Friday, June 2, 2023
Home Blog

Pliny The Younger’s Huge Wedding Gift To A Friend’s Daughter

Pliny the Younger (c. 61/62-113) was a successful ancient Roman lawyer, bureaucrat, politician, and financial advisor who worked closely with the emperors of his day. In addition to his influence, he was also a very wealthy man, owning several estates in the cities and countryside of the Roman Empire. Judged in the currency of ancient Rome’s denarii and sesterces, Pliny was a multimillionaire, yet he also had a reputation for being more frugal than the average well-to-do Roman aristocrat, and this reputation for money management was a reason why he was frequently hired to serve in roles such as treasurer and assessor. Pliny the Younger did, however, splurge with his money every now and then. These expenditures were sometimes personal purchases, like commissioning or acquiring new additions for his bronze statue collection. Other times, his costly projects were for the benefit of the public—such as the creation of a library or a temple. Yet, Pliny the Younger also was known to give generous gifts to individuals, doling out small fortunes to friends and acquaintances in need. In a previous article, an instance when Pliny the Younger gave his former nurse a small farm was highlighted. In this article, however, we will take a look at the time Pliny gave a sizable monetary gift to the newly engaged daughter of his friend, Quintilianus.

Quintilianus’ daughter, whose name unfortunately has been lost to time, became engaged in a prestigious match with a certain public official named Nonius Celer. Pliny the Younger, when he heard of the engagement, thought it would be a wonderful union, and he decided to help out his friend’s family by contributing greatly to (or fully covering) the dowry that Quintilianus’ daughter would bring to the marriage. Pliny the Younger discussed this arrangement in a letter to Quintilianus, in which he wrote:

“[A]s she is to marry so distinguished a person as Nonius Celer, whose public duties oblige him to keep up a certain amount of style, she ought to be provided with clothes and attendants in keeping with her husband’s position. These things cannot increase her worth, but can give it the setting it needs. I know too that you are rich in intellectual gifts but that your means are limited, so I want to share your burden and play the part of a second father to your daughter. I am therefore settling 50,000 sesterces on her, and would offer more were I not sure that it is only the trifling nature of the gift which will prevail on your sense of delicacy to accept it” (Pliny the Younger, Letter, 6.32).

In this blunt, if not condescending, letter to Quintilianus, Pliny the Younger pledged to give a fund of 50,000 sesterces (or 12,500 denarii) to serve as a personal fund that Quintilianus’ daughter could use to cover her needs and improve her quality of life. In particular, Pliny hoped she would use the funds to buy a new wardrobe of fine clothing and to hire attendants that would assist her in her day-to-day activities. Unfortunately, no further follow-up letters were preserved between Pliny the Younger and Quintilianus or his daughter.

Written by C. Keith Hansley

Picture Attribution: (Illustration inspired by the marriage of Queen Wilhelmina in 1901, by Pieter de Josselin de Jong (c. 1871 – 1906), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons and the Rijksmuseum.jpg).



  • The Letters of Pliny the Younger, translated by Betty Radice. New York: Penguin Classics, 1963, 1969.

Thetis Brings Weapons To Achilles, Who Is Mourning Over The Corpse Of Patroclus, by C. W. Eckersberg (c. 1783 – 1853)

This artwork, by the Danish artist C. W. Eckersberg (c. 1783 – 1853), depicts the Greek hero, Achilles, in a pivotal scene from well into Homer’s war-torn plot of The Iliad. Before we comment on the specific scene shown above in the illustration, a quick recap of prior events from the Trojan War might bring clarity to what is occurring in the picture, as well as the ramifications of the event to the overall plot of the epic poem.

Achilles, while he served alongside the warriors of the Greek coalition during the Trojan War, had to grudgingly follow the lead of King Agamemnon (the commander-in-chief of the Greek forces for the duration of the Trojan War). Achilles’ obedience to the Greek leader was tested, however, when a chaotic dispute broke out over two women who had been captured by the Greeks during their siege of Troy. The women were named Chryseis and Briseis, the former being held by Agamemnon, and the latter being claimed by Achilles.

Chryseis, so the story goes, was the daughter of a priest of Apollo who was greatly respected by the god that he served. Apollo, in response to the imprisonment of his favored priest’s daughter, decided to ravage the Greek army with a terrible plague. In order to end the plague, the king needed only to return Chryseis to her father. Ultimately, Agamemnon agreed to let Chryseis go, but the king loathed to lose his spoils of war and decided to make up his losses by commandeering a captive from another leader in his army. To the dismay of the whole Greek coalition, Agamemnon decided that he wanted the other recently-captured woman, Briseis, whom Achilles had taken into custody. Although Achilles balked at the demand, King Agamemnon ultimately used his authority and status as leader of the Greek coalition to force Achilles to give up Briseis.

Agamemnon’s acquisition of Briseis came at a steep price. Although Achilles did indeed hand over the captive woman, the incident consequently angered the mighty Greek hero to the extent that he decided to cease his cooperation with the Greek war effort. At first, Achilles’ band of elite warriors—the Myrmidons—decided to join their leader in his protest. Yet, when the Greek forces at the siege of Troy began to struggle in the absence of their greatest fighters, certain members of Achilles’ warband felt the need to rejoin the battle, despite Achilles’ feud with Agamemnon. This brings us to the character, Patroclus—Achilles’s best friend and the man to whom the Greeks and other battle-eager Myrmidons turned when Achilles refused to fight.

Patroclus, unwilling to continue sitting out the war, decided to rejoin the battle. Hoping to boost the morale of the Greeks and to demoralize the Trojans, Patroclus chose to go to battle not in his own set of armor, but instead to show up for war in the famous gear of Achilles. When Patroclus did this, his actions, indeed, caught the eyes of the Trojans. In particular, it attracted the attention of Troy’s greatest hero, Hector, who engaged Patroclus in battle. Although Patroclus was a mighty warrior, he was no match against Hector. In the end, Hector slew Patroclus in battle and looted the armor of Achilles that had been brought to the battlefield. News eventually trickled back to camp that Patroclus had died, and when Achilles learned of his best friend’s death, he flew into a rage. Achilles’ horrifying howls could be heard from the battlefield, flipping the momentum of the fray back into Greek favor. Patroclus’s body was recovered by Achilles, who decided to rejoin the war effort to seek revenge against Hector.

