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For other uses, see Autolycus (disambiguation).

In Greek mythology, Autolycus (/ɔːˈtɒlɪkəs/; Greek: Αὐτόλυκος Autolykos, "The Wolf Itself", or very wolf [1]) was a son of the Olympian god Hermes and Chione. He was the husband of Neaera,[2] or according to Homer,[3] of Amphithea. Autolycus fathered Anticlea (who married Laertes of Ithaca, hence the grandfather of Odysseus[4]) and several sons, of whom only Aesimus is named.

Life and major events[edit]

There are a number of different accounts of the birth of Autolycus. According to most, he was the son of Hermes[5] and Chione[6] or Philonis.[7] In Ovid's version, Autolycus was conceived after Hermes had intercourse with the virgin Chione (Ovid 11).[8] Pausanias instead states that Autolycus' real father was Daedalion (Pausanias 8. 4. 6.).[9]

Autolycus was husband to Mestra, daughter of Erysichthon (Ovid 8. 738) [10] (who could change her shape at will), or to Neaera (Pausanias 8. 4. 3), or to Amphithea (Homer, Odyssey, 19. 394). He became the father of Anticlea and Polymede, of whom the latter was the mother of Jason, the famous Argonaut who led a group of men to find the coveted Golden Fleece (Apollodorus 1.9.16). A different Autolycus, the son of Deimachus, was a part of the Argonauts who went on the journey to find the fleece.

Through Anticleia, Autolycus was also the grandfather of the famous warrior Odysseus,[4] and he was responsible for the naming of the child as well. This happened when the nurse of the child Eurycleia "laid the child upon his knees and spoke, and addressed him: Autolycus, find now thyself a name to give to thy child's own child; be sure he has long been prayed for". Then Autolycus answered: "Since I have been angered (ὀδυσσάμενος odyssamenos [11]) with many, both men and women, let the name of the child be Odysseus".[12]

Autolycus obtained most of the same skills that his supposed father Hermes possesses, such as the art of theft, trickery (Hyginus 201), and skill with the lyre and gracious song (Ovid 11. 301). It was said that he "loved to make white of black, and black of white, from a hornless animal to a horned one, or from horned one to a hornless" (Hyginus 201). He was given the gift that his thievery could not be caught by anyone (Hyginus 201).

He put his skills to the test when he stole the helmet of the great warrior and his grandson, Odysseus, "he had broken into the stout-built house of Amyntor, son of Ormenus; and he gave it to Amphidamas of Cythera to take to Scandeia, and Amphidamas gave it to Molus as a guest-gift, but he gave it to his own son Meriones to wear; and now, being set thereon, it covered the head of Odysseus" (Homer 10.254 I). He had a helmet to make him invisible.[citation needed] Autolycus, master of thievery, was also well known for stealing Sisyphus' herd right from underneath him. Sisyphus, who was commonly known for being a crafty king that killed guests, seduced his niece and stole his brothers' throne (Hyginus 50-99) and was banished to the throes of Tartarus by the gods.

Heracles, the great Greek hero, was taught the art of wrestling by Autolycus (Apollodorus 2.4.9). However, Autolycus was a source of some controversy in Heracles' life, because Autolycus stole some cattle from Euboea and Eurytus, who accused Heracles of the deed and, upon his going mad about these accusations, Heracles killed them plus another one of Autolycus' sons, Iphitus. This led to Heracles serving three years of punishment for the deed to repent for this (Apollodorus 2.6.3).

Cultural references[edit]

Although not as well known as many other Greek mythological figures, Autolycus has appeared in a number of works of fiction.

  • A comic thief in Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale boasts that he is named after Autolycus and, like the latter's father, Mercury/Hermes, is "a snapper-up of unconsidered trifles".
  • Autolycus is the name of Debbie Aldridge's horse in the BBC Radio 4 series The Archers.
  • Autolycus is the name of a midget submarine owned by the Lost Boys, the thieves of Philip Reeve's Mortal Engines series of books.
  • Autolycus appears in an episode of the Canadian television series Class of the Titans episode "Bad Blood" voiced by Joseph May. He was hired by Cronus to steal Hercules's last surviving arrow.
  • The superhero/trickster figure of Uncle Sam in Robert Coover's The Public Burning (1977, New York, Grove Books) is described in the following terms (p. 7): "American Autolycus, they called him in the Gospels, referring to his cunning powers of conjuration, transmutation, and magical consumption (he can play the shell game, not with a mere pea, but with whole tin mines, forests, oil fields, mountain ranges, and just before Thanksgiving this past year made an entire island disappear!)”.
  • In the game Age of Empires Online, there's an army of computer-controlled opponents, who call themselves the Followers of Autolycus, who must be defeated during several quests of the Greek civilization.
  • Season 4, episode 5 of the British television series Father Brown is entitled "The Daughter of Autolycus".


