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Pausanias › Who Was

Definition and Origins

by Mark Cartwright
published on 13 April 2016
Pausanias the Spartan (Mary Harrsch (Photographed at the Capitoline Museums, Rome))
Pausanias (c. 510 - c. 465 BCE) was a Spartan regent and general who won glory by leading a combined Greek force to victory over the Persians at the Battle of Plataea in 479 BCE. Famously immodest regarding his own talent, he was beset by accusations of colluding with the Persians throughout his career and, despite success in Cyprus and Byzantium, he would meet a particularly inglorious end. He is not to be confused with Pausanias, the 2nd-century CE Greek travel writer.


Pausanias had royal and military pedigree. His father was King Cleombrotus, and his uncle was Leonidas, the Spartan king who had gained glory in defeat at Thermopylae. Pausanias, thus, belonged to the Agiad clan, the senior of the two royal houses at Sparta. Nothing else is known of Pausanias' personal life except that he had a son, Pleistoanax. He first appears in the historical record in 480 BCE when he served as regent for his young cousin Pleistarchus but it was as a general that Pausanias would make his name.


In the naval Battle of Salamis in September 480 BCE, Xerxes ' planned invasion of Greece had met a serious setback but his massive army was still intact, and if the Greeks were to survive as independent city -states they would have to fight and win on land; the battlefield would be near the small town of Plataea in Boeotia in 479 BCE. Ancient authors may have exaggerated the numbers but even with a more conservative estimate, the battle would involve some 200,000 armed men, the largest such battle Greece had ever seen and a figure comparable with the battles of Waterloo and Gettysburg.


Pausanias was given the command of the combined Greek land forces at Plataea while Leotychidas, the other Spartan king, led the Greek naval force. The Persians were commanded by Mardonius, the son-in-law and nephew of Darius and cousin of Xerxes. As at Marathon in 490 BCE, the Greek heavily-armoured hoplites arranged in a densely packed formation at least eight men deep called the phalanx, where each man carried a heavy round bronze shield and fought the enemy at close quarters using spears and swords, would be a formation which the Persians had no answer for.
In contrast to his later reputation, Herodotus portrays Pausanias as a pious and respectful commander who was able to unite the disparate Greek forces into a successful fighting unit. In addition, after the battle Pausanias, we are told, refused calls for Mardonius' head to be put on a spike as the Persian had so infamously treated Leonidas at Thermopylae. The Greeks had won one of the most important battles in their history, and Pausanias unashamedly claimed his leadership as the principal reason for the victory. According to Thucydides he set up a tripod at Delphi, commemorating the victory with the following inscription:
The Mede defeated, great Pausanias raised
This monument, that Phoebus might be praised
( A History of the Peloponnesian War, 1.132)
There was also a famous poem by Simonides which described the battle and favourably compared Pausanias to the mythical hero Achilles, Greece's greatest ever warrior. Pausanias' reputation was at its very height but from now on the only way was down.


All the attention and unprecedented limelight in which Pausanias was basking brought an official rebuke from the austere and conservative Spartan authorities but it did not impede the general's career. For, in 478 BCE, he was given command of a Greek fleet of at least 50 ships with which he promptly attacked Cyprus and then took Byzantium on the Bosphorus.
Pausanias' harsh policies soon led to a revolt, though, and a call for aid from Sparta's great rival Athens by the Ionian city-states. At home, too, there were suspicions that he was in cahoots with the Persians, notably releasing prisoners who had been allies to them. There was even talk of letters to the Persian king Xerxes asking for his daughter's hand in marriage (Herodotus makes the more likely claim that the lady in question was the daughter of the satrap Megabates but there is no evidence for either claim).
Gigantomachy of Delphi

Gigantomachy of Delphi

Commanded to return to Sparta, Pausanias was put on trial for treason. Once again, a successful Spartan general in the wider Greek world had worried the Spartan government into thinking one of their commanders had ambitions to rule all of Greece as a tyrant. Pausanias was, though, acquitted, and so he was able to depart once again for Byzantium where, according to Thucydides, he dressed and ate like a Persian. There he came up against the talented Athenian general Cimon who led the forces of the Delian League and who re-took Byzantium for Athens. Pausanias fled to Colonae in Troad, Asia Minor. Once again, Sparta accused Pausanias of negotiating with the Persians and, c. 471 BCE, he was put on trial a second time only to be acquitted once again for lack of evidence.