Yet, for Achilles to go back to battle, he would need a new set of armor, as his previous gear had been taken by Hector. This predicament was solved by Achilles’ mother, the influential nymph Thetis, who speedily traveled to the craftsman god Hephaestus and convinced the talented deity to fashion a new set of armor that was exponentially better than the last. Hephaestus agreed to the proposal and quickly forged masterpieces of armament that Achilles could wield and wear in battle. The ancient poet, Homer, described the scene of Thetis bringing the god-forged gear back to Achilles, who was still mourning over Patroclus. Speaking as Thetis, Homer wrote: “My child, the man who lies here was struck down by the will of the gods. For all your grief, let him be now and take this impressive armour I have brought you from Hephaestus. It is utterly magnificent. No mortal has worn anything like it.’ With these words the goddess laid the intricately worked armour before Achilles” (Homer, The Iliad, book 19, approximately between lines 10-20). It is this scene that C. W. Eckersberg re-creates in his illustration. Achilles, after accepting the armor, would rejoin the war and ultimately slay Hector in a famous duel. With Hector no longer manning the walls of Troy, the city was doomed to inevitably fall to the Greek siege. Yet, Troy’s last stand would also fatefully prove to be Achilles’ final battle, as he would be ushered to the realm of the dead by a well-placed arrow shot by the Trojan prince, Paris.

Written by C. Keith Hansley



Lucan (c. 39-65)

“Steep calamities
will come suddenly; it’s a fast fall from the summits.”

  • From Lucan’s Civil War (Book 5, approximately between lines 744-771), translated by Matthew Fox (Penguin Classics, 2012).

Emperor Constans II’s Extreme Punishment Of Maximus The Confessor’s Religious Debate

By the reign of Emperor Constans II of Constantinople (r. 641-668), the empire had long been plagued by fierce religious debates between the different Christian communities in the regions of the imperial realm, including increasingly heated arguments between the rival theologians of Constantinople and Rome. Areas of disagreement included topics such as the nature of Jesus’ being and how many wills (as in an entity’s disposition or inclination) he possessed in regard to his heavenly and earthly capacities. Emperors of Constantinople in the past had weighed in on religious arguments and championed certain sides, or, alternatively, discouraged or banned debate on controversial issues in hopes of preserving a semblance of unity. Emperor Constans II behaved no differently in this tradition of emperors injecting themselves into debates over the theology of the realm. In particular, Constans’ Heraclian Dynasty—named after his ancestor, Emperor Heraclius (r. 610-641)—at that time favored the Monothelite point of view, which held that Jesus had a single will. Imperial support for Monothelitism, however, did not end the debate over the issue among the rival factions of theologians in the empire. Eventually, this prompted Emperor Constans II to take the controversial step of outlawing any further debate on the topic of Jesus’ wills in 648. This brings us to the curious character of Maximus the Confessor, a prominent theologian who would be involved in dramatically challenging the emperor’s ban on debate by helping to convene a church council the very next year after the ban had been instated.

Maximus the Confessor was born around the year 580 and could usually be found moving between bases of operation in the Middle East, North Africa and Rome. He came to be a prolific theologian with prominence and influence in the scholarly circles of the Christian church.  For most of his life, Maximus the Confessor was on good terms with the church authorities in Constantinople. This relationship changed, however, when debate over Jesus’ wills erupted between the different schools of thought in the church around the 640s. Whereas the early members of the Heraclian Dynasty and their supporters in Constantinople favored the Monothelite interpretation, Maximus the Confessor instead argued against it in favor of Dyothelitism, which envisioned Jesus having two wills. In this, Maximus the Confessor was aligned with Pope Martin I (r. 649-655) and the theologians of Rome. As a side note, it should be stated that these events were occurring at a time in history when Rome and Constantinople were still politically and religiously connected. Therefore, when Emperor Constans II made his aforementioned decree outlawing any further debate on the topic of Jesus’ wills in 648, this ban extended to Rome and its theologians.

Maximus the Confessor, disregarding the emperor’s decree, became a leading organizer of the Lateran Council of 649 in Rome, which spurned the ban on debate and went on to condemn Monothelitism. Emperor Constans II took notice of the council, becoming irate that his edict was disregarded and that his favored religious interpretation was condemned. Yet, at that time, religious scuffles were second in importance to the emperor than other geopolitical issues threatening the empire—namely, he had to defend his realm against Arab invasions, and he also had ambitions of reclaiming land from the Lombards in Italy. While focusing his own attentions elsewhere, Emperor Constans II sent officials to see to his religious interests in Italy. The first official was a man named Olympius, who apparently went rogue and died fighting in Sicily around 652. Next, Constans II sent a man named Calliopas to oversee things on the Italian front. Unlike the previous official, Calliopas was much more willing to pursue the emperor’s vendetta against the organizers of the Lateran Council of 649, and Calliopas was quick in his work. As soon as 655, both Pope Martin I (who was arrested in 653) and Maximus the Confessor had been captured by the emperor’s forces and were brought by force to Constantinople for trial.

