Nourisher of the Mind
TROPHONIOS (Trophonius) was a man who was swallowed up by the earth and transformed into the oracular demigod or daimon (spirit) of a cave near the town of Lebadeia in Boiotia. His name means "Nourisher of the Mind" from the Greek tropheô words and noos.
Trophonios' mortal life is not described here, only his apotheosis and cult.
FAMILY OF TROPHONIUS
[1.1] APOLLON (Pausanias 9.32.5)
[1.2] ERGINOS (Pausanias 9.32.5)
TROPHO′NIUS (Trophônios), a son of Erginus, king of Orchomenus, or of Apollo. He with his brother Agamedes built the temple at Delphi and the treasury of king Hyrieus in Boeotia. (Hom. Hymn. in Apoll. 296 ; Paus. ix. 37 and 39; Strab. ix. p. 421.) After his death he was worshipped as a hero, and had a celebrated oraele in cave near Lebadeia in Boeotia. ( Herod. i. 46; Strab. ix. p. 414; Eurip. Ion, 300 ; Aristoph. Nab. 502.)
Source: Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology.
CLASSICAL LITERATURE QUOTES
Herodotus, Histories 1. 46. 1 (trans. Godley) (Greek historian C5th B.C.) :
"Kroisos (Croesus) [historical Lydian king] . . . determined, if he could, to forestall the increase of the Persian power before they became great. Having thus determined, he at once made inquiries of the Greek and Libyan oracles, sending messengers separately to Delphoi (Delphi), to Abai (Abae) in Phokia, and to Dodona, while others were despatched to [the oracles of] Amphiaraus and Trophonios, and others to Brankhidae in the Milesian country. These are the Greek oracles to which Kroisos sent for divination : and he told others to go inquire of Ammon in Libya. His intent in sending was to test the knowledge of the oracles, so that, if they were found to know the truth, he might send again and ask if he should undertake an expedition against the Persians."
Herodotus, Histories 8. 133. 1 :
"He [the historical Greek general Mardonios] sent a man of Europos called Mys to visit the places of divination, charging him to inquire of all the oracles which he could test. What it was that he desired to learn from the oracles when he gave this charge, I cannot say, for no one tells of it. I suppose that he sent to inquire concerning his present business, and that alone. This man Mys is known to have gone to Lebadea and to have bribed a man of the country to go down into the cave of Trophonios and to have gone to the place of divination at Abai in Phokis. He went first to Thebes where he inquired of Ismenian Apollon . . . and moreover he bribed one who was no Theban but a stranger to lie down to sleep in the shrine of Amphiaraus."
Aristophanes, Clouds 506 (trans. O'Neill) (Greek comedy C5th to 4th B.C.) :
"First give me a honey-cake, for to descend down there sets me all a-tremble; it looks like the cave of Trophonios." [N.B. Honey-cakes were brought by suppliants to the oracle to placate the sacred serpents.]
Strabo, Geography 9. 2. 38 (trans. Jones) (Greek geographer C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"At Lebadeia is situated an oracle of Zeus Trophonios. The oracle has a descent into the earth consisting of an underground chasm; and the person who consults the oracle descends into it himself. It is situated between Mount Helikon (Helicon) and Khaironeia (Chaeronia), near Koroneia (Coronea)."
Pausanias, Description of Greece 1. 34. 2 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.) :
"I can enumerate other men also born at this time [the age of heroes] who are worshipped among the Greeks as gods; some even have cities dedicated to them, such as . . . Lebadea of the Boiotians dedicated to Trophonios."
Pausanias, Description of Greece 4. 16. 7 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.) :
"[Aristomenes] recoverd his shield also, going to Delphoi and descending into the holy shrine of Trophonios at Lebadeia, as the Pythia bade. Afterwards he took the shield to Lebadeia and dedicated it, and I myself have seen it there among the offerings . . . Now on his return from Boiotia, having learnt of the shield at the shrine of Trophonios and recovered it, he at once engaged in greater deeds."
Pausanias, Description of Greece 9. 37. 4 :
"Obeying the oracle [of Delphoi] he [King Erginos of Orkhomenos (Orchomenus)] took to himself a young wife and had children, Trophonios and Agamedes. Trophonios is said to have been a son of Apollon, not of Erginos. This I am inclined to believe, as does everyone who has gone to Trophonios to inquire of his oracle. They say that these, when they grew up, proved clever at building sanctuaries for the gods and palaces for men. For they built the temple for Apollon at Delphoi and the treasury for Hyrieus. One of the stones in it they made so that they could take it away from the outside. So they kept on removing something from the store. Hyrieus was dumbfounded when he saw the keys and seals untampered with, while the treasure kept on getting less. So he set over the vessels, in which were his silver and gold, snares or other contrivance, to arrest any who should enter and lay hands on the treasure. Agamedes entered and was kept fast in the trap, but Trophonios cut off his head, lest when day came his brother should be tortured, and he himself be informed of as being concerned in the crime. The earth opened and swallowed up Trophonios at the point in the grove at Lebadeia where is what is called the pit of Agamedes, with a slab beside it."
