
Stories of how exactly King Aleos learned of his daughter’s secret varied from storyteller to storyteller, once again. Some claimed that Auge successfully kept her pregnancy a secret and gave birth to a baby boy in her father’s temple to Athena—this unsanctioned use of the temple, however, supposedly caused a plague. According to this tradition, King Aleos entered the temple in hopes of putting an end to the plague, and as a result, he found Auge’s baby and pieced together what had happened. Rejecting the grandson, King Aleos sentenced the newborn to be exposed in the wilderness, and the king also sentenced his daughter to be executed. Alternatively, the rival narrative of the story claimed that Auge’s secret was outed while she was still pregnant, and that she gave birth to her child in a thicket while she was being brought to her place of execution. Whatever the story, Auge was eventually handed over to an executioner, and her baby was left in the wild.
The Fates, however, had plans for the troubled mother and child. In the case of Auge, her executioner—a man named Nauplios—showed mercy on the condemned princess. Instead of killing her, Nauplios managed to hand Auge over to a group of Carian sailors. These sailors brought Auge across the sea to Anatolia, eventually arriving at the shores of Mysia. In a twist of fate, while Auge was in that region, she caught the eye of the Mysian king, Teuthras. The two began having a relationship and Auge ultimately became the queen of Mysia.
As for Auge’s abandoned son, the unnamed baby was said to have been found and cared for by a deer until shepherds found the child. The shepherds named the boy Telephos and eventually delivered the child to a certain King Corythus, who raised the abandoned boy. Although he had a welcoming and loving adopted family, Telephos eventually set out to search for his birth mother. As the story goes, Telephos went to the Oracle at Delphi and sought advice and answers from the site’s famous priestess. During his consultation at Delphi, Telephos was advised to go to Mysia. After following this advice, Telephos journeyed to the Mysian lands and had a long-delayed reunion with his mother, Auge, who quickly recognized her son. King Teuthras, after learning that Telephos was a son of mighty Heracles, was awestruck and decided to welcome the long-lost son with open arms, ultimately making him the heir to the kingdom.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribution: (Scene of Ariadne, from a Terracotta skyphos (deep drinking cup), ca 470 BC, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons and the MET).
- The Library of History, by Diodorus Siculus, edited by Giles Laurén (Sophron Editor, 2014).
- Apollodorus, The Library of Greek Mythology, translated by Robin Hard. New York, Oxford University Press, 1997.