Pope Martin I was allegedly tortured and then exiled to Crimea for his role in the Lateran Council. If a pope faced this treatment, it is no surprise that the less prestigious monks or theologians condemned in 655, like Maximus the Confessor and his colleagues, would face even harsher punishment from the emperor. According to later chroniclers of Constantinople—who had by then turned against Monothelitism—Maximus the Confessor was said to have been sentenced to mutilation. As told by the chronicler Theophanes (c. 750s-818), “in the same year occurred the matter of the holy Maximus and his pupils: they were struggling for the true faith against monotheletism. Constans could not shift them to his evil belief. He cut out the saint’s tongue, which was wise in God’s ways, and cut off his right hand, since Maximus (along with his pupils the Anastasioi) had written a great deal in opposition to the Emperor’s impiety.” (Chronographia, entry for Annus Mundi 6149 [657-658 CE]). Pope Martin I reportedly died in 655, not long after the trials. Maximus the Confessor, however, lived on for several years after the incident, albeit his life was limited by various states of exile and imperial supervision. By the time of his death in 662, Maximus the Confessor was said to have been put on trial in Constantinople on two occasions, and had been sentenced to exile three times. Thankfully for Maximus and his supporters, their reputation improved posthumously after Monothelitism was later condemned with imperial support during the Third Council of Constantinople (c. 680-681).

Written by C. Keith Hansley

Picture Attribution: (At the Pillory; In Irons, by Juho Rissanen (c. 1873-1950), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons and the Finnish National Gallery).


First Landing Of Columbus On The Shores Of The New World, Lithograph By Currier & Ives (1834–1907) After Dióscoro Teófilo de la Puebla Tolín (1831–1901)

This lithograph, made by Currier & Ives (operational c. 1834–1907) after the work of Dióscoro Teófilo de la Puebla Tolín (1831–1901), envisions the landing of the explorer Christopher Columbus in the so-called New World of the Caribbean and the Americas. Columbus had set sail from the Canary Islands around early September in 1492, with the backing of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain, and his expedition made landfall on one of the Bahamian islands in the middle of October, the same year. Christopher Columbus, himself, described the event in his own words to Luis de St. Angel—treasurer of Aragon—in a letter written by the explorer during his journey home in 1493. Columbus stated:

“As I know you will be rejoiced at the glorious success that our Lord has given me in my voyage, I write this to tell you how in thirty-three days I sailed to the Indies with the fleet that the illustrious King and Queen, our sovereigns, gave me, where I discovered a great many islands, inhabited by numberless people; and of all I have taken possession for their Highnesses by proclamation and display of the Royal Standard without opposition” (Letter to Luis de St. Angel, 1493).

It is the moment when Christopher Columbus and his crew first stepped foot in the mysterious new land that is depicted in the artwork. Columbus can be seen kneeling and planting the royal standard, while many of the other nearby sailors simply seem relieved to be back on dry and sturdy land. The explorers, however, are not alone. Off to the left side of the artwork, several natives of the island can be seen, watching the foreigners with interest and confusion.


Written by C. Keith Hansley


Mark Twain

Mark Twain (c. 1835-1910)

“Concentration of power in a political machine is bad; and an Established Church is only a political machine; it was invented for that; it is nursed, cradled, preserved for that; it is an enemy to human liberty, and does no good which it could not better do in a split-up and scattered condition.”

  • From chapter 18 of Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur’s Court (Published in 1889). The edition used here is by Bantam/Random House (1981, 2005).

The Many Mates Of Zeus

According to myth, Zeus used strength, diplomacy and a whole lot of lightning to topple the rule of the Titans and claimed primacy for the Olympian gods in the Greek spiritual world. Acknowledging the sky-god’s power, and his leading role in overthrowing the Titans, preexisting deities and Zeus’ siblings recognized the lightning-wielding god as the leader of the new Olympian regime. Besides gaining the respect of this first generation of Olympians, Zeus added to the numbers of his supporters and worshippers through another method—having lots and lots of children. An incredibly promiscuous and insatiable womanizer and rapist, Zeus (to the annoyance of his wife) had offspring with a great number of different women. Here is a list of the goddesses, women and otherwise creatures of the female persuasion, with whom Zeus was said to have spent intimate time. As Zeus had godly fertility, all of the partners listed below had children by the sky-god.

1. Metis
Metis was a Titan-age Oceanid goddess of wisdom and cunning who became an early ally of Zeus before his ascendance to power. According to Hesiod, Metis became Zeus’ first wife after he defeated the Titans. Metis, however, became pregnant, and Zeus, fearing that the child might overthrow him, decided to swallow Metis whole, unborn child and all. The child, a daughter, was born despite Zeus’ efforts. The baby was reportedly birthed from Zeus’ own head and her name was Athena—a goddess of wisdom, just like her mother.

2. Themis
Themis was a prophetic Titaness of law, propriety and order. Despite her being his aunt, Zeus hooked up with Themis to bring about the births of several divine beings, such as the Horai and Morai.

3. Eurynome
Eurynome, like Metis, was an Oceanid Titan-age goddess. Zeus’ dalliance with this goddess of watery meadows produced the Graces and the river god, Asopos.

4. Demeter
Demeter was the agricultural goddess of grains and a sister of Zeus. They had a kinky incestuous relationship, as, according to myth, they frolicked together after taking on the shapes of snakes. From the union of Zeus and Demeter came Persephone.

5. Mnemosyne
Mnemosyne was a Titaness with authority over memory and language. According to the ancient authoritative sources on mythology, Zeus and Mnemosyne coupled together, and out of their fusion came the Muses.

6. Leto
Leto was the daughter of the Titans, Koios and Phoebe. In early myths, Zeus sought Leto out as a wife, whereas later tales claimed he fancied her as a concubine or a woman-on-the-side, so to speak, having already found his ultimate and final wife. Whatever the case, in all myths, Zeus and Leto had a fateful and intimate encounter from which the deities Apollo and Artemis were born.

7. Hera
Hera was a goddess of the sky and a sister of Zeus. As with Demeter, the sibling relationship did not stop Zeus from pursuing her for non-brotherly reasons.  Of all the women in Zeus’ life, Hera claimed the highest position and became Zeus’ final wife and main sexual partner. Through their union, they brought into existence Ares, Hephaestus, Eileithyia and Hebe. Much to Hera’s annoyance, her marriage to Zeus in no way slowed her husband’s legendary promiscuity.

