House of Sparta From Spartan Mythology Explained
Sparta or Lacedaemon was the capital of a south eastern region of the Peloponnese, called Laconia. Laconia was known for its fertile land. In Greek mythology, Sparta was a great centre of power for the Spartan king, with great palaces.
Sparta was the home of Helen of Troy and her famous twin brothers, Castor and Polydeuces (Pollux). These twins were known as Dioscuri, and they had joined other heroes in the voyage of the Argonauts and the Calydonian Boar Hunt. Their mortal father, Tyndareus was the most famous of the Sparta king. Helen’s husband, Menelaus, was also famous.
After the destruction of the Mycenaean centres throughout Greece after the Bronze Age, the Hellenic people, known as Dorians, had occupied Laconia. Yet, as a city, Sparta was a poor city-state that boasted no great fortification or buildings. No palace was found in historical Sparta. Their lifestyles were frugal and austere. Spartan citizens were called Spartiates. Yet, it was known for being ruled by two royal kings and its hoplite army.
Sparta was later famous for training their citizens as hoplite warriors, to fight in the phalanx formation. Each son was brought up by his mother, until seven, where they actually began their military training. Weak sons were either killed or left to die in the forest. There was no other life for Spartan male, because since the 6th century BC, they were prohibited from applying trades. The non-citizens from the neighbouring towns, known as Perioeci, handled trades.
They conquered Messenia, and turned every Messenian into helots, which were nothing more than slaves. Sparta formed hegemony in Peloponese, which modern historians called the Peloponnesian League, though not every Peloponnesian city-state were part of this league.
Genealogy: House of Sparta
|According to Apollodorus, Lelex (Λέδεξ) was autochthonous ancestors of the Spartans. Lelex was the earliest ruler of Laconia, which was at first called Lelegia. Lelex was also the eponym of the Leleges or Lelegians. Lelegians were one of the groups of people to inhabit Greece, like the Pelasgians.
His parents were unknown, but he had several sons. Myles was his successor, while Polycaon became the king of Messenia. He had another son, named Eurotas, by the naiad Cleocharia. Though, Eurotas was sometimes known as Lelex’s grandson.
However, there was probably another person named Lelex, who was also the eponym of the Leleges. According to the geographer Pausanias, the second Lelex was the king of Megara, and the son of Poseidon and Libya. Lelex had come to Megara from Egypt. The Megarian Lelex was the father of Cleson.
The two Lelexs were probably unrelated. The Lelegians were mostly descendants of the Megarian Lelex.
|Kings of Laconia. Myles (Μύλης) and Eurotas were two sons of Lelex. Cleocharia was Eurotas’ mother, but Myles’ mother was unnamed; which make them half-brothers. Some say that Myles was Eurotas’ father and Lelex was Eurotas’ grandfather. Which ever was the case, it is certain that Eurotas became the father of Sparta, who later became wife of Lacedaemon.
Myles was known as the Miller, because it was he who had invented the mill. Myles ruled Laconia (or Lelegia, as it was called at the time), after his father. At Myles’ death, Eurotas succeeded him.
Eurotas became the ruler of Laconia. A river was named after Eurotas. Eurotas was probably a river god originally, or he was turned into one. Eurotas became the father of Sparta, who was named after Laconia’s capital, and of Tiasa. Eurotas’ son-in-law, Lacedaemon had founded the city, Sparta.
|Lacedaemon (Lacedaimon or Λακεδαίμων) was the son of Zeus and Taygete, daughter of Atlas and Pleione. It was Lacedaemon who founded the city of Sparta, which was named after his wife, Sparta (Σπάρτα). The city Sparta was often called Lacedaemon, as well, and the two names were often used interchangeably.
His mother, Taygete, was one of the nymphs, known as the Pleiades. She was named after the Mount Taygetus, found in the west of Sparta.
Sparta was the daughter of Laconian king, Eurotas. Sparta became the mother of a son named Amyclas and a daughter named Eurydice, who had married Acrisius, the king of Argos. Eurydice became the mother of Danae and grandmother of the hero Perseus.
Apart from founding and naming the city after himself and his wife, and their relationships with their parents and children, not much is known about Lacedaemon and Sparta.
|Amyclas was the son of Lacedaemon and Sparta. Amyclas had married Diomede, daughter of Lapithus and Orsinome. Amyclas became the father of Argalus, Cynortas, Hyacinthus and Leaneira.
Amyclas was said to have founded the city, Amyclae, near Sparta. Amyclae may have being important during the Bronze Age, but had being reduced to village status in the 7th century. Its importance was that it was centre of the cult, Hyacinthus, a local god. Also, a festival was held each year to mark the occasion of his son’s death.
