Θρᾴσσα, Thrassa


Mountain nymph, daughter of Ares and the Naiad Tereine (Τερεΐνη, from Greek τερέω – to pierce), granddaughter of Strymon (Larson 2001).

According to the moving narrative about Polyphonte by the mythographer Antoninus Liberalis (2nd century) in his Metamorphoses (Ant. Lib. Metam. 21, Martini 1896 = Μεταμορφώσεων Συναγωγή or Metamorphoseon Synagoge §21), the Thracian king Hipponous, son of Triballos, married the Nymph Thrassa and a daughter was born from that marriage, who was given the name of Polyphonte (Πολυφόντη – “Slayer of Many”). However, she scorned the activities of Aphrodite and set off to the mountains where she became companion of Artemis and shared her way of life. Angered that the girl did not show respect for her, Aphrodite evoked love for a bear in her. In a daemonic fit she coupled with the bear. Artemis was disgusted and sent all animals against her. Frightened, Polyphonte fled and found refuge in her father’s home where she gave birth to scary twins: half-human, half-bears, Agrios (from Greek ἄγριος – “wild”) and Oreios (from Greek ὄρειος – “mountain dweller”), who were huge and incredibly strong. However, they honoured no one – neither men, nor gods. If they met a stranger, they kidnapped him to take him home and eat him, which prompted Zeus to send Hermes to punish them for their ferociousness and cannibalism. Hermes decided to sever their hands and feet, but Ares, who was their great-grandfather, saved them from that punishment and with the help of Zeus’ herald he transformed them into ill-omen night birds: Polyphonte became a strix whose sinister cries during the night frightened and were used in magic spells; Oreios – an eagle-owl whose cries forebode nothing good, and Agrios – a vulture, a carrion-eating bird, hated by both gods and humans. The gods cursed them to suffer constantly from irresistible hunger for human flesh and blood … (see Cherubini 2009: 77–97).

The story is familiar only from the version of Antoninus Liberalis who cites as his original source the second book of the lost work by the mythographer Boios (Βοῖος) Ornithogonia (i.e., On the Origin of Birds), translated into Latin by the poet Aemilius Macer, close friend of Ovid and known for his Metamorphoses.

The mythological narrative suggests in its structure and associations the story about the metamorphosis of the Thracian king Tereus (Τηρεύς), of his wife Prokne and her sister Philomela, daughters of the Athenian king Pandion and assassins of the young Itys. Tereus, who was also son of Ares, albeit having unknowingly tasted the flesh of his son, metamorphosed into a bird (hoopoe), obeying the will of the gods and probably again with the participation of Hermes as messenger of Zeus. The Attic princesses who committed the heinous crime also metamorphosed into birds: nightingale and swallow (Лозанова 2003). The homonymy of Tereine and Tereus is noted (Larson 2001: 314, n. 178).

The name Thrassa was used to denote “Thracian woman” in the ancient Greek world, being a personal name derived from the ethnonym (Fraser 2000: 152, see Θρᾶιξ, Θρᾶισσα), as can be seen in big etymological dictionaries.

In the Suda Lexicon Θρῇσσα (Gaisford 1834: 1913) is explained as Thracian woman (ἡ Θρᾳκικὴ γυνή), whereas Θρᾷττα – as Θρᾳκικὴ δούλη, ἐκ Θρᾴκης (Gaisford 1834: 1910). Again there, the compiler mentions Aristophanes’ Thratta (Aristoph. Ach. 273), desired by Strymodoros: Ἀριστοφάνης Στρυμνοδώρου Θρᾷτταν. The same comment is included in the Etymologicon Gudianum, compiled ca. 10th century (p. 454. l. 21. Θράξ Sturz: 1818).

Similarly, the lexical encyclopaedia Etymologicon Magnum (p. 454, l. 21, Gaisford 1848), compiled ca. 1150 in Constantinople, gives the explanation Θρήϊσσα γυνὴ, καὶ Θράϊσσα to the lemma Θρᾷξ, Θράϊξ and the compiler specifies that the Athenians called them (the Thracian women) Θρᾶττα (Ἀθηναῖοι δὲ, Θρᾶττα λέγουσι). John Zonaras (12th century) (Tittimann 1898) also adds that Θράττα was a Thracian female slave, whereas Θρήσσα was a woman from Thrace (γυνή εκ Θράκης, θρύσσα).

The forms of the personal name vary: Θρᾷσσα, Θρᾷσα, Θράϊσσα, Θρᾶσσα, Θρᾷττα, Θρῇσσα, Θρήϊσσα, Θρέϊσσα, Thraessa, Threissa, Thressa (Liddell, Scott 1940 s. v.; Detschew 19762: 210–211).

It is interesting to note here the process through which Greek mythography personalised the collective figure of the Thracian woman as a mountain nymph, also associated with the name of the land, in which Dionysian connotations can also be detected (Лозанова 2018: 55–72).


Vanya Lozanova



Bekker, Im. 1854: Suidae Lexicon: ex recoginitione Immanuelis Bekkeri. Berolini.

 Cherubini, L. 2009: The virgin, the bear, the upside-down strix: An interpretation of Antoninus Liberalis 21. – Arethusa, 42 (1), 77–97.

Detschew, D. 19762: Die thrakischen Sprachreste. Wien.

Etymologicon Magnum. Ed. Gaisford, Th. Oxford, 1848.

Fraser, P. M. 2000: Ethnicas as personal names. – In: Hornblower, S., Matthews, E. (Eds.). Greek Personal Names: Their Value as Evidence. Oxford.

Gaisford, Th. 1834: Suidae Lexicon. T. 1. Oxford.

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