Beroe… a Nymph, a City

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Extract from the Dionysiaca by NONNUS OF PANOPOLIS (a Greek poet who flourished in Egypt in the 5th century A.D.)

“[The city of Beruit is founded at the dawn of creation:] Here dwelt a people age mates with the dawn, whom Phusis (Nature) by her own breeding, in some unwedded way, begat without bridal, without wedding, fatherless, motherless, unborn: when the atoms were mingled in fourfold combination, and the seedless ooze shaped a clever offspring by comingling water with fiery heat and air [i.e. the four elements–Air, Earth, Fire and Water], and quickened the teeming mud with the breath of life. To these Phusis (Nature) gave perfect shape . . . And these dwelt in the city of Beroe, that primordial seat which Kronos (Cronus) himself built . . .

O Beroe, root of life, nurse of cities, the boast of princes, the first city seen, twin sister of Aion (Aeon, Time), coeval with the universe, sea of Hermes, land of Dike (Justice), bower of Euphrosyne (Merryheart), house of Paphia [Aphrodite], hall of the Erotes (Loves), delectable ground of Bakkhos (Bacchus), home of the Archeress [Artemis], jewel of the Nereides, house of Zeus, court of Ares, Orkhomenos of the Kharites (Charites), star of the Lebanon country, running side by side with Okeanos (Oceanus), who begat thee in his bed of many fountains when joined in watery union with Tethys…”

The stories that we create and somehow construct our imagined history are fabulous tales of love, beauty, deceit, and heroic deeds that are rooted in the beginning of time. As you wonder through the streets of Beirut, one should always keep in mind that against all odds this city has managed to survive 5000 years of human settlement and amongst its narrow over populated alleys and streets and beneath the horde of electrical wires, stories were told and retold and have managed to survive the test of time; such is the story of Beroe, the nymph of Beirut.

In Greek mythology Beroe was an Oceanid Nymph of the city of Beruit in Phoinikia, daughter of Oceanus and Trthys. According to other version she was described as daughter of Aphrodite and Adonis, and sister of Golgos. At the birth of Beroe, Hermes acted as the midwife and assisted in the delivery of Beroe then the Virgin Astraia (lady of justice) took the infant Beroe and fed her with the wise breast and told her words of law, feeding her honey and washing her with sacred water.

Beroe was highly regarded as an outstanding beauty. Unlike the other women of her time, she wore no ornaments or make-up, and she was not vain and never examined herself in the mirror. Beroe was a mortal but often her beauty was compared to that of goddesses. She was wooed by both Dionysus and Poseidon, eventually marrying Poseidon. The battle which ensues between their two armies is by far the most violent action sequence between two groups of deities in this mythology since the Titan’s War.

{Over the course of three episodes (Books 41-43 of the epic), Nonnus is essentially allegorizing the story of how Berytos [Berytus], now Lebanon’s capital city Beirut, became the principal polis of Roman Phoenicia. In like manner to Poseidon’s popularity contests with Hera, Athena and Helios, the King of the Sea clashes with his nephew over ownership of this Near Eastern center of imperial influence. In this instance, though, the city has been personified as Beroe.

Aphrodite orchestrates the disagreement between the two gods, Dionysus and Poseidon, in order to bring her daughter, and thus the city of Berytos, to prominence. The story is thus framed, rather than a fight for territorial acreage, as a romantic fantasy action drama featuring a contest about who will become Beroe’s bridegroom.

When Beroe grows up in Book 41, Zeus sees her and is charmed with reminiscences of another beautiful Asian princess, namely Europa, whom he long before then abducted after assuming the form of a bull which was eventually placed in the sky as the constellation Tauros [Taurus]. The king of the gods fantasizes about reenacting the abduction the same way, in bull form, but Tauros senses this and bellows aloud his displeasure at the potential of eventually being rivalled by a second bull constellation in the sky. At such Zeus decides to let the nymph go. (

At the end of Book 41, Aphrodite charges her son Eros to inflame both Poseidon and Dionysos with passion for Beroe. The two impassioned gods each then attempt to woo Eros’s young half-sister and they present their cases in terms of what magnificent dowry they have at their disposal. Aphrodite claims that she wishes she could grant both gods the honor of being Beroe’s husband but since this would be unlawful, her solution is that they must duke it out in combat against each other, winner take all.

She, however, causes them to swear “by Kronides [Zeus] and Gaia, by Aither [Aether] and the floods of Styx” that the loser will not lay waste to Berytos, whether by earthquake in Poseidon’s case or by destruction of vineyards on the part of Dionysos. They all agree and swear an oath, not only to be at peace with the city but also to directly participate in its beautification and to grant it prosperity. Zeus himself descends from Mt Olympos together with all its divine inhabitants in order to watch the agon between the older god and the younger one.

The two gods start out Book 43 with a spirited battle, before their armies descend upon each other with no holds barred. All the sea deities, and most freshwater ones, side with Poseidon. Dionysos, who has just conquered the Indians has elephants from their country, as well as bears, panthers and other wild beasts, Panēs [Pans], Seilenoi [Sileni] (some of whom are riding horned bulls), and Satyrs. These opposing forces rip up the countryside and hurl huge rocks and even entire cliff-sides at each other.

One of the Bassaridai, in a Dionysian frenzy, charges onto the sea and begins to dance, stamping her feet against the water’s surface, and not sinking while she does so. Fire then blazes forth from her hair, directed at the sea and its inhabitants. Horrified and bewildered at this, the Nereid Psamathe launches into a lamentation prayer to Zeus, detailing her fear that Dionysos will kill the sea-god Glaukos and enslave her father Nereus, her sister Thetis, and even his own aunt Leukothea. Psamathe begs Zeus to spare the sea-deities the madness of Dionysos. Surprisingly, and very anticlimactically, Zeus immediately complies, hurling thunderbolts all around Dionysos to indicate to him that it’s over, just when it seems like the younger god is going to win!

Immediately following this is the wedding of Beroe to Poseidon, celebrated in the sea, with the river-gods bringing many gifts. Dejectedly, Dionysos sulks his way through the nuptials until Eros comes to persuade him that other prospects await him on dry land. Taking heart, the young wine-god leaves, heading for his mother’s home city.} (

Graffiti layers it’s surface and the sounds of war have long gone silent yet still every day it lives a new tale and creates a new story that both shames and inspires us at the same time. To imagine men fought and died within and outside this city since time unfolded all for the love of her and what it meant and represented to each of them. This city will outlive me and you and in that it will always win.


2 thoughts on “Beroe… a Nymph, a City

  1. Karen, agree! It is the eternal city..
    My son is into Greek mythology, would love to get him a book detailing this specific story… do you have any recommendations?


    1. hi Hala, for this story, no i don’t have a specific book. i couldn’t find any. that’s why it took me some time to figure out the story as i needed to complete the information from a couple of websites. but there are great books about greek mythologies


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