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King Pelias in Greek Mythology: Story & Death

Instructor: Angelica Goldman

Angelica has taught college and high school history and social sciences, has a master's degree in history, and is a licensed FL teacher.

This lesson discusses the Greek myth of King Pelias, from his birth to his death. King Pelias is a key figure from the more famous myth of Jason and the Argonauts.

What would you do if someone predicted that a man with one sandal would be your downfall? Would you let that man into your city and home?

King Pelias from Ancient Greek mythology was confronted with just such a question. Before we dive deeper, remember that myths are legends and stories featuring fantastic and unusual situations that explain natural, social, or historical events of a society. These tales are as exciting and full of adventure as any movie or television series today. Many of the stories, including this one, have multiple versions with slight variations. For this lesson, we will discuss the most commonly accepted account of King Pelias' life and death.

Thessaly, the setting of our story
Ancient Thessaly

A Godly Conception and Birth

Like many figures in Greek mythology, Pelias was rumored to have one parent who was a god. Tyro, a beautiful maiden, was in love with Enipeus. Enipeus was not interested in her, but the sea god Poseidon was. Poseidon tricked Tyro into mating with him by disguising himself as Enipeus. Their union caused the birth of the twins, Pelias and Neleus.

Tyro was shocked and upset to find that she had not only been tricked into sleeping with the wrong man, but that she also had children as a result! So she left her twin boys on a mountain to die. Instead, they were saved by a shepherd who raised them as his own until they reached adulthood. Once an adult, Pelias discovers his true origins and sets out on his own quest.

The Adventures of Pelias

Despite the events with Poseidon and her love, Enipeus, Tyro was in fact married to yet another man, Cretheus. Cretheus was the King and founder of the ancient city of Iolcos. Tyro and Cretheus have children of their own: Aeson, Pherês, and Amythaon.

Tyro had been mistreated by her stepmother, Sidero, in her youth. Once grown, the twins, Pelias and Neleus, decide to kill Sidero in revenge. Pelias ends up killing her in a temple to the goddess Hera, making Hera decide to bear a grudge against him from that time on. But Pelias doesn't stop there. When Cretheus dies, he seizes the throne of Iolcos and banishes and imprisons his own brother and half-brothers to secure his rule. This includes Aeson, who will be important to remember a little later in our tale.

Does this sound complicated yet? Basically, in our story of Pelias so far, he is born because his father deceives his already-married mother into sleeping with him. His mother abandons him and his twin brother, and he is raised by a shepherd until he finds out the truth as an adult. He then decides to help his mother settle the score against her stepmother. Since his mother is also the queen of Iolcos, when the king dies, Pelias takes advantage and takes the throne, even though he normally wouldn't have been the heir.

A Fateful Meeting with Jason

So, Pelias became the King of Iolcos in Thessaly, a region in central Greece that is bordered by Macedonia and the Aegean sea. He's feeling uncertain because he knows he has essentially stolen the throne from his half-brothers, who he has banished or imprisoned, so he decides to consult an oracle, or a priest or priestess who give advice and prophecies from the gods.

The oracle has some bad news: If a man wearing only one sandal arrives, Pelias' death will be soon. Naturally, Pelias feels reasonably confused at this, so he dismisses it and goes about his reign. In the meantime, his half-brother Aeson, who is the rightful heir to the kingdom, marries and has children in prison, including one Jason. He sends this son away to be educated by a centaur in the mountains because he is afraid Pelias will kill the child as a threat to his rule.

Everything is going swimmingly until the day Pelias decides to offer a sacrifice to his father, the god Poseidon, by the sea. It is a big event so people come from everywhere to take part, including Jason. On his way to the main event, Jason stops to help an old woman (who is really Hera in disguise) across a river. He loses a sandal.

When Jason shows up all one-sandaled to the affair, Pelias suddenly remembers and understands the prophecy the oracle had given him. He is understandably disturbed and upset. He asks Jason what he would do if the man who was going to cause his death showed up. Jason says he'd send the man for the legendary Golden Fleece. Feeing pretty smart about the whole thing, Pelias sends Jason after the Fleece, and promises him the throne of Iolcos if he returns with it.

Pelias meets Jason
Pelias Meets Jason

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