  1. ^ KJ Gutzwiller (associate professor of classics at the University of Cincinnati c.1991) -. Theocritus' Pastoral Analogies: The Formation of a Genre (p.37). Univ of Wisconsin Press, 1991 ISBN 0299129446. Retrieved 2015-04-12. (ed. < very wolf >)
  2. ^ Pausanias viii. 4. § 3 (cited in Smith)
  3. ^ Odyssey xix. 394, &c. (cited in Smith)
  4. ^ a b Homer, Odyssey, 24.334
  5. ^ Bibliotheca, Library 1.9.16
  6. ^ Hyginus, Fabulae 201
  7. ^ Catalogue of Women fr. 64.
  8. ^ Ovid - Metamorphoses - Book the Eleventh : The Transformation of Daedalion Translated by Samuel Garth, John Dryden, et al (MIT) [Retrieved 2015-04-12](ed. < ... unresisted revels in her arms ... >)
  9. ^ Pausanias - Pausanias's Description of Greece (p.lix) translated by J G Frazer Cambridge University Press, 10 May 2012 ISBN 1108047238 [Retrieved 2015-04-12]
  10. ^ I Ziogas (Lecturer in Classics at the Australian National University, Canberra) - Ovid and Hesiod: The Metamorphosis of the Catalogue of Women (p.136) Cambridge University Press, 11 Apr 2013 ISBN 1107007410 [Retrieved 2015-04-12](ed. the author (I Ziogas) states a detail of Ovid 8. 738, < Mestra is not actually mentioned by name in Ovid 8. 738 >)
  11. ^ ὀδύσσομαι at LSJ.
  12. ^ Homer, Odyssey, 19. 400-405
  13. ^ Murray, Nicholas, biography on Aldous Huxley 2002.


External links[edit]

Original courtesy of Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Autolycus — Please support Wikipedia.
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1412 news items


Tue, 02 Feb 2016 12:05:44 -0800

Tony Award-winning actor Brent Carver portrays the thieving rogue Autolycus in the Groundling Theatre production of The Winter's Tale by William Shakespeare, at the Coal Mine Theatre on the Danforth. Photo by Michael Cooper.

Financial Times

Financial Times
Mon, 08 Feb 2016 09:48:45 -0800

It's not all plain sailing: the low light levels sometimes obscure actors' expressions and the late plot developments are not clear enough. But a fine piece of storytelling is topped off by James Garnon's wonderful, roguish Autolycus, who extends his ...

London Theatre 1

London Theatre 1
Thu, 11 Feb 2016 05:30:00 -0800

Additionally, I particularly enjoyed Hamage Singh Kalrai as the old shepherd who adopts Perdita and the comic turn from Chris Porter as the rogue Autolycus. This production may not have the opulent beauty of Kenneth Branagh's recent triumph but I think ...

World Socialist Web Site

World Socialist Web Site
Mon, 08 Feb 2016 22:22:30 -0800

It is a foolish Ben-Hur- or Quo Vadis- like epic starring Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) as Roman tribune Autolycus, who will ultimately have a sudden, epiphanous conversion to Christianity. (Narrator's portentous voice: “A new wind is blowing from ...

Korea Portal (English Edition)

Korea Portal (English Edition)
Wed, 10 Feb 2016 07:45:00 -0800

"I would love to do a reboot getting Xena, Gabrielle [Renee O'Connor], Autolycus [Bruce Campbell] and Jox [Ted Raimi] back together, get that crew back together to solve some ridiculous problem. I'd love to do a TV movie or a movie, a limited thing ...

The Guardian

The Guardian
Sun, 24 Jan 2016 21:44:32 -0800

To borrow his description of Autolycus (in The Winter's Tale), our national playwright was a “snapper-up of unconsidered trifles”, denounced in his own time as a plagiarist (“an upstart crow, beautified with our feathers”), a writer of genius keenly ...

National Post

National Post
Fri, 05 Feb 2016 13:11:15 -0800

As Autolycus, the singing con-artist, Brent Carver, looking remarkably like Danny Kaye, gets on shockingly intimate terms with his audience (in this space, it works) but he's actually more interesting as Antigonus, the well-meaning courtier tricked ...

Evening Standard

Evening Standard
Fri, 05 Feb 2016 04:56:15 -0800

Over in Bohemia, it's still mighty hard-going: James Garnon squeezes the grandstanding role of musical trickster Autolycus until the pips squeak. The ending, mercifully, retains its perennially moving message of hope and redemption. It's the three ...

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