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Heracles and the Cercopes

In Greek mythology, the Kerkopes or Cercopes were mischievous forest creatures who lived in Thermopylae or on Euboea but roamed the world and might turn up anywhere mischief was afoot. They were two brothers, but their names are given variously, Passalus and Acmon, or Olus and Eurybatus, or Sillus and Triballus, depending on the context, but usually known as sons of Theia and Oceanus, thus ancient spirits.

They were proverbial as liars, cheats, and accomplished knaves (Lucian, Alexander the false prophet). They once stole Heracles' weapons, during the time he was the penitent servant of Omphale. He punished them by tying them to a pole he slung over his shoulder with their faces pointing downwards, the only way they appear on Greek vases. The sight of Heracles' dark-tanned butt set them all to laughing, so that Heracles let them go free. In another myth, designed to explain their name ("tail-men" in Greek), Zeus changed the Cercopes into monkeys (from this we have the genus Cercopithecus). In still another myth, Zeus turned them to stone for trying to deceive even him, the stone was shown to visitors to Thermopylae. Acmon, companion of Diomede, insulted Aphrodite and is turned into a bird.

Phylax Scene, Parody of Heracles with the Cercopes

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