In Greek mythology, Danaus (/ˈdæn.əs/;[1] Ancient Greek: Δαναός Danaós) was the king of Libya. His myth is a foundation legend (or re-foundation legend) of Argos, one of the foremost Mycenaean cities of the Peloponnesus. In Homer's Iliad, "Danaans" ("tribe of Danaus") and "Argives" commonly designate the Greek forces opposed to the Trojans.


Parents and siblings

Danaus, was the son of King Belus of Egypt and the naiad Achiroe, daughter of the river god Nilus. He was the twin brother of Aegyptus, king of Arabia while Euripides adds two others, Cepheus, King of Ethiopia and Phineus, betrothed of Andromeda.


Danaus had fifty daughters, the Danaides, twelve of whom were born to the naiad Polyxo; six to Pieria; two to Elephantis; four to Queen Europa; ten to the hamadryad nymphs Atlanteia and Phoebe; seven to an Ethiopian woman; three to Memphis; two to Herse and lastly four to Crino.[2] According to Hippostratus, Danaus had all these progeny begotten by Europa, the daughter of Nilus.[3] In some accounts, Danaus married Melia while Aegyptus consorted with Isaie,[4] these two women were daughters of their uncle Agenor, King of Tyre, and their possible sister, Damno who was described as the daughter of Belus.[5]


Flight from Aegyptus

The Danaides, Oil by John William Waterhouse 1903

After Aegyptus commanded that his fifty sons should marry the Danaides, Danaus elected to flee instead, and to that purpose, he built a ship by the advice of Athena,[6] the first ship that ever was.[7] In it, he fled to Argos, to which he was connected by his descent from Io, a priestess of Hera at Argos, who was wooed by Zeus and turned into a heifer and pursued by Hera until she found asylum in Egypt. Argos at the time was ruled by King Pelasgus, the eponym of all autochthonous [indigenous] inhabitants who had lived in Greece since the beginning, also called Gelanor ("he who laughs"). The Danaides asked Pelasgus for protection when they arrived, the event portrayed in The Suppliants by Aeschylus. Protection was granted after a vote by the Argives.

When Pausanias visited Argos in the 2nd century CE, he related the succession of Danaus to the throne, judged by the Argives, who "from the earliest times ... have loved freedom and self-government, and they limited to the utmost the authority of their kings":

"On coming to Argos he claimed the kingdom against Gelanor, the son of Sthenelas. Many plausible arguments were brought forward by both parties, and those of Sthenelas were considered as fair as those of his opponent; so the people, who were sitting in judgment, put off, they say, the decision to the following day. At dawn a wolf fell upon a herd of oxen that was pasturing before the wall, and attacked and fought with the bull that was the leader of the herd. It occurred to the Argives that Gelanor was like the bull and Danaus like the wolf, for as the wolf will not live with men, so Danaus up to that time had not lived with them. It was because the wolf overcame the bull that Danaus won the kingdom. Accordingly, believing that Apollo had brought the wolf on the herd, he founded a sanctuary of Apollo Lycius."[8]

The sanctuary of Apollo Lykeios ("wolf-Apollo", but also Apollo of the twilight) was still the most prominent feature of Argos in Pausanias' time: in the sanctuary the tourist might see the throne of Danaus himself, an eternal flame, called the fire of Phoroneus.

Murdered bridegrooms

The Danaides kill their husbands, miniature by Robinet Testard.

When Aegyptus and his fifty sons arrived to take the Danaides, Danaus gave them, to spare the Argives the pain of a battle. However, he instructed his daughters to kill their husbands on their wedding night. Forty-nine followed through, and subsequently buried the heads of their bridegrooms in Lerna;[9] but one, Hypermnestra, refused because her husband, Lynceus, honored her wish to remain a virgin. Danaus was angry with his disobedient daughter and threw her to the Argive courts. Aphrodite intervened and saved her. Lynceus and Hypermnestra then began a dynasty of Argive kings (the Danaid Dynasty).[10] Some sources relate that Amymone, the "blameless" Danaid,[11] and/or Bryce (Bebryce)[12] also spared their husbands.


