three pairs of lovers with space

PLUTARCH’S LIFE OF PYRRHOS

 

Pyrrhos “Aetos” (Eagle) (319-272 BC) King of the Molossians and Leader of the Epirotes was renowned in antiquity as one of the greatest Greek generals.

The Greek biographer and essayist Plutarch wrote a biography of him at the beginning of the second century AD, but using much earlier lost sources, as one of his Parallel Lives. Here follows the only passage in it relating to pederasty, though the pederasty only pertains to Pyrrhos himself in so far as it raises slight questions about the relationship between the King and his beautiful and loyal cup-bearers.

The translation is by Bernadotte Perrin in the Loeb Classical Library volume CI (Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1920). Latinised names have been replaced by romanisations of the Greek.

 

V i-v

Describing how Pyrrhos, returning from a few years of exile, came to share the kingship with his cousin, the already-reigning Neoptolemos III, but was soon, in 296 BC, driven to kill him:

Most people there were glad to see him come, owing to their hatred of Neoptolemos, who was a stern and arbitrary ruler. However, fearing lest Neoptolemos should have recourse to one of the other kings, he came to terms and made friendship with him on the basis of a joint exercise of the royal power.

But as time went on there were people who secretly exasperated them against one another and filled them with mutual suspicions. The chief ground, however, for action on the part of Pyrrhos is said to have had its origin as follows. It was customary for the kings, after sacrificing to Zeus Areios at Passaro, a place in the Molossian land, to exchange solemn oaths with the Epeirots, the kings swearing to rule according to the laws, and the people to maintain the kingdom according to the laws.

Obverse of a coin of Pyrrhos I King of the Molossians

Accordingly, this was now done; both the kings were present, and associated with one another, together with their friends, and many gifts were interchanged. Here Gelon, a man devoted to Neoptolemos, greeted Pyrrhos in a friendly manner and made him a present of two yoke of oxen for ploughing. Pyrrhus was asked for these by Myrtilos, his cup-bearer;[1] and when Pyrrhos would not give them to him, but gave them to another, Myrtilos was deeply resentful.

This did not escape the notice of Gelon, who therefore invited Myrtilos to supper, and even, as some say, enjoyed his youthful beauty as they drank; then he reasoned with him and urged him to become an adherent of Neoptolemos and to destroy Pyrrhos by poison. Myrtilos accepted the proposal, pretending to approve of it and to be persuaded, but informed Pyrrhos. He also, by the king’s orders, presented Alexikrates, the king’s chief cup-bearer, to Gelon, assuring him that he would take part in their enterprise; for Pyrrhos wished to have several persons who could testify to the intended crime.

Thus Gelon was thoroughly deceived, and Neoptolemos as well, and as thoroughly, who, supposing that the plot was duly progressing, could not keep it to himself, but in his joy would talk about it to his friends.

 

[i] καὶ παρῆν οὐκ ἄκουσι τοῖς πολλοῖς1 διὰ τὴν ἀπέχθειαν τοῦ Νεοπτολέμου χαλεπῶς καὶ βιαίως ἄρχοντος. πλὴν ἀλλὰ δείσας μὴ πρός τινα τῶν ἄλλων βασιλέων ὁ Νεοπτόλεμος τράπηται, διαλύσεις ἔθετο καὶ φιλίαν πρὸς αὐτὸν ἐπὶ κοινωνίᾳ τῆς ἀρχῆς.

[ii] χρόνου δὲ προϊόντος ἦσαν οἱ παροξύνοντες αὐτοὺς κρύφα καὶ κατ᾿ ἀλλήλων ἐμποιοῦντες ὑποψίας. ἡ μέντοι μάλιστα κινήσασα τὸν Πύρρον αἰτία λέγεται τοιαύτην ἀρχὴν λαβεῖν. Εἰώθεισαν οἱ βασιλεῖς ἐν Πασσαρῶνι, χωρίῳ τῆς Μολοττίδος, Ἀρείῳ Διῒ θύσαντες ὁρκωμοτεῖν τοῖς Ἠπειρώταις καὶ ὁρκίζειν, αὐτοὶ μὲν ἄρξειν κατὰ τοὺς νόμους, ἐκείνους δὲ τὴν βασιλείαν διαφυλάξειν κατὰ τοὺς νόμους.

A boy serving wine at a banquet (4th-century BC. kylix)

[iii] ταῦτ᾿ οὖν ἐδρᾶτο ἀμφοτέρων τῶν βασιλέων παρόντων, καὶ συνῆσαν ἀλλήλοις μετὰ τῶν φίλων, δῶρα πολλὰ τὰ μὲν διδόντες, τὰ δὲ λαμβάνοντες. ἐνταῦθα δὴ Γέλων, ἀνὴρ πιστὸς Νεοπτολέμῳ, δεξιωσάμενος φιλοφρόνως τὸν Πύρρον ἐδωρήσατο βοῶν ἀροτήρων δυσὶ ζεύγεσι. ταῦτα Μυρτίλος ὁ ἐπὶ τοῦ οἴνου παρὼν ᾔτει τὸν Πύρρον· ἐκείνου δὲ μὴ διδόντος, ἀλλ᾿ ἑτέρῳ, χαλεπῶς ἐνεγκὼν ὁ Μυρτίλος οὐκ ἔλαθε τὸν Γέλωνα.

[iv] καλέσας οὖν αὐτὸν ἐπὶ δεῖπνον, ὡς δέ φασιν ἔνιοι, καὶ χρησάμενος παρ᾿ οἶνον ὥραν ἔχοντι, λόγους προσήνεγκε παρακαλῶν ἑλέσθαι τὰ τοῦ Νεοπτολέμου καὶ φαρμάκοις διαφθεῖραι τὸν Πύρρον. ὁ δὲ Μυρτίλος ἐδέξατο μὲν τὴν πεῖραν ὡς ἐπαινῶν καὶ συμπεπεισμένος, ἐμήνυσε δὲ τῷ Πύρρῳ· καὶ κελεύσαντος ἐκείνου τὸν ἀρχιοινοχόον Ἀλεξικράτην τῷ Γέλωνι συνέστησεν, ὡς δὴ μεθέξοντα τῆς πράξεως αὐτοῖς· ἐβούλετο γὰρ ἐν πλείοσιν ὁ Πύρρος τὸν ἔλεγχον γενέσθαι τοῦ ἀδικήματος.

[v] οὕτω δὲ τοῦ Γέλωνος ἐξαπατωμένου συνεξαπατώμενος ὁ Νεοπτόλεμος, καὶ τὴν ἐπιβουλὴν ὁδῷ βαδίζειν οἰόμενος οὐ κατεῖχεν, ἀλλ᾿ ὑπὸ χαρᾶς ἐξέφερε πρὸς τοὺς φίλους.

 

 

[1] One can only guess, on indirect evidence, that the king’s cup-bearers were most likely to have been pubescent boys. In neighbouring Macedon, the service was performed by the paides basilikon (King’s boys), nobly-born pages who entered the royal service for a few years on reaching puberty (and are known in some instances to have had love affairs with them or others). An example is Iolaos, the cup-bearer of Alexander the Great (the cousin of Pyrrhos and uncle of Neoptolemos). On Athenian classical vases, naked slave-boys of this age are often depicted serving wine to the gentlemen at banquets.