At his death, Argalus had succeeded him to the Spartan throne.
Cynorta was the son of Amyclas and Diomede, and the brother of Argalus, Hyacinthus and Leaneira. Argalus was his eldest brother, so Argalus ruled first until he had died, before Cynortas succeed him.
Cynortas had a son named Oebalus. It is also possible that he had another son named Perieres, who became king of Messenia; though, some say that this Perieres was actually the son of Aeolus and Enarete. If this is the case, then the only link between the Aeolid Perieres and the Spartan Oebalus is that they had both married Gorgophone, daughter of Perseus, with Oebalus being her second husband.
His reign was uneventful, and when Cynortas died, he was succeeded by his son, Oebalus.
Some would say that Hyacinthus was actually the son of Pierus, king of Pella in Macedonia, and of the Muse Cleio. Or there could be two of them with the same name, as Apollodorus had listed both.
According to Apollodorus, the Spartan Hyacinthus had migrated to Athens, and had three daughters – Antheis, Aigleis and Lytaia. His daughters were sacrificed, when the Athenians were suffering from a plague, brought on by prayer of Minos to Zeus. The sacrifices were made, because they thought that was what the oracle wanted. But the sacrifices were in vain, because the Athenians continued to suffer from the plague, until Athens realised that they must send seven youths and seven maidens to Crete, to feed the monster Minotaur that Minos keeps in his Labyrinth.
In a different type of myth, Apollodorus then tell of Hyacinthus being the son of one set of parents, and then later on, he writes that he had the other set of parents, but yet in each they had shared the same fate. With Euripides (in the play Helen), Pausanias and Ovid (in the Metamorphoses), there were no doubt that his parents were Spartans (ie son of Amyclas). Ovid, by far, gives us the fullest account of Hyacinthus’ death.
Whoever were his parents, Hyacinthus grew into a beautiful youth. Such was his beauty that a bard, named Thamyris loved him. This was said to be the first homosexual relationship between two mortal males. However, his beauty had also attracted the attention of the sun god Apollo.
Apollo fell in love with young Hyacinthus, and became his constant companion, whether they went out hunting or join in athletic exercises.
One day they decided to throw discus. Apollo showed his prowess and threw the discus at great distance. Hyacinthus went to fetch the discus, but the discus bounced off a rock and struck the boy’s face. (According to one source, Zephyrus, god of the west wind, was also fallen in love with Hyacinthus, but he was jealous of Apollo. Zephyrus had caused the discus to hit Hyacinthus.)
Apollo was horrified and flew to his lover’s crumple form. Apollo was the god of healing, but even his mighty power couldn’t save Hyacinthus. His shade flew to Hades.
From Hyacinthus’ blood, violet flowers grew where the blood landed, which was called Hyacinth. The flowers had the shape of a lily, but the petals were violet in colour. Like, when Hyacinthus died his head would droop, so did the flower, when the stem is broken.
Hyacinthus was buried in a tomb at Amyclae, a city that his father had founded. Apollo ordered an annual festival to be held at Amyclae. This festival was called Hyacinthia, where athletic contests were held. The cult of Hyacinthus had probably historically existed in pre-Dorian time (Bronze Age), where he was worshipped as a hero and a god, but during Archaic period, it was held in honour to both Hyacinthus and Apollo.
|King of Sparta. Oebalus was the son of Cynorta and the grandson of Amyclas. Oebalus had married the widow, Gorgophone, the daughter of Perseus and Andromeda. Gorgophone’s first husband was the Aeoloid Perieres, king of Messenia.
From Gorgophone, Oebalus was the father of Tyndareüs, Icarius (father of Penelope) and Arene (wife of Aphareus of Messenia). Oebalus had another son, named Hippocoön, from the naiad Bateia. Some say that Tyndareüs and Icarius were also Bateia’s sons, not Gorgophone’s.
His eldest son, Tyndareüs, succeeded him after his death.
|King of Sparta. Tyndareüs (Τυνδάρεως) was the son of Oebalus and Gorgophone, who was daughter of Perseus and Andromeda. Tyndareüs was brother of Icarius and Arene. He was also the half-brother of Hippocoön, his rival.
Tyndareüs succeeded his father, at Oebalus’ death. Tyndareüs became the first important king of Sparta. There was not much myth about his father and his ancestors who ruled Sparta and Laconia.
