The Exile of Amphitryon

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Amphitryon idly tapped his club with his fingers as he watched the herdsman, directed by Licymnius and Sthenelus ushering the cows onto a plain on the outskirts of Mycenae. He had paid a hefty price for the return of the cattle and they offered only slight recompense to the damage suffered by Electryon’s family.

Amphitryon felt a familial bond with Electryon, they were related after all and they both belonged to the Perseides, descendants of the great hero Perseus. Amphitryon was the son of Nicippe, a daughter of Pelops, and also of Alcaeus, son of Perseus. Electryon too, among several others, was a son of Perseus and the two sons had inherited control of two of Argolis’ greatest cities. Electryon had become King of Mycenae while Amphitryon’s father was the King of Tiryns.

Electryon stood by Amphitryon, his fingers idly twisting the bottom edge of his linen tunic. His face was pensive, lines of worry and anger creeping across his veteran features. Electryon was advancing in years, his build, whilst solid, had begun to thin somewhat, his skin tanned and leathery from years of service. The anguish he felt had been brought on by the Teleboans and the Taphians, the piratical inhabitants of the Taphos islands far to the west

Sailing along the Gulf of Corinth they had disembarked on the northern territory of Argolis and made their way south to Mycenae. Six sons of the Taphian King Pterelaus led the raiders, Chromius, Tyrannus, Antiochus, Cherisidames, Mestor and Everes. They had camped outside the cyclopean walls of Mycenae had demanded ownership of the city claiming right by lineage.

The demand, though daring, was not completely unfounded. Many years earlier Mestor, another son of Perseus, had married a daughter of Pelops, like most of his brothers. Her name was Lysidice and by her he had raised a beautiful daughter, Hippothoe.

Hippothoe, thin ankled and possessing purity of spirit had caught the eye of one of the greatest of the Olympians, the Lord of the Sea, Poseidon. One night the immortal stole Hippothoe away from Argolis. Taking her to the islands of the Echinades. There he had made love to her and through him she gave birth to a son, Taphius. Taphius founded the city of Taphos on the islands and befriended the local inhabitants the Teleboans who had arrived from nearby Acarnania. It was the grandsons of Taphius, and sons of Pterelaus, whom Electryon had refused to hand over the city to.

Angered by his refusal they had immediately set about rounding up the valuable cattle herds and driving them northwards to where their ships had made berth. It was Electryon’s own sons who rallied a hasty militia to pursue the thieves. They led an assault on the invaders and gave birth to a swift and bloody battle. Stratobates, Gorgophonus, Phylonomous, Celaeneus, Amphimachus, Lysinomus, Chirimachus, Anactor and Archelaus. All of courageous spirit and unerring loyalty to their father. They donned their bronze breastplates, helmets and greaves, and with spears in hand rode after the Taphians.

Joined in battle nine sons of Electryon fought in battle against five sons of Pterelaus and all where slain in the melee. The only Perseidae survivors were Licymnius, an illigitimate son of Electryon’s by the Phrygian slave Midea, who had been too young to fight. And Everes, a son of Pterelaus, who had been set to guard the ships. Fleeing for his life Everes had ordered the retreat of his naval forces taking with him the ill gotten cattle herds of Mycenae. Hastily Everes had sold off the cattle to Polyxenus, King of Elis, during his retreat back to Taphos.

It was from Polyxenus that Amphitryon had bartered the return of the cattle. But the livestock would not fill the empty void in Electryon’s heart caused by the deaths of his sons.

Electryon’s wife and sister of Amphitryon, Anaxo arrived walking along the path, supported by her daughter Alcmene. Their robe-like peplos clothing swayed somberly with the gentle motions of their legs. Anaxo’s cheeks were soft and pale, stained with tears from the mourning of her sons. She greeted Amphitryon and he placed a hand upon her shoulder in sympathy before the bereft mother moved on to her husband, the pair embracing each other in their grief.

Young Alcmene stood to the side, her face cast down such that her beautiful features were half-shadowed by the twists in her hair. Alcmene, blessed with an appearance the rival of Aphrodite’s and a mind filled with wisdom, had had been drifting through Amphitryon’s thoughts since the day he met her. Now, stood on the plains skirting the edge of Mycenae he could do nothing but stare at the girl.

