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Bible Encyclopedias

1911 Encyclopedia Britannica


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In Greek legend, a celebrated seer and physician, son of Amythaon and Eidomene, brother of Bias, mythical eponymous hero of the family of the Melampodidae. Two young serpents, whose life he had saved, licked his ears while he slept, and from that time he understood the language of birds and beasts. In the art of divination he received instruction from Apollo himself. To gain the consent of Neleus, king of Pylos, to the marriage of his daughter Pero with Bias, Melampus undertook to obtain possession of the oxen of the Thessalian prince Iphiclus. As Melampus had foretold, he was caught and imprisoned, but was released by Phylacus (the father of Iphiclus) on giving proof of his powers of divination, and was finally presented with the oxen as a reward for having restored the virility of the son. Melampus subsequently obtained a share in the kingdom of Argos in return for having cured the daughters of its king Proetus, who had been driven mad for offering resistance to the worship of Dionysus or for stealing the gold from the statue of Hera. At Aegosthena in Megara there was a sanctuary of Melampus, and an annual festival was held in his honour. According to Herodotus, he introduced the cult of Dionysus into Greece from Egypt, and his name ("black foot") is probably "a symbolical expression of his character as a Bacchic propitiatory priest and seer" (Preller). According to the traditional explanation, he was so called from his foot having been tanned by exposure to the sun when a boy. In his character of physician, he was the reputed discoverer of the herb melampodium, a kind of hellebore. Melampus and Bias are symbolical representatives of cunning and force.

See Apollodorus i. 9, II, 12; ii. 2, 2; Odyssey, xv. 225-240; Diod. Sic. iv. 68; Herodotus ii. 49; ix. 34; Pausanias ii. 18, 4; iv. 36, 3; scholiast on Theocritus iii. 43; Ovid, Metam. xv. 325; C. Eckermann, Melampus and sein Geschlecht (1840).

Melampus is also the name of the author of a short extant treatise of little value on Divination by means of Palpitation (IlaXµcov) and Birthmarks ('EXaunv). It probably dates from the time of Ptolemy Philadelphus (3rd cent. B.C.). Edition by J. G. Franz in Scriptores physiognomiae veteres (1780).

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Bibliography Information
Chisholm, Hugh, General Editor. Entry for 'Melampus'. 1911 Encyclopedia Britanica. 1910.

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