Hypermestra to Lynceus
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Hypermestra to Lynceus book
There was a war over the kingship of Egypt between two Greek brothers – Danaus (who had fifty daughters) and Aegyptus (who had fifty sons). The writer of this letter, Hypermestra (one of the Danaids = daughters of Danaus), says that Aegyptus and his sons seized the kingdom and drove Danaus and his girls into exile. They fled to Argos in Greece. Aegyptus and his boys subsequently pursued them there, and he forced his brother to marry the young women to their cousins (according to one account to stop them wedding other men who might help them get revenge, according to another so Aegyptus could have them in his power and kill them). The marriages took place in the palace of Pelasgus (a current or former king of Argos). Danaus secretly gave his offspring swords and told them to kill the new grooms on their wedding-night when they fell asleep. All the Danaids did this except for Hypermestra, who bravely and nobly spared her man (Lynceus), because she regarded killing him as a crime and not the way a wife should treat her husband. Out of fear of her brutal father she nearly put Lynceus to death, but, after veering to and fro over what to do (see 53ff.), she woke him up instead and told him to flee. He awoke to see her with a sword in her hand, and she didn’t have time to explain it then, but got him to slip away under cover of darkness. The next morning Danaus was enraged when he discovered that Lynceus had escaped death and imprisoned her in chains. At this point, certain that she will be executed, she writes this letter, asking Lynceus to come to her aid or at least to give her a proper funeral and a tomb with an inscription recording her good deed. There was a happy ending, although there are different versions of what actually happened later. In one tradition Danaus relented and reunited his daughter with Lynceus; in another Lynceus returned and killed Danaus and/or his other girls; while in another Hypermestra was put on trial in Argos but was acquitted, and her sisters and father were condemned instead. It was also said that Hypermestra and Lynceus stayed married and she bore him a son, who founded a royal dynasty in Argos.