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By Carlos Parada, author of Genealogical Guide to Greek Mythology




A remembered moment in the life of Calchas: Iphigenia about to be sacrificed is saved by Artemis who substitutes a deer. To the right Agamemnon covers his face


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"Calchas, the seer, shall rue beginning the sacrifice with his barley-meal and lustral water. Why, what is a seer? A man who with luck tells the truth sometimes, with frequent falsehoods, but when his luck deserts him, collapses then and there." [Achilles to Clytaemnestra. Euripides, Iphigenia in Aulis 955]

"Now indeed I see how worthless the seers' doings are, and how full of falsehood... Why do we consult prophets? We ought to sacrifice to the gods and ask a blessing, but leave divination alone; for this was invented otherwise, as a bait for a livelihood, and no man grows rich by sacrifices if he is idle. But sound judgment and discernment are the best of seers." [Messenger. Euripides, Helen 745-755]

"You see the vastness of that naval army, and the numbers of bronze-clad warriors from Hellas, who can neither make their way to Ilium's towers nor raze the far-famed citadel of Troy, unless I offer you according to the word of Calchas the seer." [Agamemnon to Iphigenia. Euripides, Iphigenia in Aulis 1260]


Calchas is the seer of untiring voice that the Achaeans had with them when they sailed against Troy. He has been called the best of bird-diviners, knowing past, present and future. But being somewhat envious, he died of grief after meeting a superior colleague.


The Family of Calchas

The family's trade.

Almost everybody in Calchas' family was a seer. His father Thestor 1 was a seer and so was Calchas' brother Theoclymenus 1, and his sister Leucippe 3 was a priestess of Apollo, god of prophecy.

His sister kidnapped.

Calchas had yet another sister called Theonoe 1. It is said that once she was playing by the shore a band of pirates coming from the sea kidnapped her and took her to Caria in southwestern Asia Minor. There she was sold to King Icarus 2, who bought her to be a concubine.

His father cast into prison.

When Thestor 1 realised that her daughter had disappeared he went searching for her. And as things do not happen for nothing, as a result of shipwreck he landed precisely in Caria. Having thus become an intruder in a foreign land he was cast into chains, not in whatever place, but precisely at the place where his daughter Theonoe 1 was staying. And there he was kept as a servant.

Another sister becomes priest.

Back home Leucippe 3 found herself without father and sister, and so she asked the oracle at Delphi whether she should search for them. And the oracle replied:

"Go throughout the earth as my priest, and you will find them." [The oracle to Leucippe 3. Hyginus, Fabulae 190]

So, on hearing the oracle's answer, she cut her hair and, following the oracle, went from land to land searching for her relatives in the attire of a priest.

Sister in love with her own sister.

When she finally arrived to Caria her sister Theonoe 1 saw her, and believing she was a handsome priest, she fell in love with Leucippe 3, wishing to lie with her. But when Leucippe 3, being no priest and no man, refused, Theonoe 1 gave orders to shut the love-reluctant priest in a room, giving instructions to some of the servants to come to the room and murder him.

Daughter orders her father to kill her sister.

And as things would not happen for nothing they chose precisely the servant Thestor 1 to perform the horrible deed. That is how Thestor 1 was sent unknowingly to slay his own daughter Leucippe 3, receiving the sword from her other daughter Theonoe 1. And while all these things took place no one recognise the other, as if seers could see even less than ordinary people.

Thestor 1 holds the sword.

So Thestor 1 entered the room holding the sword in his hand, and as things do not happen for nothing, he had the good idea of uttering his own name, saying that he was Thestor 1, that he had lost two daughters named Leucippe 3 and Theonoe 1, and that he was a miserable man, for now he had been ordered to commit a crime. In short: he told the whole story to his own daughter, who was a part of it.

Does not obey criminal orders.

Now, Thestor 1 was not the kind of man who commit crimes and later excuses himself saying that he was obeying orders. But instead, seeing himself in such a terrible circumstance, he had the unusual courage of turning the weapon against himself.


However, Leucippe 3, having heard her father's name, wrested the sword from him, and decided, aided by her father, to go and kill Theonoe 1. But once again words came before deeds, names were uttered, and all three discovered who they were. This is how this family found itself and Thestor 1 could return home, carrying with him the gifts he received from King Icarus 2. Despite all what happened there had been those who have counted Theonoe 1, daughter of Thestor 1, among those women who were most chaste.


Agamemnon finds Calchas.

For reasons that have not been reported, the most influential seer to join the Achaean expedition against Troy was Calchas, who was recruited by Agamemnon in Megara, where the seer dwelt. But nothing is known about his performances before this time, except that he once said, when Achilles was nine years old, that Troy could not be taken without him.

The serpent and the sparrows.