Pausanias, Description of Greece 9. 39. 2 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.) :
"[The town of Lebadeia in Boiotia] is separated from the grove of Trophonios by the river Herkyna (Hercyna) . . . In the cave are the sources of the river and images standing, and serpents are coiled around their sceptres. One might conjecture the images be of Asklepios (Asclepius) and Hygeia (Health), but they might be Trophonios and Herkyna, because they think that serpents are just as much sacred to Trophonios as Asklepios."
Pausanias, Description of Greece 9. 39. 3 ff (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.) :
"The most famous things in the grove [at Lebadeia in Boiotia] are a temple and image of Trophonios; the image made by Praxiteles, is after the likeness of Asklepios (Aclepius) . . . If you go up to the oracle, and thence onwards up the mountain, you come to what is called Kore's (Core's) Hunting . . . What happens at the oracle is as follows. When a man has made up his mind to descend to the oracle of Trophonios, he first lodges in a certain building for an appointed number of days, this being sacred to the Daimonos Agathon (Good Daimon) and to Tykhe (Tyche, Fortune). While he lodges there, among other regulations for purity he abstains from hot baths, bathing only in the river Herkyna (Hercyna). Meat he has in plenty from the sacrifices, for he who descends sacrifices to Trophonios himself and to the children of Trophonios, to Apollon also and Kronos (Cronus), to Zeus surnamed King, to Hera Charioteer, and to Demeter whom they surname Europa and say was the nurse of Trophonios. At each sacrifice a diviner is present, who looks into the entrails of the victim, and after an inspection prophesies to the person descending whether Trophonios will give him a kind and gracious reception. The entrails of the other victims do not declare the mind of Trophonios as much as a ram, which each inquirer sacrifices over a pit on the night he descends, calling upon Agamedes. Even though the previous sacrifices have appeared propitious, no account is taken of them unless the entrails of this ram indicate the same; but if they agree, then the inquirer descends in good hope.
The procedure of the descent is this. First, during the night he is taken to the river Herkyna (Hercyna) by two boys of the citizens about thirteen years old, named Hermai (Hermae), who after taking him there anoint him with oil and wash him. It is these who wash the descender, and do all the other necessary services as his attendant boys. After this he is taken by the priests, not at once to the oracle, but to fountains of water very near to each other. Here he must drink water called the water of Lethe, that he may forget all that he has been thinking of hitherto, and afterwards he drinks of another water, the water of Mnemosyne (Memory), which causes him to remember what he sees after his descent. After looking at the image which they say was made by Daidalos (Daedalus)--it is not shown by the priests save to such as are going to visit Trophonios--, having seen it, worshipped it and prayed, he proceeds to the oracle, dressed in a linen tunic, with ribbons girding it, and wearing the boots of the country. The oracle is on the mountain, beyond the grove. Round it is a circular basement of white marble, the circumference of which is about that of the smallest threshing-floor, while its height is just short of two cubits. On the basement stand spikes, which, like the cross-bars holding them together, are of bronze, while through them has been made a double door. Within the enclosure is a chasm in the earth, not natural, but artificially constructed after the most accurate masonry. The shape of this structure is like that of a bread-oven. Its breadth across is the middle one might conjecture to be about four cubits, and its depth also could not be estimated to extend to more than eight cubits. They have made no way of descent to the bottom, but when a man comes to Trophonios, they bring him a narrow, light ladder. After going down he finds a hole between the floor and the structure. Its breadth appeared to be two spans, and its height one span. The descender lies with his back on the ground, holding barley-cakes kneaded with honey, thrusts his feet into the hold and himself follows, trying hard to get his knees into the hole. After his knees the rest of his body is at once swiftly drawn in, just as the largest and most rapid river will catch a man in its eddy and carry him under. After this those who have entered the shrine learns the future, not in one and the same way in all cases, but by sight sometimes and at other times by hearing. The return upwards is by the same mouth, the feet darting out first. They say that no one who has made the descent has been killed, save only one of the bodyguard of Demetrios. But they declare that he performed none of the usual rites in the sanctuary, and he descended not to consult the god but in the hope of stealing gold and silver from the shrine. It is said the body of this man appeared in a different place, and was not cast out at the sacred mouth . . .
After his ascent from Trophonios the inquirer is again taken in hand by the priests, who set him upon a chair called the chair of Mnemosyne (Memory), which stands not far from the shrine, and they ask of him, when seated there, all he has seen or learned. After gaining this information they then entrust him to his relatives. These lift him, paralysed with terror and unconscious both of himself and of his surroundings, and carry him to the building where he lodged before with Tykhe (Fortune) and the Daimon Agathos (Good Spirit). Afterwards, however, he will recover all his faculties, and the power to laugh will return to him. What I write is not hearsay; I have myself inquired of Trophonios and seen other inquirers. Those who have descended into the shrine of Trophonios are obliged to dedicate a tablet on which is written all that each has heard or seen . . .
