Shakespeare's Myths

Hesione, Also Exion(e), Exiona, Exyone


Related entries
 Hercules, Telamon, Teucer, Ajax, Helen, Priam, Hector, Troilus, Cressida


Hesione is a daughter of Laomedon, king of Troy, and sister of Priam. The abduction of Hesione by Hercules is sometimes regarded as a cause of the rape of Helen by Paris, and hence of the Trojan War.


Apollodorus narrates the tale of Hesione as a two-part story. In the first part (II, v), Apollo and Neptune helped Laomedon fortify Troy against wages. (The gods’ helping Laomedon in building the wall of Troy is mentioned in the Iliad, VII, 452-53 and XXI, 441-57. In the latter Poseidon says that he built it by himself while Phoebus herded Laomedon’s cattle.) When Laomedon would not pay the wages, Apollo sent a pestilence and Neptune a sea monster. As oracles foretold deliverance from these calamities by the sacrifice of Hesione, Laomedon bound her to a rock to be devoured by the sea monster. Hercules promised to save her in exchange for the horses which Laomedon had received from Zeus in compensation for Ganymede. However, when Hercules killed the monster and rescued Hesione, Laomedon once again refused to reward him and Hercules left, threatening to wage war on Troy. In the second part (II, vi), Hercules returned to Troy with volunteers after his servitude to Omphale. He conquered Troy, killed Laomedon and all his sons except for Podarces, and gave Hesione to Telamon, who was the first to enter the city. He also allowed Hesione to ransom Podarces, who came to be called Priam (based on the etymology from the Greek verb priamai “I buy”).


In Greek mythologies, Hesione gives birth to Teucer, famous as an archer in the Iliad. In this tradition, the “great” Ajax is a son of Telamon and Periboea or Eriboea (daughter of Alcathous, a son of Pelops) and half-brother of Teucer. Teucer refers to his own parenthood—that he was born of Telamon and a daughter of King Laomedon—in Sophocles’ Ajax (1299-1303)—though he does not give the name of his mother (he says that he was born of a barbarian mother [1288-89]).


In Metamorphoses XI, Ovid narrates the first part of the tale mentioned above, conflating it with the destruction of Troy by Hercules. According to this version, Apollo and Neptune helped Laomedon build the wall of Troy but when Laomedon refused to pay the gods their promised wages, Neptune flooded the fields and sent a monster demanding his daughter. Hesione was bound to a rock until Hercules came and rescued her in exchange for Laomedon’s horses. When Laomedon refused the promised reward, Hercules destroyed Troy and gave Hesione to Telamon. 


How to cite

Atsuhiko Hirota.  “Hesione.”  2013.  In A Dictionary of Shakespeare's Classical Mythology  (2009-), ed. Yves Peyré.

<< back to top >>