Hippocoön (Ἰπποκόων) was son of Oebalus and the naiad, Bateia. Hippocoön was the half-brother of Tyndareüs, Icarius and Arene. Hippocoön became father of twelve sons: Dorycleus, Scaios, Enarophoros, Euteiches, Boucolos, Lycaithos, Tebros, Hippothoos, Eurytos, Hippocorystes, Alcinous and Alcon. This list of Hippocoön’s sons was given in Apollodorus’ Library.
When their father died, Tyndareüs as eldest became the new king of Sparta. Hippocoön was jealous of Tyndareüs so with the help of his twelve sons, they drove Tyndareüs and Icarius out of Sparta.
Tyndareüs fled to Calydon with his brother, and became suppliants to House of Calydon, king of Calydon. During his stay in Calyonian court, Tyndareüs met and fell in love with Leda, sister of Althaea, who was wife of Oeneus. It was in this court that he met the hero Heracles (Hercules), who was also guest of Oeneus.
Heracles had previously gone to Sparta, asking Hippocoön to purify him for the murder of Iphitus, son of King Eurytus of Oechalia, but Hippocoön refused, so Hippocoön earned Heracles’ enmity. Heracles could only atone for Iphitus’ murder, if Heracles served as slave to Omphale, the great Lydian Queen. Omphale later released Heracles, taking the hero as her lover. Heracles had already defeated defeated the armies of Laomedon, Augeias and Neleus.
So after some years had passed, Heracles was in Calydon when Tyndareüs arrived. Heracles agreed to restore the throne to Tyndareüs.
Heracles gathered an army in Calydon and at Tegea in Arcadia. In the battle at Sparta, Heracles killed Hippocoön and all twelve sons of his. With Hippocoön’s death, Heracles restored the kingdom to Tyndareüs.
Before Tyndareüs left Aetolia, he married Leda, and took her back with him to Sparta, where he ruled once more.
Tyndareüs had married Leda (Λήδα), daughter of Thestius and Eurythemis. Leda was the sister of Althaea, who married the Calydonian king, Oeneus (see House of Calydon), and of Hypermnestra, who had married Oicles and became mother of the Argive seer warrior, Ampharius (see Adrastus in Houses of Aroglis).
According to the popular myth, Zeus found in love with Tyndareüs’ beautiful wife. One day, Zeus transformed himself into a swan. In this form, Zeus lulled Leda to sleep, before he ravished the sleeping queen. On that same night, Tyndareüs also had intercourse with his wife. From these unions, Leda laid four eggs and when the eggs hatched, she became the mother of four children. From Tyndareüs, Leda became mother of Castor (Κάστωρ) and Clytemnestra (Κλυταιμνἠστρα). And from Zeus, she was the mother of Polydeuces (Πολυδεύκης; in Latin, his name is Pollux) and Helen (Ἑλένη). The twins, Castor and Polydeuces became known as the Dioscuri (Διόσκουροι), and were Sparta’s greatest heroes.
Tyndareüs and Leda were also parents of another two daughters named Timandra, who became wife of Echemus (Echemos), and Apollodorus mentioned Phylonoe. The goddess, Artemis, had made Phylonoe immortal, but it is not known the reason why Phylonoe was given such honour, but it can be reasonably suggested that she was one of the companions in the hunt. Timandra and Pylonone
Tyndareüs’ sister, Arene had married her half-brother/cousin Aphareus, son of Perieres and Gorgophone. Aphareus became the king of Messenia. Arene was the mother of twins, named Idas and Lynceus. Idas and Lynceus were rivals and mortal enemies of the Spartan twins, Castor and Polydeuces (Pollux). All four had sailed with Jason and the Argonauts, as well as hunting together in the Calydonian Boar Hunt. In the end, the two sets of twins would fight and killed one another, with only Polydeuces surviving. Castor and Polydeuces were transformed into constellations, Gemini, and they were worshipped as gods, patrons of sailors and young warriors. See Dioscuri and Idas and Lynceus for the two twins.
According to one account, Zeus was transformed into a swan, while Nemesis fled from him, first in the form of a fish, then later as a goose. Zeus caught up with Nemesis, and ravished her while they were still in the forms of two different birds.
In another account, Aphrodite helped her father to seduce Nemesis. Aphrodite transformed herself into an eagle or a hawk, pursuing a swan, which was actually Zeus. The swan fled into Nemesis arms, where she protected the bogus bird from the hawk. That night while Nemesis slept, embracing the swan, Zeus raped her in this form.
