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The Hero Nestor in Greek Mythology

Updated on August 22, 2016
Colin Quartermain profile image

Having travelled through Italy, Greece and the Aegean in his youth, Colin quickly became interested in the ancient mythology of the region.

The Greek Hero Nestor

The concept of the “hero” is one closely associated with Greek mythology; and the adventures of mortals and demi-gods against monsters and men have enthralled readers for many hundreds of years.

Some Greek heroes are still famous today, and the likes of Heracles, Perseus and Theseus are widely known. Some Greek heroes are less well known, famous perhaps for only appear in Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, with one such hero being Nestor.

The Birth of Nestor

The story of Nestor effectively starts in Pylos on the Peloponnesus. Pylos was ruled by Neleus, a son of Poseidon and Tyro, and his wife, Chloris.

Neleus would become father to a host of children, including Alastor, Asterius, Epilaus, Periclymenus, Pero, Taurus and of course Nestor.

The Palace of Nestor

The Palace of Nestor - Janmad - CC-BY-SA-4.0
The Palace of Nestor - Janmad - CC-BY-SA-4.0 | Source

Nestor King of Pylos

War would come to Pylos though, as Heracles arrived on the Peloponnesus and fought with Pylos, Elis and Lacedaemon. The reason for the war differs between ancient writers, but some say that war with Pylos came about when Neleus refused to pardon the Greek hero for a previous crime.

So Heracles attacked Pylos and there he killed Neleus and all his sons, all that is bar Nestor, for Nestor at the time was in Gerenia, a nearby city.

After the war Heracles would place Nestor on the throne of Pylos, in much the same way as Priam and Troy.

Despite the massacre of his family, Nestor seems to have born Heracles no ill will, for the pair would be comrades later, and were regarded as friends.

Nestor Battlefield Hero

The new king of Pylos would distinguish himself on the battlefield.

Pylos and Elis would go to war, although whether this occurred before or after the death of Neleus is not clear. During this war Nestor would lead the Pylian army, and would kill Itymoneus and Mulius, two of the commanders of the Elean forces.

A second war would take place between Pylos and Arcadia. In this conflict Nestor would again distinguish himself, for he defeated the Arcadian warrior Ereuthalion, a hero who wore the god built armour of King Areithous.

Nestor and the Centauromachy

Wider fame for Nestor though came during the Centauromachy.

Nestor was a guest amongst the Lapiths, when their king, Pirithous, was to wed Hippodamia. The centaurs though were also invited to the ceremony, and when the centaurs got drunk they attempt to carry off all the female guests. The resulting fighting would see Nestor join the likes of Peleus and Theseus in killing many of the centaurs.

Nestor and the Centauromachy

The Centauromachy - Sebastiano Ricci (1659–1734) - PD-art-100
The Centauromachy - Sebastiano Ricci (1659–1734) - PD-art-100 | Source

The Heroic Nestor

Nestor is occasionally mentioned as being amongst the Argonauts, the band of heroes who followed Jason to Colchis to retrieve the Golden Fleece.

As such Nestor and is named as an Argonaut by the Roman poet Valerius Flaccus in the Argonautica. Nestor though is omitted from the more famous version of the Argonautica by Apollonius Rhodius, and also from the Bibliotheca by Pseudo-Apollodorus.

Similarly, Nestor is also occasionally named as being one of the Calydonian Hunters, the group of heroes who gathered to rid Calydon of the boar that was ravaging the land.

To this end, Nestor’s name appears amongst the hunters in Ovid’s (Metamorphoses) version of the hunt, but again is omitted from Hyginus’ Fabulae and the Bibliotheca by Pseudo-Apollodorus.

The Family of Nestor

Nestor would wed Eurydice, the eldest daughter of Clymenus, (although occasionally Nestor’s wife is named as Anaxiba).

Nestor would become father to a number of children including Polycaste, Pistratus, Aretus, Pisidice, Antilochus and Thrasymedes.

The last two listed sons are probably the most famous for Antilochus was named amongst the Suitors of Helen, and both sons would accompany Nestor to Troy.

Nestor and the other Greeks Set Sail

The Achaean Fleet Sets Sail - EDSITEment - PD US Government
The Achaean Fleet Sets Sail - EDSITEment - PD US Government | Source

Nestor and the Trojan War

The fame of Nestor today primarily comes about because the Greek hero appears in the works of Homer, both the Iliad and the Odyssey.

Nestor was already an old man when the Trojan War broke out, but the king of Pylos would lead the Pylian forces at Troy, accompanied by his sons, Antilochus and Thrasymedes.

During the Trojan War, Nestor would act as counsellor, firstly convincing Achilles to join the Achaean forces, and then acting a guide to Agamemnon. Amongst all of the Achaean leaders, Nestor was universally respected

Despite his advanced years, Nestor was also often at the heart of the fighting. Most notably, when Achilles and Agamemnon were in disagreement, the Trojan forces were on top, and Zeus was contemplating allowing the Trojans to win the war. At this point Nestor alone stood firm onboard his chariot, and with his golden shield on his arm, took the fight to the Trojans.

One aged hero against an army though could not win, and when one of his horses was shot by Paris, it looked like Nestor would die, as many Greek heroes had already done. Nestor though would be saved by the intervention of Diomedes, but ultimately the pair would have to withdraw in face of the Trojan advance.

Eventually, of course Achilles would rejoin the fight, helped by the words and deeds of Nestor, and the tide of war would turn once again. Nestor’s son Antilochus would die at the hands of Memnon, but Thrasymedes would live on, and the son of Nestor would take his place in the Wooden Horse.

So Nestor was on the side of victorious Greek heroes once again.

Nestor Counsels Achilles

Nestor Counsels Achilles - Amable-Paul Coutan (1792-1837) - PD-art-100
Nestor Counsels Achilles - Amable-Paul Coutan (1792-1837) - PD-art-100 | Source

Nestor and Telemachus

Nestor and Telemachus - Henry Howard (1769–1847) - PD-life-70
Nestor and Telemachus - Henry Howard (1769–1847) - PD-life-70 | Source

The Long Lived Nestor

Nestor lived through two distinct generations of heroes, and there is a story from Greek mythology that tells of why the Greek hero Nestor was so long lived. The sister of Nestor’s mother, Chloris, had been killed by Apollo and Artemis, when Chloris’ mother Niobe, had proclaimed herself a better mother than Leto, the mother of Apollo and Artemis.

As an act of penance some sources claim that Apollo gave the years that the Niobids would have lived to Nestor.

There is no record in Ancient Greek sources about just how long Nestor lived for though, or when or where he died.

It is though known that Nestor undertook a relatively quick and easy journey back to Pylos from Troy; Nestor not having angered the gods in any way. Back in Pylos, Telemachus, the son of Odysseus would visit the court of Nestor to find out the fate of his father; and Nestor would welcome the son of his old comrade, and tell all he knew.

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