1902 Encyclopedia > Leonidas

King of Sparta and national hero of Greece
(died 480 BC)

LEONIDAS (" Son of the Lion ") was a very common Greek name. The most famous person who bore it was a king of Sparta, seventeenth of the Agid line. He had been king for one year when Xerxes invaded Greece, 480 B.C. The congress of the Greek states bent on resistance, which met at the isthmus of Corinth, sent Leónidas with a force of at least 8000 men to hold the narrow pass of Thermopylae against the Persians (see GREECE). When the Persians, through the treacherous aid of Ephialtes, had turned the pass, Leónidas dismissed all his army except the 300 Spartan citizens, 700 Thespians, and the Theban contingent, which was suspected of treachery. Every man of the Lacedaemonians and Thespians died on the field, while the Thebans laid down their arms. A monument was erected on the spot where the Greeks made their final struggle. It was a lion, and we may compare with it the lion set up by the Thebans on the battlefield of Chasronea to commemorate the sacred band who were all slain there 338 B.C. There is no foundation for the common story that Leónidas had only three hundred men with him at Thermopylae.

There were also two Greek poets named Leónidas. The elder was born at Tarentum, and lived in the time of Pyrrhus ; he spent a wandering life of poverty. There remain over a hundred of his epigrams, chiefly inscriptions on works of art, or dedicatory offerings, which are among the best of their kind, showing much ingenuity of thought and cleverness of expression. The other was born at Alexandria, and came to live in Rome, where he obtained great reputation in the time of Nero. His epigrams are destitute of merit. The only ingenuity displayed in them is that some of them have an equal number of letters in every verse.

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