8. Maia
Maia was one of the Pleiades nymphs. Although a shy goddess who preferred to live in seclusion, her isolation did not shield her from the carnal interest of Zeus. The ruler of Olympus indeed found the hermit nymph, and from their encounter was born Hermes.

9. Semele
According to myth, Semele was a princess of Thebes who caught the eye of Zeus, who, by this time, was already married to Hera. Despite his marriage, Zeus put on a disguise and seduced Semele, resulting in a pregnancy. Hera, as per usual, found out about her husband’s affair and began plotting revenge. To further this goal, she approached Semele and made the princess curious about Zeus’ unfiltered divine form. When the sky god next visited Semele, her curiosity was definitely piqued, just as Hera had wished. Semele subsequently demanded that Zeus show her his unrestrained godly radiance. Zeus unfortunately agreed, and in the resulting supernova of light and lightning, Semele died from the shock or was burnt to a crisp. From her remains, Zeus fished out Semele’s unborn fetus and stitched the child into his own leg until the baby matured. This child would become Dionysus.

10. Alcmene
A great beauty with a wise mind, Alcmene was Zeus’ type of woman. Unable to resist his lust, the sky-god disguised himself as Alcmene’s husband and spent a night with her. During that night, the famous hero Heracles was conceived.

11. Aegina
Aegina was a nymph who caught the interest of Zeus. In the course of their tryst, Zeus brought her to an island—the Greek island of Aegina—which, according to myth, was named in her honor.

12. Gaia
Aphrodite, according to various myths, was either spontaneously born from sea foam or was a daughter of Zeus. The sky-god did not care whether she was his child or not—lusty god as he was, Zeus wanted to bed her regardless of their possible family relations. Aphrodite, however, did not fancy the Sky-god’s attention; nevertheless, Zeus did not desist. During one of his bouts of lust for Aphrodite, which presumably occurred on Cyprus, Zeus tried and failed to seduce the goddess of love. Rejected and still quite aroused, Zeus took matters into his own hands (quite literally) and released his pent-up lust upon the earth. Here, things get complicated, as the earth was also a living goddess. In spreading his seed upon the earth, Zeus impregnated the primordial earth goddess, Gaia, who was awkwardly Zeus’ own grandmother. As a result of this bizarre accident, Gaia gave birth to the Cyprian Centaurs.

13. Aix/Boetis
Zeus’ sexual curiosity apparently knew no bounds. Aix (sometimes referred to as Boetis) was the nymph who was a companion or wife to the wild, goat-legged god, Pan. Like her partner, Aix also had goat-like features, or chose to take that form by choice. Whatever the case, Zeus was carnally curious about this nymph and stopped by for a visit. From their encounter was born Aegipan, another goat-like deity.

14. Karme
A demigoddess or nymph from Crete, Karme (or Carme) held some power over harvests. Zeus eventually learned about Karme’s existence and, as was his usual response, he wanted to sleep with her. The sky-god succeeded in his wishes and from their union was born Britomartis, a deity of hunting and fishing.

15. Selene
A goddess born from the Titans, Thea and Hyperion (or other Titans, depending on the source), the deity Selene was the personification of the Moon. Zeus picked her to be one of his many mates, and together they brought about the existence of several children, such as Ersa, Nemea and Pandeia.

16. Electra
Zeus was apparently a repeat caller to Electra (or Elektra), one of the Pleiades nymphs. They were the parents of Dardanus and Iasion. Additionally, in a less popular tradition, the goddess Harmonia was also suggested to be their daughter.

17. Calliope
Calliope was one of the Muses, and reportedly the eldest of the group. Epic poetry was said to have been her specialization. As was mentioned earlier (in number 5), the Muses were said to have been the children of Mnemosyne and Zeus. Despite being Calliope’s father, Zeus later pursued his own daughter for unfatherly reasons. According to a myth referenced by the scholarly geographer Strabo, Zeus and Calliope had several demigod children, called the Corybantes. The parentage of this set of demigods was disputed among the ancients, yet, even so, Zeus had no qualm with bedding his children, as can be seen by further examples below.

18. Persephone
Persephone was the daughter of Zeus and Demeter. She had a rough life, for, not only was she kidnapped by Hades and made queen of the underworld against her will, but she also had to deal with her lusty, shape-shifting father trying to sneak into her bed. In the Orphic myths about her, Zeus succeeded in his debauched quest at least twice, producing two mysterious divine children with Persephone: a son, Zagreus, and a daughter, Melinoe.

19. Thaleia
Thaleia was a nymph and was usually reported to have been the daughter of Hephaestus. As Hephaestus was often designated as a son of Zeus, Thaleia was the sky-god’s granddaughter. Yet, as Zeus had already impregnated various sisters, aunts, daughters, cousins, and even his grandmother, it was inevitable that he would start pursuing his grandchildren, too. Zeus and Thaleia got together and from their union was born the Palici, a pair of Sicilian demigods.

20. Thymbris
Thymbris was a prophetic nymph who, according to the writings of Apollodorus, mated with Zeus and gave birth to the god, Pan.

21. Styx
Styx was a chief Oceanid goddess who controlled (or personified) the underworld river that shared her name. Zeus apparently sought out her company and, according to one myth presented by Apollodorus, it may have been Styx, instead of Demeter, who was the mother of Persephone.

22. and 23. Protogeneia/Kalyke
Myth and folklore about the early monarchs of Elis can be quite complicated concerning genealogy. At question here are two kings of Elis (Aethlius and Endymion), as well as two women (Protogeneia and Kalyke (or Calyce)). Zeus, womanizer that he was, reportedly slept with both of the aforementioned women, and either of the two may have been the mother of Aethlius. Most myths, however, said it was Protogeneia who was Aethlius’ mother. Kalyke, in the myths where she was not the king’s mother, went on to marry Aethlius. After her marriage, she became the mother of Endymion. Although Aethlius was Kalyke’s husband, some myths claimed Zeus found his way to Kalyke’s bed to become the father of Endymion.

