Nestor (mythology)

Nestor (mythology)
According to some,[1] this cup shows Hecamede mixing kykeon for Nestor. Tondo of an Attic red-figure cup, ca. 490 BC. From Vulci.

In Greek mythology, Nestor of Gerenia (Greek: Νέστωρ Γερήνιος, Nestōr Gerēnios) was the son of Neleus and Chloris and the King of Pylos. He became king after Heracles killed Neleus and all of Nestor's siblings. His wife was either Eurydice or Anaxibia; their children included Peisistratus, Thrasymedes, Pisidice, Polycaste, Stratichus, Aretus, Echephron, and Antilochus.



Nestor was an Argonaut, helped fight the centaurs, and participated in the hunt for the Calydonian Boar. He and his sons, Antilochus and Thrasymedes, fought on the side of the Achaeans in the Trojan War. Though Nestor was already old when the war began (he was believed to be about 110), he was noted for his bravery and speaking abilities. In the Iliad, he often gives advice to the younger warriors and advises Agamemnon and Achilles to reconcile. He is too old to engage in combat himself, but he leads the Pylian troops, riding his chariot, and one of his horses is killed by an arrow shot by Paris. He also had a solid gold shield. Homer frequently calls him by the epithet "the Gerenian horseman." At the funeral games of Patroclus, Nestor advises Antilochus on how to win the chariot race. Antilochus was later killed in battle by Memnon.

In the Odyssey, Nestor has safely returned to Pylos, whereto Odysseus's son Telemachus travels to inquire about the fate of his father. Nestor receives Telemachus kindly and entertains him lavishly but is unable to furnish any information on his father's fate. Also appearing in the Odyssey are Nestor's wife Eurydice (a mythological figure separate from Orpheus's wife of the same name) and their remaining living sons: Echephron, Stratius, Perseus, Aretus, Thrasymedes and Peisistratus. Nestor also had a daughter named Polycaste.

Nestor's advice

In the Odyssey, too, Homer's admiration of Nestor is tempered by some humor at his expense: Telemachus, having returned to Nestor's home from a visit to Helen of Troy and Menelaus (where he has sought further information on his father's fate), urges Peisistratus to let him board his vessel immediately to return home rather than being subjected to a further dose of Nestor's rather overwhelming sense of hospitality.

Nestor and his sons sacrifice to Poseidon on the beach at Pylos. Attic red-figure calyx-krater, 400-380 BC.

Nestor’s advice in the Iliad has also been interpreted to have sinister undertones. For example, when Patroclus comes to Nestor for advice in Book 11, Nestor persuades him that it is urgent for him to disguise himself as Achilles. Karl Reinhardt, in Die Iliad und ihr Dichter, argues that this is contrary to what Patroclus really originally wanted – in fact, he is only there to receive information on behalf of Achilles about the wounded Machaon.[2] Reinhardt notes that an “unimportant errand left behind by an all-important one…Patrocles’ role as messenger is crucial and an ironic purpose permeates the encounter.”[3]

It is interesting to note that Homer offers contradictory portrayals of Nestor as a source of advice. On one hand, Homer portrays Nestor as a wise man; Nestor repeatedly offers advice to the Achaeans that has been claimed to be anachronistic in Homer’s time – e.g. arranging the armies by tribes and clans or effectively using chariots in battle.[4] Yet at the same time Nestor’s advice is frequently ineffective. Some examples include Nestor completely buying into the dream Zeus plants in Agamemnon in Book 2 and urging the Achaeans to battle, instructing the Achaeans in Book 4 to use spear techniques that in actuality would be disastrous,[5] and in Book 11 giving advice to Patroclus that ultimately leads to his death. Yet Nestor is never questioned and instead is frequently praised.[6]

Hanna Roisman, in Nestor the Good Counselor, explains that the characters in the Iliad ignore the discrepancy between the quality of Nestor’s advice and its outcomes is because, in the world of the Iliad, “outcomes are ultimately in the hands of the ever arbitrary and fickle gods…heroes are not necessarily viewed as responsible when things go awry.” In the Iliad, people are judged not necessarily in the modern view of results, but as people.[7] Therefore, Nestor should be viewed as a good counselor because of the qualities he possesses as described in his introduction in Book 1 – as a man of “sweet words,” a “clear-voiced orator,” and whose voice “flows sweeter than honey.”[8] These are elements that make up Nestor, and they parallel the elements that Homer describes as part of a good counselor in Book 3.150-152. Therefore, “the definition tells us that Nestor, as a good advisor, possesses the three features…that it designates.”[9] Nestor is a good counselor inherently, and the consequences of his advice have no bearing on that, a view that differs from how good counselors are viewed today.

Historical notations

Excavations in the mid 20th century in Pylos uncovered a wine cellar reportedly belonging to King Nestor. The cellar had an estimated capacity of 1,250 gallons with several remnants of pithoi, large Greek storage jars.[10]

The National Museum of Athens displays a two-handled wine cup made of pure gold that legend ascribes as belonging to Nestor.[11]


  1. ^ A. Dalby, Siren Feasts, London, 1996, p.151
  2. ^ Reinhardt, Karl. Die Iliad und ihr Dichter (Gottingen 1961) 258-61.
  3. ^ Pedrick, Victoria. The Paradigmatic Nature of Nestor's Speech in Iliad 11. Transactions of the American Philological Association (1974-), Vol. 113. (1983), pp. 55-68.
  4. ^ G. S. Kirk, The Iliad: A Commentary, 1. Books 1–4 (Cambridge, 1987).
  5. ^ N. Postlethwaite, Homer’s Iliad: A Commentary on the Translation of Richmond Lattimore (Exeter, 2000) on 4.301–9.
  6. ^ Examples include Iliad 2.372; 4.293; 11.627
  7. ^ Roisman, Hanna. “Nestor the Good Counselor.” Classical Quarterly 55.1 17–38 (2005) Printed in Great Britain.
  8. ^ Iliad 1.247-253
  9. ^ Roisman, Hanna. “Nestor the Good Counselor.” Classical Quarterly 55.1 17–38 (2005) Printed in Great Britain.
  10. ^ Hugh Johnson, Vintage: The Story of Wine, Volume 2 pg 36. Simon and Schuster 1989.
  11. ^ Ibid.


  • Homer. Iliad I, 248; II, 370; IV, 293.
  • Homer. Odyssey III, 157, 343.
  • The Merchant of Venice Act I, Scene I, Line 55.
  • In James Joyce's Ulysses, the character of Deasy stands for Nestor.

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