Two Characters Named Antiope in Greek Mythology
It was not unusual to find names repeated in Greek mythology. While major figures generally had unique monikers, minor characters often ended up with the same names.
This is the case of Antiope, a name that was used many times in Greek mythology. It was applied to many women who had such different stories that there was no way for later writers to rationalize them as the same character.
The two most famous Antiopes of Greek mythology so very different that their name is one of the only things they had in common.
From a captive princess to a powerful warrior, keep reading to find out about two Antiopes from Greek mythology!
The most famous character named Antiope in Greek mythology was usually said to have been born in Boeotia. Later writers placed her in other regions, but most followed Homer’s tradition of making her a Boeotian character.
They departed more, however, in assigning Antiope’s heritage. Homer claimed she was a nymph, the daughter of the river god Asopos, but many later writers claimed she was the daughter of a human lord named Nycteus who ruled over the city of Thebes in Boeotia.
Zeus came to Antiope on a remote hillside in the guise of a satyr. When she learned she was pregnant she was so afraid of her father’s reaction that she fled to the city of Sicyon.
In Sicyon she married the local king, Epopeus. Nycteus killed himself in shame, but before his death charged his brother to avenge him.
Lycus, as the new king of Thebes, marched against the city of Sicyon.
Some versions of the story claimed that Epopeus willingly gave Antiope up to her uncle when his city was threatened with destruction. Others said that Lycus conquered the city and killed Epopeus.
Antiope was taken back to Boeotia as a prisoner of his uncle. Still not believing she had become pregnant by a god, he blamed her for the shame and grief that led to her father’s death.
During the journey home, Antiope went into labor. Near Mount Cithaeron, she gave birth to twin sons.
The birth of twins was a common occurrence when a woman had both a human husband and a divine lover. Typically, one of the children was semi-divine and the other was fully human.
Lycus still did not believe Antiope’s story, however, and left both children to die of exposure on the hillside.
Lycus did not know that the birth had been witnessed by a shepherd who hid from the royal procession as they went by. When they moved on, the shepherd took up the newborn children and brought them to his own home.
The abandoned children were raised by the shepherd that found them and knew no other life. They did not know that Amphion was the son of the god and Zethus was the son of the late king of Sicyon.
Back in Thebes, Antiope was still a prisoner of her uncle. While he was content to punish her with isolation and the loss of her status and reputation, his wife Dirce was far more cruel.
Dirce was jealous of the younger woman’s beauty and feared for her own position within the household. She had Antiope tied up and treated her as a slave.
Antiope remained a prisoner for many years, constantly mistreated and taunted by Dirce. One day, however, the ropes that bound her hands and feet magically loosened.
Zeus had intervened, invisibly untying the knots that had kept Antiope a prisoner for years. He guided her to Eleutherae, a city at the base of Mount Cithaeron.
Antiope escaped to the village and took shelter with a family that included two sons. One dutifully tended to their flocks while the other practiced music on a beautiful lyre.
The lyre had been a gift from Hermes, sent to Zeus to his mortal son. Antiope had been guided to the very home where her sons had grown up, unaware of their full lineage or that their guest was, in fact, their lost mother.
Antiope remained at the shepherd’s home, not knowing that she was living side by side with the twin sons who had been taken from her years before. Their life was peaceful and happy, until she was discovered by Dirce.
Dirce was a devotee of Dionysus and had come to Eleutherae to take part in a festival in his honor. A wild bull was to be sacrificed to Dionysus by his most devoted servants.
While the sacrifice was being prepared, Dirce saw Antiope among the crowd. She immediately decided to be rid of the troublesome princess once and for all.
She ordered two young men standing nearby to capture the woman and tie her to the horns of the wild bull. Of course, those two young men were none other than Amphion and Zethus.
They moved to obey the order immediately. Although the ordeal would almost certainly kill their guest, they had no power to disobey the orders of a queen.
They were stopped, however, by the old shepherd who had raised them. He had recognized Antiope as the girl who had given birth to the twins, but kept the secret to protect them all.
Now, however, he told the twins the truth about their lineage. Antiope was their mother and the current king and queen of Thebes were the ones who had separated them.
The twins instead turned in Dirce. As retribution for her treatment of their mother and the near-murder she had asked them to take part in, they bound her to the bull’s horns instead.