Both accounts were the same after Zeus ravished the goddess. Nemesis became pregnant, laying a beautiful egg in the woods, which was found by a shepherd. The shepherd presented the egg to Leda, who kept in the chest until the egg hatched and Helen was born. So Nemesis was really the mother of Helen, while Leda reared the child as her own. Most authors say that Nemesis was Helen’s real mother, but she was usually referred to as daughter of Leda. See Helen and Nemesis.
Whatever relationship between Helen and her brothers, or with their mother, the Dioscuri were Helen’s protectors. When Helen was twelve, the hero Theseus and his friend Peirithous had abducted her. Dioscuri with their army rescued her (while Theseus was absence in the Underworld), and deprived Theseus of his mother and his kingdom, Athens.
During the ninth year of the Trojan War, according to Homer in the Iliad, Helen did not know that her brothers had died and became gods, because they were absence from the war.
When Helen reached a marriageable age, her beauty was known far and wide. Many powerful princes and heroes sought her hands in marriage. There are too many suitors to name here, but you will find most of the names in the Catalogues of Ships in my Facts & Figures about the Trojan War page. These included the Argive Diomedes, the Salamian Ajax, the Cretan Idomenus and Menelaüs. Some of them in the list were not her suitors, who would later fight at Troy, like Agamemnon (who had married Helen’s sister, Clytemnestra), Odysseus (who wanted to marry Helen’s cousin, Penelope), Nestor (it was Nestor’s son, Antioclus, who was Helen’s suitor) and Achilles (who was living in the court of Lycomedes, on the island of Scyrus).
Tyndareüs feared that any husband that he or his daughter might choose, the rest would become his enemies. Odysseus was the most wisest and cunning of Greeks at that time. Odysseus suggested that each suitor must take a solemn oath to accept her choice and to protect Helen’s husband and father, when it concerned her. All the suitors took this oath, and in the end, Helen chose Menelaüs, brother of Agamemnon.
When Menelaüs married Helen, Tyndareüs abdicated, allowing Menelaüs to rule Sparta in his place. Helen became the mother of Hermione.
Tyndareüs did not forget Odysseus’ wise advice so he helped the hero to win his niece’s hands in marriage. Odysseus won Penelope, daughter of Icarius, in a footrace against other suitors. Penelope became the mother of Telemachus and lived in Ithaca with her husband. Odysseus’ long absence from Ithaca had caused many rude suitors to seek her hand in marriage. Odysseus returned twenty years and killed all her suitors. See the Odyssey about Odysseus’ adventures after the Trojan War.
Unlike her cousins Helen, Clytemnestra and Timandra, Penelope was a model of faithfulness and loyalty to her husband. Tyndareüs’ daughters had all committed adultery, because he had forgotten to sacrifice to Aphrodite. Aphrodite punished Tyndareüs, by cursing all three daughters of Leda, turning into adulteresses.
Timandra was married to Echemus, but she had run off with Phyleus of Dulichium. While Clytemnestra was married to Agamemnon, but she took his cousin as her lover, when her husband fought at Troy. And Helen had also eloped with Paris, which started the Trojan War.
Menelaüs and Helen weren’t married for very long, before Paris, a Trojan prince, seduced Menelaüs’ wife, and then Paris spirited Helen away, with the help of Aphrodite. They had eloped and fled to Troy. Menelaüs called upon the former suitors of Helen, to help him win back Helen. This resulted in the famous Trojan War.
According to the Euripides’ play, Orestes, Tyndareüs was still alive, when Orestes wanted to marry his cousin Hermione, Tyndareüs’ grand-daughter. As far as I can tell, Tyndareüs’ death was not recorded.
|Husband of Helen of Sparta. Menelaüs (Menelaus or Μενέλαος) was the son of Atreus and Aerope, daughter of Catreus. He was the brother of Agamemnon, who became the king of Mycenae.
Menelaüs seemed to be slightly less distinguished than his brother. Homer, usually described Menelaüs as having red hair.
Menelaüs helped his brother to murder their uncle, Thyestes, who was Atreus’ brother and enemy. Thyestes’ son Aegisthus had murdered Atreus, and gave the kingdom to Thyestes. Thyestes’ death was therefore an act of revenge, which was common for the descendants of Pelops.
With Agamemnon as king of Mycenae, Menelaüs became one of the many suitors of Helen, daughter of Zeus and Leda, wife of Tyndareus. Some say that Helen’s mother was the goddess Nemesis. When Menelaüs was chosen as her husband, the other suitors were already sworn to protect his interests in regarding to Helen, against all enemies. Tyndareus abdicated in favour of Menelaüs to rule Sparta, instead of choosing one of his sons. So Menelaus became the new king of Sparta. From Helen, he became the father of Hermione.
