For other uses, see Mopsus (disambiguation).

Mopsus (Greek: Μόψος, Mopsos) was the name of one of two famous seers in Greek mythology; his rival being Calchas. A historical or legendary Mopsos or Mukšuš may have been the founder of a house in power at widespread sites in the coastal plains of Pamphylia and Cilicia (in today's Turkey) during the early Iron Age.

Son of Manto and Rhacius or Apollo

Mopsus, a celebrated seer and diviner, was the son of Manto, daughter of the mythic seer Tiresias, and of Rhacius of Caria or of Apollo himself, the oracular god. Greeks of the Classical age accepted Mopsus as a historical figure, though the anecdotes concerning him bridge legend and myth.

Mopsus (and perhaps a tradition of his heirs, like the Melampodidae, the Iamidae from Olympia or the Eumolpidae at Eleusis) officiated at the altars of Apollo at Klaros, which he founded; at Klaros the tradition was that he had been the son of a daughter of the seer Teiresias named Manto, literally "seeress".[1] His unerring wisdom and discernment gave rise to the ancient Greek proverb, "more certain than Mopsus". He distinguished himself at the siege of Thebes; but he was held in particular veneration at the court of Amphilochus at Colophon on the Ionian coast of Asia Minor, adjacent to Caria.

The 12th century Byzantine mythographer John Tzetzes[2] reports anecdotes of the prowess of Mopsus. Having been consulted, on one occasion, by Amphilochus, who wished to know what success would attend his arms in a war which he was going to undertake, he predicted the greatest calamities; but Calchas, who had been the soothsayer of the Greeks during the Trojan War, promised the greatest successes. Amphilochus followed the opinion of Calchas, but the prediction of Mopsus was fully verified. This had such an effect upon Calchas that he died soon after. His death is attributed by sources used by John Tzetzes to another mortification of the same nature: in this case, the two soothsayers, jealous of each other's fame, came to a different trial of their skill in divination. Calchas first asked his antagonist how many figs a neighboring tree bore; ten thousand and one, replied Mopsus. The figs were gathered, and his answer was found to be true. Mopsus now, to try his adversary, asked him how many young ones a certain pregnant sow would bring forth, and at what time. Calchas confessed his inability to answer, whereupon Mopsus declared that she would be delivered on the morrow, and would bring forth ten young ones, of which only one would be a male. The morrow proved the veracity of his prediction, and Calchas died through the grief which his defeat produced.[3] Amphilochus subsequently having occasion to visit Argos, entrusted the sovereign power to Mopsus, to keep it for him during the space of a year. On his return, however, Mopsus refused to restore to him the kingdom,[4] whereupon, having quarreled, they engaged and slew each other.[5] According to another legend reported by Tzetzes,[6] he was slain by Herakles.

Mopsus was venerated as founder in several cities of Pamphylia and the Cilician plain, among them Mopsuestia, "the house (hestia) of Mopsus" in Cilicia, and Mallos, where he quarreled with his co-founder Amphilochus and both were buried in tumuli, from which neither could see that of the other. At Mopsoukrene, the "spring of Mopsus", he had an oracular site.[7]


Mopsus, son of Ampyx and a nymph (sometimes named as Chloris), born at Titaressa in Thessaly, was also a seer and augur. In Thessaly the place name Mopsion recalled his own.[8] The earliest evidence of him is inscribed on the strap of a soldier's shield, found at Olympia and dated c.600-575 BC.[9] This Mopsus was one of two seers among the Argonauts,[10] and was said to understand the language of birds, having learned augury from Apollo. He had competed at the funeral-games for Jason's father[11] and was among the Lapiths who fought the Centaurs. While fleeing across the Libyan desert from angry sisters of the slain Gorgon Medusa, Mopsus died from the bite of a viper that had grown from a drop of Medusa's blood. Medea was unable to save him, even by magical means. The Argonauts buried him with a monument by the sea, and a temple was later erected on the site.[12]

Ovid places him also at the hunt of the Calydonian Boar, although the hunt occurred after the Argonauts' return and Mopsus' supposed death.[13]

Thracian commander

According to Diodorus Siculus (III.55), another Mopsus was a Thracian commander who had lived long before the Trojan War. Along with Sipylus the Scythian, this Mopsus had been driven into exile from Thrace by its king Lycurgus. Sometime later, he and Sipylus defeated the Libyan Amazons in a pitched battle, in which their queen Myrine was slain, and the Thracians pursued the surviving Amazons all the way to Libya.

