Thursday, January 8, 2015

TFBT: Tracking Rhoecus

I just wanted to share a bit of fun research I did.  Maya and I were researching eponymous nymphs with heroic husbands that became their community’s found father.  To that end I I checked all the placenames in the catalogue of ships and the names of all the Oceanides.   I came up with a list of 15 such pairings, thanks to    See list at

The whole time I am looking up name after name, I keep thinking about the story of the shepherd Rhoecus who rescued and wed a hamadryad. The earliest reference I could find for the story was a poem by James Russell Lowell (1873) under the name "Rhoecus" .  It finally occurred to me to use N-gram;     Years ago, Google scanned millions of books;  you can track word usage over time in their collections by using the website.  N-gram made it clear that Lowell was the source of the stories fame, but also included evidence that the story was around and the name of Rhoecus long before.
So then I googled “Rhoecus” with various dates previous to 1873 until I stumbled upon “Bell’s Neo Pantheon” (1790) which offered the alternative spelling of “Rhaecus”.  The name was written in that old style with the “a” and “e” stuck together, which Sarah told me is called an “ash”.)  Anyway, Bell’s reference for the story is  the Scholiast of Apollonius Rhodius II 471, quoting Charon of Lampsacus.
I just thought all this sleuthing was cool, so I had to share!



  1. My "research" on the subject was actually limited to suggesting that it would be nice if you do it :-).
    I searched how the story ended. (I am always anxious to see the ending of a love story. There's a joke about a grandma who by chance switched to a porno channel and continued watching just to see whether "they will marry at the end", that's absolutely me.) Unfortunately, it didn't end well for Rhoecus. One day, the nymph called him, but he didn't feel like paying attention to her exactly at that moment, and she blinded him.

    1. Maya,

      This is the fairy wife motif. The fairy marries a mortal with some condition. When he violates the terms she disappears along with all the blessings she brought to the marriage

  2. In our folklore, "wood-nymph" is "samodiva" or "samovila". There are many beliefs and tales about samodivas dancing at night, seducing, enchanting, kidnapping and killing men.

    I wished to find a page in English for you, but Google produced a 2013 newspaper report instead (, in Bulgarian). Here is how it begins:

    "Samodivas in the Balkan mountain around the town of Elena blind everyone who sees them by night. The locals are convinced in this and are afraid to leave their homes after sunset..."

    Perfectly idiotic and still strangely relevant to Rhoecus' story.

  3. Congratulations for the happy event in your family!

  4. Maya,

    Thanks, Gavin Michael, 8:3, 21.5 inches long and growing.