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Antiope – The Beautiful Princess of Thebes in Greek Mythology

In Greek mythology, Antiope, also known as Antiopa, was a Theban princess who had such beauty that she attracted the eye of Zeus, the great Olympian god. Antiope’s importance in Greek myth relates to her role as one of Zeus’ many lovers. She endured many hardships in her life including the loss of her sanity, but was able to find happiness in the end. She is not to be confused with the Amazon warrior woman, also known as Antiope.

The Origins of Antiope

Antiope was born to Nycteus, the King of Thebes when Thebes was known as Cadmea, and his beautiful wife Polyxo. Some say that she was the daughter of Ares, god of war, while other accounts state that her father was Asopos, the Boetian river god. If so, it would mean that Antiope would have been a Naiad. However, she’s hardly ever referred to as a Naiad.

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Antiope was said to be the most beautiful Boeotian maiden ever seen and when she was old enough, she became a Maenad, a female follower of Dionysus, the god of wine.

There are several versions of the story of Antiope with the events of her life occurring in different order. However, her story consists of three main parts: Antiope’s seduction by Zeus, leaving the city of Thebes and returning to Thebes.

Zeus Seduces Antiope

When Zeus first saw Antiope, he found her to be attractive and couldn’t take his eyes off her. He felt that he had to have the gorgeous princess and assumed the form of a Satyr, so that he could blend in with the rest of Dionysus’ retinue. He seduced Antiope, forced himself on her and soon she found out that she was pregnant by the god.

Antiope Leaves Thebes

Antiope was terrified when she realized that she was expecting a child by Zeus, for she knew that her father Nycteus would be outraged if he were to find out. According to some sources she fled to Sicyon, but others say that she was abducted by Epopeus, the King of Sicyon. Either way, she married Epopeus and settled in Sicyon.

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In the meantime, Nycteus wanted to retrieve his daughter and waged war against Sicyon. In battle, both Epopeus and Nycteus were injured, but Nycteus’ injury was too severe and he died after returning to Thebes. In some accounts, it’s said that Nycteus poisoned himself because he was ashamed of what his daughter had done.  

Antiope Returns to Thebes

Before he died, Nycteus left it to his brother Lycus, to retrieve Antiope and kill Epopeus. Lycus did as the King had asked of him and after a very short siege, Sicyon was his. He killed Epopeus and finally took his niece, Antiope, back to Thebes.

The Birth of Amphion and Zethus

While passing through Eleutherae on the way back to Thebes, Antiope gave birth to two sons who she named Zethus and Amphion. She loved her two boys but her uncle, Lycus ordered her to abandon them somewhere because he thought they were Epopeus’ sons. Antiope was brokenhearted, but having no choice, she left the two boys on Mount Cithairon, to die.

As was common in many Greek mythological tales, the abandoned infants didn’t die after all, because they were rescued by a shepherd who raised them as his own children. Zeus also kept an eye on them and sent another of his sons, Hermes, to help take care of them. Hermes , the messenger god, taught his two  little stepbrothers everything he knew. Under his tutelage, Zethus became an excellent hunter and was very good at keeping cattle while Amphion became a brilliant musician.

Dirce and Antiope

Antiope returned to Thebes with Lycus, believing her children to be dead, but her return wasn’t a happy one. Lycus’ wife, Dirce, chained Antiope so that she wouldn’t be able to escape and kept her as her own personal slave.

There are some speculations that Dirce hated Antiope because Antiope had been married to Lycus, as his first wife, before she left Thebes. If so, this could be why Dirce mistreated her.  

Antiope Escapes

After many years passed, Antiope finally got the chance to escape from the clutches of Dirce. Zeus hadn’t forgotten about his lover and one day, the chains that bound Antiope were loosened and she was able to free herself.

Then, with Zeus’ help and guidance, she escaped and made it to Mount Cithairon where she knocked on the door of a shepherd’s house. The shepherd welcomed her and gave her food and shelter but Antiope didn’t know that this was the same house where her sons, now grown up, also lived.  

The Death of Dirce

Some time later, Dirce came to Mount Cithairon for she was also a Maenad and wanted to make offerings to Dionysus. As soon as she saw Antiope, she ordered two men who were standing nearby, to seize her and tie her on a bull. The men were Antiope’s sons, Zethus and Amphion, who were unaware that this was their own mother.

At this point, the shepherd stepped in and revealed the truth about the two boys. Instead of Antiope, Dirce was tied to the bull’s horns and allowed to be dragged by the animal as it ran. After she died, Zethus and Amphion threw her body into a pool, which was named after her.

Dirce, bound to the horns of a wild bull by Amphion and Zethus (in the presence of their mother Antiope)
Dirce, bound to the horns of a wild bull by Amphion and Zethus (in the presence of their mother Antiope). By ArchaiOptix – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

Antiope’s Punishment

Antiope’s sons returned to Thebes and killed Lycus (or forced him to abdicate the throne). The two brothers took over the kingdom. All was well in Thebes, but Antiope’s troubles were far from over.

In the meantime, the god Dionysus was angry that his follower, Dirce, had been killed and he wanted revenge. However, he knew he couldn’t harm Zethus and Amphion as they were the sons of Zeus. Dionysis did not want to incur the wrath of the supreme god, so instead, he took his anger out on Antiope and literally drove her mad.

Antiope wandered restlessly all over Greece, until she finally came to Phocis, ruled by King Phocus, the son of Ornytion. King Phocus cured Antiope of her insanity and fell in love with her. He married her and the two lived happily till the end of their days. After their death, they were both buried together in the same tomb on Mount Parnassus.

Facts About Antiope

  1. Who was Antiope? Antiope was a Theban princess who attracted the eye of Zeus.
  2. Why did Zeus change himself into a Satyr? Zeus wanted to sleep with Antiope and used the satyr’s disguise as a way to blend into Dionysus’ retinue and get close to Antiope.
  3. Who are Antiope’s children? The twin brothers, Zethus and Amphion.

Wrapping Up

Many are unfamiliar with Antiope’s story since she’s one of the minor characters in Greek mythology. Although she suffered immensely, she was one of the luckier characters since she managed to find peace towards the end of her life in her marriage to Phocus.  

Affiliate Disclosures
Dani Rhys
Dani Rhys

Dani Rhys has worked as a writer and editor for over 15 years. She holds a Masters degree in Linguistics and Education, and has also studied Political Science, Ancient History and Literature. She has a wide range of interests ranging from ancient cultures and mythology to Harry Potter and gardening. She works as the chief editor of Symbol Sage but also takes the time to write on topics that interest her.