Sunday, May 31, 2009

History of Sparta – The Myth

According to Spartan myth, Taugete bore Lacedaimon who wed Sparta. Sparta was a daughter of Eurotas by Cleta. These two provided the names for the region, Sparta for the capital and Lacedaemon for the region. The son of Sparta and Lacedaemon, Amyclas, founded Amyclae, a town near Sparta. Diomede married Amyclas and they had several children. Their son Argulas ruled Sparta for a short while but since he died before his mother, his brother Cynortas ruled after him. Cynortas was the father of Oebalus. Oebalus married Gorgophone. When Oebalus died his son, Tyndareus, was scheduled to rule Sparta but his half-brother Hippocoon ursurped power. But he offended Herakles and perished with his ten sons when later attacked by Herakles and Tyndereus. In exile in Atolia at the palace of Thestius, Tyndereus met Leda and fell in love with her.

Leda was seduced by Zeus disguised as a swan and laid two eggs. Out of one came Helen and Pollux: out of the other Castor and Clytemnestra. When Thyestes seized control in Mycenae, two exiled princes, Agamemnon and his brother Menelaus came to Sparta, where they were received as guests and lived for a number of years.

Helen was the most beautiful woman in the world, and when it was time for her to marry, many Greek kings and princes came to seek her hand or sent emissaries to do so on their behalf. Among the contenders were Odysseus, Ajax the great, Diomedes, Achilles, Patroclus, Idomeneus, and both Menelaus and Agamemnon. All but Odysseus brought many and rich gifts with them. Helen's favourite was Menelaus who, according to some sources, did not come in person but was represented by his brother Agamemnon, who chose to support his brother's case, and himself married Helen's sister Clytemnestra.

Tyndareus would accept none of the gifts, nor would he send any of the suitors away for fear of offending them and giving grounds for a quarrel. Odysseus promised to solve the problem in a satisfactory manner if Tyndareus would support him in his courting of Penelope, the daughter of Icarius. Tyndareus readily agreed and Odysseus proposed that, before the decision was made, all the suitors should swear a most solemn oath to defend the chosen husband against whoever should quarrel with the chosen one. This stratagem succeeded and Helen and Menelaus were married. Eventually, Tyndareus resigned in favor of his son-in-law and Menelaus became king of Sparta.

Some years later, Paris, a Trojan prince came to Sparta to marry Helen, whom he had been promised by Aphrodite. Helen left with him--either willingly because she had fallen in love with him, or because he kidnapped her, depending on the source--leaving behind Menelaus and Hermione, their nine-year-old daughter. Menelaus attempted to retrieve Helen by calling on all her former suitors to fulfil their oaths, leading to the Trojan War and her eventual return to Sparta.

Later, Hermione married Orestes, son of Agamemnon. Clytemnestra had Agamemnon murdered after his return from Troy and Orestes avenged his father’s death by having his mother murdered eight years later. Hermione’s son Tisamenus ruled Sparta until the Heraclidae invaded the Peloponnesus. The Heraclidae were the grandsons of Herakles. They claimed the Peloponesus because of descent from Alcmena, the mother of Herakles and daughter of a Mycenaean king. As a result of their victory they divided up the Peloponesus. Then the twin sons of Aristodemus, Eurysthenes and Procles jointly ruled and set up the lines of the historical kings of Sparta.

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