Harmodius and Aristogeiton

Harmodius and Aristogeiton

Harmodius (Ἁρμόδιος / "Harmódios") and Aristogeiton (Ἀριστογείτων / "Aristogeítôn"), both d. 514 BC, were a Greek pederastic couple known also as the Tyrannicides (τυραννοκτόνους). As a result of their attack against the Pisistratid tyranny, they became the iconic personages of the Athenian democracy.

The two, who belonged to different social classes, were also seen as paragons of a democratic pederasty that was styled as moderate "(sophron)" and legitimate "(dikaios)". [Nick Fisher, Aeschines, "Against Timarchos" p.27; 2001, Oxford University Press; ISBN 0198149026]

The principal historical sources are Thucydides in his History of the Peloponnesian War (VI, 56-59) and "The Constitution of the Athenians" (XVIII) attributed to Aristotle or his school, but their story is documented by a great many other ancient writers.


Peisistratus seized power in 561 BC and established a dictatorial regime. Peisistratus is usually called a tyrant, but the Greek word "tyrannos" does not mean a cruel and despotic ruler, merely one who took power by force. Peisistratus was in fact a very popular ruler, who made Athens wealthy and powerful, although the old aristocratic families he had driven from power hated him. When Peisistratus died in 528/527 BC, his son Hippias, with the help of his younger brother Hipparchus, retained power. The two continued their father's policies, but their popularity declined after Hipparchus began to abuse the power of his position.

According to the historian Thucydides, in 514 BC, Hipparchus sought the sexual favours of Harmodius, a boy "in the flower of youthful beauty." Harmodius was the eromenos of Aristogeiton, whom Thucydides describes as "a citizen of middling social status" while Harmodius was a member of one of the old aristocratic families. [Thucydides, "History of the Pelpponesian War," (VI, 54, 2)] Both belonged to the clan of the Gephyraioi, an Athenian deme that had roots in Tanagra, Boeotia. [Pierre-Henri Larcher, "Larcher's Notes on Herodotus: Historical and Critical Comments on the ..." p.122] [Herodotus, "History;" 5.57]

Certain forms of romantic, erotic and sexual relationships between a man who was still in his youth (the "erastes") and an adolescent (the "eromenos") were sanctioned by custom in Athens and many other Greek cities. Hipparchus' own father had been the eromenos of Solon and the erastes of Charmus, who had himself gone on to be the erastes of Hipparchus' brother, Hippias. Hipparchus himself had been the eromenos of Prokleides, a noted Athenian. [Rommel Mendès-Leite et al. "Gay Studies from the French Cultures" p.157] However, Hipparchus's actions in trying to seduce Aristogeiton's eromenos were a definite breach of the rules. Thucydides says bluntly that Aristogeiton "was his lover and possessed him."

Harmodius rejected Hipparchus and told Aristogeiton what had happened. Hipparchus, spurned, avenged himself by first inviting Harmodius' young sister to be the kanephoros (to carry the ceremonial offering basket) at the Panathenaea festival, and then publicly chasing her away on the pretext she was not a virgin, as required. This was an offense of such magnitude to Harmodius' family that he, together with Aristogiton who was already fired by feelings of jealousy, resolved to assassinate both Hippias and Hipparchus and thus to overthrow the tyranny. [B. M. Lavelle, "The Nature of Hipparchos' Insult to Harmodios" in "The American Journal of Philology," Vol. 107, No. 3 (Autumn, 1986), pp. 318]

According to Aristotle, it was Thessalos, the hot-headed son of Pisistratus´ Argive concubine and thus half-brother to Hipparchus, who was the one to court Harmodius and drive off his sister. [Aristotle, The Constitution of the Athenians, XVIII, 2]

The assassination

The plot – to be carried out by means of daggers hidden in the ceremonial myrtle wreaths on the occasion of the Panathenaic Games – involved a number of other co-conspirators. Thucydides claims that "this was the only day on which it was possible for the citizens who formed the parade to assemble armed without arousing suspicion." [Op.cit. (VI, 56, 2)] Aristotle disagrees, asserting that the custom of bearing weapons was introduced later, by the democracy. [Op. cit. (XVIII, 4)]

