In Greek mythology, Autolycus (/ɔːˈtɒlɪkəs/; Ancient Greek: Αὐτόλυκος Autolykos, "the wolf of the west") was a successful robber who had even the power of metamorphosing both the stolen goods and himself. He had his residence on Mount Parnassus and was renowned among men for his cunning and oaths.
There are a number of different accounts of the birth of Autolycus. According to most, he was the son of Hermes and Chione or Philonis. In Ovid's version, Autolycus was conceived after Hermes had intercourse with the virgin Chione.Pausanias instead states that Autolycus' real father was Daedalion. In some accounts, his mother was also called Telauge.
Autolycus obtained most of the same skills that his supposed father Hermes possesses, such as the arts of theft and trickery. It was said that he "loved to make white of black, and black of white, from a hornless animal to a horned one, or from horned one to a hornless". He was given the gift that his thievery could not be caught by anyone.
He had a helmet to make him invisible. Autolycus, master of thievery, was also well known for stealing Sisyphus' herd right from underneath him – Sisyphus, who was commonly known for being a crafty king that killed guests, seduced his niece and stole his brothers' throne and was banished to the throes of Tartarus by the gods.
Heracles, the great Greek hero, was taught the art of wrestling by Autolycus. However, Autolycus was a source of trouble in Heracles' life, because when Autolycus stole some cattle from Euboea and Eurytus, they accused Heracles of the deed; upon going mad from these accusations, Heracles killed them and another one of Eurytus' sons, Iphitus. This led to Heracles serving three years of punishment to repent the deed.
Through Anticleia, Autolycus was also the grandfather of the famous warrior Odysseus, and he was responsible for the naming of the child as well. This happened when the nurse of the child Eurycleia "laid the child upon his knees and spoke, and addressed him: Autolycus, find now thyself a name to give to thy child's own child; be sure he has long been prayed for". Then Autolycus answered: "Since I have been angered (ὀδυσσάμενος odyssamenos) with many, both men and women, let the name of the child be Odysseus".
In popular culture
Although not as well known as many other Greek mythological figures, Autolycus has appeared in a number of works of fiction.
Autolycus appears in an episode of the Canadian television series Class of the Titans episode "Bad Blood" voiced by Joseph May. He was hired by Cronus to steal Hercules' last surviving arrow.
The superhero/trickster figure of Uncle Sam in Robert Coover's The Public Burning (1977, New York, Grove Books) is described in the following terms (p. 7): "American Autolycus, they called him in the Gospels, referring to his cunning powers of conjuration, transmutation, and magical consumption (he can play the shell game, not with a mere pea, but with whole tin mines, forests, oil fields, mountain ranges, and just before Thanksgiving this past year made an entire island disappear!)”.
In the game Age of Empires Online, there is an army of computer-controlled opponents who call themselves the Followers of Autolycus. They must be defeated during several quests of the Greek civilization.