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Eumolpus: Legendary Priest, Poet and Warrior

by Encyclopaedia Britannica, 11th Edition

EUMOLPUS (“sweet singer”), in Greek mythology, son of Poseidon and Chione, the daughter of Boreas, legendary priest, poet and warrior. He finally settled in Thrace, where he became king. During a war between the Eleusinians and Athenians under Erechtheus, he went to the assistance of the former, who on a previous occasion had shown him hospitality, but was slain with his two sons, Phorbas and Immaradus. According to another tradition, Erechtheus and Immaradus lost their lives; the Eleusinians then submitted to Athens on condition that they alone should celebrate the mysteries, and that Eumolpus and the daughters of Celeus should perform the sacrifices. It is asserted by others that Eumolpus with a colony of Thracians laid claim to Attica as having belonged to his father Poseidon (Isocrates, Panath. 193). The Eleusinian mysteries were generally considered to have been founded by Eumolpus, the first priest of Demeter, but, according to some, by Eumolpus the son of Musaeus, Eumolpus the Thracian being the father of Keryx, the ancestor of the priestly family of the Kerykes. As priest, Eumolpus purifies Heracles from the murder of the Centaurs; as musician, he instructs him (as well as Linus and Orpheus) in playing the lyre, and is the reputed inventor of vocal accompaniments to the flute. Suidas reckons him one of the early poets and a writer of hymns of consecration, and Diodorus Siculus quotes a line from a Dionysiac hymn attributed to Eumolpus. He is also said to have been the first priest of Dionysus, and to have introduced the cultivation of the vine and fruit trees (Pliny, Nat. Hist. vii. 199). His grave was shown at Athens and Eleusis. His descendants, called Eumolpidae, together with the Kerykes, were the hereditary guardians of the mysteries (q.v.).