In Greek mythology, Melampus (a cousin of Bellerophon) was the first mortal bestowed with prophetic powers. While very young, two servants killed a mother snake that had mistakenly crawled into his house. Melampus later found the nest outside still containing some young, motherless snakes and he decided to feed and raise them. In compensation for his hospitality the two snakes licked his ears while sleeping, granting him the ability to understand the languages of all animals.

While in prison for trying to steal cows from a neighboring king, Melampus overheard a family of termites and found out by what they were saying that the roof would fall through before the end of the night. He desperately hammered at the doors of his cell, demanding to be moved because the roof would cave in. The jailors, in an attempt to pacify his lunatic ravings, moved him. Shortly afterwards, the roof of the cell caved in. The news of his portent spread and he quickly gained a reputation as an exemplary soothsayer.

This news attracted the attention of the King of Pylos. It just so happens that he had a very sick son, and none of one hundred doctors could diagnose his disease. If Melampus could cure his son then the King, in return, would give him the cows he had tried to steal. He first slaughtered an ox and spread the meat out on the ground. Soon enough two vultures came to pick at the dead animal. After eating their fill, one remarked that he had not eaten that much since the King’s son got scared of the bloody knife when his father tried to make a sacrifice to the gods. When the King threw away his knife to calm his son, it got stuck in a tree where a certain nymph lived. The nymph, furious and in pain, put a curse on the King’s son until the rusty knife was removed from the tree and mixed with water. This would produce the cure to his ailments. Melampus followed these instructions, and the young boy immediately felt better. This boosted his reputation even more, and he was called all throughout Greece in order to heal the sick.

Another king, the King of Tiryns, had three daughters who were all insane. They wandered the countryside on all four legs, mooing like cows. Melampus agreed to cure them in return for one-third of his kingdom. The King, thinking this was far too much, sent him away. However, when his daughters’ madness continued, the King had to send for Melampus again. This time, he wanted two-thirds of the kingdom: one-third for himself and one-third for his brother, Bias. With no other choice, he accepted Melampus’ offer. The daughters were cured, and both Melampus and Bias were given a daughter’s hand in marriage.