Pelopidas

Human sacrifice, debauched tyrants, and The Sacred Band of Thebes are all woven together in Plutarch's Life of Pelopidas, friend of Epaminondas and great Theban general.

Important People

Epaminondas - Best friend of Pelopidas and philosopher-soldier-statesman of Thebes, Epaminondas is best known for his work on the battlefield in defeating the Spartans not just once, but nearly every time he meets them in pitched battle.

Charon - The major leader of the democratic restoration inside of Thebes. His house provides the rendezvous point and he leads one of the two groups that assassinate the four tyrants put in place by Sparta.

Philip of Macedon - The future king of Macedon who will solidify the generational instability Macedon has experienced for so long. In this life, he makes a brief appearance as one of thirty hostages who spends time in Thebes with a friend of Epaminondas, Pammenes. Philip brings all his first-hand experience of Theban military success back with him to Macedon.

Alexander of Pherae - Tyrant over a polis in Thessaly begins spreading his power and conquering neighboring cities, who call on Thebes for protection against the tyrant. This man famously leaves a tragedy so that his subjects, who have never seen him cry, won't see how moved he is by actors on a stage.

Important Places

Tegyra - 375 BC - Pelopidas's first real defeat of Spartan troops, it is this battle's success that encourages him to make the Sacred Band their own fighting unit, rather then spreading them throughout the phalanx.

Leuctra - 371 BC - The first battle that humiliates the Spartans, showing the entire Greek world that Thebes is the dominant power under who two talented generals, Pelopidas and Epaminondas.

Mantineia - 362 BC - Another successful battle which Epaminondas fights without Pelopidas, who had died a couple years earlier. Because Epaminondas dies of wounds from this battle, the Theban hegemony over Greece dies with him and the poleis fight with each other with no clear leader until Macedon marches down from the North (338 BC).

Map of the Period of Theban Hegemony
A high-resolution map of the time period (ca. 380-360 BC)

C. 1 - Philosophical Reflection on Living and Dying

  1. Cato the Elder distinguishes setting a high value on bravery versus a low value on life (both are not the same kind of bravery). Anecdote from Antigonus offered as illustration:
  2. Antigonus had a sick soldier who, when Antigonus sent his own physicians who cured the man of his ailment, the man became a less brave soldier. When Antigonus asks why, the man replies that it’s because he was given his full health back and now values his life more than before.
  3. Sybarites (from the colony of Sybaris in southern Italy, well known for their decadence and softness), too, when they saw Spartans die didn’t think they were leaving much behind because their daily life was so hard.
  4. Plutarch disagrees and thinks that the Spartans showed a good balance of virtue in living and virtue in dying.
  5. So Homer brings out his heroes well-armed, but Greek lawgivers punish those who cast away their shields (not their spears or swords), showing that every man’s first priority is his own defense, rather than inflicting harm on the enemy.

C. 2 - What Makes a Good General?

  1. Iphicrates compared it thus: light-armed troops - hands; cavalry - feet; infantry - chest and breastplate; general - head. So the general shouldn’t take undue risks with his person because if he goes down likely so does the whole army. So a Spartan king (Callicratidas) responded poorly when a seer foretold his death in battle, “Sparta does not depend on one man.”
  2. As a soldier he was one man, but as a general he contained the lives of all the men under him. A better response is old Antigonus who was told he was outnumbered by the fleet facing him, but asked “How many ships am I worth?”
  3. Timotheus and Chares story where an Athenian general points out how unworthily he acts in being hasty while in command of a great force.
  4. If, though, the army could gain great advantage by the general exposing himself to danger, he must do so. Plutarch quibbles with the adage “Good generals should die in old age if not of old age.”
  5. What does this have to do with Pelopidas and Marcellus? They are both great men who fell rashly in battle. They fought illustrious foes, defeating them for the first time (or first time in centuries): Pelopidas defeated Sparta in pitched battle. Marcellus was the first to defeat Hannibal. Yet they threw away their own lives, thus the parallel.

