One For the Girls: The Daughters of Heracles

Daughters are so easy to forget — Catherine of Aragon, Six: The Musical

While hunting about for a good topic for this week’s entry, I ended up falling down a Wikipedia rabbit hole about the Heracleidae, the children of the Greek hero Heracles (Roman: Hercules). While Heracles is generally given four official wives (Megara, Omphale, Deianira, and the goddess Hebe), he has nearly a hundred named consorts and lovers (including at least a dozen men). Much of this comes from the hero’s extreme popularity in Greece, and later, much of the Mediterranean, Africa, and the East—which made it so many cities and cultures wished to trace their lineage back to him. It also fits Heracles’ personality more than many of the other Greek heroes; Heracles is a more emotional hero than, say, Theseus or Perseus. He’s big and bold and almost always blundering into one scrape or another. More like Ajax than Odysseus, despite usually being the brawn more than the brains of an operation, he’s respected for his great strength and bravery. Think of him as like an ancient Hulk.


And because he is the son of Zeus, destined to become an immortal god, Heracles is very potent with these many sexual partners. The Heracleidae number over a hundred named children, forty-nine of which belong to the fifty daughters of Thespius, with whom Heracles slept with in a single night (the fiftieth daughter supposedly refused and Heracles forced her to become a virgin priestess in a temple dedicated to him—which, depending on your point of view, might not have quite been the punishment Heracles thought it was, frankly). In another illustration of the hero’s virility, the Heracleidae are also overwhelmingly boys, but he has four canonical daughters, so I thought we’d take a look at them and see if we can tease out what (if anything) these girls say about their dad. Because from a folklore-mythological standpoint, sons are the default for a reason: sons can carry on the hero’s name by becoming heroes themselves, or by founding cities/peoples. Daughters are usually trickier from a narrative standpoint, but the fact that at least four times they were chosen instead of another son is potentially thematically important. So let’s dive in!

1) Manto

Manto (Greek: Μαντώ) is the daughter we know the least about. Her mother is unknown, which also means we don’t have a mythological tradition for the circumstances of her conception, nor does she have much in the way of a firm-footed later mythology. Her name comes from the Greek mantis, meaning “seer” or “prophet”, which is why it is also the name of the daughter of Tiresias, probably the most famous seer in Greek mythology. Generally Tiresias’ Manto is thought to be the one for whom the Roman town of Mantua was named for. In the tenth book of the Aeneid, Virgil mentions Ocnus, the son of Manto and the river god Tiberinus (the geniusspirit of the Tiber), who founded the poet’s hometown in his mother’s name.

[Aeneid X, 198ff]

However, the 4th century Italian grammarian Servius in his contemporarily famous commentaries on the works of Virgil (In tria Virgilii Opera Expositio) claims that Mantua’s Manto was in fact the daughter of Hercules, rather than the daughter of Tiresias. In his Roman iteration, Heracles was incredibly popular in Italy, so it is isn’t surprising that an argument would be made to claim a daughter of his over Tiresias, who doesn’t have a specific presence in Roman mythology. Indeed, despite a well-earned reputation for cherry-picking elements from the Iliad and the Odyssey to create the Aeneid, Virgil didn’t keep Tiresias as a part of Aeneas’ version of Odysseus’ journey to the underworld, choosing instead to substitute the female Cumaean Sibyl for the (usually) male Tiresias. On the other hand, at least three prominent Roman gens claimed to be descended from Hercules (the Fabii, the Pinarii, and the Potitii) through a daughter of the Arcadian hero Evander, who founded Pallantium, the first city on the site that would become Rome. So, it is possible in a secondary Roman myth cycle, Heracles’ daughter Manto could have been among the immigrant Arcadians who came to Italy with Evander, which could explain why the transplanted Arcadians would have been the hero’s hosts when he arrives in Italy while herding the cattle of Geryon (Labor #10).

[Geryon returns in the Aeneid’s unauthorized sequel, Inferno, to be Virgil and Dante’s Lyft driver]

2) Eukleia

Unlike Manto, we’re told Eukleia’s (Greek: Ευκλεια) mother is Myrto, the daughter of Menoetius, the king of Opus, a coastal Greek city-state. You might not know Myrto, but you’ve definitely heard of her brother Patroclus.

