The Story of Absyrtus & Why His Sister Murdered Him

Absyrtus (or Apsyrtus), is the son of Aeetes, king of Colchis, and brother of Medeia. The name of his mother differs from one writer to the next: Hyginus (Fab. 13) calls her Ipsia, Apollodorus names her as Idyia, Apollonius says it is Asterodeia, while others claim Hecate, Neaera, or Eurylyte. (Schol. ad Apollon. l.c.)

When Medeia fled with Jason, she took her brother Absyrtus with her, and when she was nearly overtaken by her father, she murdered her brother, cut his body in pieces and strewed them on the road, that her father might thus be detained by gathering the limbs of his child.

Tomi, the place where this horror was committed, was believed to have derived its name from τέμνω, ” cut.” (Apollod. 1.9.24; Ov. Tr. 3.9; compare Apollon. 4.338, &c. 460, &c.) According to another tradition Absyrtus was not taken by Medeia, but was sent out by his father in pursuit of her. He overtook her in Corcyra, where she had been kindly received by king Alcinous, who refused to surrender her to Absyrtus. When he overtook her a second time in the island of Minerva, he was slain by Jason. (Hyg. Fab. 23.) A tradition followed by Pacuvius (Cic. de nat. deor. 3.19), Justin (42.3), and Diodorus (4.45), called the son of Aeetes, who was murdered by Medeia, Aegialeus.

Stories of Absyrtus

Apollodorus, The Library, 1.9.24

When Aeetes discovered the daring deeds done by Medea, he started off in pursuit of the ship; but when she saw him near, Medea murdered her brother and cutting him limb from limb threw the pieces into the deep. Gathering the child’s limbs, Aeetes fell behind in the pursuit; wherefore he turned back, and, having buried the rescued limbs of his child, he called the place Tomi. But he sent out many of the Colchians to search for the Argo, threatening that, if they did not bring Medea to him, they should suffer the punishment due to her; so they separated and pursued the search in divers places.

When the Argonauts were already sailing past the Eridanus river, Zeus sent a furious storm upon them, and drove them out of their course, because he was angry at the murder of Apsyrtus. And as they were sailing past the Apsyrtides Islands, the ship spoke, saying that the wrath of Zeus would not cease unless they journeyed to Ausonia and were purified by Circe for the murder of Apsyrtus. So when they had sailed past the Ligurian and Celtic nations and had voyaged through the Sardinian Sea, they skirted Tyrrhenia and came to Aeaea, where they supplicated Circe and were purified.1

Apollodorus, The Library, 1.9.24

2 See Ap. Rhod., Argon. iv.659-717 who describes purificatory rites. A sucking pig was waved over the homicides; then its throat was cut, and their hands were sprinkled with its blood. Similar rites of purification for homicide are represented on Greek vases. See Frazer on Paus. 2.31.8 (vol. iii. p. 277)

Atlas Mythica
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