C. 3 - On the Right Use of Wealth

  1. Born to a wealthy family, he manages what Aristotle asserts is rare: he falls neither into avarice nor prodigality, devoting his wealth to worthy men who needed money.
  2. Since P couldn’t convince E to share his wealth, he descended to share P’s poverty, “glorying in modest attire, simple diet, and readiness to undergo hardships (like a soldier)”
  3. Quoting from Euripides to show “he had abundant wealth, but riches did not make him arrogant” and that he would be ashamed to spend more on himself than on the poorest Theban (or at least to be perceived that way). Epaminondas lightened his hereditary poverty with philosophy, choosing to live alone from a young age.
  4. Pelopidas married young and had children, but neglected his family duties to devote himself to Thebes, decreasing his wealth. When his friends tell him money is necessary, he points to a blind, old beggar and says, “Yes, for Nicodemus here.”
Illustration of how Pelopidas may have defended Epaminondas in the Battle of Mantineia.
Pelopidas Defends Epaminondas in the Battle of Mantineia

C. 4 - The Friendship of Pelopidas and Epaminondas

  1. Pelopidas delighted more in exercising the body; Epaminondas the mind. While many admire these men for many things, their friendship through all civil and military struggles is the most impressive.
  2. Compare the past Lives of Themistocles and Aristides, Pericle and Cimon, or Nicias and Alcibiades to see the contrast these men provide in their friendship. These are rightly called colleagues and co-commanders.
  3. Their success rooted in virtue, aiming not at glory or wealth, but by “divine desire to see their country become most powerful and glorious” allowing them to treat the other’s success as his own.
  4. Some say their friendship began in the middle of the Peloponnesian Wars at the battle of Mantineia, when they fought on the Spartan side more valiantly even than the Spartans, locking their shield together and refusing to retreat.
  5. Pelopidas received seven wounds and fell, but Epaminondas defended even his body, thinking he had already died. When Epaminondas had already been wounded in the chest and the arm, Agesipolis, the Spartan king, came to their aid and saved both men from destruction.

C. 5 - Revolution in Thebes

  1. After this battle (Mantineia, 418 BC), the Spartans treat the Thebans as equal allies, but grow suspicious of their ambition. They are also suspicious of Pelopidas’s political leanings which favor democracies over oligarchies.
  2. Thus, Pelopidas’s enemies convince Phoebidas the Spartan to attack the Cadmeia, take it and expel all those favorable to democracy.
  3. Phoebidas does this (cf. Ages 23.3-7) and Pelopidas has to flee. Epaminondas permitted to stay because his poverty made him seem less threatening and his philosophy made him something of a recluse.

C. 6 - Theban Exiles in Athens

  1. The Spartans deprive Phoebidas of command and fine him 100,000 drachmas (thus disapproving of his action), but they hold their garrison of soldiers in the Cadmeia (thus admitting it’s advantage in negotiating with Thebes) the rest of Greece marvels at this inconsistency, punishing the wrong-doer but approving the deed.
  2. The only way out of Theban tyranny was to take down the Spartans who backed it. One of the refugees living in Athens was assassinated by the Theban tyrants.
  3. Sparta tells Athens not to harbor the political exiles.
  4. The Athenians refuse, paying back Thebes for helping Athens rid herself of the 30 tyrants.

C. 7 - The Counter-Revolution

  1. Pelopidas, in spite of being the youngest of the exiles, becomes their leader, encourager, and organizer in not just relying on the Athenians’ good will (or talented orators) and to do something for themselves and Thebes.
  2. They should take Thrasybulus for their example and, just as he took great risk to expel the 30 tyrants from Athens, take great risk themselves to liberate Thebes. They began to communicate secretly with some inside Thebes.
  3. The plan begins working from the inside and Epaminondas is whipping up the young wrestlers in the gymnasium to stop acting like slaves of men whom they are physically stronger than.

