The Story of Laelaps and the Teumessian Fox in Greek Mythology

Updated on May 16, 2018

The story of Laelaps and the Teumessian Fox is a tale of a paradox that appears in Greek mythology, for Laelaps was a hound destined to catch whatever it chased, whilst the Teumessian Fox was destined to never be caught.

The two creatures from Greek mythology had their own stories but in the end the two stories would converge into one.

Laelaps

The story of Laelaps begins on Crete in the time of Europa. Europa had been abducted by Zeus, so that the god could ravish her. Europa would bear Zeus three sons, Minos, Sarpedon and Rhadamanthys, but of course the god could not stay with the mortal woman on Crete, and so Zeus left her and returned to Mount Olympus.

Zeus though did not completely abandon Europa, and to his conquest he gave three gifts; Talos, the man of bronze who would guard the shoreline of Crete; a javelin which always found its mark; and Laelaps, a dog that always caught what he hunted.

Eventually, the gifts of Zeus would pass to Europa’s son, Minos, the new king of Crete. Due to his indiscretions though, Minos’ wife, Pasiphae, had cursed him to ejaculate poisonous snakes and scorpions.

Procris, the Athenian princess, and wife of Cephalus, would come to Crete though, during a period of separation between husband and wife. Procris managed to cure Minos of his affliction, and in gratitude, Minos presented Procris with the javelin and Laelaps.

Procris would then depart Crete, and would be reconciled with her husband, and the gifts of the javelin and Laelaps passed to Cephalus.

The Teumessian Fox

The Teumessian Fox was a gigantic fox named for Teumessus, a place near to Thebes; the Teumessian Fox was also known by some as the Cadmean Vixen, for Thebes was once called Cadmea.

Some ancient writers would say that the fox was a monstrous child of Typhon and Echidna, although this is not a universal belief, but the beast was put to use by Dionysus, who sent it to ravage Thebes and kill the children of the city.

The reason for Dionysus’ anger towards Thebes is not entirely clear, as it was simply said that the city was being punished for a crime, one which perhaps dated back to the time of Cadmus.

The inhabitants of Thebes though would try and placate the Teumessian Fox by sending out a child sacrifice each month, in the hope that more children would not be taken.

Laelaps and the Teumessian Fox

The Stories Converge

It was at this time that Amphitryon, the husband of Alcmene and stepfather of Heracles, came to Thebes seeking the assistance of King Creon in a war against the Teleboians.

Creon though would only commit the forces of Thebes if Amphitryon rid Thebes of the Teumessian Fox.

Amphitryon would make a few unsuccessful attempts to hunt down the Teumessian Fox, but eventually decided that he needed to enlist the services of Laelaps.

Amphitryon would meet with Cephalus, and promised the owner of Laelaps a share of the profits from the expedition against the Teleboians. Cephalus was also in need of absolution at the time, for he had accidentally killed his wife, and some say that King Creon provided this absolution.

In any case, Cephalus and Laelaps would return to Thebes with Amphitryon, and the hound was let loose, to chase after the Teumessian Fox.

The chase went on but Laelaps could not close on the Teumessian Fox, but nor could the Teumessian Fox get clear of the hound. Zeus looked down from Mount Olympus and observed the paradox that was taking place around Thebes. Zeus decided that he could not let the chase continue on earth, and so as the fox and hound ran over the plain of Thebes, the god changed both animals into stone.

Zeus then transformed the pair into two constellations, Canis Major (Laelaps) and Canis Minor (the Teumessian Fox), and so the chase continues in the night sky.

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