Not satisfied, they hoped to avenge their mother by killing their uncle as well. Hermes interfered, however, to stop them from killing the king.
Lycus was forced to step down as king, both in recognition of his nephews’ claims to power and to avoid a violent end. He went into exile and Amphion and Zethus took his place as rulers of Thebes.
Antiope’s sufferings were not over, however. The death of Dirce had angered another god.
The queen of Thebes had been killed during a festival in honor of Dionysus, and the god of wine was angry at seeing one of his followers killed in such a brutal fashion during his sacred celebration.
The wife of Lykos (Lycus) [Dirce] worshipped Dionysos more than any other deity. When she had suffered what the story says she suffered [at the hands of the sons of Antiope], Dionysos was angry with Antiope. For some reason extravagant punishments always arouse the resentment of the gods. They say that Antiope went mad, and when out of her wits roamed all over Greece; but Phokos [eponymous king of Phokis], son of Ornytion, son of Sisyphos, chanced to meet her, cured her madness, and then married her. So Antiope and Phokos share the same grave.
-Pausanias, Description of Greece 9. 17. 4 – 6 (trans. Jones)
Antiope was finally able to find peace in her marriage to Phocus.
The inclusion of Dionysus in the story, however, highlights some of the most unusual aspects of the legend of Antiope of Thebes.
Hers was the only story in Greek mythology in which Zeus took the form of a satyr during his seduction. The wild nature spirits were more commonly associated with Dionysus, although they captured many nymphs on their own as well.
The fact that Amphion received a lyre from Hermes is also unusual. While Zeus’s son Apollo played the lyre, which had been invented by his half-brother Hermes, mortal sons of Zeus more often became great heroic warriors than philosophical musicians.
Antiope’s madness is another unusual aspect of the story. It is more similar to the wandering madness inflicted by Hera on Io and Dionysus himself than any punishment the god of wine more typically doled out.
All of these details lead scholars of Greek mythology to believe that the story of Antiope may have been adapted from an older story that featured another god entirely. Based on the text, Dionysus seems like a far more likely father for Amphion than Zeus.
Antiope of Thebes was only one woman in Greek mythology with that name. Minor characters often had the same or similar names, largely because Greek names were taken from root words with very specific meanings.
The name Antiope probably comes from anti-ops, or “eyes turned.” This could refer to a woman turning her gaze from her husband to another man or to her being so strikingly beautiful that eyes turned to follow her.
Anti-ops could also be translated as “against voice” or “confronting.” This could refer to either a woman who went against what she was told to do or one who was confrontational or quarrelsome.
Either meaning of the phrase would fit many women in Greek mythology, so it is unsurprising that there are so many who share the name. Among them were:
- Antiope of Oechalia – The wife of the king of Oechalia, two of her sons were named among Jason’s Argonauts. Her daughter Iole was a lover of Heracles, driving his wife Deianira to the jealousy that would eventually cause his death.
- Antiope of Tyre – The daughter of an Aegyptian king, she became the queen of Tyre through marriage to her uncle. They are often given as the parents of Europa.
- Antiope the nymph – Her nine daughters, the Pierides, challenged the nine Muses to a singing contest. When they were defeated, they were turned into a flock of birds.
- Antiope of Aeolia – The mother of Aeolus the Second is called Arne in most myths, but some name her Antiope.
- The consort of Helios – The Argonautica names Antiope as the mother of Aeetes by Helios.
- Antiope of Thespius – She is named as another lover of Heracles.
- Antiope of Troy – The wife of the Trojan priest Laocoon is named in some sources as Antiope.
There was one other named Antiope, however, whose fame almost rivaled that of Amphion’s mother. This Antiope was the one who could, quite literally, beat all the rest.
If the name Antiope referred to a woman who was confrontational, it was only fitting that it would be bestowed on one of the leaders of the Amazons.
The Amazonian Antiope was the sister of Hippolyta, the legendary queen of the tribe of warrior women. The story of Antiope the Amazon is tied to those of two of Greece’s most legendary heroes: Heracles and Theseus.
When Heracles was completing his legendary twelve labors, the ninth brought him to Themiscyra, the city of the Amazon warriors. He had been sent to bring back the belt of their queen.
The girdle of Hippolyta had been a gift from her father, the god of war Ares, and she was unlikely to part with it. Heracles arrived at the city peacefully, however, so she agreed to meet with him.