C. 8 - Returning to Thebes

  1. (379 BC) - The day is set and the Theban army remains in Attic territory while asking for volunteers to reconnoitre the situation in the city.
  2. Pelopidas volunteers first and eventually has a group of twelve, disguising themselves as hunters, heading toward the meeting place in the city (Charon’s house in Thebes).
  3. Charon stays faithful while another man sees the futility of this project in taking on the Spartan empire.
  4. He sends messengers to Pelopidas asking him to postpone the enterprise for a more fitting time.
  5. The man tries to saddle his horse (in order to go tell on the Theban rebels?), but his wife refuses him the bridle, claiming she let a neighbor borrow it.
Illlustration of Charon entrusting his son to Pelopidas.
Charon entrusts his only son to Pelopidas

C. 9 - In the House of Charon

  1. Pelopidas and companions now enter the city dressed as country-folk and separate to come into the city at different times of day. Because of the wind and snow, they came into a mostly deserted city as everyone sheltered from the cold. 48 men gather at Charon’s house.
  2. The secretary of the tyrants, Phillidas, was in league with the rebels and had arranged a drinking party for the day on which the rebels returned.
  3. Before the drinking party had gotten too deep, vague information was brought to them that the exiles were in the city. Archias, one of the tyrants, summons Charon to come at once. Charon and the other men were already arming in his house.
  4. Charon, surprised and a little shaken by the summons, decides to obey, so intrepid was he in the face of danger.
  5. His concern was as much for his friend, Charon summons his young son and gives him into Pelopidas’s care should Charon betray them all, then Pelopidas should treat the son as he would the father.
  6. This brought many to tears and they begged him not to make this promise for his son but send him to Athens where he might return as an avenger of father, city, and friends.
  7. Charon refuses, prays, embraces and encourages all those present and leaves, trying to control his voice and face so that he won’t betray their expedition.

C. 10 - At Archias's Party

  1. When Archias tells him of the information, Charon asks who entered and who is in collusion with them, seeing that Archias has no more specific information. Charon tells him not to let empty rumor bother him, but promises to look into it because no story should be ignored.
  2. Phillidas invites Archias back to the party to continue drinking and Charon returns, telling only Pelopidas the truth, and claiming to everyone else that Archias spoke of some other matter with him.
  3. Before this storm had even cleared, a messenger from Athens bearing a much more detailed plan of the plot from a friend of Archias’s (also named Archias) in Athens.
  4. Archias was drunk and dismissed the messenger with “Serious business for tomorrow” and puts the letter under his pillow. This became a proverb among the Greeks for procrastination leading to destruction.

C. 11 - The Death of the Tyrants

  1. They come out of Charon’s house in two bands, Pelopidas leading one. The two bands will attack two of the tyrants. The second group, under Charon, is disguised as women to attend the drinking party.
  2. When the “women” arrive, they are at first invited in with applause, but they take only as much time as they need to see where everyone is sitting and they fall upon the revelers with their swords.
  3. Those who resisted were killed without much trouble (they were drunk). Pelopidas had the harder task, because Leontidas was sober and had already gone to bed after closing up his house.
  4. As soon as the slave unbolted the door, they rushed in and headed straight for the bedroom. Leontidas leaped out of bed and armed himself with a dagger.
  5. He did not extinguish the lamps and let the men fall upon each other in darkness, but in full light he met them at the door of his room and struck down the first one. Pelopidas was next in line and their struggle was fierce because of the narrow door and the dead body beneath them.
  6. They then moved on to the other tyrant, Hypates, who fled from his house to a neighbor’s, but the group caught up with him and killed him too.

C. 12 - The Spartan Garrison

  1. They joined the two groups together and invited the exiles back home. They also encouraged all the citizens to fight for their freedom.
  2. Epaminondas also brought an armed group to their aid, and the city seemed to awaken but no one assembled as they still weren’t sure what had happened.
  3. The garrison of Spartan soldiers, 1500 strong, didn’t move that night for fear of what was happening in the city.
  4. At daybreak, the exiles returned and an assembly convened. All the citizens called upon to aid their country and their gods, and Pelopidas and his men were welcomed as deliverers.

