Sunday, April 25, 2010



The Argives thought that the madness and death of Spartan King Cleomenes were the result of divine punishment for the destruction of a sacred grove. Herodotus, Book 6 (tr. A.D. Godley), tells the story.

The Battle of Sepeia (6.76-80)
[76.1] As Cleomenes was seeking divination at Delphi, the oracle responded that he would take Argos.


[77.3] All these things coming together spread fear among the Argives. Therefore they resolved to defend themselves by making use of the enemies' herald, and they performed their resolve in this way: whenever the Spartan herald signalled anything to the Lacedaemonians, the Argives did the same thing.

[78.1] When Cleomenes saw that the Argives did whatever was signalled by his herald, he commanded that when the herald cried the signal for breakfast, they should then put on their armor and attack the Argives. [2] The Lacedaemonians performed this command, and when they assaulted the Argives they caught them at breakfast in obedience to the herald's signal; they killed many of them, and far more fled for refuge into the grove of Argus, which the Lacedaemonians encamped around and guarded.

[79.1] Then Cleomenes' plan was this: He had with him some deserters from whom he learned the names, then he sent a herald calling by name the Argives that were shut up in the sacred precinct and inviting them to come out, saying that he had their ransom. (Among the Peloponnesians there is a fixed ransom of two minae to be paid for every prisoner.) So Cleomenes invited about fifty Argives to come out one after another and murdered them. [2] Somehow the rest of the men in the temple precinct did not know this was happening, for the grove was thick and those inside could not see how those outside were faring, until one of them climbed a tree and saw what was being done. Thereafter they would not come out at the herald's call.

[80] Then Cleomenes bade all the helots pile wood about the grove; they obeyed, and he burnt the grove. When the fire was now burning, he asked of one of the deserters to what god the grove belonged; the man said it was of Argos. When he heard that, he groaned aloud, “Apollo, god of oracles, you have gravely deceived me by saying that I would take Argos; this, I guess, is the fulfillment of that prophecy.”
Madness and Death of Cleomenes (6.75; 6.84.1)
[75.1] ... Cleomenes had already been not entirely in his right mind, and on his return from exile a mad sickness fell upon him: any Spartan that he happened to meet he would hit in the face with his staff. [2] For doing this, and because he was out of his mind, his relatives bound him in the stocks. When he was in the stocks and saw that his guard was left alone, he demanded a dagger; the guard at first refused to give it, but Cleomenes threatened what he would do to him when he was freed, until the guard, who was a helot, was frightened by the threats and gave him the dagger. [3] Cleomenes took the weapon and set about slashing himself from his shins upwards; from the shin to the thigh he cut his flesh lengthways, then from the thigh to the hip and the sides, until he reached the belly, and cut it into strips; thus he died, as most of the Greeks say, because he persuaded the Pythian priestess to tell the tale of Demaratus. The Athenians alone say it was because he invaded Eleusis and laid waste the precinct of the gods. The Argives say it was because when Argives had taken refuge after the battle in their temple of Argus he brought them out and cut them down, then paid no heed to the sacred grove and set it on fire.


[84.1] The Argives say this was the reason Cleomenes went mad and met an evil end...
On Cleomenes' war against the Argives, see A.R. Burn, Persia and the Greeks: The Defense of the West, 546-478 B.C. (1962; rpt. Minerva Press, 1968), pp. 227-232 (with a good map on p. 228). I haven't yet seen the following:


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