So when Paris, prince of Troy, came to Sparta, Menelaüs had warmly welcomed him, with no suspicion of Paris’ intention. When Menelaüs was absence, to attend his grandfather’s funeral in Crete, Paris eloped with Helen and fled to Troy. When Menelaüs discovered the treachery of his wife and guest, he called upon the other former suitors of Helen to help gain her return. A massive army and fleet were gathered for the war that will be fought in Troy. Menelaüs brought 60 ships from Laconia and Sparta. His brother was appointed as commander-in-chief of the Greek forces.
Menelaüs and Odysseus was unsuccessful emissary sent to Troy, where he demanded for the return of his wife. Priam remembered the visit where Menelaüs was very direct, when he spoke in simple, but clear words, while Odysseus spoke in a voice that resembled a bard that hold his audience spellbound.
Menelaüs had fought bravely in Troy, though he was not a great warrior. Menelaüs was almost successful in defeating Paris in a duel, before Aphrodite had spirited Paris to safety. The Trojans would have given Helen back to Menelaüs, but Athena disrupted the truce. The goddess Athena encouraged Pandarus, leader of Zeleia, to kill Menelaüs with his arrow. Athena prevented Menelaüs’ death, so that the arrow had only slightly wounded Menelaüs. Despite the shallowness of the wound, the truce was broken and fighting was renewed.
His most prominent opponent in the war was Euphorbus, son of the Dardanian Panthous, when Menelaüs was defending the body of Patroclus, companion of Achilles. Menelaüs was one of the Greek warriors to volunteer to fight Hector in a duel, but it was the Telamonian Ajax who won the right to single combat, by casting of the lot. He had also volunteered for night reconnaissance at the Trojan camp, but Odysseus and Diomedes were chosen.
When the Greeks had finally gained entry to Troy, Menelaüs had killed Deïphobus. Deïphobus was the son of Priam and Hecuba; Deïphobus had married Helen after the death of his brother Paris. Menelaüs had also wanted to kill Helen, because of so many of his friends had died in the war, because of her beauty. However, Menelaüs couldn’t bring himself to harm Helen, when he saw her, because she was still beautiful.
Agamemnon and Menelaus quarrelled on the beach, before they departed from Troy. Agamemnon insisted that they should ceremonially offer sacrifice to the gods, particularly to the goddess Athena. Because the war had lasted nine long years, Menelaüs refused to sacrifice to the gods for finally giving him victory, so the gods punished Menelaüs. The gods sent unfavourable winds that drove his ship off course and was left stranded in Egypt with Helen, for seven years. Only five of his ships had survived the journey.
Finally an Egyptian nymph took pity on Menelaüs, she advised him to capture the sea god Proteus, because the sea god had ability of foresight, as well as being shape-shifter. Proteus surrendered to Menelaüs and told him that he was kept in Egypt, because he had not thanked the gods for the victory of Troy. So to appease the gods, Menelaüs sacrificed to the gods.
On his return to Sparta and after a couple of years had passed, Telemachus visited him, seeking any information of his father, Odysseus, but Menelaüs had no news to give to his friend’s son.
During the last stage of the war, Menelaüs had promised to let Neoptolemus, son of Achilles, to marry his daughter Hermione. So upon his returned, Menelaüs had his daughter married to Neoptolemus. But when his nephew, Orestes, son of Agamemnon, had regained his sanity, Menelaus, Hermione and Orestes plotted to have Menelaus’ son-in-law murdered. Orestes murdered Neoptolemus and then married Hermione.
According to most accounts, when Menelaüs had died with no legitimate son, so his nephew Orestes ruled in Sparta, as well as in Argos. Orestes’ son, Tisamenus, was the last king to rule Sparta and Argos, before the arrival of the Dorians. By a slave woman Pieris, he had a son named Megapenthes, and another son Xenodamos, by a nymph Cnossia. See Orestes and Tisamenus in the Houses of Argolis.
However, in the Catalogues of Women, Hesiod wrote that Helen’s youngest child was Nicostratus. Apollodorus also mentioned this Nicostratus. But according to Pausanias, Nicostratus’ mother was the slave woman, so that would make him the brother of Megapenthes; in this account, her husband’s illegitimate sons drove Helen out of Sparta, after Menelaus’ death.
According to Homer, Menelaus gained immortality at his death, and lived in the Blessed Isle, as Proteus had foretold, due to his marriage to the daughter of Zeus (Helen), but according to Apollodorus, it was the goddess Hera who bestow this privilege to Menelaus.