Idomeneus: The Greek General Who Sacrificed His Son as an Offering
Idomeneus was the King of Crete and served as the commander of the Cretan army during the Trojan war. He was very instrumental in repelling several Trojan attacks including one which involved the Trojan hero, Hector.
Due to his skill, strength, and bravery, he survived the 10-year war alongside Menelaus, Nestor and Ajax the Great but when he got home he killed his son in honor of the god Poseidon. Read on to discover the reason for sacrificing his son and the repercussions of his actions.
The Myth of Idomeneus According to Apollodorus
According to Homer’s Iliad, Idomeneus survived the Trojan war but doesn’t tell us what happened to him next. To know what happened to him, we have to refer to his story as chronicled by the Greek historian, Apollodorus.
Apollodorus narrated, that while Idomeneus was returning from the Trojan War he encountered a violent storm. The storm threatened to sink Idomeneus ship so to save himself in his men, he prayed to Poseidon, the sea god, to save him together with his men.
In return, he promised to sacrifice the first thing that he sees as an act of worship to him (Poseidon). Poseidon spared the life of Idomeneus and his men, granting them a safe landing on the shore.
Once he got home, Idomeneus’ son rushed out to meet and embrace him. Owing to the promise he made to Poseidon, Idomeneus had no choice but to sacrifice his son. When the other gods discovered what Idomeneus had done they became angry and visited a plague on Idomeneus’ city, Crete.
To stop the plague, the people of Crete had to exile their king, Idomeneus, to a distant land named Calabrian. From there, the hapless Idomeneus was sent to live in the city of Colophon in Ionia until his death. Other versions of this myth narrate that after the plague hit Crete, his adopted son, Leucus, chased him out of Crete and took over the kingdom. It is worth noting that the gens Salentini in Italy trace their ancestry to Idomeneus.
The Idomeneus Myth According to the Illiad
Idomeneus was an advisor to the King of Mycenae, Agamemnon, who he helped in defeating the city of Troy. He was a highly-ranked general who commanded the respect of all the Greek warriors.
When the Achaean forces suffered heavy casualties during the war, Idomeneus was the first to spring into action along with his warriors. He also was one of the elite warriors chosen to enter the Trojan horse and was known to kill about twenty Trojans and three Amazonians.
Idomeneus and Cassandra
Cassandra was the most beautiful daughter among the daughters of King Priam of Troy, thus many men were attracted and sought to marry her. Among Kassandra’s suitors was Othryoneous, a warrior from Cabesus who fought alongside the Trojans.
Idomeneus was also interested in making Kassandra his wife so he killed Othryoneous and made fun of him while he was dying. Idomeneus then kidnapped Kassandra and made away with her.
Idomeneus and Ajax the Lesser(Locrian)
After Patroclus had died at the hands of Hector, Achilles organized some funeral games to mourn him. Ajax the Locrian was known as the swiftest Greek warrior apart from Achilles and was very skillful with the spear. During the games, he decided to challenge Odysseus and Antilochus to a footrace. Idomeneus, who was a spectator, said that an Achaean (referring to Odysseus) would win the race much to the annoyance of Ajax.
After all, of all the three competitors he was the fastest and tipped by many to win. Hence, Ajax entered into an argument with Idomeneus calling him an old man with poor eyesight. Eventually, Idomeneus’ prediction came true as the goddess Athena caused Ajax to trip and fall because she didn’t like him. Odysseus won the first prize, followed by Ajax with Antilochus coming in third.
Why Leucus Drove Idomeneus Out of Crete
Leucus chaced Idomeneus, the king, out of Crete in order to cover his crime of making love to and murdering Idomeneus’ wife Meda. He also killed Meda’s children namely Cleisithyra, Lycus and Iphiclus then he took over the throne.
Leucus was ill-advised by Nauplius who told him to secure the throne in the absence of his foster father. Nauplius was the same person who advised the wife of Idomeneus, Meda, to cheat on her husband in his absence.
Idomeneus Pronunciation, Meaning and Theater
The name of the ancient Cretan king is pronounced as “ai-do-mi-ni-us“. The Idomeneus meaning is uncertain with many sources referring to him as “the Cretan King“. The Idomeneus play written by German playwright Roland Schimmelpfennig is inspired by Greek mythology. It details the consequences of Idomeneus’ sacrifice of his son to the god Poseidon.
Other people to write a play based on the life events of Idomeneus include Maurus Servius Honoratus, a fourth Century Italian grammarian, and Francois Fenelon, a French writer from the 17th Century. In an opera seria composed by Mozart, Poseidon stops Idomeneus from killing his son (called Idamante) and asks him to give up the throne instead.
Though Idomeneus is a minor character in Greek mythology, his story is intriguing and didactic.
Here is a summary of what we’ve read so far about Idomeneus:
- Idomeneus was the King of Crete during the Trojan War and also doubled as the first commander of his forces.
- During the Trojan War, Idomeneus led some Greek warriors to successfully repel an onslaught by Hector and his men.
- On his return home after the war, Idomeneus and his crew encountered a violent storm that threatened to sink their ship.
- Fearing for his life, Idomeneus made a promise to Poseidon to sacrifice the first living thing that came to him once he got home safely.
- He was met by his son whom he sacrificed to Poseidon much to the anger of the other gods.
The myth of Idomeneus teaches us to think through the promises especially in the heat of the moment before they come back to haunt us.