Seeing one of these greet Hippias in a friendly manner on the assigned day, the two thought themselves betrayed and rushed into action, ruining the carefully laid plans. They managed to kill Hipparchus, stabbing him to death as he was organizing the Panathenaean processions at the foot of the Acropolis. Herodotus expresses surprise at this event, asserting that Hipparchus had received a clear warning concerning his fate in a dream. [Herodotus, V.55] Harmodius was killed on the spot by spearmen of Hipparchus´ guards, while Aristogiton was arrested shortly thereafter. Upon being told of the event, Hippias, feigning calm, ordered the marching Greeks to lay down their ceremonial weapons and to gather at an indicated spot. All those with concealed weapons or under suspicion were arrested, gaining Hippias a respite from the uprising.

Thucydides' identification of Hippias as the couple's purported main target, rather than Hipparchus who was Aristogiton's rival erastes, has been suggested as a possible indication of bias on his part. [Brian M. Lavelle, "The Sorrow and the Pity: A Prolegomenon to a History of Athens under the Peisistratids, c. 560-510 B.C.". Historia Einzelschriften 80 Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, 1993. ISBN 3-515-06318-8.]

Aristogeiton's torture

Aristotle in the "Constitution of Athens" preserves a tradition that Aristogeiton died only after being tortured in the hope that he would reveal the names of the other conspirators. During his ordeal, personally overseen by Hippias, he feigned willingness to betray his co-conspirators, claiming only Hippias' handshake as guarantee of safety. Upon receiving the tyrant's hand he is reputed to have berated him for shaking the hand of his own brother's murderer, upon which the tyrant wheeled and struck him down on the spot. [Aristotle, Athenian Constitution 18.1 (ed. H. Rackham) [http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/cgi-bin/ptext?lookup=Aristot.+Ath.+Pol.+18.1] ]


Likewise, there is a tradition that Aristogeiton (or Harmodius) [Alciato, "Emblemata;" EMBLEMA XIII
"Cecropia effictam quam cernis in arce Leaenam,
"Harmodii (an nescis hospes?) amica fuit.
"Sic animum placuit monstrare viraginis acrem
"More ferae, nomen vel quia tale tulit.
"Quòd fidibus contorta, suo non prodidit ullum
"Indicio, elinguem reddidit Iphicrates.
] was in love with a courtesan (see hetaira) by the name of Leæna "(lioness)" who also was kept by Hippias under torture – in a vain attempt to force her to divulge the names of the other conspirators – until she died. One version holds that previous to being tortured she had bitten off her tongue, afraid that her resolve would break from the pain of the torture. Another is that the Athenians placed a statue of a lioness without a tongue in the vestibule of the citadel simply to honor her fortitude in maintaining silence. [Polyaenus, "Strategies," VIII.xlv] [Pliny, "Natural History" 34.19.72] [Plutarch, "De garrulitate" 505E] It was also in her honor that Athenian statues of Aphrodite were from then on accompanied by stone lionesses [after Pausanias] . [ Athenaeus, "The Deipnosophists," BOOK 13.70]


His brother's murder led Hippias to establish an even stricter dictatorship, which proved very unpopular and was overthrown, with the help of an army from Sparta, in 510. This was followed by the reforms of Cleisthenes, who established a democracy in Athens.

Apotheosis of the couple

Subsequent history came to identify the romantic figures of Harmodius and Aristogeiton as martyrs to the cause of Athenian freedom, possibly for political and class reasons, and they became known as "the Liberators" ("eleutherioi") and "the Tyrannicides" ("tyrannophonoi"). According to later writers, descendants of Harmodius and Aristogeiton's families were given hereditary privileges, such as "sitesis" (the right to take meals at public expense in the town hall), "ateleia" (exemption from certain religious duties), and "proedria" (front-row seats in the theater). [Demosthenes, "Contra Leptines"]

