Classical Mythology: Mutual Mistrust: The High Cost of Jealousy

Mutual Mistrust: The High Cost of Jealousy

Pandion died of grief over his lost daughters, leaving his son Erechtheus to rule Athens. Erechtheus had many daughters of his own. But sadly, one of them, Procris, suffered a fate as tragic as those of her aunts.

A Test of Fidelity

Mythed by a Mile

Apollodorus paints quite a different picture of Procris as a faithless wife. She first allowed herself to be seduced by a man named Pteleon, who bribed her with a golden crown. Fearful of what Cephalus might do when he found out, Procris fled to Crete, where Minos also seduced her. Minos, rather than Artemis, gave Procris the relentless hound and the infallible spear—as bribes to get her into his bed. The wrath of Pasipha, Minos's wife, now seemed more threatening than her husband's anger. So Procris fled Crete, too. Returning to her husband, she presented him the rewards of her shame—the hound and the spear—as a peace offering. Only then did the couple reconcile and live happily together.

Procris married Cephalus, a prince of Phocis, and the couple were deliriously happy together—but only for a couple of months. One day while Cephalus was hunting, Eos, the goddess of dawn, became enamored with him and carried him away. After she had her way with him, the goddess kept Cephalus with her for some time. Cephalus did not resist her advances, but he dreamed and spoke only of his beloved Procris. Finally, the annoyed goddess sent him home, but angrily warned him that he would one day regret having married Procris.

The words of Eos sowed distrust in Cephalus's heart. He began to wonder what she had meant. Had his wife remained faithful to him? After all, Eos had kept him away for quite a while. Could Procris have strayed?

Unable to silence his doubts, Cephalus decided to test his wife's honor and love for him. With the help of Eos, he disguised himself so thoroughly that even Procris would not recognize him. Approaching his own home as a stranger, Cephalus began courting his wife. Procris repeatedly turned the “stranger” away, explaining that her heart, body, and soul were all pledged to one man.

Finding gifts and words unpersuasive, the disguised Cephalus offered her a fortune to lie with him. When he doubled his offer, Procris hesitated, if only for a moment. But Cephalus seized on that moment, revealing himself and shaming his wife.

Procris, hurt by her husband's distrust and ashamed that she had even considered succumbing to temptation, fled their home to devote herself to Artemis, the virgin goddess of hunting. Left on his own, Cephalus realized that he had wronged his wife. He sought her out, apologized, confessed his own indiscretion with Eos, and pleaded with her to return. Moved to compassion, the loving Procris reconciled with her husband. Returning home, she brought gifts from Artemis: Laelaps, a hound that never failed to catch its prey, and a spear that always hit its mark. The couple spent many more happy years together.

The Spy Who Loved Him

One day, a gossip came running from the woods to tell Procris that her husband had betrayed her. This rumor-monger overheard Cephalus, after a hunt, tenderly calling out the name Aura. What's more, Cephalus had been heard whispering words of praise to Aura for “her sweet breath” and the joy he felt when it touched his skin.

Jealous and wounded by this news, Procris collapsed with grief. Torn between trust and distrust, she refused to believe the story without further proof—but then she set out to gather that proof. The next morning, Procris trailed her husband, trying to catch him in the act (while all the time hoping she wouldn't).

After a long day's hunt, Procris too heard her husband calling out to Aura. When she sighed with anguish and crept closer to get a better look, Cephalus heard her rustling in the bushes. “A beast!” he thought, letting his unerring spear fly into the thicket.

Hearing his wife's cry, Cephalus raced to the bushes and found her bloodied body, his spear piercing her breast. As Cephalus tried to save her, Procris begged her husband, if he loved her at all, never to let Aura into their bedroom. Too late, Cephalus recognized the misunderstanding that had led them to this fate. Through his tears, he explained that he had merely been calling for a breeze (aura) to cool him after his exhausting hunt. Procris smiled weakly with relief, but died in her husband's arms moments later.

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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Classical Mythology © 2004 by Kevin Osborn and Dana L. Burgess, Ph.D.. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

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