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ARISTOMENES

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Originally appearing in Volume V02, Page 498 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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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 en-counter, 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 it 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. 'Avbavla). 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 s.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 (Pans. 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.) 498 peoples who were inferior by nature and adapted to submission (riUo i boi Xo) ; such people had no " virtue " in the technical civic sense, and were properly occupied in performing the menial functions of society, under the control of the apuvrot. Thus, combined with the criteria of descent, civic status and the ownership of the land, there was the further idea of intellectual and social superiority. These qualifications were naturally, in course of time, shared by an increasingly large number of the lower class who broke down the barriers of wealth and education. From this stage the transition is easy to the aristocracy of wealth, such as we find at Carthage and later at Venice, in periods when the importance of commerce was paramount and mercantile pursuits had cast off the stigma of inferiority (in Gr. (3avavvda). It is important at this stage to distinguish between aristocracy and the feudal governments of medieval Europe. In these it is true that certain power was exercised by a small number of families, at the expense of the majority. But under this system each noble governed in a particular area and within strict limitations imposed by his sovereign; no sovereign authority was vested in the nobles collectively. Under the conditions of the present day the distinction of aristocracy, democracy and monarchy cannot be rigidly maintained from a purely governmental point of view. In no case does the sovereign power in a state reside any longer in an aristocracy, and the word has acquired a social rather than a political sense as practically equivalent to " nobility," though the distinction is sometimes drawn between the " aristocracy of birth " and the " aristocracy of wealth." Modern history, however, furnishes many examples of government in the hands of an aristocracy. Such were the aristocratic republics of Venice, Genoa and the Dutch Netherlands, and those of the free imperial cities in Germany, Such, too, in practice though not in theory, was the government of Great Britain from the Revolution of 1689 to the Reform Bill of 1832. The French nobles of the Ancien Regime, denounced as " aristocrats " by the Revolutionists, had no share as such in government, but enjoyed exceptional privileges (e.g. exemption from taxation). This privileged position is still enjoyed by the heads of the German mediatized families of the " High Nobility." In Great Britain, on the other hand, though the aristocratic principle is still represented in the constitution by the House of Lords, the "aristocracy" generally, apart from the peers, has no special privileges.
End of Article: ARISTOMENES
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