C. 13 - Recapturing the Cadmeia

  1. Pelopidas elected Boeotarch (governor of Boeotia) with Melon and Charon and blockaded the Cadmeia (the acropolis of Thebes), wanting to free it from Spartan control before Spartan reinforcements arrived.
  2. When the men surrendered conditionally and were allowed to leave, they met Cleombrotus more than halfway to their aid (in Megara) marching with a great force. Of the three Spartan governors (called harmosts, from the verb “to harmonize”), two were executed and the third was heavily fined and exiled himself from the Greek mainland.
  3. All the Greeks compared this to Thrasybulus’s liberation of the Peireius and then Athens itself, calling this the “sister” of the other engagement.
  4. The deed grew more glorious, though, as marking the beginning of the breaking down of Spartan pride and crushing the “fetters of Lacedaemonian supremacy which were thought indissoluble”

C. 14 - Sphodrias Fails to Take the Piraeus

  1. Sparta invades with a huge army and Athens flip-flops prosecuting and executing some in their city who had favored the Boeotian cause. Pelopidas sees he must put Athens and Sparta at odds again.
  2. Pelopidas convinces Sphodrias the Spartan to take the Piraeus
  3. This would please the Spartans and the Thebans, who would not now come to help Athens. Sphodrias fails by advancing as far as Eleusis and then being “surprised” by sunrise, which exposes his whole plan without any advantage for the Spartans (cf. Ages. 24.3-6)

C. 15 - Theban Training

  1. Athens renews alliance with Thebes and begins attacking Sparta by sea again (and encouraging allies to revolt from Spartan power). The Thebans now were fighting the Spartans in Boeotia and so honed their craft of warfare against the Spartans in particular.
  2. These battles hardened them and taught them much, though the outcomes were insignificant for the major parts of the war. Antalcidas’s comment about Agesilaus’s wound being tuition for teaching the Thebans how to fight against Sparta. (cf. Ages 26.2)
  3. But Agesilaus, says Plutarch, was not really their teacher. Pelopidas is elected boeotarch or leader of the sacred band every year until his death.
  4. Theban victories now listed: Plataea, Thespiae, Tanagra all won without crushing the resistance of the Spartans.
  5. These weren’t quite pitched battle but strategic engagements where the Thebans would engage for the time they needed to succeed their end and then fall back.

C. 16 - Prelude to Tegyra and Apollo's Real Birthplace

  1. But Tegyra was a prelude to Leuctra, and brought Pelopidas’s reputation to a high-point. The neighboring city of Orchomenus had invited two Spartan divisions into their polis.
  2. So, Pelopidas hearing that the garrison was sent out to Locris, he approaches Orchomenus with the sacred band and some cavalry only to find another Spartan garrison placed there. So, he has to turn around and make a circuit back to where he came (Thebes).
  3. Between the mountains and the marshlands around the river Melas (lake Orchomenus?) he has a very small path available to him near a temple to Apollo that had been in use through the Persian Wars (and where Apollo was born according to one story since the mountain was named Delos).
  4. Two springs flow from behind the temple to Apollo, one is called the Palm and the other the Olive and thus serves as the place where Leto gave birth to Apollo and Artemis. More Apollo myths.
  5. Apollo, according to Plutarch’s tradition, was not a god who moved from being mortal to immortal, like Heracles or Dionysius, but was an eternal (ἀίδιος) and unbegotten (ἀγέννητος) god, according to the most reputable and most ancient sources.

