According to ancient Greek myth and legend, a certain King Triton ruled a kingdom in the Libyan Gulf of Sidra region (known to the ancients as the Syrtes) during the time when figures such as Heracles, Jason and Orpheus were said to have been adventuring around the Mediterranean. King Triton, unlike many other Mediterranean rulers who allegedly crossed the paths of the Greek mythical heroes, decided to be kind and helpful to the powerful travelers. Therefore, when Jason and the Argonauts one day sailed into the Sidra/Syrtes region and had some trouble navigating the local waters and winds, King Triton reached out to them and offered advice about how they could resume their journey. This move greatly benefited King Triton, for the Argonauts (who usually attacked and devastated regions they came across) were, in this case, impressed and thankful for the local king’s aid. Rather than raid or assault the region, Jason and his comrades instead reciprocated King Triton’s kindness by giving the local king a bronze tripod as a gesture of gratitude.
According to legend, the tripod left by the Argonauts was preserved by the locals for centuries, and when the region was later colonized by Greeks, the colonists reportedly came to possess an ancient tripod that they linked to the tale of King Triton and the Argonauts. The curious artifact was held in the colonial city of Euhersperis (also known as Hesperides, and later renamed Berenice), which was approximately in the Benghazi region of Libya. According to the Greek-Sicilian historian, Diodorus Siculus (1st century BCE), the supposed tripod from the Argonauts remained relatively intact until just before his lifetime. On the object and its legendary history Diodorus wrote, “when they [the Argonauts] were driven by winds to the Syrtes and had learned from Triton, who was king of Libya at that time, of the peculiar nature of the sea there, upon escaping safe out of the peril they presented him with the bronze tripod which was inscribed with ancient characters and stood until rather recent times among the people of Euhersperis” (Diodorus Siculus, Library, 4.56). Unfortunately, further questions about the condition of the object—such as if it was just damaged or completely destroyed by the 1st century BCE—were left unanswered by Diodorus Siculus.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribution: (Terracotta amphora (jar), dated ca. 550 BCE, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons and the MET.jpg).
- The Library of History, by Diodorus Siculus, edited by Giles Laurén (Sophron Editor, 2014).