Rhesus of Thrace

Rhesus /ˈrsəs/ (Greek: Ῥῆσος, Rhêsos) is a fictional Thracian king in Iliad, Book X, who fought on the side of Trojans. Diomedes and Odysseus stole his team of fine horses during a night raid on the Trojan camp.

Odysseus and Diomedes stealing Rhesus' horses, red-figure situla by the Lycurgus Painter, c. 360 BC


His name (a Thracian anthroponym) probably derives from PIE *reg-, 'to rule', showing a satem-sound change.Another possible meaning is 'rreze', the albanian name for sunray.


According to Homer, his father was Eioneus who may be connected to the historic Eion in western Thrace, at the mouth of the Strymon, and the port of the later Amphipolis. Later writers provide Rhesus with a more exotic parentage, claiming that his mother was one of the Muses (Calliope, Euterpe, or Terpsichore) and his father the river god Strymon. Stephanus of Byzantium mentions the name of Rhesus' sister Sete, who had a son Bithys with Ares.[1]


Rhesus was raised by fountain nymphs and died without engaging in battle.[2] He arrived late to Troy, because his country was attacked by Scythia, right after he received word that the Greeks had attacked Troy. Dolon, who had gone out to spy on Agamemnon’s army for Hector, was caught by Diomedes and Odysseus and proceeded to tell the two Argives about the newest arrivals, Thracians under the leadership of Rhesus. Dolon explained that Rhesus had the finest horses, as well as huge, golden armor that was suitable for gods rather than mortals. Because of Dolon’s cowardice, Rhesus met his demise without ever getting the chance to defend himself or Troy. When the Thracians were sleeping, Diomedes and Odysseus attacked the camp in the dead of night, killing Rhesus in his tent and stealing his famous steeds.[3]

The event portrayed in the Iliad also provides the action of the play Rhesus, transmitted among the plays of Euripides. The mother of Rhesus, one of the nine muses, then arrived and laid blame on all those responsible: Odysseus, Diomedes, and Athena. She also announced the imminent resurrection of Rhesus, who will become immortal but will be sent to stay in a cave. Scholia to the Iliad episode and the Rhesus agree in giving Rhesus a more heroic stature, incompatible with Homer's version.[4]

Rhesus is also named as one of the eight rivers that Poseidon raged from Mount Ida to the sea in order to knock down the wall that the Achaeans built.[5]

There was also a river in Bithynia named Rhesus, with Greek myth providing an attendant river god of the same name. Rhesus the Thracian king was himself associated with Bithynia through his love with the Bithynian huntress Arganthone, in the Erotika Pathemata ["Sufferings for Love"] by Parthenius of Nicaea, chapter 36.


Rhesus Glacier on Anvers Island in Antarctica is named after Rhesus of Thrace,[6] as is the Jovian asteroid 9142 Rhesus.

In the motion picture Hercules, Tobias Santelmann plays a character named Rhesus, who lives in the vicinity of Thrace but has little else in common with the traditional character, instead being a rebel against King Cotys.


  1. ^ Stephanus of Byzantium, s. v. Bithyai
  2. ^ Rhesus Rhesus is chiefly remembered because he came from Thrace to defend Troy with great pomp and circumstance, but died on the night of his arrival, without ever engaging in battle.
  3. ^ The Iliad. pp. X.430-503.
  4. ^ See Bernard Fenik, Iliad x and the Rhesus: The Myth (Brussels: Latomus) 1964, who makes a case for pre-Homeric epic materials concerning Rhesus.
  5. ^ The Iliad. pp. XII.19-21.
  6. ^ Composite Gazetteer of Antarctica: Rhesus Glacier.

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