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Prince of Skyros
Neoptolemus killing Priam
Other namesPyrrhus, Achillides, Pelides, Aeacides
Parents(a) Achilles and Deidamia
(b) Achilles and Iphigenia
Consort(1) Andromache
(2) Lanassa
(3) Hermione
Offspring(1) Molossus, Pielus, Pergamus and Amphialus
(2) eight children
Scene from the tragedy Andromache by Euripides: Orestes kills Neoptolemus at the altar of Apollo in Delphi. Despairing Hermione, wife of Neoptolemus but previously promised to Orestes, kneels at the foot of the altar. Roman fresco in Pompeii
Neoptolemus' Kingdom, Epirus

In Greek mythology, Neoptolemus (/ˌnəpˈtɒlɪməs/; Ancient Greek: Νεοπτόλεμος, romanizedNeoptólemos, lit.'new warrior'), originally called Pyrrhus at birth (/ˈpɪrəs/; Πύρρος, Pýrrhos, 'red'), was the son of the warrior Achilles and the princess Deidamia, and the brother of Oneiros.[1] He became the mythical progenitor of the ruling dynasty of the Molossians of ancient Epirus. In a reference to his pedigree, Neoptolemus was sometimes called Achillides (from his father Achilles' name)[2] or, from his grandfather's or great-grandfather's names, Pelides or Aeacides.[3]



In his Chronography the chronicler Malalas described Neoptolemus as "of good stature, good chest, thin, white, good nose, ruddy hair, wooly hair, light-eyed, big-eyed, blond eyebrows, blond beginnings of a beard, round-faced, precipitate, daring, agile, a fierce fighter".[4] Meanwhile, in the account of Dares the Phrygian, he was described as "large, robust, and easily irritated. He lisped slightly, and was good-looking, with a hooked nose, round eyes, and shaggy eyebrows".[5]

Background and Birth


In Cypria, Achilles sails to Skyros after a failed expedition to Troy, marries princess Deidamia and fathers Neoptolemus with her before being called to arms yet again.[6]

In a non-Homeric version of the story, Achilles' mother Thetis had a vision many years before Achilles' birth that there would be a great war, and that her only son was to die in it if he partook. She tried to prevent him from being called to fight in the Trojan War by hiding him, disguised as a woman, in the court of Lycomedes, the king of Skyros. During his stay, Achilles had an affair with the princess, Deidamea, who then gave birth to Neoptolemus (originally called Pyrrhus, because his father had called himself Pyrrha, the female version of that name, while disguised as a woman).

Most accounts mention Deidamia being Neoptolemus' mother, but in some accounts, he was the son of Achilles by Iphigenia instead.[7] In those accounts, his father transported him to the island of Skyros after the sacrifice of his mother.

Trojan War


The Greeks captured the Trojan seer Helenus and forced him to tell them under what conditions they could take Troy. Helenus revealed to them that they could defeat Troy if they could acquire the poisonous arrows of Heracles (then in the possession of Philoctetes); steal the Palladium (which led to the building of the famous wooden horse of Troy); and put Achilles' son in the war.

The Greeks then sent Odysseus to retrieve Neoptolemus, then a mere teenager, from Skyros. The two then went to Lemnos to retrieve Philoctetes (years earlier, on the way to Troy, Philoctetes had been bitten by a snake on Chryse Island). Agamemnon had advised that he be left behind because the wound was festering and smelled bad. Philoctetes' retrieval is the plot of Philoctetes, a play by Sophocles.

Some sources portray Neoptolemus as brutal. He killed at least six on the field of battle [8] and several more during the subsequent fall of Troy (Priam, Eurypylus, Polyxena, Polites and Astyanax (Hector and Andromache's infant son) among others). He captured Helenus, and made Andromache his concubine. The ghost of Achilles appeared to the survivors of the war, demanding the Trojan princess Polyxena to be sacrificed before anybody could leave for home; Neoptolemus was the one to carry out the sacrifice. (In scene (ll 566–575) of Euripides' play Hekabe (also known as Hecuba) Neoptolemus is shown as a torn young man who kills Polyxena in the least painful way possible, contrasting with his usual brutal and uncompassionate image.) With Andromache, Helenus and Phoenix, Neoptolemus then sailed to the Epirot Islands and became the king of Epirus.

By the enslaved Andromache, daughter of Cilician king Eëtion, Neoptolemus was the father of Molossos (and, according to the myth, therefore an ancestor of Olympias, the mother of Alexander the Great), Pielus, Pergamus[9] and Amphialus.[10]

Hyginus has a section on Amphialus:

Neoptolemus, son of Achilles and Deidamia, begat Amphialus by captive Andromache, daughter of Ēëtion. But after he heard that Hermione his betrothed had been given to Orestes in marriage, he went to Lacedaemon and demanded her from Menelaus. Menelaus did not wish to go back on his word, and took Hermione from Orestes and gave her to Neoptolemus. Orestes, thus insulted, slew Neoptolemus as he was sacrificing to Delphi, and recovered Hermione. The bones of Neoptolemus were scattered through the land of Ambracia, which is in the district of Epirus.[10]

Neoptolemus and Andromache, by Pierre-Narcisse Guérin

By Lanassa, granddaughter of Heracles, he fathered eight children.[11]

Like in Euripides' Hekabe, Sophocles' Philoctetes also shows him as a much kinder man, who honours his promises and shows remorse when he is made to trick Philoctetes.

After the War


There are two differing accounts of Neoptolemus' death: he was either killed after he attempted to take Hermione from Orestes, or after he denounced Apollo, the murderer of his father. In the first case, he was killed by Orestes; in the second, the Delphic priest of Apollo named Machaereus took revenge.

After Neoptolemus' death his kingdom was partitioned. According to Virgil's Aeneid, Helenus (who later married Andromache) took part of it: "Helenus, a son of Priam, was king over these Greek cities of Epirus, having succeeded to the throne and bed of Pyrrhus..."[12]

In art and literature


Mentioned briefly in Euripides' plays Trojan Women and Hecuba, simply stating that Andromache, wife of Hector, was his promised spear bride.


  1. ^ Ptolemy Hephaestion, New History 3 as cited in Photius, Bibliotheca 190.20
  2. ^ Ovid, Heroides 8.3
  3. ^ Virgil, Aeneid 2.263 & 3.296
  4. ^ Malalas, Chronography 5.104
  5. ^ Dares Phrygius, 13
  6. ^ Fragments of the Cypria
  7. ^ Tzetzes on Lycophron, 133; Eustathius on Homer, p. 1187
  8. ^ Hyginus, Fabulae 114
  9. ^ Pausanias, 1.11.1
  10. ^ a b Hyginus, Fables 123
  11. ^ Justinus, 17.3
  12. ^ Virgil (1990). The Aeneid. Penguin Books, David West. pp. 65, line 292. ISBN 9780140444575.