1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Aristodemus

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ARISTODEMUS (8th century B.C.), semi-legendary ruler of Messenia in the time of the first Messenian War. Tradition relates that, after some six years’ fighting, the Messenians were forced to retire to the fortified summit of Ithome. The Delphic oracle bade them sacrifice a virgin of the house of Aepytus. Aristodemus offered his own daughter, and when her lover, hoping to save her life, declared that she was no longer a maiden, he slew her with his own hand to prove the assertion false. In the thirteenth year of the war, Euphaes, the Messenian king, died. As he left no children, popular election was resorted to, and Aristodemus was chosen as his successor, though the national soothsayers objected to him as the murderer of his daughter. As a ruler he was mild and conciliatory. He was victorious in the pitched battle fought at the foot of Ithome in the fifth year of his reign, a battle in which the Messenians, reinforced by the entire Arcadian levy and picked contingents from Argos and Sicyon, defeated the combined Spartan and Corinthian forces. Shortly afterwards, however, led by unfavourable omens to despair of final success, he killed himself on his daughter’s tomb. Though little is known of his life and the chronology is uncertain, yet Aristodemus may fairly be regarded as a historical character. His reign is dated 731–724 B.C. by Pausanias, and this may be taken as approximately correct, though Duncker (History of Greece, Eng. trans., ii. p. 69) inclines to place it eight years later.

Pausanias iv. 9-13 is practically our only authority. He followed as his chief source the prose history of Myron of Priene, an untrustworthy writer, probably of the 2nd century B.C.; hence a good deal of his story must be regarded as fanciful, though we cannot distinguish accurately between the true and the fictitious. (M. N. T.)