A number of years after the event, it had become a received tradition among the Athenians to believe that Hipparchus was the elder of the brothers, and to fashion him as the tyrant. [Charles Rann Kennedy, Demosthenes, "The Orations of Demosthenes..." H.S. Bohn, 1856; p.264]

tatues and artistic depictions

After the establishment of democracy, Cleisthenes commissioned the sculptor Antenor to produce a bronze statue group of Harmodius and Aristogeiton. It was the first commission of its kind, and the very first statue to be paid for out of public funds, as the two were the first Greeks considered by their countrymen worthy of having statues raised to them. [W.E.H. Lecky "History of European Morals," (ed. 1898), II, 274-95] According to Pliny the Elder, it was erected in the Kerameikos in 509, [Pliny the Elder, Natural History; XXXIV,17] as part of a cenotaph of the heroic couple. Annual offerings "(enagismata)" were presented there by the polemarch, the Athenian minister of war. [Nigel Spivey, "Understanding Greek Sculpture;" p.114-5] There it stood alone as special laws prohibited the erection of any other statues in their vicinity. Upon its base was inscribed a verse by the poet Simonides: "A marvelous great light shone upon Athens when Aristogeiton and Harmodios slew Hipparchus." [John Maxwell Edmonds, "Lyra Graeca; Being the Remains of All the Greek Lyric Poets from Eumelus to Timotheus excepting Pindar," 3 vols. (London: William Heinemann; Nese York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1931), vol. 2,377.]

The statue was taken as war booty in 480 BC by Xerxes I during the early Greco-Persian Wars and installed by him at Susa. As soon as the Greeks vanquished the Persians at Salamis, a new statue was commissioned. It was sculpted this time by Kritios and Nesiotes, and set up in 477/476 BC. [Marm. Par. Ep. 54.70; Pausanias, 1.8.5, Pliny, Hist. Nat. 34.70] It is the one which served as template for the group we possess today, which was found in the ruins of Hadrian's villa and is now in Naples. According to Arrian, [De Exp. Alex. III.xiv] when Alexander the Great conquered the Persian empire, in 330, he discovered the statue at Susa and had it shipped back to Athens. [Ian Worthington, "Alexander the Great: A Reader"; p.45. Routledge, 2003; ISBN 0415291879] When the statue, on its journey back, arrived at Rhodos it was given divine honors. [Valerius Maximus, II.x]

Several comments of the ancients regarding the statue have come down to us. When asked, in the presence of Dionysius, the tyrant of Syracuse, which type of bronze was the best, Antiphon the Sophist replied, "That of which the Athenians made the statues of Harmodius and Aristogeiton." [Plutarch, De Adulat et Amici Discrimine] Lycurgus, in his oration against Leocrates, asserts that, "In the rest of Greece you will find statues erected in the public places to the conquerors in the games, but amongst you they are dedicated only to good generals, and to those who have destroyed tyrants. [Lycurgus, "Contra Leocrates"] Other sculptors made statues of the heroes, such as Praxiteles, who made two, also of bronze. [Pliny, Natural History, XXXIV.viii]

The statue group has been seen, in modern times, as an invitation to identify erotically and politically with the figures, and to become oneself a tyrannicide. According to Andrew Stuart, the statue "not only placed the homoerotic bond at the core of Athenian political freedom, but asserted that it and the manly virtues "(aretai)" of courage, boldness and self-sacrifice that it generated were the only guarantors of that freedom’s continued existence." [Stewart, A. 1997. Art, Desire, and the Body in Ancient Greece. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; p.73]

The configuration of the group is duplicated on a painted vase, a Panathenaic amphora from 400, [London B 605. Beazley, "Attic Black-figure Vases", 411.4.] and on a base-relief on the Elgin throne, dated to ca. 300. [J. Paul Getty Museum, 74.AA.12 [http://www.getty.edu/art/gettyguide/artObjectDetails?artobj=8235] ]