When she heard of his task, Hippolyta agreed that he could borrow her belt to fulfill his quest. It seemed as though this labor would be an easy one, until Hera intervened.
Zeus’s jealous wife had devised the labors to destroy Heracles and was angry that the Amazonian queen put up no fight. She disguised herself as an old woman and began whispering on the streets of Themiscyra.
Soon, the rumor had grown that Heracles was setting a trap for the Amazons and their queen and that his companions planned to attack. The warrior women did not hesitate and attacked themselves.
Heracles and his companions soon found themselves in a pitched battle with the entire tribe of Amazons. There was no way for them to beat the entire army, so they fought their way to an escape.
Hippolyta was killed in the fray and Heracles snatched up her belt. Although it had not gone as peacefully as he had hoped, he was able to complete his mission.
According to some versions of the story, Theseus had joined Heracles on this quest and was among the companions who fought the Amazons with him. He took Hippolyta’s sister Antiope hostage to get safe passage out of the city.
In other stories, Heracles himself captured the queen’s sister. He brought her back as his captive and gave her to Theseus.
A third variation on the tale gives Antiope much more agency in her story. She fell in love with Theseus as Heracles and Hippolyta negotiated and betrayed her people, leaving with him of her own free will.
In every version of her story, Antiope was taken away from Themiscyra and ended up in the hands of Theseus. The Amazon and the hero had a son together, named Hippolytus after her sister.
Soon, however, Theseus would again find himself at war with the Amazons.
The war of the Amazons against the city of Athens, known as the Attic War, was sparked over the treatment of Antiope by Theseus.
In stories in which she was taken captive, the Amazons marched against Athens to free her and avenge the death of their queen.
Others, though, show Antiope as brokenhearted. She loved Theseus, but he had abandoned her to marry Phaedra instead.
In this story, she returned to her people and led the armies herself to get revenge on her unfaithful paramour. She attacked on their wedding day, vowing to kill every person in attendance.
The army of the Amazons was fearsome but proved no match for the Athenians under the command of the great Theseus. The woman warriors were soundly defeated, diminishing the power of their culture forever.
Antiope herself joined the battle. She was accidentally shot by one of her own people, an Amazon named Molpadia.
Theseus himself killed Molpadia, both in the heat of battle and to avenge the death of his lover. Both Molpadia and Antiope were buried in Athens.
A later version of the story eliminated the character of Molpadia. Theseus himself killed Antiope, who at the time was pregnant with his child.
There were several characters in Greek mythology named Antiope. Among these, two stand out as having the most dramatic and developed stories.
Antiope of Thebes was seduced by Zeus in the form of a satyr. She fled to escape her father’s wrath and married the ruler of a nearby kingdom.
Her uncle, not believing that her child was fathered by a god, attacked. Her husband was killed and Antiope was taken back to Thebes as a captive.
When she gave birth to twin sons, her uncle abandoned them on a mountainside to die. Instead, they were taken in by shepherds.
Amphion was the son of Zeus and grew to be a great musician and poet. Zethus was the son of King Epopeus and became a herdsman and hunter.
Antiope was kept captive for many years, suffering abuse at the hands of her uncles’s wife, Dirce. Eventually, Zeus helped her escape and she found refuge with the same shepherd who had raised her sons.
When Dirce saw Antiope at a festival of Dionysus, she ordered the two young men to tie her to the horns of a wild bull. The shepherd who had sheltered them all revealed the truth of their lineage, however, and they instead killed Dirce in the same manner.
Dionysus was angry that one of his followers had been killed during his festival, so he cursed Antiope with madness. She was eventually cured by King Phocus and married him.
The unusual details of the story of Antiope of Thebes lead scholars to believe that the story may have originally involved another god, and elements may have been borrowed from other myths altogether.
The second famous Antiope was an Amazon warrior and the sister of Queen Hippolyta. When Heracles met with the queen to retrieve her belt as one of his labors it was initially peaceful, but the Amazons attacked after Hera spread rumors among them.
Antiope was taken to Athens under the control of Theseus, either as a captive or willingly because she had fallen in love with him.
The Amazons attacked Athens in retaliation but were defeated by the armies of the hero Theseus. Antiope was killed in the battle.
The two stories of different Antiopes in Greek mythology are very different, leaving no interpretation that they describe the same character. Instead, it is simply a matter of a common name being used more than once.