Six years later, when the ACHAEAN LEADERS, before sailing, gathered the powerful alliance at Aulis, which is a Boeotian harbour opposite the large island of Euboea, signs appeared that were interpreted by Calchas: a serpent darted from the altar during a sacrifice to Apollo, and coming to a nest in a neighbouring plane-tree, it devoured the eight sparrows in it along with the mother bird. After the meal the serpent turned into stone, and so Calchas, counting the number of animals involved, inferred that Troy would be taken in a period of ten years.

The Mysian intermezzo.

Some say these events took place in the second year after the abduction of Helen by the seducer Paris. They add that the Achaean fleet, having sailed against Troy, landed by mistake in Mysia and that, after skirmishing against the Mysians, they returned home, and only assembled at Aulis again after an interval of eight years.

Telephus confirmed by Calchas.

Although the Achaean army was chased from Mysia, the king of this country, Telephus, son of Heracles 1, was wounded by Achilles. As the wound would not heal Telephus asked the oracle which replied that the wound would be cured when the one who wounded him should turn physician. That is why Telephus, in a beggar's attire, sailed to Argos, where Achilles was staying, begging to be healed by him and offering to show the Achaeans the course to steer for Troy, as a reward. And Achilles healed him by scraping off the rust of his spear. Seeing his health restored Telephus did as he had promised, and they say that the accuracy of his information was confirmed by Calchas by means of his own splendid art.

Calchas recommends to sacrifice fair Iphigenia.

After this the Achaeans gathered for the second time at Aulis. However, the fleet could not sail because of unfavourable wind conditions. In front of this inconvenience Calchas conceived a most extraordinary idea. He declared that the fleet would not be able to sail unless the fairest among Agamemnon's daughters were sacrificed to Artemis. According to Calchas' deep insights, the goddess was claiming compensation after having heard the thoughtless words that Agamemnon had uttered while hunting a deer:

"Artemis herself could not do it better." [Agamemnon. Apollodorus, Epitome 3.21]

It is also said that Artemis wished Agamemnon to pay for the omission of his father Atreus, who did not sacrifice to her the golden lamb, as he should have done.

Iphigenia saved.

These are the events that led to the sacrifice of Agamemnon's daughter Iphigenia at Aulis. But others do not charge the goddess with such absurd demands and say that when the Achaeans were about to commit this crime based on their own inventions, Artemis appeared and saved Iphigenia, taking her to Tauris [see also Agamemnon and Orestes 2].

War starts.

In any case, the winds became favourable and the Achaeans, being able to sail through the Egean, landed in Asia Minor and started the war known as the Trojan War.

Apollo punishes Agamemnon's arrogance.

In the tenth year of the war Apollo, coming down from heaven darker than night although he is called the bright one, decimated the Achaean army through pestilence. This he did in order to punish the arrogance of Agamemnon who had dismissed one of his priests with insults, refusing to give him back his daughter which he, the king, held captive.

Calchas' revelation and counsel.

Nobody knew the origin of this pestilence, except Calchas, but being the king himself responsible for the calamity, the seer was afraid of talking in the council, and with truthful words accuse Agamemnon. But when Achilles promised him protection, saying that no one, not even the king, would be ever allowed to lay hands on him, Calchas declared that Agamemnon was to blame, for he had dishonoured Apollo's priest, and did not release his daughter nor accept the ransom that the priest had offered. And consequently he also recommended to give the girl back to his father.

Reward for accuracy.

And this is how Agamemnon marked Calchas' words:

"Prophet of evil, never yet have you spoken to me a pleasant thing; ever is evil dear to your heart to prophesy, but a word of good you have never yet spoken, nor brought to pass." [Agamemnon to Calchas, Homer, Iliad 1.105]

New prophecies of Calchas.

When the war had lasted ten years and Ajax 1 and Achilles and many others had perished, the Achaeans consulted again their seer Calchas, and now he said that Troy could not be taken unless they had the bow and arrows of Heracles 1 fighting on their side. As these were held by Philoctetes, who had been abandoned by the army in Lemnos, an embassy was sent to fetch both the weapons and the archer.

Paris' death ends in Helenus 1 leaving the city.

Philoctetes arrived to Troy and, among others, he killed Paris. But still it was not possible to take the city and put an end to the war. When Paris was dead there was a dispute among his brothers Deiphobus 1 and the seer Helenus 1, as to which of them should marry beautiful Helen. And when Deiphobus 1 imposed himself, Helenus 1 left the city and retired to Mount Ida.

Helenus 1 captured and tortured.

At this point Calchas declared that his colleague Helenus 1 was in possession of the oracles that protected the city of Troy. When this was known Odysseus, for seers talk and others do, laid and ambush and captured the Trojan seer, who was forced by his enemies to tell how the city could be taken, as no art of divination could reveal what was inside him.

Telephus appears again and dies.

The Achaeans then, using brutality against Helenus 1 during interrogation, came to know, about the importance of Neoptolemus, the bone of Pelops 1, and the Palladium. This is how Neoptolemus was fetched and joined the war, killing, among many others, Telephus, the man who, after being healed by Achilles at Argos, had shown to the Achaeans the course to steer for Troy. For Telephus, after those events, came with great army of Mysians to assist the Trojans, whom initially he had betrayed.