Aegyptus, after the death of his sons, escaped to Aroe in Greece and died there. His monument was shown in the temple of Serapis at Patrae.[13]

In some versions, Lynceus later killed Danaus as revenge for the death of his brothers.

The remaining forty-nine Danaides had their grooms chosen by a common mythic competition: A foot-race was held and the order in which the potential Argive grooms finished decided their brides (compare the myth of Atalanta). Two of the grooms were Archander and Architeles, sons of Achaeus: They married Scaea and Automate respectively.[14]

In later accounts, the Danaides were punished in Tartarus by being forced to carry water in a jug to fill a bath without bottom (or with a leak) and thereby wash off their sins, but the bath was never filled because the water was always leaking out.[15][16]

Danaus in Rhodes

Another account of the travels of Danaus gave him three daughters, Ialysos, Kamiros and Lindos, who were worshipped in the cities that took their names in the island of Rhodes, Ialysos, Kamiros and Lindos (but see also Cercaphus). According to Rhodian mythographers who informed Diodorus Siculus,[17] Danaus would have stopped and founded a sanctuary to Athena Lindia on the way from Egypt to Greece.[6] Herodotus heard that the temple at Lindos was founded by Danaus' daughters.[18] Ken Dowden observes[19] that once the idea is dismissed that myth is directly narrating the movements of historical persons, that the loci of Danaian institutions at Lindos in Rhodes as well as at Argos suggests a Mycenaean colony sent to Rhodes from the Argolid, a tradition, in fact, that Strabo reports.

Other feats

Danaus was credited as the inventor of wells and said to have migrated from Egypt about 1485 B.C. into that part of Greece which had been previously known as Argos Dipsion. Notes in Pliny the Elder's, Natural History also added that:

"He [i.e Danaus] may have introduced wells into Greece, but they had, long before his time, been employed in Egypt and in other countries. The term "Dipsion," "thirsting," which it appears had been applied to the district of Argos, may seem to render it probable, that, before the arrival of Danaus, the inhabitants had not adopted any artificial means of supplying themselves with water. But this country, we are told, is naturally well supplied with water."

The Danais

The epic Danais[20] was written by one of the cyclic poets; the name of the author and the narration of these events does not survive,[21] but the Danaid tetralogy of Aeschylus undoubtedly draws upon its material. It is represented in the table of epics in the received canon on the very fragmentary "Borgia table"[22] as "Danaides".

A U.S. federal judge used the version of the legend in which the Danaides are forced to perform an impossible task as a simile for the judge's task of determining whether a case "arises under" the Constitution, laws or treaties of the United States.[23]

Argive genealogy

Argive genealogy in Greek mythology
Colour key:



  1. ^ "Danaos". Random House Webster's Unabridged Dictionary.
  2. ^ Apollodorus, 2.1.5
  3. ^ Tzetzes, Chiliades 7.37, p. 370–371
  4. ^ Scholia on Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica Notes on Book 3.1689
  5. ^ Gantz, p. 208; Pherecydes fr. 21 Fowler 2000, p. 289 = FGrHist 3 F 21 = Scholia on Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica 3.1177-87 ff.
  6. ^ a b Apollodorus, 2.1.4
  7. ^ Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia 7.191 & 206
  8. ^ Pausanias, Graeciae Descriptio 2.19.3-4
  9. ^ The Helladic site at Lerna is related in myth to the pool of the Lernaean hydra; compare the heads ritually buried in marshlands in northern Europe: see Bog body.
  10. ^ Apollodorus, 2.1.5; Hyginus, Fabulae 168; Pausanias, Graeciae Descriptio 2.19.6 & 2.20.5
  11. ^ Scholia on Pindar, Pythian Ode 9.200
  12. ^ Eustathius on Dionysius Periegetes, 805
  13. ^ Pausanias, Graeciae Descriptio 7.21.13
  14. ^ Pindar, Pythian ode 9.117; Pausanias, Graeciae Descriptio 7.1.3
  15. ^ Ovid, Metamorphoses, 4. 462; Heroides 14; Servius, Commentary on Virgil's Aeneid 10.497
  16. ^ The Danish government's third world aid agency's name was changed from DANAID to DANIDA in the last minute when this unfortunate connotation was discovered.
  17. ^ Diodorus Siculus, Bibliotheca historica 5.58; Strabo, Geographica 14.2.6
  18. ^ Herodotus, Histories 2.182
  19. ^ Dowden, The Uses of Greek Mythology 1992:64
  20. ^ Danais is also a genus of butterfly, lepidopterists being prone to supplying classical names for butterflies.
  21. ^ Two lines were quoted by a later poet.
  22. ^ W. McLeod, "The "Epic Canon" of the Borgia Table: Hellenistic Lore or Roman Fraud?" Transactions of the American Philological Association 115 (1985:161f).
  23. ^ For instance, Stone & Webster Engineering Corp. v. Isley, 690 F.2d 323, 328 n. 4 (2d Cir. 1982); NUI Corp. v. Kimmelman, 593 F.Supp. 1457, 1464 (D. N.J. 1984).


