In Greek mythology Danaus, or Danaos (Ancient Greek: Δαναός), was the twin brother of Aegyptus and son of Achiroe and Belus, a mythical king of Egypt. The myth of Danaus 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 Danaë") and "Argives" commonly designate the Greek forces opposed to the Trojans.



Danaus had fifty daughters, the Danaides, twelve of whom were born to Polyxo and the rest to Pieria and other women, and his twin brother, Aegyptus, had fifty sons. Aegyptus commanded that his sons marry the Danaides. Danaus elected to flee instead, and to that purpose, he built a ship, the first ship that ever was.[1]

In it, he fled to Argos, to which he was connected by his descent from Io, the maiden 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 inhabitants who had lived in Greece since the beginning, also called Gelanor ("he who laughs"). The Danaides asked Pelasgus for protection when they arrive, the event portrayed in The Suppliants by Aeschylus. Protection was granted after a vote by the Argives.

The Danaides, Oil by John William Waterhouse 1903

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."[2]

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 Phoronius.

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;[3] 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).[4][5][6] Some sources relate that Amymone, the "blameless" Danaid,[7] and/or Bryce (Bebryce)[8] 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.[9]

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.[10][11]

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.[12][13][14]

Even a cautious reading of the subtext as a vehicle for legendary history suggests that a Pelasgian kingship in archaic Argos was overcome, not without violence, by seafarers out of Egypt (compare the Sea Peoples), whose leaders then intermarried with the local dynasty. The descendants of Danaus' "blameless" daughter Hypermnestra, through Danaë, led to Perseus, founder of Mycenae, thus suggesting that Argos had a claim to be the "mother city" of Mycenae.

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,[15] Danaus would have stopped and founded a sanctuary to Athena Lindia on the way from Egypt to Greece. Herodotus heard that the temple at Lindos was founded by Danaus' daughters.[16] Ken Dowden observes[17] 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.

The Danais

The epic Danais[18] was written by one of the cyclic poets; the name of the author and the narration of these events does not survive,[19] 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"[20] 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.[21]


The Danaides' barrel A film by David Guiraud produced by Ad Astra Films

Argive genealogy in Greek mythology


  1. ^ Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 7. 191, 206
  2. ^ Pausanias, Description of Greece, 2.19.3 - .4
  3. ^ 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.
  4. ^ Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheke, 2.1.5
  5. ^ Hyginus, Fabulae, 168
  6. ^ Pausanias, Description of Greece, 2. 19. 6; 2. 20. 5
  7. ^ Scholia on Pindar, Pythian Ode 9. 200
  8. ^ Eustathius on Dionysius Periegetes, 805
  9. ^ Pausanias, Description of Greece, 7. 21. 13
  10. ^ Pindar, Pythian ode, 9. 117
  11. ^ Pausanias, Description of Greece, 7. 1. 3
  12. ^ Ovid, Metamorphoses, 4. 462; Heroids 14
  13. ^ Servius on Aeneid 10. 497
  14. ^ 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.
  15. ^ Diodorus, Library of History 5. 58; Strabo, Geography, 14. 2. 6
  16. ^ Herodotus, 2. 182.
  17. ^ Dowden, The Uses of Greek Mythology 1992:64
  18. ^ Danais is also a genus of butterfly, lepidopterists being prone to supplying classical names for butterflies.
  19. ^ Two lines were quoted by a later poet.
  20. ^ W. McLeod, "The "Epic Canon" of the Borgia Table: Hellenistic Lore or Roman Fraud?" Transactions of the American Philological Association 115 (1985:161f).
  21. ^ 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).
Regnal titles
Preceded by
King of Argos Succeeded by

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