24. Lamia
According to myth, Lamia was a god-descended queen of Libya. Zeus struck up an affair with her and they had a son named Acheilus, and according to some myths, a daughter named Herophile, as well. Hera discovered the affair and took her revenge against Lamia by targeting the children born from the affair. In some myths, the children were kidnapped. In others, they were murdered. Whatever the case, the loss of her children caused Lamia to be forever changed by rage and loathing. In the end, Lamia transformed into a boogieman-type monstrous figure that ancient Greek mothers used as a means to frighten their children.

25. Olympia
Olympia, a real historical woman, was the mother of Alexander the Great (c. 356-323 BCE)—the King of Macedonia who famously conquered the Achaemenid Persian Empire. Alexander, like many ancient rulers, was eager to claim divine ancestry. Olympia’s side of the family gave Alexander the ability to allege descendance from Achilles, and thereby also a link to Achilles’ sea-nymph mother, Thetis. In addition, Alexander’s own Argead Dynasty claimed to be linked to Heracles, which also connected them to Heracles’ father, Zeus. Yet, by 326 BCE, Alexander the Great was claiming a much closer connection to Zeus. He started minting coins depicting himself wielding lightning, and he embraced and spread stories that claimed his mother Olympia was not made pregnant by her husband Philip II, but by Zeus.

26. Antiope
Antiope was an ancient Greek woman of myth whose beauty caught the eye of Zeus. The sky-god’s pursuit of her, unfortunately, became quite violent, and he assumed the shape of a satyr and took Antiope by force. After the attack, Antiope discovered she was pregnant. As the pregnancy became more apparent, Antiope’s father and community turned against her to such an extent that she had to flee. While on the road, two sons, Amphion and Zephus (or Zethos), were born. Antiope and her children would have lives filled with hardships.

27. Niobe
Another mortal that Zeus pursued was Niobe. This Niobe, not to be confused with the more famous woman by that name in Thebes, was said to have been from an elite family in the Peloponnesus. Zeus spent time with this Niobe and from their connection were born Argus and Pelasgus.

28. Callisto
Callisto (or Kallisto) was a female human or deity who sought the company of Artmeis. During her time in Artemis’ troupe, Callisto swore an oath of chastity—an oath that Zeus wished she would break with him. Using his skills of trickery and charm, Zeus achieved his desire, but this would have grave consequences. Zeus’ actions were discovered and, one thing leading to another, Callisto ultimately was transformed into a bear. Some myths claim this was done by Zeus to hide his affair, while other stories say Callisto was changed by Artemis or Hera. The transformation, however, was not the final punishment—Artemis shot and killed Callisto while she was in her bear form. Before or at the time of her final moments, Callisto gave birth to Arcas, a son of Zeus.

29. Kassiopeia
Zeus reportedly lay with a certain woman from Crete named Kassiopeia (or Cassiopeia), who should not be confused with Andromeda’s mother by the same name. With the Kassiopeia from Crete, Zeus had a son named Atymnius.

30. and 31. Leda and Nemesis
According to legend and myth, Leda was a queen of Sparta and one of the many women chosen by Zeus to bear his children. In one version, Zeus, in a rage of lust, began the series of events by chasing down the goddess, Nemesis. After both deities had transformed shapes many a time during the chase, Zeus (as a swan) finally caught and raped Nemesis (as a goose). The violated goddess birthed an egg which, in this tale, Zeus entrusted to Leda. In the other, more common, version of the tale, Zeus devoted all of his feathery attention to Leda, alone, and it was she who laid the egg. From the egg was born Helen (of Trojan War fame) and one or both of the Dioscuri.

32. Io
A nymph and princess, Io was one of the many deities who fell victim to Zeus’ charm and persistence. The two began cavorting, but while they were in their intimate embrace, Hera walked onto the premises. Hoping that Hera was none the wiser, Zeus transformed Io into a cow in an attempt to keep the other woman’s presence a secret. Yet, Hera—as spouses always do—discovered that Zeus was hiding something, and, feeling suspicious about the random cow, Hera demanded that the animal be given to her as a gift. Zeus relinquished cow-shaped Io into Hera’s custody, but later had her covertly freed. Hera, with her suspicions confirmed, sent a gadfly to pester poor Io, who had still not been returned to her normal form. Trying to escape the pest, Io walked and swam to the other side of the Mediterranean, ultimately ending up in Egypt. As the story goes, Io gave birth to a daughter named Keroessa while she was on the way to Egypt. She was later impregnated a second time by Zeus, who rejoined her in Egypt to relieve her of her cow shape, and from that encounter Epaphus was born.

33. and 34. Pyrrha and Thyia
Zeus, like God of the Abrahamic religions, one day decided to give up on, and destroy, ancient Greece’s imperfect mortal civilizations. With his mind made up, he sent the so-called Great Deluge to annihilate the sinful creatures—as if he were one to judge sin. Among the mortals that Zeus wished to destroy were many children of his fellow deities. Prometheus, always a rebel, tipped off his own son, Deucalion, about the flood—other myths, however, claim Deucalion’s family was given warning because they were a rare virtuous family. Whatever the case, Deucalion and his wife, Pyrrha, escaped the flood on a wooden craft and survived to repopulate the world. One of their daughters was Thyia. Now, with all the mortal women of the world wiped out except for the ladies in Deucalion’s family, Pyrrha and Thyia found themselves to be a rare breed that inevitably attracted Zeus.  After the flood waters subsided, Zeus hooked up with Pyrrha, resulting in a son named Hellen (namesake of the Hellenes), and also seduced Thyia, bringing about two more sons, Magnes and Makedon.