C. 17 - Clash at Tegyra

  1. The Thebans enter the are of Tegyra from one side as the Spartan garrison returns from Locris on the other. A messenger tells Pelopidas “We have fallen into enemy hands?” to which he asks, “Have they not fallen into our hands?”
  2. Pelopidas brings his cavalry to the front and closely locks his 300 soldiers in formation. Sources vary about the number of Spartans: 500 (Ephorus), 700 (Callisthenes), 900 (Polybius).
  3. The clash centered around the commanders and the Spartan generals were among the first to fall.
  4. After splitting the Spartan force in half, they manage to harry it into retreating, though the Thebans don’t pursue for long aware that there are reinforcements among the Orchomenians.
  5. They had succeeded in a pitched battle against an entire Spartan force. After setting up a trophy and despoiling the Spartans, they returned to Thebes elated at having defeated the Spartans, for the first time ever, with an inferior force.
  6. It is not the Eurotas that produces warlike men, but men trained to be shun disgrace rather than danger.
Picture of the Memorial of the Sacred Band in Thebes
The memorial set up for The Sacred Band

C. 18 - History of the Sacred Band

  1. The Sacred Band had first been formed by Gorgidas, and they encamped in the Cadmeia and thus were also called the city band. Were they made up of lovers and beloved?
  2. Nestor, as Homer reports him, was not as strong a tactician in this regard advising that “tribe fight with tribe, clan with clan” (Iliad 2, 363). Rather, Pammenes argues, lovers would be ashamed to act cowardly before their beloved.
  3. This makes some sense, since men can care for their absent lovers more than all those present to them. Anecdote of one who insists on being stabbed in the front so that his lover may not find his body with a wound in his back.
  4. Did Heracles have a lover in Iolaus? Aristotle says his tomb is a place where lovers declare their loves, and Plato calls the lover a friend inspired by God (Symposium cit.)
  5. It was also claimed that this Sacred Band was never beaten until Chaironeia (338 BC) by Philip of Macedon. Philip was moved to tears by their close array even in death of all 300 men, claiming that they did nothing disgraceful.

C. 19 - The Bonds of the Sacred Band

  1. The origin of man-boy love in Thebes was the focus on the flute and its encouragement in the wrestling-room.
  2. Thus Harmony (daughter of Ares and Aphrodite, War and Love) bringing the force and courage of the warrior in contact with the age having the most grace and persuasiveness.
  3. Gorgidas had distributed the Sacred Band among the foremost ranks. After the battle of Tegyra, Pelopidas insist they continue fighting as a unit.
  4. Just as horses run faster when yoked to a chariot, because of mutual rivalry, so the brave men would be inspired by each other’s high zeal.

C. 20 - Omens for Leuctra

  1. (371 BC) - Sparta focuses on Thebes alone, making peace with the rest of Greece. Sparta now threatened to destroy Thebes utterly, and Pelopidas’s wife begged him not to lose his life.
  2. To which he responded “Men in authority should be told not to lose the lives of others” (see theme that opened this life). Pelopidas sides with Epaminondas that the Thebans should fight.
  3. On the plain of Leuctra, Pelopidas has a dream that involves two women buried in Leuctra after they killed themselves.
  4. The women had killed themselves because they’d been raped by Spartans, and their father cursed the Spartans and killed himself at the tomb of his daughters. Ever since, the Spartans had been wanted about the wrath of Leuctra, but the Spartans never knew exactly which Leuctra since there are two or three places of that name near Sparta.

C. 21 - Pelopidas Called to Sacrifice...

  1. Pelopidas’s Dream - He saw the two women weeping at their tombs, cursing the Spartans as they wept and their father demanding that Pelopidas sacrifice a young woman with red hair for victory.
  2. Many think that Pelopidas should do it and bring up all the precedents from Greek history:
    • Menoeceus, son of Creon
    • Macaria, daughter of Heracles
    • Pherecydes put to death by the Spartans who kept his skin
    • Leonidas sacrificing himself in obedience to the oracle
  3. The youths sacrifice by Themistocles before the battle of Salamis. Since all these sacrifices had been followed by success, they showed the approval of the gods. And Agesilaus had NOT sacrificed a girl when in Aulis (and the same position as Agamemnon) and so he did NOT succeed in Asia.
  4. Others argue against it as barbarous and lawless and that true divine beings do not delight in slaughter and blood of men.

