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The story of Idas and Marpessa is a myth of love. These two characters proved that love and eternal devotion cannot be conquered by sword, power, beauty or glory. Marpessa was a young maiden who some time in her life found herself in the need to choose her husband between a mortal and a god. What was her decision? Let's look through the myth to find the answer.
Marpessa was the only daughter of Evenus, king of Etolia, and granddaughter of Ares, god of war. Marpessa grew up to be a very beautiful and noble girl. Evenus was very possessive of his daughter and he wanted her to remain by his side throughout her life. He also trained her to become a young warrior. Evenus did not want to get his daughter married to any prince or other man. He planned a wise strategy to get rid of the men who were eager to marry Marpessa.
He announced that any prince who wants to marry Marpessa will have to first defeat her father in a chariot race. Those who fail will have to face death. Evenus was sure of his success because he had been given by Ares, his father, some strong horses. The result of the races was coming as expected. Many princes lost their lives in the carriage race.
The last turn was of Idas, the prince of Messenia, in the Peloponnese. He was the son of Aphareus and Arene. He was confident that he would win the race because he had the support of a winged chariot, given as a gift by Poseidon, the sea god. Idas indeed won the race and demanded Marpessa for his bride, as his father had promised. However, Evenus did not want to keep his promise and tried to prevent Idas from getting married to his daughter.
This is when the young and impulsive man decided to kidnap Marpessa. He grabbed her and flew away on the winged chariot of Poseidon. Having lost every single hope in his life, Evenus drowned himself in a river. The river was later named after him. It runs through the south part of Etolia and flows into the Ionian Sea.
Idas and Marpessa reached Messene and spent the night at a nearby temple. The next morning, when Idas woke up, he realized that Marpessa was missing. Apollo had seen the girl during the night and had stolen her. Idas got extremely angry at Apollo. He ran after him with the winged chariot, prepared for a deadly war to get his beloved girl back. Eventually, Apollo and Idas came face to face and set their swords one against the other.
The fight began and lasted for many hours. From the dawning till the sunset, the two men were fighting for their love. The fight was tough and merciless. After so many hours, the two rivals were still even. The hard sounds of their swords could be heard till Olympus and started to be annoying for the rest of the gods. That is when Zeus decided to interfere and stop this useless battle.
Since the fight between these two brought no result, Zeus asked Marpessa to choose herself between them. Marpessa took a look at both men and stood there uncertain.
At one part, he had the divine Apollo, the most handsome and attractive man she had ever seen. Apollo could give her anything she wanted: glory, power and lots of gifts. However, Apollo was a god, ageless, and therefore he was unfaithful by nature. She could not trust him that he would stay by her side for all her life, even when Marpessa would grow old and lose her beauty. She could have nothing else but a short relationship with a god that would soon come to an end and she would be left alone and heart-broken.
On the other side, Idas was not handsome at all. He had the brutality of a warrior all over him and had learned to live toughly. He loved her, though, and had proved his love many times. Life with him would be mortal and simple but at least she would have a committed, faithful relationship for all her life. Marpessa immediately made up her mind. She turned down Apollo and chose Idas as her husband. Apollo left the battlefield disgraced and promised not to hurt any of them to take revenge. Idas and Marpessa got married and lived happily ever after.
Previous myth: Deucalion and Pyrrha | Next myth: The Danaides