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An article from the 1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica, now in the public domain.
Any color photos are mine, © William P. Thayer.

Vol. II

Aristomenes, of Andania, the semi-legendary hero of the second Messenian war. He was a member of the Aepytid family, the son of Nicomedes (or, according to another version, of Pyrrhus) and Nicoteleia, and took a prominent part in stirring up the revolt against Sparta and securing the co‑operation of Argos and Arcadia. He showed such heroism in the first encounter, at Derae, that the crown was offered him, but he would accept only the title of commander-in‑chief. His daring is illustrated by the story that he came by night to the temple of Athene "of the Brazen House" at Sparta, and there set up his shield with the inscription, "Dedicated to the goddess by Aristomenes from the Spartans." His prowess contributed largely to the Messenian victory over the Spartan and Corinthian forces at "The Boar's Barrow" in the plain of Stenyclarus, but in the following year the treachery of the Arcadian king Aristocrates caused the Messenians to suffer a crushing defeat at "The Great Trench." Aristomenes and the survivors retired to the mountain stronghold of Eira, where they defied the Spartans for eleven years. On one of his raids he and fifty of his companions were captured and thrown into the Caeadas, the chasm on Mt. Taygetus into which criminals were cast. Aristomenes alone was saved, and soon reappeared at Eira: legend told how he was upheld in his fall by an eagle and escaped by grasping the tail of a fox, which led him to the hole by which he had entered. On another occasion he was captured during a truce by some Cretan auxiliaries of the Spartans, and was released only by the devotion of a Messenian girl who afterwards became his daughter-in‑law. At length Eira was betrayed to the Spartans (668 B.C. according to Pausanias), and after a heroic resistance Aristomenes and his followers had to evacuate Messenia and seek a temporary refuge with their Arcadian allies. A desperate plan to seize Sparta itself was foiled by Aristocrates, who paid with his life for his treachery. Aristomenes retired to Ialysus in Rhodes, where Damagetus, his son-in‑law, was king, and died there while planning a journey to Sardis and Ecbatana to seek aid from the Lydian and Median sovereigns (Pausanias IV.14‑24). Another tradition represents him as captured and slain by the Spartans during the war (Pliny, Nat. Hist. XI.187; Val. Maximus I.8.15; Steph. Byzant. s.v. Ἀνδανία). Though there seems to be no conclusive reason for doubting the existence of Aristomenes, his history, as related by Pausanias, following mainly the Messeniaca of the Cretan epic poet Rhianus (about 230 B.C.), is evidently largely interwoven with fictions. These probably arose after the foundation of Messene in 369 B.C. Aristomenes' statue was set up in the stadium there: his bones were fetched from Rhodes and placed in a tomb surmounted by a column (Paus. IV.32.3, 6); and more than five centuries later we still find heroic honours paid to him, and his exploits a popular subject of song (ib. IV.14.7; 16.6).

For further details see Pausanias IV; Polyaenus II.31; G. Grote, History of Greece, pt. II chap. VII; M. Duncker, History of Greece, Eng. trans., book IV chap. VIII; A. Holm, History of Greece, Eng. trans., vol. I chap. XVI.

[M. N. T.]

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Page updated: 19 Jun 09