35. Pandora
In Greek mythology, Pandora was the first true mortal human woman. All of the Olympian gods joined to contribute to her creation. Zeus drew up the blueprints of her design, while the craftsman-god, Hephaestus, brought the blueprints into reality. The gods shaped Pandora’s personality; Athena taught her life skills; Aphrodite explained to her the basics of charm and grace; Hermes showed her how to be cunning.  The Graces and other aesthetically-oriented goddesses dressed her well, and covered her with jewelry and flowers. This newly-minted Pandora, in a way, was Zeus’ dream woman. Now that the ideal feminine blueprint from his mind was suddenly a flesh and blood woman, Zeus—lecherous deity that he was—likely would have inevitably become attracted to her. Whether or not he pursued this first human female, however, was left unclear. Nevertheless, Pandora became the mother of the previously mentioned Pyrrha, the wife of Deucalion. Besides Thyia, Pyrrha had another daughter, Pandora, whom Pyrrha named after her mother. Zeus, as he had done with the other women of Deucalion’s family, slept with this younger Pandora and from their encounter was born a son named Latinus.

36. Hora the Viper-Maiden
In Scythia, there allegedly lived a nymph of sorts whose head and torso were that of a woman, but at about the hips her body transitioned to the shape of a snake. She could be variously called a viper-maiden, a dracaena, or simply referred to as Hora, although she was not one of the Horae known elsewhere from myth.  Not put off by the viper-maiden’s slithery appearance, Zeus spent a night with this deity, and from that encounter was born Colaxes, who was said to have gone on to be a ruler of Tauric Chersonese.

37. Himalia
Zeus came across Himalia due to a chance encounter. According to legend, the sky-god arrived in the vicinity of Rhodes to destroy or subjugate a group of mythological magician craftsmen, known as the Telchines. While in the region, Zeus happened to see Himalia, a nymph of Rhodes, and—always one for a little pleasure—Zeus seduced her and nature took its course. How long he spent with her was not said, but they reportedly had three children: Cronius, Cytus and Spartaeus.

38. Taygete
Taygete was one of the Pleiades nymphs. Having already bedded Maia and Electra, Taygete was the third member of the Pleiades that Zeus seduced. After her encounter with the sky-god, Taygete gave birth to a son named Lacedaemon. The goddess, Artemis, was said to have helped Taygete avoid Zeus when the Pleiad nymph no longer wanted the persistent god’s attention.

39. Lysithea
Lysithea (or Lysithoe) was an Oceanid nymph who, after being seduced by Zeus, gave birth to a son named Heracles. This Heracles, however, was not the real Heracles, but a different, more obscure, and less impressive half-brother of the famous Alcmene-born hero by the same name.

40. Othris
The gods Zeus and Apollo (father and son) both favored the nymph, Othris (or Othreis). With Apollo, Othris had a son named Phagros. Zeus, it appears, did not have any issue being in a love triangle with his own son, and he, too, got Othris pregnant. This, as per usual, infuriated Hera, and in her wrath she lashed out at the nymph instead of the cheating husband. When the child was born, Hera pressured Othris to leave the baby in the wild to die. Nevertheless, the infant was said to have been kept alive by a caring hive of bees, which may or may not have been placed there by Zeus. Eventually, in a charming display of brotherly love, Phagros (Othris’ son by Apollo) found the child and raised it. The youth was given the name, Meliteus, and was said to have been the founder of Melite.

41. Europa
Featuring in one of the more bizarre episodes of Zeus’ erotic exploits, Europa was said to have been a Phoenician princess of great beauty. Zeus, who was apparently exploring the Phoenician coast, happened to spot her during his wanderings and immediately was smitten. Disregarding his usual seduce/rape and run tactics, Zeus decided he wanted to bring her to a more scenic and controlled environment. In plotting his masterplan, the sky-god came to an odd solution—he transformed into a white bull and simply sauntered on over to the princess. The tactic worked to great success. Europa, it seems, thought bulls were cute and noble beasts, and she immediately warmed to the random bovine, going so far as to adorn it with flowers. She made a mistake, however, when she decided to hop on top of the bull’s back. With his prey’s feet off the ground, Zeus immediately bolted out to sea in an awkward mix of swimming and flying. He eventually brought her to Crete, where he got what he wanted, one way or the other. Out of the encounter between Zeus and Europa came King Minos, Rhadamanthys, and Sarpedon.

42. Eurymedousa
A man always looking for a new kink, Zeus one day decided to try out love-making in the shape of an ant. Eurymedousa, a princess of northern Greece, was the unfortunate woman chosen by Zeus for this experimentation. As the story goes, the sky-god transformed her into an ant, and then he himself took on an ant shape. Now that they were both insects, Zeus sought what he desired. Afterward, Eurymedousa was presumably transformed back into a human and she gave birth to a son, Myrmidon—a name that fittingly translates to Ant-man.

43. Dia
Dia was the daughter of Deioneus and the wife of Ixion. Father and son-in-law did not get along at all, for Deioneus tried to extort Dia’s husband, resulting in Ixion retaliating by ultimately murdering Deioneus. While Ixion was dealing with divine retribution over this murder, Dia was not lacking in company. As the story goes, Zeus (always an oddball) approached her in the shape of a horse and, one way or the other, he had relations with her. From their union was born Pirithous.

44. Danaë
Reportedly the daughter of King Acrisius of Argos, Danaë was a princess in the Peloponnesus whose life was upturned by a prophecy that her son would kill her father, Acrisius. As Danaë had no children at the time that the prophecy was released, Acrisius attempted to thwart the prophecy from coming to fruition by imprisoning Danaë in a room of bronze, safely locked away from all male company. A defenseless jailed damsel, however, was too much for Zeus to resist. The sky-god appeared to Danaë as a gold-colored rain, and from this golden shower (sorry for the imagery), Danaë became pregnant. Zeus, horrible lover and father that he was, left Danaë in her prison to face the pains of childbirth alone. The child was the famous hero, Perseus.

45. Laodameia
Laodameia, reportedly a daughter of Bellerophon, was another woman with whom Zeus spent intimate time. Together, they had a son named Sarpedon, who became a Lycian leader and an ally of Troy.

46. Pluto the Nymph
There were several nymphs by the name of Pluto among the Greek divinities. Zeus, with one of these nymphs, fathered the ancient Greek king, Tantalus.