Electryon aware of the man’s wandering eye spoke up.

“I have come to a conclusion Amphitryon. The deaths of my sons must be avenged. I cannot let their souls descend into the underworld without recompense. I shall lead an expedition against Taphos and we shall extract a toll for the deaths of my sons.”

“Then please, great uncle, let me accompany you. My arm is strong and my legs swift, I shall do you honour in battle.” Put forth Amphitryon.

“Nay, Amphitryon,” Electryon said placing a hand on the man’s shoulder. “I have something else in mind for you. These cattle you have had returned to me are the lifeblood of the people here in Mycenae. Though they will not return the lives of my sons,” Electryon paused for a moment. “I would still reward you for such effort and at the same time ensure that I am leaving Mycenae in capable hands.”

“What is it you wish of me Uncle?”

“Take charge of Mycenae in my stead. Keep the people protected and my daughter also.”

“Your daughter?”

“Yes Amphitryon. I would give you my daughter, my lovely Alcmene. I think you will be a fine husband for her. There is, however, one condition. You must wait until my return to marry her. Once I have avenged her brothers a blood debt will have been paid and then it shall be a respectable time for you to bed my daughter. Do you agree to my terms?”

“Y-yes, of course,” stuttered Amphitryon, his heart leaping to his mouth. “Long have I admired your daughter, I regard no other to be her equal. To be offered her hand is the greatest reward I could ever ask for.” Electryon nodded in understanding.

“And what does my dear Alcmene have to say of this?” Said Electryon, turning to his daughter. Alcmene raised her head having been listening in silence. A warm smile now spread across her lips.

“Long have I admired Amphitryon father. He is as noble and brave as my brothers and I believe they too would approve of our union.

“Ah, then it is agreed.” Said Electryon, a smile briefly flickering across his face. “Tomorrow I shall send word to our allies and begin readying some men for the attack. I’m sure Helios will bring some forces to avenge his nephews. Yes, yes. Creon of Thebes may be willing… Ah yes of course, and some able men from Tiryns too. Sthenelus!” Called out Electryon to his brother. Sthenelus was currently supervising the herdsman. He turned at his name and began walking across the field towards the gathered remnants of Electryon’s family.

At that moment a cry of panic rang out from one of the herdsman. Young Licymnius called out a warning and lunged forward grabbing a herdsman’s wrist and pulled him away from the path of a charging bull. The animal had been startled or panicked by something and now bounded across the ground towards Amphitryon, great gouts of steaming breath snorting through its nostrils. Instinctively he hurled his club at the bull the, the wooden weapon spun in the air and struck the beast’s horn. The bull veered off course and sliding on the dirt careened to a halt where it was rapidly beset upon by a group of herdsmen. Amphitryon’s club, having hit its mark, rebounded off the horn and coursed through the air to connect with a solid ‘thunk’ against Electryon’s head.

The father of Alcmene instantly crumpled to the floor his wife shrieking in horror. Sthenelus, seeing him fall broke into a run and knelt by the body gently shaking Electryon and calling him to answer.

Amphitryon could do nothing but stare on dumbfounded. Licymnius approached, the youth having already been hardened against death at the loss of his half-brothers, and stood quietly to the side, though his fists trembled.

“Is my father alright?” Asked Alcmene, her voice quavering as she knelt next to Sthenelus. The uncle sighed and turned to her.

“He is dead.”

“No…” Uttered Alcmene as Anaxo fell to the floor, tears falling and soaking into her clothes.

Sthenelus rose to his feet. “Licymnius, fetch some men to carry Electryon’s body away, we must see to it that he receives the proper burial rights, may his soul rest peacefully in Hades.” The boy ran off immediately. “Come Anaxo, it will not serve you well to stand in the presence of your husband’s murderer.”

“Murderer?” Questioned Alcmene, “Uncle, this was an accident. A tragic accident.”

Amphitryon broke from his stupour, “I give you my word Uncle Sthenelus, it is with a heavy heart that I own up to the death of dear Electryon, but though my hand led to his death there was not purpose behind it.”

