LOVE STORIES BY PLUTARCH
Plutarch Πλούταρχος of Chaironeia (ca. AD 46-120) was a Boiotian Greek historian and philosopher who won Roman imperial favour and rose to become procurator of Achaia. His best-known work, apart from his extremely important Parallel Lives, was his Morals (Ἠθικά), an eclectic collection of seventy-eight essays and speeches. Some of these works attributed to him are thought not to be by him on account of their uncharacteristic style and content, though dating from around his time. These include five Love Stories (Ἐρωτικαὶ διηγήσεις)., being section 771E-775E of the Morals.
Of these five love stories, the second is purely pederastic and the third mixed pederastic and what is now known as “heterosexual”, while the other three are purely heterosexual in character. However, it should be stressed that the writer did not even hint at such distinctions.
The translation is by Harold North Fowler in the Loeb Classical Library volume 321, Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1936. The only amendments made are to undo his Romanisation of some of the Greek names.
This story, presented in its entirety, ends in 734 BC, with the founding of Syracuse, which was in due course to become the most populous Greek city anywhere.
|A man named Pheidon, who was striving to make himself ruler of the Peloponnesians and wished his own native city of Argos to be the leader of all the other states, plotted first against the Corinthians. He sent and asked of them the thousand young men who were the best in vigour and valour; and they sent the thousand, putting Dexandros in command of them. Now Pheidon intended to make an onslaught upon these young men, that Corinth might be weakened and he might have the city in his power, for he considered that it would be the most advantageous bulwark of the whole Peloponnesus, and he confided this matter to some of his friends, among whom was Habron. Now he was a friend of Dexandros and told him of the plot, so before the onslaught was made the thousand young men escaped safely to Corinth; but Pheidon tried to discover the betrayer of his plot and searched for him with great care. So Habron was frightened and fled to Corinth with his wife and his servants, settling in Melissos, a village in Corinthian territory. There he begot a son whom he called Melissos from the name of the place. This Melissos had a son named Aktaion, the handsomest and most modest youth of his age, who had many lovers, chief of whom was Archias, of the family of the Herakleidai, in wealth and general influence the most outstanding man in Corinth. Now when he could not gain the boy by persuasion, he determined to carry him off by force. So he got together a crowd of friends and servants, went as in a drunken frolic to the house of Melissos, and tried to take the boy away. But his father and his friends resisted, the neighbours also ran out and pulled against the assailants, and so Actaion was pulled to pieces and killed; the assailants thereupon went away. But Melissos took his son’s body and exhibited it in the market-place of the Corinthians, demanding the punishment of the men who had done the deed; but the Corinthians merely pitied him and did nothing further. So, being unsuccessful he went away and waited for the Isthmian festival, when he went up upon the temple of Poseidon, shouted accusations against the Bakchiadai, and reminded the people of his father Habron’s benefactions, whereupon, calling upon the gods to avenge him, he threw himself down from the rocks. Not long afterwards the city was afflicted by drought and pestilence, and when the Corinthians consulted the oracle concerning relief, the god replied that the wrath of Poseidon would not relax until they inflicted punishment for the death of Actaion. Archias knew of this, for he was himself one of those sent to consult the oracle, and voluntarily refrained from returning to Corinth. Instead he sailed to Sicily and founded Syracuse. There he became the father of two daughters, Ortygia and Syrakousa, and was treacherously murdered by Telephos, who had been his beloved and had sailed with him to Sicily in command of a ship.