47. Elara
Elara was a woman linked to Orchomenus, Greece. She was one of the many women that faced consequences for being caught in Zeus and Hera’s marital problems. Zeus, after getting Elara pregnant, tried to hide the affair from Hera by locking Elara in the earth. There, with the help of the primordial earth goddess, Gaia, Elara gave birth to a giant named Tityus.

As Greek myth could vary from storyteller to storyteller and from region to region, in addition to the nature of myth and folklore to change over time, it is probable that this is an incomplete list. One can only imagine the possible untold numbers of goddesses, nymphs, and female beings of all sorts whose interactions with the ever-lusting god of the sky were overlooked by the selective poets, artists and scholars who preserved the tales for posterity.

Written by C. Keith Hansley

Picture Attribution: (Olympus, by Felice Giani (c. 1758–1823), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons and the Smithsonian).


  • Theogony and Works and Days by Hesiod, translated by M. L. West. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988, 1999, 2008.
  • The Iliad by Homer, translated by E. V. Rieu and edited/introduced by Peter Jones. New York: Penguin Classics, 2014.
  • The Odyssey by Homer, translated by E. V. Rieu and edited by D. C. H. Rieu. New York: Penguin Classics, 2009.

The Horatii Entering Rome, By Adrian van Stalbemt (c. 1580-1662)

This painting, by the Flemish artist Adrian van Stalbemt (c. 1580-1662), re-creates the tragic ending of the ancient Roman myth or legend of the Horatii. This curious folktale was set in the late 7th century BCE, when the ancient kingdom of Rome was embroiled in a conflict with a rival city called Alba Longa. While we will never know specific details of the conflict between Rome and Alba Longa, ancient writers such as Livy (c. 59 BCE-17 CE) preserved a vague memory of the war, albeit in a dramatic and embellished fashion—namely, with the legend of the Horatii.

As told by the ancient Roman storytellers, the Horatii were a set of triplet brothers who served as champions for the Roman kingdom during the city-state’s war against Alba Longa. In the course of the war, both belligerent factions allegedly agreed to settle their conflict through the means of a duel. The Romans, so the story goes, chose the Horatii trio to represent them in the fight. Alba Longa, for its part, also chose a set of triplet brothers as their champions—in their case, the brothers were collectively called the Curiatii. Now, these rival triplets were not strangers. Quite the opposite, the ancient legends linked the families of the Horatii and Curiatii in such dramatic and romantic ways that it would impress even Shakespeare.

In brief, the Horatii and the Curiatii would all have been brothers-in-law if not for the war and duel. According to legend, a sister of the Roman Horatii had been recently engaged to marry one of the Curiatii brothers. Unfortunately, the wedding preparations went too slowly, causing the families to ultimately call off the union as war broke out and the rival triplets were chosen as champions for their respective cities. Nevertheless, the Horatii sister and her lover among the Curiatii were still very much in love. The would-be Curiatii groom, like a chivalric knight, brought a token from his beloved into battle. It was a cloak that had been lovingly made for him by the woman he had hoped to marry. Yet, as the brothers arrived for the fight, there was no longer any option for peace. Either all or the Horatii or all of the Curiatii would die in the dueling grounds.

Livy, the aforementioned ancient Roman writer, painted the scene of the duel with great attention to drama. To the horror of the Romans, their Horatii triplets fought terribly. The Roman brothers fell in quick succession until only one, Publius Horatius, was left alone to face all three Curiatii siblings. Staring down the three warriors, Horatius could think of only one strategy—to run. The Romans looked on with dismay as the three Alban warriors chased the lone champion from Rome around the arena. Yet, Horatius was sprinting around the battlefield for a reason. As the Alban champions were chasing their prey, they fell into a single-file line. Seeing an opportunity, Horatius suddenly stopped and began his attack. Using good footwork and well-placed blows, the lone Roman sliced through his three pursuers, dropping one after the other as they raced toward him individually. The Romans cheered as Horatius killed the first Curiatii and then the second. For his final opponent, Publius Horatius faced the man who would have been his brother-in-law if war had been avoided. Showing no mercy, the Roman killed his foe and even looted from his body the cloak that was handmade by Horatius’ sister.

With the duel over, the Albans were said to have made momentary peace with Rome. Noncombatants waiting with anticipation in Rome for news of the duel could see the Roman army celebrating on the road as it returned home. At the forefront of the Roman troops was Publius Horatius, proudly wearing the plundered bloodstained cloak that had been made by his sister. While the population of Rome cheered for the army’s valiant return, one woman at the Capena gate could only cry. This sobbing woman was Horatius’ sister, who was shocked into tears of anguish and grief when she saw her brother wearing the bloodied cloak that she had given to her beloved. She did not stifle her crying at all, but bawled for the entire populace of Rome to hear. Publius Horatius, who had previously only heard cheers and praise, now heard someone killing the triumphal mood with wails and sobs. The sound of a Roman not appreciating his victory annoyed Publius Horatius, and his anger did not abate even after discovering it was his own sister who was crying.

At this point, the tale takes an incredibly dark turn. Instead of consoling his distraught sister, Horatius did the unthinkable. He grabbed a sword, angrily marched over to his sobbing sibling and plunged the blade deep into her chest, piercing her heart. As she bled to death, Horatius growled abuse over his sister’s body: “’Take your girl’s love,’ he shouted, ‘and give it to your lover in hell. What is Rome to such as you, or your brothers, living or dead? So perish all Roman women who mourn for an enemy!’” (Livy, History of Rome, Book I, section 26). It is this horrible portion of the legend that seems to be re-created in Adrian van Stalbemt’s painting. In the artwork, a woman (presumably the sister of the Horatii) can be seen lying motionless on the ground as the rest of the city of Rome celebrates the victory of Publius Horatius.

