Apemosyne and Althaimenes (also spelled Althaemenes) were two children of the mythical King Catreus of Crete. Although one would imagine that living in a royal family would be a pleasant luxury, this was not the case for the family of King Catreus. As it happened, Catreus was one of the many ancient Greek mythological figures whose tale was told in the recurring storytelling framework set around a father who was fated to be killed by one of his own children. Like others destined to meet this fate, Catreus was given forewarning of his doom in the form of a prophecy, and this knowledge propelled Catreus to separate himself from his children at all costs. Apemosyne and Althaimenes—daughter and son of the king, respectively—decided to allay their father’s worries by leaving Crete of their own volition. The sibling pair were said to have settled in Rhodes, where they found new purpose and fulfillment in their lives by constructing a temple. All seemed to be going well at first, but, unbeknownst to Apemosyne, it was not in her best interest to catch the attention of the gods or to stay in the company of her brother.
Apemosyne, while she was living alongside her increasingly zealous and violent brother, somehow snagged the attention of the messenger-god, Hermes. As was often the case with ancient Greek gods in their interactions with mortal women, the deity wanted more than a friendly chat and sacrificial offerings. Hermes desired a physical connection. Apemosyne, however, wanted nothing to do with the god. She mustered all of her athletic ability and channeled everything she had into running away from the messenger-deity. Apemosyne, mind you, was a granddaughter of famous King Minos of Crete, who was fathered by the high-god, Zeus. Therefore, Apemosyne, too, had some of mighty Zeus’ blood running through her veins. Her divine ancestry was on full display while the princess ran away from Hermes, for Apemosyne was able to outrun the messenger-god in a fair race. Hermes, unfortunately, also came to the realization that he would not be able to outrun his prey by playing fair—as such, he resorted to trickery. To achieve his desire, the god laid a horrible trap that would slow Apemosyne down and leave her vulnerable. A scholar known as Pseudo-Apollodorus (1st-2nd centuries) recorded the sad myth, stating, “Hermes had conceived a passion for her, but when she fled from him and he was unable to catch her because she was so much faster on her feet, he spread hides from freshly skinned animals across her path, and she slipped on them as she returned from the spring, and was raped by him” (Apollodorus, Library, 3.2.1).
Apemosyne survived her terrible ordeal of being forcefully violated, which was no doubt made worse by it having taken place upon a field of bloody flayed skins. After taking whatever time she needed in order to recover from the shock of the traumatic experience, Apemosyne eventually decided to return home to the nearby temple town that was overseen by her brother. Nevertheless, the victimized princess would be sorely mistaken if she had hoped that her troubles would be over once she reached her community and family. Unfortunately, Apemosyne’s fate was about to become much, much worse.
Apemosyne, with some signs of the assault still visible, finally reached her brother, Althaimenes, who questioned his sister about the meaning of her distressed and disheveled state. Apemosyne held nothing back, telling her brother about Hermes’ unwanted advances, which ended with trickery and assault. Althaimenes, however, had doubts about the testimony, and rather than being angry at his sister’s assailant, he instead became enraged at Apemosyne. In his anger, Althaimenes lost control of himself and began striking his already victimized sister. On what ultimately happened to Apemosyne, the aforementioned scholar Apollodorus wrote, “she informed her brother of what had happened, but he took the god to be merely an excuse, and kicked her, causing her death” (Library, 3.2.1). Such was the miserable fate of Apemosyne—after being raped by the god, Hermes, she was subsequently beaten to death by her own brother. Apemosyne, however, was not the only family member that murderous Althaimenes would kill; he fittingly turned out to be the child that was fated to later kill his own father, King Catreus.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribution: (‘Grecya’ – figural group of characters described as Poetry, Hermes, Cupid and knight Stanisław Wyspiański (c. 1869-1907), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons and Artvee).
- Apollodorus, The Library of Greek Mythology, translated by Robin Hard. New York, Oxford University Press, 1997.