[Pictured here with his common-law “roommate”, Achilles]

What is somewhat less clear is whether this Eukleia is also the one counted among the Charities (Roman: Graces). While the Charities were usually numbered at three (Hesiod names them Aglaea, Ephrosyne, and Thalia), there were innumerable “lesser” charities, among whom Eukleia is sometimes listed. In this capacity, as her name (“good glory”) might suggest, Eukleia is the personification of glory and repute. Plutarch is the one that identifies her as the daughter of Myrto and Heracles, and tells us that she is raised to her goddess status by dying a virgin: “Now Eucleia is regarded by most as Artemis, and is so addressed; but some say she was a daughter of Heracles and of that Myrto who was daughter of Menoetius and sister of Patroclus, and that, dying in virginity, she received divine honors among the Boeotians and Locrians. For she has an altar and an image built in every market place, and receives preliminary sacrifices from would-be brides and bridegrooms.“ (Aristides 20.5-6). It is in this guise, where she represents the good repute of a bride, that she is a part of Aphrodite’s nuptial-blessing retinue, and probably the “garland-loving” goddess of the Greek lyric poet Bacchylides’ (c. 518-451 BC) verses.

3) Makaria

If any of the daughters of Heracles can lay claim to any real renown, it’s probably Makaria (Greek: Μακαρία). This might be because, rather than a child from one of the hero’s paramours, she’s the youngest child (and only daughter) of Heracles’ third wife, Deianira. Much like his ill-starred marriage to Megara, which ended in a Hera-induced murderous rage that killed their children (and in some tellings, Megara herself), Heracles’ marriage to Deianira ends in tragedy. Heracles starts making eyes at Iole, a young princess of Oechalia, and Deianira is afraid her husband will leave her and the kids for a new marriage. She thinks she has an antidote for the situation—a love potion made from the blood of Nessus the centaur—but unfortunately, Nessus wanted revenge on Heracles for killing him, so he only told Deianira that his blood was a love potion. It turns out his blood, which he had Deianira collect, was actually super-poisonous. In her despair, Deianira mixed Nessus’ blood with olive oil and anointed Heracles’ famous lion skin cloak with the potion, and when he put it on, it burned the hero so badly that he finally jumped on his own funeral pyre. To his credit, Heracles forgave Deianira for her unwitting mistake, but she commits suicide after his death anyway.

[Heracles rescuing Deianira from Nessus]

The death of their parents leaves the couple’s five children—Hyllus, Ctesippus, Glenus, Oneites, and Makaria—unprotected. This is especially unfortunate, because their father has some motivated enemies; chief among them is Eurystheus, the king of Argos, lifelong antagonist of Heracles and the one for whom he had to perform his famous Twelve Labors for. Trying to get one step ahead of the vengeful Eurystheus, Heracles’ nephew, Iolaus, takes the kids and seeks sanctuary in Athens under Demophon, the son of Heracles’ late friend, Theseus, and the equally ill-fated Phædra. Knowing Heracles is the only reason his dad escaped his adventure in the underworld (side quest of Labor #12) and out of compassion for the orphaned Heracleidae, Demophon is eager to offer them protection, even as an enraged Eurystheus brings an army to attack Athens for their aid. But when the oracles are consulted as to the outcome of the fight, Demophon is told that only the sacrifice of a maiden in the name of Persephone will assure Athens victory. Demophon is prepared to hold a lottery to determine the victim, but Makaria offers herself as repayment for the Athenians’ hospitality and to give her brothers the only protection she can from the wrath of Eurystheus. Her sacrifice is successful, Eurystheus is killed either in the ensuing battle or soon after, and the grateful Athenians honored Makaria’s bravery by giving her lavish funeral rites and naming a particular spring in her name. Euripides’ play Heracleidae is a retelling of this myth.

[It also has this choice commentary from Makaria’s grandmother, Alcmene (Alcmena), on Zeus and his nonsense]

There is also a chthonic deity of the same name presented as the daughter of Hades (no mother designated), who is generally held as a separate entity. But considering that her other unmarried sister, Eukleia, attained divinity through her status as a parthenos, it doesn’t seem to be that large of a leap to consider that this might be the same Marakia. Particularly since the goddess Marakia, whose name means “blessed”, was connected to the concept of the good death and the stock blandishment that the deceased are “in a better place”. A goddess who was a concept more than an individual might be seen as “the daughter of Hades” in a more metaphorical sense as well. The probability of this seems high especially in light of the fact that Makaria’s sacrifice was needed to honor Hades’ wife, Persephone, rather than, say, Athen’s patroness, Athena, in the myth.

