1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Danaus
DANAUS, in Greek legend, son of Belus, king of Egypt, and twin-brother of Aegyptus. He was born at Chemmis (Panopolis) in Egypt, but having been driven out by his brother he fled with his fifty daughters to Argos, the home of his ancestress Io. Here he became king and taught the inhabitants of the country to dig wells. In the meantime the fifty sons of Aegyptus arrived in Argos, and Danaus was obliged to consent to their marriage with his daughters. But to each of these he gave a knife with injunctions to slay her husband on the marriage night. They all obeyed except Hyperm(n)estra, who spared Lynceus. She was brought to trial by her father, acquitted and afterwards married to her lover. Being unable to find suitors for the other daughters, Danaus offered them in marriage to the youths of the district who proved themselves victorious in racing contests (Pindar, Pythia, ix. 117). According to another story, Lynceus slew Danaus and his daughters and seized the throne of Argos (schol. on Euripides, Hecuba, 886). By way of expiation for their crime the Danaïdes were condemned to the endless task of filling with water a vessel which had no bottom. This punishment, originally inflicted on those who neglected certain mystic rites, was transferred to those who, like the Danaïdes, despised the mystic rite of marriage; cf. the water-bearing figure (λουτροφόρος) on the grave of unmarried persons. The murder of the sons of Aegyptus by their wives is supposed to represent the drying up of the rivers and springs of Argolis in summer by the agency of the nymphs.
Apollodorus ii. 1; Horace, Odes, iii. 11; O. Waser, in Archiv für Religionswissenschaft, ii. Heft 1, 1899; articles in Pauly-Wissowa’s Realencyclopädie and W. H. Roscher’s Lexikon der Mythologie; Campbell Bonner, in Harvard Studies, xiii. (1902).