Historical person

The Christian chronicler Eusebius of Caesarea was as convinced of Mopsus' historicity as his pagan predecessors and contemporaries: in his parallel chronologies he entered under the year corresponding to 1184/83 Mopsus reigned in Cilicia.[14] In the early 16th century, German chronicler Johannes Aventinus placed him in the reign of Ingaevone, in ca. 22nd century BC, along the Sava River, where, allegedly, he defeated Myrine.[15]

Names similar to Mopsos, whether Greek or Anatolian, are also attested in Near Eastern languages. Since the discovery of a bilingual Hieroglyphic Luwian-Phoenician inscription in Karatepe (in Cilicia) in 1946-7, it has been conjectured that Mopsos was a historical person.[16] The inscription is dated to c. 700 BC, and the person speaking in it, ’-z-t-w-d (Phoenician) / Azatiwataš (Luwian), professes to be king of the d-n-n-y-m / Hiyawa, and describes his dynasty as "the house of M-p-š / Mukšuš". Apparently, he is a descendant of Mopsus. The Phoenician name of the people recalls one of the Homeric names of the Greeks, Danaoi with the -m plural, whereas the Luwian name Hiyawa probably goes back to Hittite Ahhiyā(wa), which is, according to most interpretations, the "Achaean", or Mycenaean Greek, settlement in Asia Minor. Ancient Greek authors ascribe a central role to Mopsus in the colonization of Pamphylia.[17]

A 13th-century date for the historical Mopsus may be confirmed by a Hittite tablet from Boğazkale which mentions a person called Mukšuš in connection with Madduwattaš of Arzawa and Attarsiya of Ahhiyā. This text is dated to the reign of Arnuwandaš III. Therefore, some scholars[18] associate Mopsus' activities along the coast of Asia Minor and the Levant with the famous Sea Peoples' attacking Egypt in the beginning of the 12th century BC, one of those peoples being the Denyen—comparable to the d-n-n-y-m of the Karatepe inscription. The Sea People identification is, however, questioned by other scholars.[19]

The name of the king erecting the Karatepe inscription, Azatiwad, is probably related to the toponym Aspendos, the name of a city in Pamphylia founded by the Argives according to Strabo (14.4.2). The name of the city is written ΕΣΤFΕΔΙΙΥΣ (Estwediius) on coins of the 5th century BC. Presumably, it was an earlier Azatiwad, the ancestor of our king, that gave his name to the city. The name does not appear to be Greek of origin (= Luwian "Lover of the Sun God [Wa(n)da]"?[20]). The ethnicity of Mopsus himself is not clear: The fragmentary Lydian historiographer Xanthus made him a Lydian campaigning in Phoenicia.[21] If the transmission of Nicolaus of Damascus, who quotes him, is believable, Xanthus wrote the name with -ks-, like in the Hittite and Luwian texts. Given that Lydian also belongs to the Anatolian language family, it is possible that Xanthus relied on a local non-Greek tradition according to which Mukšuš was a Luwian.

The name Mopsus or Mopsos is also mentioned in the more recently discovered Çineköy inscription. This is also a Hieroglyphic Luwian-Phoenician bilingual inscription, similar to the Karatepe inscription.


  1. Strabo, xiv.4.3; Pausanias, vii.3.2; Pomponius Mela, i.88, and T.J. Scheer, Mythische Vorväter: zur Bedeutung griechischer Heroenmythen im Sebstverständnis kleinasiatischer Städte, 1993:164-68, are all noted by Lane Fox 2008:213 note 17.
  2. In his scholia on the poet Lycophron.
  3. John Tzetzes. Ad Lycophron, 427.
  4. Compare the archaic tradition of the year-king.
  5. John Tzetzes. Ad Lycophron, 440.
  6. John Tzetzes. Ad Lycophron, 980.
  7. Mallos and Mopsoukrene: Lane Fox 2008:213.
  8. Lane Fox 2008:212.
  9. Lane Fox 2008:212.
  10. The other was Idmon.
  11. He was shown engaged in boxing on the 7th-century ivory Chest of Cypselus, in Pausanias' description (v.17.10).
  12. Argonautica I, 65-68 and 1502-1536); also Ovid, Metamorphoses IV 618- 621; ' Hyginus, Fabulae 14, 128, 172.?; John Tzetzes, Ad Lycophron, 980.
  13. Ovid, Metamorphoses, VIII.316.
  14. Mopsus regnauit in Cilicia a quo Mopsicrenae et Mopsistae (i.e. Mopsucrene and Mopsuestia): Eusebius, quoted by Jerome, noted in Lane Fox 2008:215 and note 23.
  15. Aventinus, Johannes / Riezler, Sigmund von / Lexer, Matthias von: Johannes Turmair's, genannt Aventinus, sämmtliche Werke, Bd. 4,1, Bayerische Chronik ; Buch I, München, 1882: 100-101:; See also German first edition of J. Aventinus' Bavarian Chronicles, Frankfurt, 1566: XXIXr
  16. Barnett 1953; Hammond 1975: 679-680; Burkert 1992: 52; Finkelberg 2005: 140-159; Jasink & Marino, forthcoming. The Phoenician text has been republished in K. Lawson Younger 1998.
  17. Theopompus, FGrH 115 F 103; Callisthenes, FGrH 124 F 32. According to Eusebius, De laudibus Constantini 13.5, the Cilicians worshipped Mopsus as a god, possibly as the mythical founder. A statue base of the Roman age found in Sillyum in Pamphylia bears Mopsus' name (ΜΟΨΟΥ).
  18. e.g. Finkelberg 2005: 140-159.
  19. e.g. Drews 1993: 48-72.
  20. Barnett 1953.
  21. Xanthus, FGrH 765 F 17.


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