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Who Was Aegina in Greek Mythology?

Was Aegina just another nymph who was abducted by Zeus, or was she an important mother goddess? Keep reading to learn all about Aegina!

Aegina was a relatively minor nymph in Greek mythology, but she had a lasting impact.

Like many others, she was a mistress of Zeus. He carried her away to an island that was then named after her.

She was not most famous for her own abduction, however. Instead, she was famous because of her descendants.

Aegina became the ancestor of many notable heroes of both sacks of Troy. Both Heracles and Agamemnon were accompanied by strong warriors who traced their ancestry back to the nymph Aegina.

On the island that bore her name, however, Aegina was likely much more than a nymph. Her story shows how local legends were rewritten to fit the broader mythology of the Greek world.

The Abduction of Aegina

In Greek mythology, Aegina was the name of a nymph. She was one of dozens of beautiful goddesses and mortal women who were loved by Zeus.

Like many other women, Aegina was also not necessarily a willing participant in Zeus’s seduction.

She was one of either twelve or twenty daughters, depending on the source, of the river god Asopus. Her mother was Metope, a river nymph.

Many of these daughters were mistresses of either Zeus or Apollo.

The gods knew the daughters of Asopus well enough to know that the river god did not approve of their affairs. He kept a close watch on his daughters to prevent anything from happening to them.

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Zeus knew, then, that he would have to take Aegina away from her father’s home if he wanted to make her his lover. He flew in as an eagle and carried her away when her father was not looking.

Asopus tried to chase after his daughter, but did not know where she had gone. His search eventually brought him to Corinth, where Sisyphus was ruling as king.

Sisyphus had, by chance, seen a large bird flying overhead with a young woman in its talons. It had been flying in the direction of a nearby island called Oenopia.

Zeus later cursed the king when he learned that Sisyphus had told Asopus where to find Aegina. He sent Thanatos, the god of death, after the king in vengeance.

The king of the gods was able to keep the river deity away, though. Asopus was driven back to his own river and forced to give up his daughter when Zeus drove him off with thunderbolts.

Zeus made Aegina his mistress and renamed the island after her. On the island of Aegina, she bore him a son called Aeacus.

Aeacus became the king of the island. According to many accounts, Zeus turned Aegina’s ants into men, called the Myrmidons, to give his son subjects to rule over.

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Some stories said that the island was populated when Aegina was taken there, but Hera sent a plague to kill them all in jealousy. Zeus made new men from ants to repopulate Aegina’s island.

Aeacus had many adventures, including helping Poseidon and Apollo build the walls of Troy. When the work was partially destroyed by serpents, Apollo gave a prophecy that foretold the fall of the city at the hands of Aeacus’s descendants.

This came true when his sons, Telamon and Peleus, joined Heracles when he sacked the city. Later, his great-grandson would be one of the soldiers within the infamous Trojan Horse.

Two of his grandsons would be more important in the story of the Trojan War, however. Telemon was the father of Ajax and Peleus was the father of Achilles.

Some stories claimed that Aegina married Actor after giving birth to Zeus’s son. They had many children including Menoetius, one of the Argonauts and the father of Achilles’ companion Patroclus.

My Modern Interpretation

Aegina was one of dozens of nymphs in Greek mythology who was most well-known for her abduction and the children she bore as a result. Like many of these nymphs, there is likely much more to her story than this, though.

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In the case of Aegina, it seems likely that a localized story was incorporated into the broader mythology of Greece. Evidence seems to show that Aegina was the name given to a goddess known only on that island.

Aegina’s name was not one that would seem likely for a river nymph. It is related to aigis, a place where goats were grazed.

Because she shared her name with the island she was associated with, it is likely that the island’s name came first. It was a place where goatherds grazed their flocks.

It was also a place where a goddess was revered who was known nowhere else in Greece. The island of Aegina was the site of the Temple of Aphaia.

The mother-goddess Aphaia was worshipped only on Aegina. Because her cult was localized, little is known about Aphaia’s mythology.

It seems likely, however, that at least part of her story was shared with that of Aegina.

Like most Greek temples, the Temple of Aphaia was rebuilt several times. The last phase of construction took place in the late 6th or early 5th century BC.

Several of the sculptures that decorated the pediment of the temple have been relatively well-preserved. They show scenes from the Trojan War and seem to pay homage to the local heroes that fought in the legendary conflict.

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The fact that these were shown on the goddess’s temple seems to indicate that there was a relationship between her and these heroes. Locals may have believed that their mother goddess was the ancestor of these famous men.

Most historians therefore believe that the story of Aegina that was told on the mainland was based, at least in part, on the local cult of Aphaia.

There is no way to know what role Zeus played in the island’s version of the story. As the mother of the island’s founding king, however, it seems likely that Aegina was the name used elsewhere in Greece for Aphaia.

Possibly because of the scenes of war on her temple, the cult of Aphaia was eventually replaced by that of Athena on the island of Aegina. She was remembered, however, by the name of the island she lived on and the heroes that came from her line.

In Summary

In Greek mythology, Aegina was the daughter of a river god. Zeus took the form of an eagle to carry her away, avoiding her father’s anger.

He took her to an island that was then named after her. According to some versions of the story, Sisyphus told her father where she was, which is why he was punished.

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Aegina gave birth to a son named Aeacus, who was the first king of the island. Zeus turned ants into a race of men for him to rule over.

Aeacus was a companion of the gods and, in some traditions, became immortal himself. He was also the father and grandfather of many heroes.

Most notable among Aegina and Aeacus’s descendants were heroes of the Trojan War, Ajax and Achilles. Although Aegina’s story was not particularly noteworthy on its own, she was important because of these descendants.

On the island of Aegina, however, she was much more important. She is likely the same figure as the local goddess Aphaia, who was revered only on Aegina as a mother goddess of great significance.

The story of Aegina shows how local myths were sometimes written into the broader mythology of ancient Greece. Although Aphaia was unknown beyond her island, she inspired a nymph that was more widely-recognized as the great-grandmother of heroes.

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My name is Mike and for as long as I can remember (too long!) I have been in love with all things related to Mythology. I am the owner and chief researcher at this site. My work has also been published on Buzzfeed and most recently in Time magazine. Please like and share this article if you found it useful.

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