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The Ant People

Origins of the Myrmidons

Achilles fighting against Memnon Leiden Rijksmuseum voor Oudheden

The Ant People

Aegina was one of Zeus’many loves, with whom he fathered Aeacus, the first king of the island, then called Oenone. When Aeacus renamed the island after his mother, Zeus’ jealous wife Hera punished him by sending a plague of serpents, who killed all the inhabitants.

Aeacus begged Zeus for help, wishing for as many people to repopulate Aegina as there were ants on a nearby oak; hence the Aeginetians were known as the ant folk, or Myrmidons.

Virgil Solis (1514–1562), Myrmidons (1581)

In gratitude Aeacus founded the Sanctuary of Zeus Hellanion on Aegina’s highest mountain. He had three sons – Peleus, Telemon and Phocos. When Telemon and Peleus in a fit of jealousy killed Phocos, their father’s favourite, they fled, Telemon going to nearby Salamína and Peleus to Thessaly.

The two then went on to father two heroes of the Trojan War, Ajax and Achilles respectively. When Aeacus died, Zeus made him a judge of the dead in Hades along with two of his own sons by Europa – Rhadamanthys and Minos, the arch enemy of Aeacus.

Sidelights and Myths

Text © Dana Facaros

Images by Jona Lendering, PD Art