4) Pandaie

Lastly, we have Pandaie (Greek: Πανδαίη), who like Manto, we don’t have a specific lineage for. But the interesting thing about her is that we’re told that Heracles fathered her in India, which means her mother is probably meant to be an Indian raajakumari (princess) or a deva (goddess). Though Indian folklore is full of all sorts of interesting female beings in between those two points—I, for one, would be up for a story where Pandaie’s mom is a rakshasi

But Pandaie, whom Pliny the Elder considered Heracles’ only daughter, is part of a larger Greek cultural diaspora that saw the gods and heroes make new homes abroad and become part of the grain of local folklore. A good parallel for Pandaie is her half-brother, Sufax, who was the legendary early Berber/Imazighen king who founded the African city of Tangier, an important locality of the Greco-Roman Kingdom of Mauretania. Sufax was supposedly the son of Heracles by the Imazighen goddess Tinjis (ⵜⵉⵏⵊⴰ), and like Manto’s son Ocnus, Sufax names Tangier for his mother. But as Pandaie is likely evidence of the cultural exchange between the Greek-India and the rest of the subcontinent, thereby probably dating her mythos from the 4th century BC at the earliest, Sufax’s Heracles-based origins are also easy to trace to the 1st century BC/AD, as Hellenistically-influenced Juba II of Mauretania is probably the source of this myth-building, according to Plutarch, who tells us the king claimed descent from Hercules. But Juba was only doing what a hundred or so Greek poleis had done in the centuries past—find a local princess or goddess to tangle with the son of Zeus and start your own semi-divine monarchy.

As for Pandaie herself, Pliny tells us that she was especially beloved of her father and he allotted an eponymous kingdom to her that she could rule in her own name—allegedly the only kingdom in India to be ruled by women. This might be some 1st century game-of-Telephone here, where Pliny heard of independent ranis in India, which were generally unusual (but certainly not unheard of) in the long and diverse history of the subcontinent, and worked backwards. The 2nd century Greek author Polyaenus places Pandaie’s kingdom in southern India, the part “which is by the sea” (Stratagems of War, 1.3.4), suggesting a kingdom covering some or all of modern Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Polyaenus describes the kingdom divided into 365 cantons which paid taxes one day each a year, which agrees with Pliny’s description of Pandaie ruling over “three hundred cities” (Naturalis Historia, 6. 23).

[Heracles as a protector of Buddha]

Pliny is also interested in the military prowess of Heracles’ daughter’s kingdom, claiming she could field an army of over five thousand men and five hundred war elephants. As usual, it’s the elephants that captivated western historians, because Pliny likely got their number from the Greek diplomat and ethnographer Megasthenes’ (c. 350-290 BC) Indika, the first recorded impressions of India by a western writer. The treatise itself has been lost, but like many such works, fragments of it survive as quotations in later authors’ pieces. Megasthenes served as an ambassador to Chandragupta’s court, and the Mauryan empire covered virtually all of modern India save for the southern peninsula. Tamilakam, the Tamil term for a group of kingdoms ruled by several royal houses in this part of southern India included a clan known as the Pandyas, which may have been where the Greeks first heard the name and glossed it as Pandaie. In Tamil, “pandya” is thought to come from pandu (“old”) and means the “the old country”, but we’re not entirely sure. In the somewhat chaotic period from which the Pandyas emerge, where Chandragupta is one the first warlords to consolidate anything that can be identified as a pan-Indian empire, they might have been asserting themselves as an established power.

[The Mauryan Empire, with the Tamilakam kingdoms beneath it]

To perhaps illustrate this, Megasthenes is our oldest source for Pandaie being the daughter of Heracles, which agrees with our educated guess on the timeline of her mythology above, but Indian sources equate Heracles’ strength with the Hindu god Shiva, so she might have also been thought of as his daughter. Pandaie might also be a Greek interpretation of Alli Rani, a legendary Pandya queen who supposedly had men for servants and women for warriors, who ruled the Tamil coast. Megasthenes talks about “queens” in this region and may have been the first to describe the cities as numerous as the days of the year, including the great ancient city of Madurai—the city that will send Rome tigers in the age of Octavius (per Cassius Dio). Incidentally, Megasthenes also gives Pandaie’s army as much larger than Pliny does, saying she can field 130,000 infantrymen and 4,000 cavalry in addition to the five hundred elephants. Perhaps Pliny felt Megasthenes was exaggerating the numbers, or at three hundred years later, the Pandyas were experiencing a temporary retraction in their power, which would continue well into the medieval period.

So, what have we learned about the daughters of Heracles? We have four young women: two of which might have founded new lands and two who might have become demigoddesses. We have one who was strong enough to hold her own against one of the great conquerors in Indian history and another who gave her life to save those she loved. Their names tell you they were seers, glorious, blessed, and as ancient as life itself. They connected their legendary father to the Greeks and so much of the world beyond Attica. Their brothers became kings, but I think it’s through the Heracleidae women’s destiny that Heracles becomes worthy of his enduring mythological stature.

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