Neoptolemus in Greek mythology: The Greek warrior who played a significant role in the fall of Troy
Born to Greek mythical figures Achilles and Deidamia, Neoptolemus is famed for being one of the warriors of the Trojan War. He was part of the Greek troops that covertly entered the city of Troy through the famous Trojan Horse.
Neoptolemus: Fast Facts
Parents: Achilles and Deidamia
Maternal grandparents: King Lycomedes of Scyros
Paternal grandparents: Thetis and Peleus, king of Phthia
Consort: Andromache, Hermione, Lanassa
Children: Pergamus, Molossus, Amphialus, and Pielus
Other names: Pyrrhus
Best known for: Taking part in the fall and sacking of the city of Troy
Birth and family
He was the son of the warrior Achilles and Deidamia, the daughter of King Lycomedes of Scyros. According to some versions of the myth, Neoptolemus was born after Achilles disguised himself as a woman and hid among the daughters of King Lycomedes to avoid fighting in the Trojan War.
Achilles had sailed to Skyros, a Greek island in the Aegean Sea, and married Princess Deidamia. What this means is that Neoptolemus was likely born in Skyros. And the reason why his father disguised himself as a woman in the court of King Lycomedes was because his mother Thetis, the water goddess in Greek mythology, received a vision that Achilles would lose his life in the Trojan War.
He is the brother of Oneiros. It is important to mention that this Oneiros is different from the Oneiros in Homer’s Iliad and Hesiod’s Theogony. Those Oneiros are said to be the personification of dreams. In the Theogony for example, they are the sons of Hypnos (Sleep) and Nyx (Night).
Being the son of the Greek warrior Achilles, Neoptolemus was sometimes called Achillides. Other names of his include: Aeacides, Pelides or Pyrrhus.
The prophecies of the seer Helenus
During the Trojan War, the Greeks (i.e. Achaeans) managed to capture the Trojan seer Helenus, who was the son of King Priam and Queen Hecuba of Troy. It is said that Helenus and his sister Cassandra received the gift of prophecy from the Greek god Apollo.
As a result, Helenus was the one who prophesied that the Greeks would attack Troy if Prince Paris elopes with Helen, the queen of Sparta and wife of King Menelaus of Sparta. Not only would the Achaeans invade Troy, but they would also kill the rulers of Troy, including his parents and siblings.
According to Homer, Helenus was the greatest augur (almost like a seer) in Troy. After losing out to his brother Deiphobus for the hand of Helen, he retreats to the mountain, where he is captured by the Achaean commander Odysseus. The Greeks then either tortured or forced him to reveal to them how to get past the mighty walls of Troy. It was in that moment, Helenus tells the Greeks to get the following three things done:
- Capture the Trojan Palladium, a very prized artifact which was believed to protect the city of Troy and later Rome. The Palladium was a wooden statue of the Greek goddess Athena (or Pallas Athena) that was housed in the citadel of Troy. According to Virgil, the Palladium would find its way to Rome kind courtesy of the Greek hero and later founder of Rome, Aeneas.
- Get hold of the bones of Pelops, the mythical king of Pisa in the Peloponnesus region in southern Greece. Pelops was the son of Tantalus and the Titaness Dione. The latter was an Oceanid and the daughter of Oceanus and Tethys.
- Must convince Neoptolemus and Philoctetes to join the Achaeans in the war against Troy. The latter, who the friend of the Greek demi-god Heracles (equivalent of Hercules in Roman mythology), was needed because he possessed the bow and arrows of Heracles.
The Greeks successfully got hold of the first two items and proceeded to retrieve Neoptolemus from his home in Skyros. At the time, the warrior was still a teenager. Neoptolemus then joined the Greeks in their war against the Trojans. He is famed for bringing down a number of competent Trojan fighters on the battle field.
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Role in the Trojan War
Neoptolemus (also known as Pyrrhus) was a figure in Greek mythology and a hero of the Trojan War. He was one of the Greeks who entered the city of Troy through the famous Trojan Horse, and he played a significant role in the fall of the city.
The Sack of Troy and the killing of King Priam of Troy
During the sack of Troy by the Greeks, Neoptolemus killed a number of Trojan warriors, including Priam, Polites and Eurypylus.
According to myth, in Virgil’s Aeneid, Neoptolemus first killed Polites, one of the sons of Priam. The killing is done right in front of Priam. Priam and Polites were intercepted on their way to seeking shelter on the altar of Zeus.
After watching his son murdered, an enraged Priam throws a spear at Neoptolemus, who dodges it. The Greek warrior then holds Priam’s hair and drags the Trojan king right to the altar and then strikes him dead. In some accounts, Neoptolemus, who had earlier killed Astyanax – the infant son of Hector and Andromache – uses the corpse of Astyanax to club Priam to death.