This oracle was once unknown to the Boiotians, but they learned of it the following way. As there had been no rain for a year and more, they sent to Delphoi envoys from each city. These asked for a cure for the drought, and were bidden by the Pythia to go to Trophonios at Lebadeia and to discover the remedy from him. Coming to Lebadeia they could not find the oracle. Thereupon Saon, one of the envoys from the city Akraiphnion and the oldest of all the envoys, saw a swarm of bees. It occurred to him to follow himself wheresoever the bees turned. At once he saw the bees flying into the ground here, and he went with them into the oracle. It is said that Trophonios taught this Saon the customary ritual, and all the observances kept at the oracle. Of all the works of Daidalos there are these two in Boiotia, a Herakles in Thebes and the Trophonios at Lebadeia."
Plutarch, Life of Aristides 19. 1 (trans. Perrin) (Greek historian C1st to C2nd A.D.) :
"The contest [the historical Persian War] thus begun in two places, the Lakedaimonians (Lacedaemonians) were first to repulse the Persians. Mardonios [the Greek general] was slain by a man of Sparta named Arimnestos, who crushed his head with a stone, even as was foretold him by the oracle in the shrine of Amphiaraus. Thither he had sent a Lydian man, and a Karian besides to the oracle of Trophonios. This latter the prophet actually addressed in the Karian tongue."
Philostratus, Life of Apollonius of Tyana 8. 19 (trans. Conybeare) (Greek biography C1st to C2nd A.D.) :
"[The historical pagan prophet Apollonios of Tyana speaks :] ‘I must go down to Lebadeia, for I have never yet had an interview with Trophonios, although I once visited his shrine.’ And with these words he at once started for Boiotia attended by every one of his admirers. Now the cavern in Lebadeia is dedicated to Trophonios, the son of Apollon, and it can only be entered by those who resort thither in order to get an oracle, and it is not visible in the temple, but lies a little above it on a mound; and it is shut in by iron spits which surround it, and you descent into it as it were sitting down and being drawn down. Those who enter it are clad in white raiment, and are escorted thither with honey-cakes in their hands to appease the reptiles which assail them as they descend. But the earth brings them to the surface again, in some cases close by, but in other cases a long way off; for they are sent up to the surface beyond Lokris and beyond Phokis, but most of them about the borders of Boiotia. Accordingly Apollonios entered the shrine and said : ‘I wish to descent into the cave in the interests of philosophy.’
But the priests opposed him and though they told the multitude that they would never allow a Wizard (Gonta) like him to examine and test the shrine, they pretended to the sage himself that only nefarious and impure women ever gave the oracles. So on that day he delivered a discourse at the springs of Herkyne, about the origin and conduct of the shrine; for it is the only oracle which gives responses through the person himself who consults it. And when the evening approached, hew went to the mouth of the cave with his train of youthful followers, and having pulled up four of the obelisks, which constitute a bar to the passage, he went down below ground wearing his philosopher's mantle, having dressed himself as if he were going to deliver an address upon philosophy,--a step which the god Trophonios so thoroughly approved of, that he appeared to the priests and rebuked them for the reception they had given to Apollonios, but enjoined them all to follow him to Aulis, for he said it was there that he would come to the surface in such a marvellous fashion as no man before. And in fact he emerged after seven days, a longer period than it had taken anyone of those who until then had entered the oracle, and he had with him a volume thoroughly in keeping with he questions he had asked: for he had gone down saying : ‘What Trophonios, do you consider to be the most complete and purest philosophy?’ And the volume contained the tenets of Pythagoras, a good proof this, that the oracle was in agreement with this form of wisdom."
Aelian, Historical Miscellany 3. 45 (trans. Wilson) (Greek rhetorician C2nd to 3rd A.D.) :
"They say Philippos (Phillip) [historical king of Makedonia] received an oracle in Boiotia at the shrine of Trophonios, to the effect that he must be on his guard against a chariot. The tradition has it that he was in fear of the oracle and never got up into his chariot. After this the story circulates in two versions. Some say that the sword of Pausanias, with which he killed Philippos, had a chariot carved in ivory on the handle; the other version is that he was assassinated after walking round the lake at Thebes known as Harma (Chariot). The first story is popular, the second is not found everywhere."
Cicero, De Natura Deorum 3. 19 (trans. Rackham) (Roman rhetorician C1st B.C.) :
"If we allow [that] Ino [is divine], are we going to make Amphiaraus and Trophonius divine? The Roman tax-farmers finding that lands in Boeotia belonging to the immortal gods were exempted by the censor's regulations, used to maintain that nobody was immortal who had once upon a time been a human being."
- Aristophanes, Clouds - Greek Comedy C5th - 4th B.C.
- Herodotus, Histories - Greek History C5th B.C.
- Strabo, Geography - Greek Geography C1st B.C. - C1st A.D.
- Pausanias, Description of Greece - Greek Travelogue C2nd A.D.
- Plutarch, Lives - Greek Historian C1st - 2nd A.D.
- Aelian, Historical Miscellany - Greek Rhetoric C2nd - 3rd A.D.
- Philostratus, Life of Apollonius of Tyana - Greek Biography C2nd A.D.
- Cicero, De Natura Deorum - Latin Rhetoric C1st B.C.