Troy taken.

In the tenth year of the war, as Calchas had prophesied, the Achaeans took Troy through the stratagem of the WOODEN HORSE, inside which Calchas himself was hidden together with other warriors.

Many crimes committed.

The victors were ruthless against the defeated, perpetrating many crimes against defenceless citizens.

Perverted cowards.

And the reason why bloody murders are often, under this kind of circumstances, accompanied by sexual abuses and rapes, will probably remain an enigma only partially explained. For it is a great perversion and one of the worst offences that can be conceived to combine sexual activity with the spilling of blood and thus attempt to humiliate the defeated and deprive them of their dignity. However, it is not the victims who lose their dignity, for they cannot help to be abused, but instead the perpetrators are degraded by their own deeds. And this sickness of the soul, which affects soldiers who do not deserve that title, corrupts their own bravery and makes them appear as perverted cowards.

The cowardice of Ajax 2.

And this is what happened to Ajax 2, who found the sack of Troy to be a sexually exiting experience. For he, who had shown to be a brave man, erased with one single act all his deeds, revealing himself as a bandit instead of a soldier when he raped the Trojan seeress Cassandra in the midst of the confusion created by the battle.

Calchas warns the army.

So when the fleet was about to sail back home, Calchas detained it saying that Athena was angry on account of the impiety of Ajax 2, who had dragged his victim out of the goddess' shrine.

Gods punish Ajax 2 and those who ignored his crime.

And some Achaeans said that Ajax 2 should be punished for his crime, but at the end no tribunal found him guilty, and for that reason both Poseidon and Athena attacked Ajax 2 and destroyed him, and they punished the Achaeans too, turning their return home into a catastrophe. For the gods repudiate Ajax 2's way of "sleeping with the enemy" and despise those who are reluctant to lawfully punish these outrages.

Calchas wanders in Asia Minor.

After the end of the Trojan War the Achaean army was dispersed and many of their leaders took different ways to return home [see Map: The Returns]. Calchas journeyed southwards through Asia Minor in company of Amphilochus 2, Polypoetes 1, and Leonteus 1.

Amphilochus 2

Amphilochus 2, who is said to have founded Amphilochian Argos in Aetolia, arrived late to the war at Troy. He was the son of Alcmaeon 1 & Manto 1, although some say that this was Amphilochus 1, the son of Amphiaraus & Eriphyle. Alcmaeon 1 was himself son of Amphiaraus & Eriphyle, and Manto 1 was the seeress and priestess of Apollo daughter of the seer Tiresias.

Polypoetes 1 and Leonteus 1.

Polypoetes 1 led the Gyrtonians against Troy and was the son of Pirithous, the notorious friend of Theseus. Leonteus 1 led the LAPITHS against Troy and was the son of Coronus 1, son of Caeneus 1 who, having being the woman Caenis, was turned into an invulnerable man by Poseidon, and later buried alive by the CENTAURS.

The seer Mopsus 2.

When this group arrived to Colophon they were received by the seer Mopsus 2, who, as Amphilochus 2, was son of Manto 1, although by a different father, either Apollo or Rhacius, the Cretan who conquered Caria.


Now, an oracle had said that Calchas was destined to die when he met a seer superior to himself and this seer proved to be Mopsus 2. When these two men met they naturally began to dispute, for colleagues often look at each other with envious eyes, putting their own personal prestige in the first place and the science they practise in a subordinate position.

Dispute between seers: figs.

So Calchas, wishing to test the colleague he already regarded as a kind of foe, asked him about the number of figs on a wild fig tree. Mopsus 2 answered that they were ten thousand, specifying the measure that would hold them all, except one fig at the top of the tree. And when his words were proved Calchas closed his eyes and died.

Dispute between seers: pigs

But others have said that Calchas instead asked how many pigs a pregnant sow carried. To this, they say, Mopsus 2 answered that they were three and that one of them was female. In the same way, the story goes, when this proved to be true Calchas died of the grief that caused him the superiority of a colleague. Yet others say that both answered this question, but only Mopsus 2's answer proved to be true, and that the answer was that the number of pigs were nine, instead of eight as Calchas had said, and that they, being all male, would be farrowed the next day at the sixth hour.

Calchas buried at Notium.

Still others have combined the pigs and the figs in the dispute between the two seers, but all have said that Calchas lost the contest and died of grief, being buried at Notium, which is between Ephesus and Colophon.




Thestor 1 & unknown

Thestor 1 was also a seer. See main text above.


Calchas in GROUPS







Apd.Ep.3.15, 6.3; Cic.ND.2.7; Eur.IA.90; Eur.IT.17ff.; Hes.Mel.1; Hom.Il.1.95ff., 13.45; Hyg.Fab.97; Pau.1.43.1; QS.9.325; Soph.Aj.801; Stat.Achil.1.497; Strab.14.1.27; TRY.172.


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