After all going amok in Troy, Neoptolemus and his fellow Greek soldiers captured a number of prisoners, many of whom were made slaves. Neoptolemus captured the seer Helenus and Andromache. The latter, who was the widow of the Trojan warrior Hector, was made the concubine of Neoptolemus.
The sacrifice of Trojan princess Polyxena
After the Greek forces had completely ransacked and looted almost every nook and cranny of Troy, an apparition of the recently dead Greek warrior Achilles appeared. The ghost of Achilles ordered the Greek soldiers to sacrifice the Trojan princess Polyxena. According to the ancient Greek tragedian Euripides, in his play Hekabe, Achilles wanted to use the death of Polyxena to appease the wind needed to help him get back to Hellas.
As the son of Achilles, Neoptolemus was tasked with performing the sacrifice, which was carried out on the tomb of Achilles.
Travel to Epirus
Legend has it that after the fall of Troy at the hands of the Greeks, the warrior Neoptolemus and his men left for Epirus and mingled with the local population. Ultimately, one of Neoptolemus’ sons, Molossus, succeeded to the throne of Epirus.
Wives and Children
Accompanying Neoptolemus were Helenus and Andromache. By the latter, he fathered a number of children, including Molossos, Pielus, Amphialus, and Pergamus.
And by Lanassa, who was the granddaughter of the Greek demigod Heracles, he fathered about eight children.
In some versions of the myth, Neoptolemus was involved in the murder of King Priam of Troy, the father of Hector and Paris. Neoptolemus was also known for his cruelty and violence, and he was said to have killed the son of King Priam in front of his father’s eyes.
The death of Neoptolemus
In one account of the story, the Trojan hero was killed after he tried to kidnap Hermione from Orestes. Hermoine was the daughter of King Menelaus of Sparta and Helen of Troy. She was betrothed to her cousin Orestes, the son of Agamemnon.
In a different account, Neoptolemus was killed in Delphi, where he tried to avenge his death by attacking the priests of Apollo. The famed Greek god of medicine and music, Apollo was believed to have guided the arrow that Prince Paris shot at Achilles. After denying Apollo, Neoptolemus was killed by a group of Apollo worshippers at the Temple of Apollo. In some accounts, Apollo killed him himself. After the death of Neoptolemus, Oretes took back Hermoine, whom he had been promised to earlier.
Also, after the death of Neoptolemus, his kingdom was divided among his family. According to Virgil’s Aeneid, not only did Helenus take some part of Neoptolemus’ kingdom, but he also married his surviving wife, Andromache.
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Neoptolemus in The Odyssey by Homer
Neoptolemus also played a role in the famous Greek epic, the Odyssey, where he was depicted as the king of Epirus and the husband of Andromache, the widow of Hector. According to the myth, Neoptolemus was killed by Orestes, the son of Agamemnon, who sought revenge for the murder of his father.
Appearance and depictions
According to Malalas, a 6th-century Byzantine chronicler from Antioch, was a very capable fighter with blond eyebrows and good stature. However, in accounts by the Trojan priest of Hephaestus, Dares Pyrgius, the Greek warrior was a hefty, good-looking man who easily got irritated.
Neoptolemus’ connection to the ruling dynasty of the Molossians of ancient Epirus
It was believed that the Molossians – one of the ancient Greek tribes that ruled ancient Epirus – were the descendants of Neoptolemus through his son, Molossus. Some notable Molossians include:
- Pyrrhus of Epirus – the Greek warrior king of Epirus (reign: 297-272 BC) who fought against the Roman Republic even though at a very devastating toll (i.e. a Pyrrhic victory) to his army. Pyrrhus was also a second cousin to Alexander the Great, the famed Macedonian king and conqueror.
- Neoptolemus I of Epirus – Greek king of Epirus (reign: 370-357 BC) and maternal grandfather of Alexander the Great
- Alexander I of Epirus – King of Epirus (reign: c. 342-331 BC) and son of Neoptolemus I and uncle of Alexander the Great
- Queen Olympias of Macedon – the mother of Alexander the Great and wife of Philip II of Macedon.
- Deidamia II of Epirus – Queen regnant of Epirus (reign: 234-233 BC) and daughter of Pyrrhus II of Epirus. She was the last surviving member of the royal Aeacid dynasty in Epirus
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Dares Phrygius, from The Trojan War. The Chronicles of Dictys of Crete and Dares the Phrygian translated by Richard McIlwaine Frazer, Jr. Indiana University Press. 1966.
Hammond, N. G. L. “The Greek Heroes and the Greek Colonies”. Epirus: 4000 Years of Greek Cilization and Culture. Ekdotike Athenon, 1997
Pausanias, Graeciae Descriptio. 3 vols. Leipzig, Teubner. 1903
Smith, William, ed. “Neoptolemus”. Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology, 1870