In Greek mythology, Autolycus (/ɔːˈtɒlɪkəs/; Ancient Greek: Αὐτόλυκος Autolykos 'the wolf itself')[1] was a successful robber who had the power to metamorphose or make invisible the things he stole.[2] He had his residence on Mount Parnassus and was renowned among men for his cunning and oaths.


There are a number of different accounts of the birth of Autolycus. According to most, he was the son of Hermes[3] and Chione[4] or Philonis.[5] In Ovid's version, Autolycus was conceived after Hermes had intercourse with the virgin Chione.[6] Pausanias instead states that Autolycus' real father was Daedalion.[7][8] In some accounts, his mother was also called Telauge.[9]

Depending on the source, Autolycus was the husband of Mestra (who could change her shape at will and was a daughter of Erysichthon[10][11]), or of Neaera,[7] or of Amphithea.[12] He became the father of Anticlea (who married Laertes of Ithaca and was the mother of Odysseus[13]) and several sons, of whom only Aesimus, father of Sinon was named.[14] Autolycus' other daughter was Polymede, mother of Jason, the famous Argonaut who led a group of men to find the coveted Golden Fleece.[3]

Comparative table of Autolycus' family
Relation Names Sources
Homer Hesiod Apollodorus Ovid Hyginus Pausanias Tryphiodorus Eustathius
Parentage Hermes
Hermes and Philonis
Hermes and Chione
Hermes and Telauge or
Daedalion and Telauge
Spouse Amphithea
Offspring Anticlea



Autolycus obtained most of the same skills that his supposed father Hermes possesses, such as the arts of theft and trickery. It was said that he "loved to make white of black, and black of white, from a hornless animal to a horned one, or from horned one to a hornless". He was given the gift that his thievery could not be caught by anyone.[4][15]

Autolycus, master of thievery, was also well known for stealing Sisyphus' herd right from underneath him – Sisyphus, who was commonly known for being a crafty king that killed guests, seduced his niece and stole his brothers' throne[16] and was banished to the throes of Tartarus by the gods. However, according to other versions of the myth, Autolycus failed to steal Sisyphus' herd and the king banished him from his city.

Heracles, the great Greek hero, was taught the art of wrestling by Autolycus.[17] However, Autolycus was a source of trouble in Heracles' life, because when Autolycus stole some cattle from Euboea and Eurytus, they accused Heracles of the deed; upon going mad from these accusations, Heracles killed them and another one of Eurytus' sons, Iphitus. This led to Heracles serving three years of punishment to repent the deed.[18]

Odysseus' name

Through Anticleia, Autolycus was also the grandfather of the famous warrior Odysseus,[13] and he was responsible for the naming of the child as well. This happened when the nurse of the child Eurycleia "laid the child upon his knees and spoke, and addressed him: Autolycus, find now thyself a name to give to thy child's own child; be sure he has long been prayed for". Then Autolycus answered: "Since I have been angered (ὀδυσσάμενος odyssamenos)[19] with many, both men and women, let the name of the child be Odysseus".[20]

In popular culture

Although not as well known as many other Greek mythological figures, Autolycus has appeared in a number of works of fiction.


  1. ^ K. J. Gutzwiller (1991). Theocritus' Pastoral Analogies: The Formation of a Genre (p. 37). Univ of Wisconsin Press. ISBN 0299129446. Retrieved 2015-04-12.
  2. ^ Graf, Fritz (2006). "Autolycus (1)". Brill's New Pauly.
  3. ^ a b Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 1.9.16
  4. ^ a b Hyginus, Fabulae 201
  5. ^ Hesiod, Ehoiai fr. 64.
  6. ^ Ovid, Metamorphoses 11, translated by Samuel Garth, John Dryden, et al (MIT): "unresisted revels in her arms ...".
  7. ^ a b Pausanias, Graeciae Descriptio 8.4.6
  8. ^ Pausanias, Pausanias's Description of Greece (p. lix), translated by J G Frazer, Cambridge University Press, 2012, ISBN 1108047238.
  9. ^ Eustathius, ad Horner p. 804
  10. ^ Ovid, Metamorphoses 8.738
  11. ^ I. Ziogas, Ovid and Hesiod: The Metamorphosis of the Catalogue of Women (p. 136), Cambridge University Press, 2013. ISBN 1107007410. Ziogas states a detail of Ovid 8.738, "Mestra is not actually mentioned by name in Ovid 8. 738".
  12. ^ Homer, Odyssey 19.394 & 416
  13. ^ a b Homer, Odyssey 24.334
  14. ^ Tryphiodorus, 220, 294 & f.n. 21
  15. ^ Ovid, Metamorphoses 11.301
  16. ^ Hyginus, Fabulae 50-99
  17. ^ Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 2.4.9
  18. ^ Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 2.6.3
  19. ^ ὀδύσσομαι at LSJ.
  20. ^ Homer, Odyssey 19.400-405
  21. ^ Wong, Alex. “The Gourmand as Essayist: Irony and Style in the Culinary Essays of Elizabeth Robins Pennell.” Elizabeth Robins Pennell: Critical Essays, edited by Dave Buchanan and Kimberly Morse Jones, Edinburgh University Press, 2021, pp. 153–71, Accessed 7 May 2022.
  22. ^ Murray, Nicholas, biography on Aldous Huxley 2002.