Most of the nymphs in mythology are more or less anonymous, extras in the ancient Greek dramas, but Cyrene played an important role. She mixed with the major gods of the time. Cyrene was a fresh water nymph or naiad whose parents were Hypseus (a mortal) and Chlidanope (a naiad). Cyrene was not interested in household tasks like weaving and spinning but instead loved to hunt. She would spend all day and half the night hunting. Once Apollo saw her wrestling with a lion. He immediately fell in love with her and called his friend Cheiron the centaur to ask about her. Cheiron knew that Apollo was already determined to seduce Cyrene, as he had seduced many of the other nymphs in mythology. He told Apollo that Cyrene would live in a golden palace and bare important offspring.

Apollo took Cyrene away in his golden chariot and brought her to Libya. Aphrodite met them there and bedded them without delay. Apollo granted Cyrene long life and a rich and fertile kingdom. Nine months later she gave birth to Aristaeus.

Aristaeus became a bee keeper and went to live at Tempe in Arcadia. There all his bees died and Aristaeus could not discover the cause. Saddened, he went to a deep pool of the river Peneius and called to his mother. Surrounded by her friends, the famous nymphs of mythology, Cyrene heard him. She sent Arethusa to poke her head above the water and invite him down to her kingdom. Once there, Aristaeus told his mother about the dead bees and asked her advice. Cyrene said that Aristaeus must consult Proteus, a wise prophet that the nymphs of mythology greatly respected. Proteus, however, would not willingly volunteer any information. Instead Aristaeus must capture him and hold him in fetters (ancient handcuffs). Proteus had the power to change his form and would assume many terrible shapes to frighten Aristaeus, but Aristaeus must hold onto him. In the end Proteus would surrender.

Aristaeus journeyed to the cave were Proteus took his midday rest and waited for him. When Proteus appeared and settled down to sleep Aristaeus put the fetters on him and held as tightly as he could. Proteus assumed the form of fire, then flood, then a lion but Aristaeus held on. Proteus, giving up, assumed his human form and asked what Aristaeus wanted from him. Aristaeus asked about his dead bees and Proteus told him that he was being punished for inadvertently causing the death of Eurydice (from the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice).

Returning to Cyrene's palace, Aristaeus told his mother what Proteus had said. She advised him to sacrifice four bulls and four cows to the Dryads (forest nymphs in mythology and the friends of Eurydice). He was to leave the bodies on the ground for nine days and then return early in the morning.

Aristaeus did as Cyrene had said and on the ninth day saw that some bees had started a new colony in the body of one of the dead animals. He put the bees into a hive and taught men this new method of raising a swarm. Since that time he has been honored as Zeus by the people of Arcadia.

Click here for more on the nymphs in mythology.

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