Pausanias' final brush with Spartan authority came when he was accused of siding with the helots in their revolt against Sparta. Some said that he even promised freedom and full citizenship for the traditional semi-free agricultural workers on which Sparta's economy had so long depended. Enough was enough, and the Spartan rulers called for Pausanias' arrest.Betrayed by one of his servants and seeing the end was nigh, Pausanias sought sanctuary in the sacred temple of AthenaChalkioikos on the acropolis of Sparta. There he was left to ignominiously starve to death. In order not to pollute the sacred ground, Pausanias was removed from the sanctuary just at the point of death. Although not much admired by authority when alive, Pausanias was, under instructions from the Delphic oracle, then given a hero's burial and a joint monument was set up to him and Leonidas where a hero-cult was established.

Medea › Who Was

Definition and Origins

by Donald L. Wasson
published on 14 February 2018
Medea kills her son (Bibi Saint-Pol)
The tragedy Medea was written in 431 BCE by Euripides (c. 484 – 407 BCE). Euripides authored at least 90 plays of which 19 have survived intact. As with the plays by Sophocles and Aeschylus, the audience was already well aware of the myth surrounding Jason and Medea. However, Euripides' version is slightly different, for she emerges not as a cold-blooded murderer but as a suffering mother, maligned by an unfaithful rogue of a husband. Although unpopular when it was first presented, Medea would influence both Seneca and Ovid to author their own versions of the myth.


Little is known of Euripides' early life. He was born in the 480's BCE on the island of Salamis near Athens to a family of hereditary priests. Although he preferred a life of solitude, alone with his books, he was married and had three sons, one of whom became a noted playwright. Unlike Sophocles, Euripides played little or no part in Athenian political affairs; the one exception was a brief diplomatic mission to Sicily. As with Sophocles and Aeschylus, his plays were performed in outdoor theaters and composed for competitions at various rituals and festivals. The intention of these performances was to not only entertain but also to educate the Greek citizen. Along with a chorus of singers to explain the action, there were two or three actors (always male) who portrayed various characters through masks and costumes. The poet made his debut at the Dionysia in 455 BCE, not winning his first victory until 441 BCE. Unfortunately, his participation in these competitions did not prove to be very successful with only four victories; a fifth came after his death.


The Greek philosopher Aristotle (384-322 BCE) called Euripides the most tragic of the Greek poets. Classicist Edith Hamilton in her book The Greek Way concurred when she wrote that he was the saddest, a poet of the world's grief. “He feels, as no other writer has felt, the pitifulness of human life, as of children suffering helplessly what they do not know and can never understand.” (205) With the Peloponnesian War waging, he left Athens in 408 BCE to live the remainder of his life in Macedonia. Although often misunderstood during his lifetime and never receiving the acclaim he deserved, he became one of the most admired poets long after his death, influencing not only Greek but Roman playwrights.


The entire play takes place at the home of Medea; flashbacks inform the audience of her time in her native Colchis and her arrival in Greece as a foreigner.
The characters are few:
  • Medea
  • Jason
  • King Creon
  • King Aegeus
  • the children
  • a nurse
  • a tutor
  • a messenger
  • and the chorus.
According to the legend, the princess Medea of Colchis fell madly in love with Jason of Argonauts and helped him retrieve the Golden Fleece by using her powers of sorcery. She immigrated to Corinth with Jason where she would bear him two sons.Unfortunately, Jason decided to divorce Medea and marry someone more prominent, the daughter of Creon, the king of Corinth. Jason claimed he had the moral right to leave Medea for he had fulfilled his primary duty by bearing legitimate children. Medea did not take the news very well.