To Rome’s credit, the legend went on to tell that the Romans later arrested Horatius and put him on trial for murder. Yet, the murdered sister was not given justice by the court. The Roman populace cried out for Horatius to be spared, and even the father of the Horatii (who had lost two sons and one daughter that day) spoke in defense of his son. The only way for the father to save his last living child was to besmear the memory of his own daughter. Livy wrote, “In the course of the hearing the decisive factor was the statement of Horatius’ father, to the effect that his daughter deserved her death” (History of Rome, Book I, section 26). With such pleas on his behalf, Horatius was said to have been acquitted with almost no punishment. Ironically, the Curiatii triplets, the two Horatii brothers and their tragically slain sister all died for nothing. According to the tale, the Albans resumed their hostilities against Rome after the duel. In response, Rome once again went to war and this time destroyed the city of Alba Longa around the year 600 BCE.

Written by C. Keith Hansley


John Jay

John Jay (c. 1745-1829)

“It is too true, however disgraceful it may be to human nature, that nations in general will make war whenever they have a prospect of getting anything by it; nay, absolute monarchs will often make war when their nations are to get nothing by it, but for purposes and objects merely personal, such as a thirst for military glory, revenge for personal affronts, ambition, or private compacts to aggrandize or support their particular families or partisans.”

  • From The Federalist No. 4, by John Jay in The Federalist Papers. Republished by the Henry Regnery Company (Chicago, Illinois, 1948).

The Tale Of An Ancient Roman Man’s Suspicious Death And The Efforts Of His Mother To Have His Accused Murderers Prosecuted

In the time of the Roman emperor, Trajan (r. 98-117), a strange incident occurred in which a prominent man—whose name is unfortunately not known—died unexpectedly due to mysterious causes. The deceased man was outlived by his mother (whose name is also unknown), and the grieving mom eventually became convinced that poison was involved in her son’s ambiguous demise. As the dead Roman and his mother were prominent and influential members of society, the authorities quickly began to investigate the suspicious death and inquire about the surrounding circumstances. Although the mother was convinced that foul play had occurred, she and her legal supporters would need evidence to prove their case in court. Nevertheless, the mother and her lawyers never discovered the key evidence they were hoping to find. They did, perhaps, find some possibly suspicious portions of text in the deceased man’s last will and testament, but even this claim apparently lacked corroborating evidence to prove the accusation that the will might have been tampered with. Despite the shaky evidence, the mother used her influence to have the case brought to court and a trial was scheduled to occur. The defendants of the trial would be the mother’s prime suspects, namely a group of freedmen who had been in the service of her deceased son. These defendants, claimed the prosecution, had the means and opportunity to poison the deceased man and tamper with his will.

Emperor Trajan, who evidently may have been an acquaintance of the grieving mother, put a certain Julius Servianus in charge of judging the case. Additionally, the prosecution included Julius Africanus, an able lawyer from a respected family. Yet, the defendants were not neglected—in their legal team was the talented and accomplished statesman and lawyer, Pliny the Younger (c. 61/62-113), who specialized in inheritance law and would have been a vital asset in defending against the allegations concerning the deceased man’s will. Pliny, an avid letter writer, commented on the case to his friends in existent missives. Although he did not explicitly opine on his perception of his clients’ guilt or innocence, he did make it known that he believed it was an easily defendable case due to the lack of evidence. Putting his theory into action in court, Pliny the Younger was able to either have the trial ended or possibly reached some sort of acquittal for his clients.  On this, Pliny vaguely wrote, “The inquiry was stopped after the court had come to a decision in favour of the defendants” (Pliny the Younger, Letters, 7.6). Yet, even though the court was willing to put the matter to rest, the grieving mother was not ready to end her fight against the accused freedmen.

Using her prominence and access to the highest echelons of government, the mother was able to somehow convince Emperor Trajan to have the case retried. This time, the emperor evidently had his trusted agent, Suburanus, act as the judge. Once again, Pliny the Younger decided to help represent the defendants in court. To Pliny’s surprise and curiosity, the grieving mother’s legal team had been able to reopen the case due to claims that new evidence had been found. Yet, when the court and the defense pressed for the new evidence to be produced, it appeared that the prosecution did not actually have anything new and was only rehashing the same inadequate evidence from the previous trial. The mother’s lawyer, Julius Africanus, allegedly talked on and on during the second trial—way over the proper time limits of the court—and even asked the judge to allow him “one more word,” which turned into an additional long period of lawyerly testimony. After Julius Africanus had finished his elaborate speeches, Pliny the Younger took the bold and risky tactic of simply remaining silent. After the court and crowd had become adequately curious about the ploy, Pliny the Younger explained his silence by saying, “’I should have spoken in reply,’ I [Pliny] said, ‘If Africanus had added his ‘one more word,’ for this, I am sure, would have contained all the fresh evidence’” (Pliny the Younger, Letters, 7.6). This jab, criticizing Julius Africanus’ overly-lengthy speech and pointing out the unchanged lack of evidence in the case, was apparently received well by the court and the audience.

Unfortunately, Pliny the Younger did not clearly describe the end of the trial. In his letter’s narrative, Pliny concluded his account of the case by claiming his speech, criticizing Julius Africanus and the lack of evidence, elicited some of the most memorable applause that he ever received over his long career in law. Ending in this manner, Pliny neglected to mention the fates of the defendants in their second trial. Yet, as Pliny the Younger introduced this tale in his letter with the curious statement of, “I can indeed remember certain criminal cases when I did my clients more good by saying nothing than I could have done by the most elaborate speech” (Letters, 7.6), the likely scenario is that Pliny’s clients received a positive outcome. It is unknown if the grieving mother ever tried to reopen the case again or if she sought out new suspects for her poisoning theory.

Written by C. Keith Hansley

Picture Attribution: (The Lictors Returning to Brutus the Bodies of his Sons, by Jacques Louis David (c. 1748-1825), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons and the National Museum in Stockholm Sweden).


  • The Letters of Pliny the Younger, translated by Betty Radice. New York: Penguin Classics, 1963, 1969.