Category: Gods > Principal Gods

1 Ancient definitions of the Tritopatores

“Demon, in his Atthis,* says that the Tritopatores are winds.
“Philochorus, on the other hand, says the Tritopatores are the first of all to come into being; for people then knew that the Earth and the Sun, he says, whom they also call Apollon, were their ancestors, but that those who were born of them were the third fathers (trítoi patéres).
“Phanodemus, in book 6, says that only the Athenians sacrifice and pray to them, (namely) for the birth of children, when they are about to marry.
“In the Physicus of Orpheus, (it is said) that the Tritopatores are named Amalkeídēs, Prōtoklês and Prōtokréōn, and that they are door-keepers (thyrōroí) and guardians (phýlakes) of the winds.
“The author of the Exegeticum says that they are the children of Heaven and Earth, and their names are Cottus, Briareos and Gyges.”

*Atthis is a book title used by various writers on Attica,
hence called Atthidographers.

This account (from Harpocration, Lexicon of the Ten Attic Orators s.v. Τριτοπάτορες) is also found in the Byzantine Etymologicum Magnum and Suda. The Lexicon ascribed to Photius also has it, but in addition, the following separate entry (s.v. Τριτοπάτωρ):

“The Tritopátreis are the winds.
“But Philochorus (says) they are the first (children) of Earth and Heaven, ruling birth (or ‘fertility’, génesis).
“And in the Orphica, children of winds.”

Hesychius (Lexicon s.v. Τριτοπάτορας) has a similar entry:

“The winds, born of Heaven and Earth, and the rulers (arkhēgétai) of birth.
“Others (say), the forefathers (or ‘ancestors’, propatéres).”

There is, besides, a passage from Cicero’s On the Nature of the Gods 3.53 that is evidently related in some way to the same group of gods:

“There are many ways in which the Greeks use the name Dioscoroe (=Dioskoroi/Dioscuri). The first are three, who are called Anactes (‘kings’) in Athens, Tritopatreus, Eubuleus and Dionysus, born of the most ancient king Jupiter and Proserpine.”

2 Understanding the Tritopatores

The constants in the above definitions are that the Tritopatores are very ancient, whether actually the third to come into being, three in number, or simply ancestors (this in all sources); have power over procreation (this in Attic worship at any rate); and are somehow associated with the winds (this in an Orphic poem and at least one Atthidographer, Demon).

In the last case, the word would mean nothing else than the (very rare) common noun tripátores, as explained in the Rhetorical Glosses edited by Bekker (Anecdota Graeca, vol. 1, p. 307, s.v. Τριπάτορες):

“Some (say) the earliest forebears (arkhēgétai).
“Others (say) the third from the father,* that is, the great-grandfathers (propáppoi).”

*Counting inclusively: (1) father, (2) grandfather, (3) great-grandfather.

Or the equivalent tripatreîs, as explained by Hesychius (Lexicon, s.v. Τριπατρεῖς):

“The first who were born.”

The meaning of earliest ancestors is further suggested by an Attic dedicatory inscription to the Tritopatréōn Euergidôn (SEG 21:650), apparently meaning the “Tritopatreis” or “earliest ancestors of the Euergidae” (if this is the name of a family or clan), and a Delian inscription reading Tritopátōr Pyrrhakidôn (ID 66), “earliest ancestor of the Pyrrhacidae”.

Further confirmation of a connection to the dead is found in two inscriptions that give lists of sacrifices, one simply naming a sheep for the Tritopatreis (IG II² 1358), the other further specifying that the sheep is offered “soberly (nēphálios)” (without wine offering) and that there must be “no portion taken away (ou phorá)”, i.e., no mortal sharing the meat (SEG 21:541). Both of these limitations are typical of (if not exclusive to) sacrifices to those in the underworld.

Perhaps the most interesting inscription (CGRN 13: off-site link), however, is from 5th-century Selinous in Sicily, proving Phanodemus’ claim that they were worshipped only in Athens wrong – unless perhaps he meant that only the Athenians prayed to them for procreation, since the purpose of the rites at Selinous was indeed very different. But I shall address this inscription in another article.

For now, it will suffice to conclude that, by all accounts, the Tritopatores or Tritopatreis were understood as distant forebears – but since humans were believed to come from the gods in one sense or another, they could be understood either as early human ancestors or as some of the first gods. The latter view was apparently more attractive to ancient intellectuals, while modern scholars favor the former. Yet manifestly both are valid.

3 The names of the Tritopatores

Fittingly, we have three sets of names for the Tritopatores. One is attributed to Orpheus: Amalkeídēs, Prōtoklês and Prōtokréōn. We hear a little more about them in the scholia on Lycophron’s Alexandra, compiled by the Byzantine philologist John Tzetzes. In a scholium on line 738, he compares them to Aeolus, the lord (despótēs) of winds in Homer: “And similarly, Amalkeídēs[!], Prōtoklês and Prōtokréōn, as Orpheus says; and they said that these are lords of winds such that they can catch whichever they wish of them in a bag, but permit the others to blow.” To take the names individually, Prōtoklês is composed of ‘first’ and ‘fame’ and Prōtokréōn of ‘first’ and ‘ruler’. Amalk- or Amakleídēs is obscure.

Cottus, Briareos and Gyges, the names given in the Exegeticum (perhaps a work explaining Athenian rituals?), are the Hecatoncheires.

Tritopatreus, Eubuleus and Dionysus go back not to Cicero himself but an anonymous Greek source which freely combined, disjoined and invented mythical traditions. It is not clear, therefore, whether Eubuleus and Dionysus are to be taken as Tritopatreis or whether the whole notion of Tritopatreis has been transformed into something new. In any case, Eubuleus is an epithet of Dionysus, but also related to other gods (Zeus, Plouton).