Creon approached Medea and informed her that she was to be exiled; he believed she might harm his daughter. Visibly upset, she begs for one more day, and she is granted her request. The king was right. Seeking revenge, she decided to kill not only Jason's new bride but also her children. Meanwhile, she was offered asylum in Athens by its king Aegeus. By the following day, she has not only poisoned Jason's bride but Creon as well. With the murder of her children, she confronts Jason.Hovering above him in the sky, she rides off in a chariot provided by her grandfather Helios, the sun god, leaving Jason standing alone without either a bride or children. This was Euripides' version. In other adaptations of the myth, she kills the children accidentally while trying to make them immortal or the citizens of Corinth kill them at the temple of Hera because of Medea's murder of the princess.
Medea Sarcophagus

Medea Sarcophagus


The play begins sometime after Medea has learned about Jason's plan to marry King Creon's daughter. She is inside her home, crying and bemoaning about her plight. The children's nurse is outside, concerned about her mistress's mental state.She speaks to the audience:
… now hatred rules, and loyal love is sick since Jason has betrayed my mistress and their sons, by mounting the royal bridal bed beside the daughter of Creon, the monarch of this land, and so my poor Medea is disdained.(Grene, 74)
The nurse suspects that something horrible may happen for Medea now hates the children and takes no pleasure in the sight of them. She fears that Medea could even do them harm. When the children's tutor enters, they exchange a little gossip about what each of them suspects. He is concerned about Medea and wonders if she had stopped grieving. The tutor is told to keep the children away from their mother until she has stopped grieving.
The scene changes to Medea inside the house:
The suffering I have endured, endured, calling for bitter lament aloud! Accursed children of a hated mother, I wish you were done for along with your father. To hell with family, all of the house. (78)
She even begs for death. She speaks to the gods Artemis and Themis asking if they can see the pain she is suffering. She pleads that they rip the palace to pieces for what has been done to her. The nurse hears Medea's plea and adds - speaking to the gods - she fears for the children's safety but begs for the gods to help. Medea appears from inside the house and speaks to the audience of Jason. Addressing the women of Corinth about men in general, she says they believe women enjoy life, secure from danger, while they fight in wars. However, she would rather fight in battle than endure childbirth.
Manhandled from a foreign land like so much pirate loot … if I can find some means or some device to make my husband pay the penalty to quit me… (81)
Attic Column-Krater

