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Danaus


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Danaus was the son of Belus, the brother of Aegyptus, eponym of the Egyptians, and the brother‐in‐law of Phoenix, eponym of the Phoenicians. He himself is the eponym of the Danaans (Danaoi), a word used commonly by Homer and other poets to mean the Greeks.

He was the father of 50 daughters, the Danaids. They were betrothed to their cousins, the 50 sons of Aegyptus. In order to escape this marriage, they fled with their father to Argos (whence their ancestor Io had fled to Egypt) and were received as suppliants by its king, Pelasgus. Their reception and their pursuit by the sons of Aegyptus are the subject of the Suppliants of Aeschylus. This is generally thought to have been the first play of a connected tetralogy of which the other plays were Egyptians, Danaids, and the satyric Amymonē. Pelasgus failed to protect the Danaids from the Egyptians, and Danaus ordered his daughters to kill their new husbands on their wedding night. All obeyed except one, Hypermestra, who spared her husband Lynceus (probably out of love), and became the ancestor of subsequent kings of Argos. Surviving accounts of this story include Horace, Odes 3. 11 (a famous evocation of Hypermestra's heroism), and Ovid, Heroides 14 (a letter from Hypermestra to Lynceus).

We do not know how Aeschylus resolved the issues, except that Aphrodite had a role in Danaids and made a speech in favour of love. Pindar says that Danaus found new husbands for his daughters by offering them as prizes in a foot‐race. A frequent motif in Latin literature is that of the Danaids' punishment in the Underworld, where they continually pour water into a leaking vessel.

Subjects: Classical Studies.


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