Phocus /ˈfoʊkəs/ (Φῶκος) was the name of the eponymous hero of Phocis in Greek mythology. Ancient sources relate of more than one figure of this name, and of these at least two are explicitly said to have had Phocis named after them. A scholiast on the Iliad distinguishes between two possible eponyms: Phocus the son of Aeacus and Psamathe, and Phocus the son of Poseidon and Pronoe.
Phocus, son of Aeacus
Phocus of Aegina was the son of Aeacus and Psamathe. His mother, the Nereid goddess of sand beaches, transformed herself into a seal when she was ambushed by Aeacus, and was raped as a seal; conceived in the rape, Phocus' name means "seal". According to Pindar, Psamathe gave birth to Phocus on the seashore. By Asteria or Asterodia, Phocus had twin sons, Crisus and Panopeus.
Aeacus favored Phocus over Peleus and Telamon, his two sons with Endeïs. The Bibliotheca characterizes Phocus as a strong athlete, whose athletic ability caused his half-brothers to grow jealous. Their jealousy drove them to murder him during sport practice; Telamon, the stronger half-brother, threw a discus at Phocus' head, killing him. The brothers hid the corpse in a thicket, but Aeacus discovered the body and punished Peleus and Telamon by exiling them from Aegina. Telamon was sent to Salamis, where he became king after Cychreus, the reigning king, died without an heir, while Peleus went to Phthia, where he was purified by the Phthian King Eurythion.
However, the tradition varies with regards to the nature of Phocus' death. Other myths use the following as a means to describe Phocus' death:
- Telamon threw a quoit at his head.
- Telamon killed him with a spear while hunting.
- Peleus killed him with a stone during a contest in pentathlon to please Endeis, as Phocus was her husband's son by a different woman.
- Some authors simply mention that Peleus and Telamon killed Phocus out of envy, without giving any details.
- Other sources say that whichever brother was responsible, it was an accident.
John Tzetzes relates that Psamathe sent a wolf to avenge her son's death, but when the wolf began to devour Peleus' kine, Thetis changed it into stone.
According to Pausanias, Phocus visited the region that was later called Phocis shortly before his death, with the intent of settling there and gaining rule over the local inhabitants. During his stay there, he became friends with Iaseus: Pausanias describes a painting of Phocus giving his seal ring to Iaseus as a sign of friendship; the author notes that Phocus is portrayed as a youth while Iaseus looks older and has a beard. Elsewhere, Pausanias mentions that Phocus' sons Crisus and Panopaeus emigrated to Phocis.
The tomb of Phocus was shown at Aegina beside the shrine of Aeacus.
Phocus, son of Ornytion
Phocus the Corinthian was a son of Ornytion (or Ornytus) and grandson of Sisyphus; some called him son of Poseidon. Thus he might be the same as the son of Poseidon and Pronoe referenced in the scholia on Iliad, see above. Leaving the kingdom of Corinth to his brother Thoas, he led a colony to the region of Tithorea and Mount Parnassus; the land came to be named Phocis after him.
Phocus is said to have cured the wandering Antiope of her madness, which she had been struck with by Dionysus who was outraged by Dirce's death, and to have married her; they were buried in one and the same grave.
Phocus the Boeotian
Phocus of Glisas, Boeotia, was father of a beautiful daughter Callirhoe. She was wooed by thirty suitors, but Phocus was hesitant to let his daughter marry one of them. At last he announced he would be consulting the Pythian oracle before making a final decision; the suitors got outraged by that and killed Phocus. Callirhoe had to flee from the suitors; some peasants hid her away in the grain, and thus she escaped them. During the festival of Pamboeotia, she went to the shrine of Athena Itonia at Coronea and revealed the crime of her suitors to the public; the people sympathized with her and declared a war on her father's murderers. Those sought refuge first in Orchomenus, and then in the town of Hippotae which lay between Thisbe and Coronea. The inhabitants of Hippotae refused to deliver them up, so the Boeotian army under command of the Theban governor Phoedus captured the town, enslaved its citizens and stoned the suitors to death. The town was destroyed, and the land divided between Thisbe and Coronea. The night before the capture of Hippotae, a voice coming from Mount Helicon had repeatedly been heard at the town; it would utter "I'm here", and the suitors recognized it as that of Phocus. On the day the suitors were executed, Phocus' tomb ran with saffron. Phoedus, on his way back home, received the news that a daughter was born to him, and decided to name her Nicostrate ("Victorious Army").
Phocus is also the name of the son of Phocion.