Attic Column-Krater

King Creon approaches Medea and informs her that she must leave Corinth. She asks for the reason why he is expelling her.Creon replies: “I am afraid of you - no point in mincing words - I am afraid you'll work incurable mischief upon my daughter” (84). Medea assures him that it is Jason she hates, not the bride. Despite her pleas, Creon still holds to her being exiled.
He will even have her removed by force if necessary. Medea relents and asks only for one more day to make arrangements for her sons, and Creon agrees. After he leaves, she declares aloud:
… he's let me stay for this one day - the day on which I shall make dead meat of my enemies all three: the father and his daughter and my husband. (88)
Jason enters and approaches Medea, assuring her that she will not be left in poverty. First, she calls him a cheating rat and then reminds him how she had left her home after helping him acquire the Golden Fleece. Jason ignores her and says she has no one to blame for her exiles except herself. He has grown to hate her, but he still intends to treat her well.
I am prepared to hand out generously and to send tokens to my friends elsewhere to have them treat you well. If you refuse this, woman, you are a fool. Give up your anger fit, and you will be far better off. (97)
He leaves her standing alone. Aegeus, King of Athens, arrives to speak to Medea. He has come from the oracle of Apollowhere he had asked how he might acquire children as his heirs. He understood that there was a prophet in Corinth that could help him. He asks why she has been crying. Medea relays her problems with Jason. The king sympathizes, and Medea adds that she can end his barrenness. “I shall make you potent to seed progeny. Such are the potions that I know.” (103) Aegeus promises her that if she can escape Corinth, he will give her asylum in Athens. After the king leaves, Medea prays to Zeus and says that she now has hope. Speaking to the audience, she divulges her plan. She will inform Jason that she wishes him well and has a present to give the princess, a finespun dress and plaited wreath of beaten gold. However, unbeknownst to anyone else, the dress will be poisoned. Concerning the fate of her children, she adds:
I grieve for the deed that I must do then that I must kill my sons - there is no one can spirit them away. (106)
Jason reappears as she has requested and Medea asks for his forgiveness. She calls for her children and assures them that she is no longer angry. Jason is pleased because her actions are of a woman who has finally become sensible. Medea assures him that she was only thinking of the children. They are to stay with Jason. She requests only that they will not be exiled. Jason leaves, and Medea and the tutor speak. The princess has been given the gifts. Turning to his children, Medea tells them that she is to be exiled. Speaking to herself, she realizes there is only one thing left to do:
…. there is no way I shall leave my boys among my enemies so they can treat them with atrocity. (117)
If they must die then it has to be by her hands. A servant arrives with news; the princess and her father are dead. She rejoices;it is excellent news.
My deed has been decided, friends --- as quickly as I can I'll end the children's lives and move on from this land.(124)
Medea exits and enters the house, saying “I'm a woman made of sorrow.” The children are killed off stage. Jason appears with the sword in hand that had killed his boys. Medea hovers above him in a chariot holding the bodies of her two sons. Jason speaks to her:
You are a thing of hate, woman most loathsome to the gods and me, and all humanity. (128)


No Greek would ever have done what she did. Medea tells him that Zeus knows what he has done. Jason grieves not only that he shall never share his marriage bed but also not share words with his two children again. Jason calls Medea a vicious mother, but she quickly responds that it was not her hand but his hand that killed them. She tells him that the gods know who is responsible. Jason asks for the bodies of his sons so he can bury them. No! Medea responds that they will be buried at the shrine of Hera. She adds that everything she did was meant to torture him. Medea flies away, leaving Jason standing alone - no wife, no children. Calling to Zeus, blaming the god for allowing this to happen:
...what I have suffered at the hands of this polluted, this children-devouring she lion. (133)


In Medea, Euripides portrayed a woman already known to the audience through the myth of the Argonauts and the hunt for the Golden Fleece. Some critics consider him to be a misogynist for his portrayal of women as being murderous and terrifying;however, he actually had deep respect and sympathy for women. Michael Grant in his book The Classical Greeks stated that the poet admired women for their sacrifice and pitied them for their suffering.
According to John Davie in the introduction to his translation of Euripides' play, the poet was intrigued by the mind of Medea.He believed she was not a heartless woman, but one who is suffering. As a foreigner in a strange land, she is presented as a pathetic victim, a tormented mother. She murdered not out of hatred but out of passion. Michael Grant claimed the play has a novel theme, the “power of passion.” Medea was transformed into a fiend by an intolerable wrong. Despite the darkness of her actions, she knew exactly what she was doing.
She is not depicted as a murderous, heartless mother. She is a victim, betrayed by a husband who wanted to marry another, someone more prominent. During his lifetime, Euripides saw his adopted city suffer through the hardships of the Peloponnesian War. He saw that the war not only affected the men who were fighting the battles but the women who remained at home. Euripides saw the evil beneath the war. As Hamilton wrote: “No poet's ear has ever been so sensitively attuned as his to the still, sad music of humanity…” (205). In some ways, Medea represented this suffering. Although Jason was not at war, she still felt betrayed and abandoned.


Article based on information obtained from these sources:
with permission from the Website Ancient History Encyclopedia
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