Respecting his mother Psamathe, the story runs thus: When she had given birth to Linus she exposed the child. He was found by shepherds, who brought him up, but the child was afterwards torn to pieces by dogs. Psamathe's grief at the occurrence betrayed her misfortune to her father who condemned her to death.
Apollo, in his indignation at the father's cruelty, visited Argos with a plague, and when his oracle was consulted about the means of averting the plague, he answered that the Argives must propitiate Psamathe and Linus. This was attempted by means of sacrifices, and matrons and virgins sang dirges. The pestilence, however, did not cease until Crotopus quitted Argos and settled at Tripodisium, in Megaris.
According to a Boeotian tradition Linus was killed by Apollo, because he had ventured upon a musical contest with the god and near Mount Helicon his image stood in a hollow rock, formed in the shape of a grotto and every year before sacrifices were offered to the Muses, a funeral sacrifice was offered to him, and dirges were sung in his honour.
His tomb was claimed both by the city of Argos and by Thebes but after the battle of Chaeroneia, Philip of Macedonia was said to have carried away the remains of Linus from Thebes to Macedonia. Subsequently, however, the king was induced by a dream to send the remains back to Thebes.
Chalcis in Euboea likewise boasted of possessing the tomb of Linus, the inscription of which is preserved by Diogenes Laertius.
Being regarded as a son of Apollo and a Muse, he is said to have received from his father the three-stringed lute, and is himself called the inventor of new melodies, of dirges and of songs in general. It is probably owing to the difficulty of reconciling the different mythuses about Linus that the Thebans thought it necessary to distinguish between an earlier and later Linus; the latter is said to have instructed Heracles in music, but to have been killed by the hero. In the time of the Alexandrine grammarians people even went so far as to look upon Linus as an historical personage, and to consider him, like Musaeus, Orpheus, and others, as the author of apocryphal works in which he described the exploits of Dionysus. Diogenes Laertius (Prooem. 3), who calls him a son of Hermes and Urania, ascribes to him several poetical productions, such as a cosmogony on the course of the sun and moon, on the generation of animals and fruits, and the like.
The principal places in Greece which are the scenes of the legends about Linus are Argos and Thebes, and the legends themselves bear a strong resemblance to those about Hyacynthus, Narcissus, Glaucus, Adonis, Maneros, and others, all of whom are conceived as handsome and lovely youths, and either as princes or as shepherds. They are the favourites of the gods and, in the midst of the enjoyment of their happy youth, they are carried off by a sudden or violent death ; but their remembrance is kept alive by men, who celebrate their memory in dirges and appropriate rites, and seek the vanished youths generally about the middle of summer, but in vain.
The feeling which seems to have given rise to the stories about these personages, who form a distinct class by themselves in Greek mythology, is deeply felt grief at the catastrophes observable in nature, which dies away under the influence of the burning sun (Apollo) soon after it has developed all its fairest beauties.
From Sappho: One Hundred Lyrics
Now the hundred songs are made,
And the pause comes. Loving Heart,
There must be an end to summer,
And the flute be laid aside.
On a day the frost will come,
Walking through the autumn world,
Hushing all the brave endeavour
Of the crickets in the grass.
On a day (Oh, far from now!)
Earth will hear this voice no more;
For it shall be with thy lover
As with Linus long ago.
All the happy songs he wrought
From remembrance soon must fade,
As the wash of silver moonlight
From a purple-dark ravine.
Those popular dirges, therefore, originally the expression of grief at the premature death of nature through the heat of the sun, were transformed into lamentations of the deaths of youths, and were sung on certain religious occasions.
They were afterwards considered to have been the productions of the very same youths whose memory was celebrated in them.
Pamphos, the Athenian, and Sappho, sang of Linus under the name of Oetolinus, i.e. the death of Linus, and the tragic poets, in mournful choral odes, often use the form which is a compound of at, the interjection and end.
As regards the etymology of Linus, Welcker regards it as
formed from the mournful interjection, while others, on the
analogy of Hyacinthus and Narcissus, consider Linus to have
originally been the name of a flower (a species of