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Title: Neoptolemos  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Ancient Greek architecture, Northern Epirus, Troilus, Andromache (play), Cichyrus
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia


For other uses, see Neoptolemus (disambiguation).

Neoptolemus (/ˌnəpˈtɒlɨməs/; Greek: Νεοπτόλεμος, Neoptolemos, "new war"), also called Pyrrhus (/ˈpɪrəs/; Πύρρος, Purrhos, "red", for his red hair), was the son of the warrior Achilles and the princess Deidamia in Greek mythology, and also the mythical progenitor of the ruling dynasty of the Molossians of ancient Epirus.

Achilles' mother foretold many years before Achilles' birth that there would be a great war. She saw that her only son was to die if he fought in the war. She sought a place for him to avoid fighting in the Trojan War, due to a prophecy of his death in the conflict. She disguised him as a woman in the court of Lycomedes, the King of Scyros. During that time, he had an affair with the princess, Deidamea, who then gave birth to Neoptolemus. Neoptolemus was originally called Pyrrhus, because the female version of that name, Pyrrha, had been taken by his father while disguised as a woman.

The Greeks captured the Trojan seer, Helenus, and forced him to tell them under what conditions could they take Troy. Helenus revealed to them that they could defeat Troy if they could acquire the poisonous arrows of Heracles (then in Philoctetes' possession); steal the Palladium (which led to the building of the famous wooden horse of Troy); and put Achilles' son in the war. Neoptolemus killed six men on the field of battle.[1]

In response to the prophecy, the Greeks took steps to retrieve the arrows of Heracles and bring Neoptolemus to Troy. Odysseus was sent to retrieve Neoptolemus, then a mere teenager, from Scyros. The two then went to Lemnos to retrieve Philoctetes. Years earlier, on the way to Troy, Philoctetes was bitten by a snake on Chryse Island. Agamemnon had advised that he be left behind because the wound was festering and smelled bad. This retrieval is the plot of Philoctetes, a play by Sophocles. Euripides, in his play Hekabe (also known as Hecuba), has a moving scene (ll 566–575) which shows Neoptolemus as a compassionate young man who kills Polyxena, Hekabe's daughter with ambivalent feelings and in the least painful way.

Neoptolemus was held by some to be brutal. During and after the war, he killed Priam, Eurypylus, Polyxena, Polites and Astyanax, among others, captured Helenus, and made Andromache his concubine. The ghost of Achilles appeared to the survivors of the war, demanding Polyxena, the Trojan princess, be sacrificed before anybody could leave. Neoptolemus did so. With Andromache, Helenus and Phoenix, Neoptolemus sailed to the Epirot Islands and then became the King of Epirus. With the enslaved Andromache, Neoptolemus was the father of Molossus and through him, according to the myth, an ancestor of Olympias, the mother of Alexander the Great. According to Hyginus, his son with Andromache was Amphialos:

[123] CXXIII. NEOPTOLEMUS Neoptolemus, son of Achilles and Deidamia, begat Amphialus by captive Andromache, daughter of Ēëtion. But after he heard that Hermione his betrothed had been given to Orestes in marriage, he went to Lacedaemon and demanded her from Menelaus. Menelaus did not wish to go back on his word, and took Hermione from Orestes and gave her to Neoptolemus. Orestes, thus insulted, slew Neoptolemus as he was sacrificing to Delphi, and recovered Hermione. The bones of Neoptolemus were scattered through the land of Ambracia, which is in the district of Epirus.[2]

Although Neoptolemus is often depicted thus, the play Philoctetes by Sophocles shows him being a much kinder man, who honours his promises and shows remorse when he is made to trick Philoctetes. Two accounts deal with Neoptolemus' death. He was either killed after he attempted to take Hermione from Orestes as her father Menelaus promised, or after he denounced Apollo, the murderer of his father. In the first case, he was killed by Orestes. In the second, revenge was taken by the Delphic priests of Apollo.

After his death his kingdom was portioned out and Helenus (who later married Andromache) took part of it. "Helenus, a son of Priam, was king over these Greek cities of Epirus, having succeeded to the throne and bed of Pyrrhus..." [3]

Neoptolemus or Pyrrhus in art and literature

Mentioned briefly in Euripides' plays Trojan Women and Hecuba, simply stating that Andromache, wife of Hector, was his promised spear bride.


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