“Don’t try to defend him Alcmene, accident or no, I saw it all. Amphitryon, you threw your club and it struck a mortal blow to my brother. You have blood on your hands and I’ve no choice but to exile you forthwith from Argolis.”

“You do not have the authority to do that.” Challenged Alcmene.

“As King of both Mycenae I do girl, don’t question me,” spoke Sthenelus, anger creeping into his voice.

“Mycenae belongs to my father’s sons.”

“All of whom have been slain as well you know.”

“Except for Licymnius.”

“Ha, a bastard child of a slave woman, and barely a man yet besides. As a son of Perseus I am the next heir of this kingdom and it falls to me to bear the burden of keeping it safe from those who would bring harm to its people.”

Alcmene was about to pronounce further arguments at this sudden usurpation but Amphitryon cut her off.

“No Alcmene, Uncle Sthenelus is right. This kingdom belongs to him and I must bear the guilt and shame of having your father’s blood on my hands. It is fitting that I should be banished.” He turned to Sthenelus, “I shall leave willingly Uncle.”

“Good,” said Sthenelous imperiously.

Amphitryon left as Licymnius returned having roused the local inhabitants of the area. They quickly made a makeshift carrier of cloth and set to removing the body.

Amphitryon first returned to the palace in the heart of Mycenae, through the lion gate entrance of its cyclopean walls. He was packing away his belongings, gathering up coinage for the road and charting the course he would take. He had chosen to travel to Thebes in Boeotia where he would lay himself on King Creon’s mercy. He could not return to Tiryns and his father, Alcaeus, not as long as it remained a part of Argolis.

His thoughts of his predicament distracted him and he set to pacing in his room. It was whilst he was treading back and forth across the stone flooring and preparing to part with the province of his birth that Alcmene stepped into the room unbidden.

Her beautiful rose lips pursed as she prepared in her head what she intended to say. “I know my father’s death was an accident Amphitryon.” She approached him and caressed his cheek with her delicate hand. “What I want is to follow his wishes. He betrothed me to you Amphitryon and I have not yet been deterred from my own desire to be with you.” She was silent for a moment. “Take me with you Amphitryon.”

Amphitryon watched her closely. Her opalescent eyes wavered as she spoke, aware of the consequences that faced her. When she had finished he clasped her hand in his, drawing it away from his face. To take her with him would leave her in the same vagrancy as he was facing. But what remained for her here? Her father and brothers were dead, her uncle had claimed the Mycenean throne and his daughters would supercede her in marriage.

He pressed his arms around Alcmene and held her close, whispering in her ear, “I’ll do everything in my power to protect you and honour the memory of your father.”

The couple had not made it more than a league from Mycenae, carrying what few belongings they could in hastily gathered up sacks, when Licymnius, on horseback and leading two more behind him on reins, caught up with them.

“Alcmene, Amphitryon. Please allow me to join you.” The young man spoke with eagerness. His gentle features belied his inexperience but he held a proud stature nonetheless.

“What are you doing here Licymnius, you will be reprimanded for consorting with an exile.” Said Alcmene.

Licymnius shrugged his narrow shoulders, “It doesn’t much matter who I consort with if I am not returning to Mycenae either.”

Amphitryon let out a bellowing laugh. “Licymnius you do me a great honour, I am undeserving of such loyalty from a brave man such as yourself.”

“Ah, but you have earned my loyalty cousin. Besides, like my sister, or perhaps I should say half-sister, there is nothing left for me in Argolis. As an illegitimate child of our father I hold no stake against Sthenelus, only the threat of a feeble rivalry. It would not be long before he would try to cast me off too. And I’d rather leave of my own will before that happens.”

“Then you are more than welcome by our side Licymnius and our sore feet shall praise your name forever more if those horses you have behind you are intended for us.”

“Indeed they are cousin.”

“I hope, Licymnius you realise that I loved your fatherly dearly and that if I could I would take my own life to save his.” said Amphitryon as he assisted Alcmene onto the back of one of the horses, an even-tempered, chestnut brown mare.

“I do Amphitryon, have no fear of that or I would not be so willing to accompany you. My father held a great amount of respect for you. But enough of this morbidity, let us set our sights higher and be on our way.”

“Indeed,” responded Amphitryon, mounting the last horse and setting it to an easy trot.

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