C. 22 - Horse for Human

  1. A young female horse with a red coat broke away from her herd and sped through the camp.
  2. A seer named Theocritus identifies the horse as the necessary sacrificial victim. And so, they sacrifice a horse and not a human.

C. 23 - Leuctra and the First Foray into Laconia

  1. Epaminondas tries to draw the Spartans away from the rest of the Greeks in the battle, but they realize what he is doing and alter their tactic.
  2. The Spartans try to surround Epaminondas using the opening he just created, but Pelopidas closes the gap by running in with his sacred band, temporarily throwing the Spartans into a confused array.
  3. Spartan discipline quickly accepts any soldier as his neighbor and focuses on the danger ahead.
  4. Nonetheless, attacked boldly from two sides, they do fly and the Spartans are slaughtered. Epaminondas and Pelopidas won equal glory in spite of commanding different size of men (Epaminondas commanded the whole wing and Pelopidas just the Sacred Band of 300 men).

C. 24 - A Slow Return to Thebes

  1. Both men were elected as Boeotarchs (370BC) when they began to pull Sparta’s allies away from her: Elis, Argos, Arcadia.
  2. The other boeotarchs want to get home as winter closes in, but E and P charge into Laconia and ravage the whole area all the way to the sea, with 70,000 men under their command now, the Thebans only being about 8% of the whole army.
  3. A law of nature deeper than the Theban laws that makes those who want to be saved choose the leaders who can save them, as sailors listen to a captain they might not even like in a storm.
  4. While the allies contended in assembly, in battle they obeyed the Theban generals.
  5. On this expedition they united Arcadia, rescued Messenia from Spartan control and restored the Messenians to their ancient land. They even skirmished with the Athenians as they passed through Attica (Cenchreae).

C. 25 - Trial and Slander

  1. Both men put on trial for their lives when they returned because they had usurped their power for four months, not handing it back on the first day of the new year.
  2. Both were acquitted, but Epaminondas handled the trial with the equanimity of a philosopher. Pelopidas encouraged by his friends, sought revenge on those who had politically attacked him.
  3. One orator, Menecleidas, who had been with the original group of rebels in Charon’s house, continued to defame P even after the trial had ended.
  4. The envy of Menecleidas tries to pit Charon and Pelopidas against each other, so he is constantly singing Charon’s praises.
  5. Plataea, before Leuctra, had been led by Charon, and so Menecleidas chose an unfinished painting of the battle and insisted it be dedicated to Charon.
  6. He hoped to obscure P and E’s fame, but the battle just wasn’t as important as the others.
  7. Pelopidas countered that the Thebans don’t customarily honor a single man, but the whole polis for the victory. Menecleidas fined and ultimately tries to overthrow the Theban government in an (unsuccesful this time) revolution.

C. 26 - Meanwhile, North of Thebes

  1. (369 BC) - Pelopidas goes to aid the Thessalians (north) against a tyrant conquering nearby poleis.
  2. After capturing Larissa and coming to terms with Alexander the tyrant, he tried to convince him to govern rather than tyrannize the Thessalians, but Alexander would not change. Pelopidas grew harsh with him and Alexander fled.
  3. Then Pelopidas heads north to Macedonia, since Alexander was at war with Macedonia too and both sides had asked Pelopidas to act as arbiter.
  4. When he settled the peace between Alexander and Macedon, he received 30 hostages, including the future Philip of Macedon (brother of the current King of Macedon) and showed the Greek world not only what power but also justice looked like.
  5. This Philip later waged war to “enslave the Greeks” but lived with Pammenes as a boy. Philip learned much from Epaminondas’s tactics and leadership, but seemed to learn nothing of E’s “restraint, justice, magnanimity, and gentleness”

