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Woodcut of Phyllis and Demophon from Heroides, Venice, early 16th century

Phyllis (Ancient Greek: Φυλλίς) is a character in Greek mythology, daughter of a Thracian king (according to some, of Sithon;[1][2] most other accounts do not give her father's name at all, but one informs that he was named either Philander, Ciasus, or Thelus[3]). She married Demophon, King of Athens and son of Theseus, while he stopped in Thrace on his journey home from the Trojan War.[4]

Demophon, duty bound to Greece, returns home to help his father, leaving Phyllis behind. She sends him away with a casket, telling him that it contained a sacrament of Rhea and asking him to open it only if he has given up hope of returning to her. From here, the story diverges. In one version, Phyllis realizes that he will not return and commits suicide by hanging herself from a tree. Where she is buried, an almond tree grows, which blossoms when Demophon returns to her.[1] In a second version of the story, Demophon opens the casket and, horrified by what he saw in there, rides off in such great haste that his horse stumbles and he accidentally falls on his own sword.[5]

There is also some confusion regarding which nut tree she became, as hazelnuts were long called nux Phyllidos, and are still sometimes called "filberts" today.[6] In English, this version goes back at least to Gower, who writes in Confessio Amantis (ca. 1390):

That Phyllis in the same throwe
Was schape into a notetre,
That alle men it mihte se,
And after Phyllis philliberd
This tre was cleped in the yerd,
And yit for Demephon to schame
Into this dai it berth the name.

— Book 4, Lines 866–72

This story most notably appears in the second poem of Ovid's Heroides,[7] a book of epistolary poems from mythological women to their respective men, and it also appears in the Aitia of Callimachus.

The Nine Ways is derived from the story of Phyllis, who is said to have returned nine times to the shores to wait for Demophon's return.[8]

"Phyllis" (or "Phillis") is commonly used as a female given name; variants of it are "Phillida" and "Phyllida".[9]

She is also mentioned in the song "I love, alas, I love thee" by Thomas Morley. In this song, she is compared to Amaryllis, who, when she died, a flower grew from her blood that was shed on the ground. Amaryllis is deemed "more lovely" in the song because while Phyllis' death created just a nut tree, Amaryllis had bloomed into an astounding flower the caught the attention of her love, the handsome, strong shepherd, Alteo.[citation needed]


  1. ^ a b Servius on Virgil's Eclogue 5. 10
  2. ^ Ovid in Remedia Amoris, 605 addresses her by the patronymic Sithonis - if indeed it is a patronymic and not an indication of her belonging to the tribe Sithones
  3. ^ Scholia on Aeschines, On the False Embassy, 31
  4. ^ Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca Epitome of Book 4, 6. 16
  5. ^ Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca, Epitome of Book 4, 6. 17
  6. ^ Friedlander, Barbara (1976). The Vegetable, Fruit & Nut Book: secrets of the seed. Grosset & Dunlap. p. 159.
  7. ^ Ovid, Heroides 2.59–60.
  8. ^ Hyginus, Fabulae 59
  9. ^ Macdonald, A. M., ed. (1972) Chambers Twentieth Century Dictionary; new ed. Edinburgh: W. & R. Chambers; p. 1637


  • Fulkerson, Laurel. "Reading dangerously: Phyllis, Dido, Ariadne, and Medea". The Ovidian Heroine as Author. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005.

External linksEdit

  Media related to Phyllis at Wikimedia Commons