  • Apollodorus, The Library with an English Translation by Sir James George Frazer, F.B.A., F.R.S. in 2 Volumes, Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1921. ISBN 0-674-99135-4. Online version at the Perseus Digital Library. Greek text available from the same website.
  • Diodorus Siculus, Diodorus Siculus: The Library of History. Translated by Charles Henry Oldfather. Twelve volumes. Loeb Classical Library. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press; London: William Heinemann, Ltd. 1989.Online version at the Lacus Curtius: Into the Roman World.
  • Fowler, R. L. (2000), Early Greek Mythography: Volume 1: Text and Introduction, Oxford University Press, 2000. ISBN 978-0198147404.
  • Gantz, Timothy, Early Greek Myth: A Guide to Literary and Artistic Sources, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996, Two volumes: ISBN 978-0-8018-5360-9 (Vol. 1), ISBN 978-0-8018-5362-3 (Vol. 2).
  • Herodotus, The Histories with an English translation by A. D. Godley. Cambridge. Harvard University Press. 1920. Online version at the Perseus Digital Library.
  • Hyginus, Fabulae from The Myths of Hyginus translated and edited by Mary Grant. University of Kansas Publications in Humanistic Studies. Online version at the Topos Text Project.
  • Maurus Servius Honoratus, In Vergilii carmina comentarii. Servii Grammatici qui feruntur in Vergilii carmina commentarii; recensuerunt Georgius Thilo et Hermannus Hagen. Georgius Thilo. Leipzig. B. G. Teubner. 1881. Online version at the Perseus Digital Library.
  • Ovid, Metamorphoses, Brookes More. Boston. Cornhill Publishing Co. 1922. Online version at the Perseus Digital Library.
  • Pausanias, Pausanias Description of Greece with an English Translation by W.H.S. Jones, Litt.D., and H.A. Ormerod, M.A., in 4 Volumes. Cambridge, Massachusetts, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1918. Online version at the Perseus Digital Library.
  • Pindar, Odes translated by Diane Arnson Svarlien. 1990. Online version at the Perseus Digital Library.
  • Pliny the Elder, The Natural History. John Bostock, M.D., F.R.S. H.T. Riley, Esq., B.A. London. Taylor and Francis, Red Lion Court, Fleet Street. 1855. Online version at the Perseus Digital Library.
  • Tzetzes, Chiliades, editor Gottlieb Kiessling, F.C.G. Vogel, 1826. Google Books. (English translation: Book I by Ana Untila; Books II–IV, by Gary Berkowitz; Books V–VI by Konstantino Ramiotis; Books VII–VIII by Vasiliki Dogani; Books IX–X by Jonathan Alexander; Books XII–XIII by Nikolaos Giallousis. Internet Archive).

External links

  • Media related to Danaides at Wikimedia Commons
  • The dictionary definition of Δαναός at Wiktionary
Regnal titles
Preceded by King of Argos Succeeded by