C. 27 - More Northern Chaos - The Capture of Pelopidas

  1. (368 BC) The Thessalians again complain about Alexander of Pherae, Pelopidas goes as an ambassador (i.e. without an army), so he ends up having to lead the Thessalians in battle.
  2. Macedon in chaos too, as the king had been murdered (by a guy named Ptolemy) and the allies of the dead king looked to Pelopidas. Pelopidas wanted to respond, so he raised some mercenaries and showed up.
  3. Ptolemy bribed Pelopidas’s mercenaries away, but he feared Pelopidas enough to agree to be regent for the brothers of the king and ally with Thebes. Pelopidas sends back to Thebes 50 hostages, including the son of Ptolemy (now regent).
  4. Pelopidas still wants to punish the perfidious mercenaries so he gathers a band of Thessalians and marches to Pharsalus where most of their wives, children, and goods are.
  5. Alexander of Pherae appears before the city to “defend” it, when Pelopidas and Ismenias approach to parley,
  6. Alexander captures Pharsalus and takes into captivity Pelopidas and Ismenias.

C. 28 - Pelopidas in Prison

  1. An army dispatched from Thebes to help Pelopidas and Ismenias, though not one sent with Epaminondas at its head.
  2. Pelopidas sent a message to Alexander that the tyrant should kill him, because when he was freed he would surely get revenge on Alexander.
  3. Alexander: “Why the death wish?” Pelopidas: “That you may become more hateful to the gods than you are now!” Alexander cuts Pelopidas off from all contact except his friends, though Alexander’s wife Thebe wants to talk to Pelopidas.
  4. She bursts into tears when she sees the condition of his clothes and life in prison. She pities Pelopidas’s wife and P pities her as the wife of Alexander.
  5. She continues to visit Pelopidas and her hatred for her husband increases.

C. 29 - Epaminondas Sent to Bring Pelopidas Home

  1. (367 BC) The original generals accomplish nothing in Thessaly, return disgraced, are fined and replaced by Epaminondas.
  2. All of Thessaly excited that such a competent commander approaches.
  3. Epaminondas carefully approaches so as to prevent Pelopidas being killed.
  4. Alexander already well-known for his lack of justice, sometimes burying men alive, dressing them in animal skins and releasing his dogs on them, gathering together the allies in one place and then slaughtering them all with his soldiers, he also set up the spear with which he had killed his uncle and sacrificed to it as a god.
  5. He leaves the Trojan Women abruptly because he didn’t want his people to see him moved with pity for Andromache and Hecuba when he had never been moved to pity for any of his subjects.
  6. Epaminondas uses a 30-day truce to procure the release of Pelopidas and Ismenias and marches back to Thebes.

C. 30 - Embassy to Persia

  1. Thebans join an embassy of Athenians and Spartans to the Great King (of Persia). Pelopidas is the obvious envoy chosen because his fame has already spread through Persia.
  2. The same Spartans who under Agesilaus had done so much to harry the provinces of Asia Minor and even prepare to march on Susa had now been beaten back by Pelopidas…
  3. Artaxerxes loaded Pelopidas with honors, but he grew more delighted on noting that the Thebans were more trustworthy than the Athenians and more straightforward than the Spartans.
  4. He seems to have given the best gift to Antalcidas (Ephor, see life of Agesilaus), his own crown dipped in perfume.
  5. His gifts to Thebes: Greek independence, freedom for Messene to be inhabited, and guest-friendship with the King of Persia.
  6. Timagoras, the Athenian ambassador, was tried, condemned and executed by the Athenians upon his return. Plutarch thinks it was a just sentence if it was for the excessive gifts he brought back from Persia: gold and silver, expensive couch with slaves to prepare it (the Greeks didn’t know how), 80 cows with their cowherds (cow’s milk helped his health), and he was carried back to the sea in a litter.
  7. Epicrates, Timagoras’s shield-bearer, proposed that the nine poorest Athenians should be elected to go as ambassadors to the King every year just to be enriched. The Athenians laugh, but what really bothered them was that the Thebans got their own way, not considering that their fancy rhetoricians did not outweigh the deeds of Pelopidas.