Another tribute to the two heroes was a hymn (skolion) praising them for restoring isonomia (equal distribution of justice) to the Athenians. It was written about one hundred years after the event. [Op.cit. C. R. Kennedy, 1856 p.265] by Callistratus, an Athenian poet known only for this work, and preserved by Athenaeus. [Athenaeus, "Deipnosophistes," XV.695] Its popularity was such that "at every banquet, nay, in the streets and in the meanest assembly of the common people, that convivial ode was daily sung", [Robert Lowth (trans. G. Gregory), "Lectures on the Sacred Poetry of the Hebrews" Lecture I. The Introduction. Of the Uses and Design of Poetry. [http://fair-use.org/robert-lowth/lectures-on-the-sacred-poetry-of-the-hebrews/lecture-i] ] and modern scholars have described it as the "national anthem" of Greek love. [M.-H.-E. Meier, "Histoire de l'Amour Grec dans l'Antiquité" p.211] When sung, the singer would hold a branch of myrtle in his hand. [Pierre-Henri Larcher, "Larcher's Notes on Herodotus: Historical and Critical Comments on the ..." p.125] This ode has been translated by many modern poets such as Edgar Allan Poe, who composed his "" in 1827. [ [http://www.glbtq.com/arts/subjects_harmodius.html glbtq >> arts >> Subjects of the Visual Arts: Harmodius and Aristogeiton ] ] The following translation was judged to be the best and most faithful of a number of versions attempted in Victorian England. [Op.cit. C. R. Kennedy, 1856 p.266]

In myrtles veil'd will I the falchion wear,
For thus the patriot sword
Harmodius and Aristogiton bare,
When they the tyrant's bosom gored,
And bade the men of Athens be
Regenerate in equality.

Oh! beloved Harmodius! never
Shall death be thine, who liv'st for ever.
Thy shade, as men have told, inherits
The islands of the blessed spirits,
Where deathless live the glorious dead,
Achilles fleet of foot, and Diomed.

In myrtles veil'd will I the falchion wear,
For thus the patriot sword
Harmodius and Aristogiton bare,
When they the tyrant's bosom gored;
When in Minerva's festal rite
They closed Hipparchus' eyes in night.

Harmodius' praise, Aristogiton's name,
Shall bloom on earth with undecaying fame;
Who with the myrtle-wreathed sword
The tyrant's bosom gored,
And bade the men of Athens be
Regenerate in equality. [This version is by Elton, published in "Blackwood's Magazine" #33, p.884]

Other skolia existed, of which a few have survived, such as the following:
Harmodius, most beloved. Surely you are not at all dead,
But on the Isles of the Blessed you abide, they say,
The same place where swift-footed Achilles is,
Where roams worthy Diomedes, son of Tydeus, they say. [Skolion 894P. D. I. Page, "Poetae Melici Graeci;" Oxford, 1962]

Importance to the pederastic tradition

The story of Harmodius and Aristogeiton, and its treatment by later Greek writers, is illustrative of attitudes to pederasty in ancient Greece. Both Thucydides and Herodotus describe the two as lovers, without making any comment on this fact: clearly they assumed that their readers would be familiar with the institution and find nothing remarkable about it. Further confirming the status of the two as paragons of pederastic ethics, a domain forbidden to slaves, a law was passed prohibiting slaves from being named after the two heroes. [Aul. Gel. 9.2.10; Lib. Decl. 1.1.71]

The story continued to be cited as an admirable example of heroism and devotion for many years. In 346 BC, for example, the politician Timarchus was prosecuted (for political reasons) on the grounds that he had prostituted himself as a youth. The orator who defended him, Demosthenes, cited Harmodius and Aristogeiton, as well as Achilles and Patroclus, as examples of the beneficial effects of same-sex relationships.Fact|date=June 2007 Aeschines offers them as an example of "dikaios erōs," "just love", and as proof of the boons such love brings the lovers–who were both improved by love beyond all praise–as well as to the city. [Victoria Wohl, "Love among the Ruins: The Erotics of Democracy in Classical Athens" p. 5] The fact that the statues of the Liberators were still being copied in Roman times shows the durability of their legend.

ee also

*Harmodius and Aristogeiton (sculpture)
*Athenian democracy
*Athenian pederasty


External links

* [http://www.livius.org Livius] , [http://www.livius.org/tt-tz/tyrannicides/tyrannicides.html Harmodius and Aristogeiton] by Jona Lendering
* [http://www.androphile.org/preview/Library/History/Harmodius/Harmodius.htm Story of Harmodius and Aristogiton]

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