Rhesus of Thrace

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Odysseus and Diomedes stealing Rhesus' horses, red-figure situla by the Lycurgus Painter, c. 360 BC

Rhesus[pronunciation?] (Greek: Ῥῆσος, Rhêsos) was a Thracian king who fought on the side of Trojans in Iliad, Book X, where Diomedes and Odysseus stole his team of fine horses during a night raid on the Trojan camp. According to Homer, his father was Eioneus— a name otherwise given to the father of Dia, whom Ixion threw into the firepit rather than pay him her bride price. The name may be connected to the historic Eion in western Thrace, at the mouth of the Strymon, and the port of the later Amphipolis. The event portrayed in the Iliad also provides the action of the play Rhesus, transmitted among the plays of Euripides. Scholia to the Iliad episode and the Rhesus agree in giving Rhesus a more heroic stature, incompatible with Homer's version.[1]

Rhesus died without engaging in battle.[2]

Later writers provide Rhesus with a more exotic parentage, claiming that his mother was one of the Muses (Calliope, Euterpe, or Terpsichore), his father the river god Strymon, and he was raised by fountain nymphs. Rhesus arrived late to Troy, because his country was attacked by Scythia, right after he received word that the Greeks had attacked Troy. He was killed in his tent, and his famous steeds were stolen by Diomedes and Odysseus. The mother of Rhesus, one of the nine muses, then arrives and lays blame on all those responsible: Odysseus, Diomedes, and Athena. She also announces the imminent resurrection of Rhesus, who will become immortal but will be sent to live in an underground cave.

His name (a Thracian anthroponym) probably derives from PIE *reg-, 'to rule', showing a satem-sound change.

There was also a river in Bithynia named Rhesus, with Greek myth providing an attendant river god of the same name. Rhesus the Thracian king was himself associated with Bithynia through his love with the Bithynian huntress Arganthone, in the Erotika Pathemata ["Sufferings for Love"] by Parthenius of Nicaea, chapter 36.

Stephanus of Byzantium mentions the name of Rhesus' sister Sete, who had a son Bithys with Ares.[3]

Rhesus Glacier on Anvers Island in Antarctica is named after Rhesus of Thrace.[4]

In the motion picture Hercules, Tobias Santelmann plays a character named Rhesus, who lives in the vicinity of Thrace but has little else in common with the traditional character.


  1. See Bernard Fenik, Iliad x and the Rhesus: The Myth (Brussels: Latomus) 1964, who makes a case for pre-Homeric epic materials concerning Rhesus.
  2. Rhesus Rhesus is chiefly remembered because he came from Thrace to defend Troy with great pomp and circumstance, but died on the night of his arrival, without ever engaging in battle.
  3. Stephanus of Byzantium, s. v. Bithyai
  4. Composite Gazetteer of Antarctica: Rhesus Glacier.

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