C. 31 - Toppling Tyranny

  1. Alexander of Pherae acting tyrannical again and the Thessalians request Pelopidas’s aid.
  2. (364 BC) - ECLIPSE scares Pelopidas’s men, assembled and ready to march off to aid the Thessalians, but he deems it unwise to leave when the men are so scared.
  3. He takes only those who agree to go, which is 300 foreign cavalry, against the wishes of the people and the seers. He expected, based on his conversations with Thebe, to find Alexander’s household disrupted and he wanted revenge on his imprisoner.
  4. Moreover, he wanted the glory of fighting tyranny, at a time when the Spartans supported it with generals in Syracuse or the Athenians slavishly erected statues of Alexander funded by his gold. Thebes would resist “Ruling houses which rested on violence and were contrary to the laws”

C. 32 - Pelopidas Dies

  1. Alexander joins battle, seeing that he outnumbers Pelopidas, who rejoices in the difference as “more to conquer”
  2. Cynoscephalae - Pelopidas tries to take the high ground but Alexander’s cavalry get there first.
  3. Pelopidas calls them back and orders them to attack Alexander’s infantry while he himself goes to attack the high ground.
  4. Step by step, Pelopidas works his way to the front and wins the high ground one foot at a time.
  5. Pelopidas uses the high ground to find where Alexander is fighting. When he spots him,
  6. He leaps out of the main body of the army to challenge Alexander, but is then wounded by many spears as he falls back into the ranks.
  7. The Thessalian cavalry roll down from the high ground and put the remainder of Alexander’s army to flight, pursuing a great distance and killing many.
Painting of the Death of Pelopidas by Andrey Ivanov
The Death of Pelopidas - Andrey Ivanov (1805)

C. 33 - Thessaly and Thebes Grieve

  1. The Thessalians now grieve over Pelopidas, calling him their father, savior, and teacher.
  2. It is said that no man took off his armor until he had first seen the body of Pelopidas, and around him they heaped the spoils of the battle, the manes of their horses, and their own hair.
  3. Many did not eat dinner that night or even light a fire, silence and gloom hung over the camp, as if they hadn’t won.
  4. The Thessalians ask the Thebans for permission to bury Pelopidas themselves.
  5. One even claims “This is a greater calamity for Thessaly than Thebes; you lost a commander only, we lost that and freedom. For how will we ever ask for another general when we couldn’t return the first one?”

C. 34 - Funeral and Legacy of Pelopidas

  1. Pelopidas’s funeral attended with great splendor, not the tyrannical kind expressed in forced purple, ivory, and gold
  2. Not Alexander’s forcing even the town to be “shorn of their battlements” after the death of Hephestion. No, Pelopidas’s honors came from free esteem and gratitude.
  3. A man dying on foreign soil, with no kinsmen around and no one asking or forcing, was escorted and crowned by so many peoples and cities.
  4. The death of men in their hour of triumph is not grievous, as Aesop claims, but blessed, putting their blessing out of reach of the changes of fortune. Anecdote of an Olympic victor whose sons and grandsons were also Olympic victors.
  5. All Olympic and Pythian victories combined do not match one of the struggles of Pelopidas, while boeotarch for the 13th time, he died in defense of freedom acting against an evil tyrant.

C. 35 - Revenge, The Death of Alexander

  1. The revenge of Thebes: They march with 7000 men and 700 horse against Alexander, forcing him to set free the Magnesians, Achaeans, and take oaths that he would follow the lead of Thebes.
  2. Thebe, Alexander’s wife, along with her three bothers conspired against Alexander’s life.
  3. Thebe hides her brothers, sends the dog away that guards their bedroom,
  4. and then sneaks her brothers into Alexander’s bedroom.
  5. They are at first afraid, but she chides them and threatens to waken Alexander and tell him of the plot if they don’t go through with it now.
  6. Alexander killed swiftly with one sword stroke through his middle, perhaps “milder than was his due.” He was either the first or only tyrant ever to be killed by his wife, so that seems to be fitting retribution for his lawless deeds.

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