Greek Public Monuments of the Persian Wars

VII. Spartan monuments of Thermopylae

37. Shrine of Maron and Alpheius in Sparta.

Pausanias 3.12.9.

Hitzig and Blümner 1896,1: 776; Macan 1907,1: 335; Frazer 1913,3: 331; Ehrenburg 1930.

Pausanias 3.12.9:

“There is a shrine of Maron and Alpheios (in Sparta). Of rhe Lacedaemonians who fought at Thermopylae they seem, by reputation, to have fought especially worthily after Leonidas.”

According to Pausanias the shrine of Maron and Alpheius was situated on the Aphetaid road leading from the market place; along this road were a number of tombs, sanctuaries, and hero shrines. Herodotus (7.227) says that the brothers Maron and Alpheius were adjudged the bravest at Thermopylae, after the Spartan Dieneces (7.226), but he does not mention their shrine.

38. Hero cult practices in Sparta for the fallen at Thermopylae.

Diodorus 11.11.6.

Bergk, Poetae Lyricae Graecae, 4th ed., Simonides 4; Bowra 1933; Diehl, Simonides 5; Shefton 1950: 151, n. 32; Page, Poetae Melicae Graecae, Simonides 26.

Diodorus 11.11.6 (The poem’s text . . . is that of Page):

“Wherefore not the writers of histories alone but many poets as well have hymned their bravery (the Thermopylae heroes); Simonides the melic poet composed an encomium worthy of their excellence, in which he says:

Of those who died at Thermopylae

their fate is famous, their death glorious,

the grave an altar, recollection for mourning, and praise is pity;

not finding here a funerary thing as such,

does all-taming time blacken it.

Of brave men this precinct has chosen

a space of glory for Greece. Leonidas testifies to it,

king of Sparta, having left a great

ornament and eternal fame.”

In Homer the lament is sung in the presence of the dead body and accompanied with much weeping (Il. 24.74-745; Od. 24.58). Bowra believes that these requirements are filled quite aptly if we assume that it was sung at a shrine for the heroes of Thermopylae in Sparta.

The opening line suggests that the poem is not sung at Thermopylae and the phrase bomos d’ ho taphos apparently confirms this, indicating that the actual graves of the heroes are far away and are symbolically represented by an altar. It is also clear that the ceremony takes place in a sekos, a sacred enclosure, the term appropriate for an area sacred to a hero (cf. no. 19) whereas naos would apply to a god.

Bowra thinks that the lament was sung at the shrine of Maron and Alpheius (no. 37) during the rites of a hero cult practiced at Sparta for those who fell at Thermopylae. Similar hero cults for those who fought in the Persian Wars (cf. Farnell 1896-1909: 362-363) were practiced at Marathon (Paus. 1.32.4; no. 5) and Plataea (Thuc. 3.58.4; no. 31). The lament would be even more appropriate if sung near the tombs of Pausanias and Leonidas, where a stele with the names of the three hundred also stood (no. 36). Since the lament makes reference to the witnessing of Leonidas (l. 7), it would be particularly forceful in the presence of his actual grave, with, presumably, a cenotaph for the three hundred nearby. Cenotaphs were normally not set up if the bodies were actually buried elsewhere (cf. no. 13) but Megara did set one up for its Persian War heroes (no. 68) and Sparta may have done the same. The evidence is, however, not conclusive.

The conducting of rites for the Thermopylae heroes is not a monument in its usual sense, but it is an important item of commemorative significance, like the yearly sacrifice of goats at Athens to Artemis Agrotera (no. 22) and the torch race in honor of Pan (no. 17).

39. Epigram for Leonidas.

Palatine Anthology 7.301.

Bergk, Poetae Lyricae Graecae, 4th ed., Simonides 95; Hauvette 1894: 24; Diehl, Simonides 120.

Palatine Anthology 7.301:

“Of the same poet (Simonides); for those who died with Leonidas the Spartiate.

Earth covers famous men, Leonidas, who with you

died here, king of wide-wayed Sparta,

the strength of many bows and of swift-footed horses

and Median men in war receiving.”

Hauvette doubts that the poem is by Simonides but thinks it may be a fifth century epigram. If inscribed upon the tomb of Leonidas in Sparta (no. 36) it would parallel nicely the sentiment of Simonides’ lament (no. 38). The epigram addresses Leonidas himself, who lies buried in the tomb, but recalls the valor of those who died with him. A stele with their names and possibly a cenotaph for them stood near Leonidas’ grave in Sparta. Nevertheless there is no physical evidence that the epigram was so inscribed.