||[772 D] Φείδων τις τῶν Πελοποννησίων ἐπιτιθέμενος ἀρχῇ, τὴν Ἀργείων πόλιν, τὴν πατρίδα τὴν ἑαυτοῦ, ἡγεμονεύειν τῶν λοιπῶν βουλόμενος, πρῶτον ἐπεβούλευσε Κορινθίοις· πέμψας γὰρ ᾔτει παρ᾿ αὐτῶν νεανίας χιλίους τοὺς ἀκμῇ διαφέροντας καὶ ἀνδρείᾳ· οἱ δὲ πέμπουσι τοὺς χιλίους, στρατηγὸν αὐτῶν ἀποδείξαντες Δέξανδρον. ἐν νῷ δ᾿ ἔχων ὁ Φείδων ἐπιθέσθαι τούτοις, ἵν᾿ ἔχοι Κόρινθον ἀτονωτέραν καὶ τῇ πόλει χρήσαιτο, προτείχισμα γὰρ τοῦτο ἐπικαιρότατον ἔσεσθαι τῆς ὅλης Πελοποννήσου, [E] τὴν πρᾶξιν ἀνέθετο τῶν ἑταίρων τισίν. ἦν δὲ καὶ Ἅβρων ἐν αὐτοῖς· οὗτος δὲ ξένος ὢν τοῦ Δεξάνδρου ἔφρασεν αὐτῷ τὴν ἐπιβουλήν. καὶ οὕτως οἱ μὲν χίλιοι πρὸ τῆς ἐπιθέσεως εἰς τὴν Κόρινθον ἐσώθησαν, Φείδων δ᾿ ἀνευρεῖν ἐπειρᾶτο τὸν προδόντα καὶ ἐπιμελῶς ἐζήτει. δείσας δ᾿ ὁ Ἅβρων φεύγει εἰς Κόρινθον, ἀναλαβὼν τὴν γυναῖκα καὶ τοὺς οἰκέτας, ἐν Μελίσσῳ, κώμῃ τινὶ τῆς Κορινθίων χώρας· ἔνθα καὶ παῖδα γεννήσας Μέλισσον προσηγόρευσεν, ἀπὸ τοῦ τόπου θέμενος τοὔνομα αὐτῷ. τούτου δὴ τοῦ Μελίσσου υἱὸς Ἀκταίων γίνεται, κάλλιστος καὶ σωφρονέστατος τῶν ὁμηλίκων, οὗ πλεῖστοι μὲν ἐγένοντο ἐρασταί, διαφερόντως δ᾿ Ἀρχίας, γένους μὲν ὢν τοῦ τῶν Ἡρακλειδῶν, πλούτῳ δὲ καὶ τῇ ἄλλῃ δυνάμει λαμπρότατος Κορινθίων. [F] ἐπεὶ δὲ πείθειν οὐκ ἠδύνατο τὸν παῖδα, ἔγνω βιάσασθαι καὶ συναρπάσαι τὸ μειράκιον· ἐπεκώμασεν οὖν ἐπὶ τὴν οἰκίαν τοῦ Μελίσσου, πλῆθος ἐπαγόμενος καὶ φίλων καὶ οἰκετῶν, καὶ ἀπάγειν τὸν παῖδα ἐπειρᾶτο. ἀντιποιουμένου δὲ τοῦ πατρὸς καὶ τῶν φίλων, ἐπεκδραμόντων δὲ καὶ τῶν γειτόνων καὶ ἀνθελκόντων,  ἀνθελκόμενος ὁ Ἀκταίων διεφθάρη· καὶ οἱ μὲν οὕτως ἀπεχώρουν. Μέλισσος δὲ τὸν νεκρὸν τοῦ παιδὸς εἰς τὴν ἀγορὰν τῶν Κορινθίων παρακομίσας ἐπεδείκνυε, δίκην ἀπαιτῶν παρὰ τῶν ταῦτα πραξάντων· οἱ δὲ πλέον οὐδὲν ἢ τὸν ἄνδρα ἠλέουν. ἄπρακτος δ᾿ ἀναχωρήσας παρεφύλασσε τὴν πανήγυριν τῶν Ἰσθμίων, ἀναβάς τ᾿ ἐπὶ τὸν τοῦ Ποσειδῶνος νεὼν κατεβόα τῶν Βακχιαδῶν καὶ τὴν τοῦ πατρὸς Ἅβρωνος εὐεργεσίαν ὑπεμίμνησκε, τούς τε θεοὺς ἐπικαλεσάμενος ῥίπτει ἑαυτὸν κατὰ τῶν πετρῶν. μετ᾿ οὐ πολὺ δ᾿ αὐχμὸς καὶ λοιμὸς κατελάμβανε τὴν πόλιν· [B] καὶ τῶν Κορινθίων περὶ ἀπαλλαγῆς χρωμένων, ὁ θεὸς ἀνεῖλε μῆνιν εἶναι Ποσειδῶνος οὐκ ἀνήσοντος, ἕως ἂν τὸν Ἀκταίωνος θάνατον μετέλθοιεν. ταῦτα πυθόμενος Ἀρχίας, αὐτὸς γὰρ θεωρὸς ἦν, εἰς μὲν τὴν Κόρινθον ἑκὼν οὐκ ἐπανῆλθε, πλεύσας δ᾿ εἰς τὴν Σικελίαν Συρακούσας ἔκτισε. πατὴρ δὲ γενόμενος ἐνταῦθα θυγατέρων δυεῖν, Ὀρτυγίας τε καὶ Συρακούσης, ὑπὸ τοῦ Τηλέφου δολοφονεῖται, ὃς ἐγεγόνει μὲν αὐτοῦ παιδικά, νεὼς δ᾿ ἀφηγούμενος συνέπλευσεν εἰς Σικελίαν.|
This story begins while Oreos in the island of Euboia was under Spartan rule (404-377/6 BC) and ends with the decisive defeat of the Spartans at the battle of Leuktra in 371 BC. The first part relates how Skedasos, a poor man in the Thespian village of Leuktra gave hospitality to two Spartan youths, who later repaid him by raping and murdering his two daughters during his absence. Having discovered the truth, …
|Skedasos set out for Lakedaimon to see the ephors, and when he was in the territory of Argos night came upon him, so he put up at an inn, and at the same inn was another elderly man, a native of the city of Oreos in the territory of Hestiaia. Skedasos heard him groaning and uttering curses against the Lakedaimonians, so he asked him what harm the Lakedaimonians had done him. Then he proceeded to tell that he was a subject of Sparta and that Aristodemos, who had been sent by the Lacedaimonians to Oreos as governor, had shown himself very lawless and cruel. “For,” said he, “he fell in love with my young son and, when he could not gain him by persuasion, he tried to take him from the palaistra by force. But the teacher of gymnastics interfered, and many young fellows came out to help, so for the time being Aristodemus went away; but the next day he manned a ship of war, seized the boy, sailed from Oreos to the opposite shore, and tried to rape him; then when the boy would not submit, he cut his throat and killed him, after which he went back to Oreos and gave a dinner-party. But as for me,” he said, “I learned of the deed, performed the funeral rites over the body, then went to Sparta and had an audience with the ephors; but they paid no attention to me.” When Skedasos heard this he was disheartened, for he suspected that the Spartans would pay no attention to him either; and he in turn told the stranger of his own misfortune. Then the stranger advised him not even to go to see the ephors, but to turn back to Boiotia and build his daughters’ tomb. Skedasos, however, did not take this advice, but went to Sparta and spoke with the ephors. They paid no attention to him, so he hurried to the kings, and from them he went up to every one of the citizens and told his tale of woe. And when nothing did any good, he ran through the midst of the city stretching up his hands towards the sun, and again he beat upon the ground and summoned up the Erinyes, and finally he put an end to his life.||[773 E] Ἀπῄει εἰς Λακεδαίμονα, τοῖς ἐφόροις ἐντευξόμενος· γενόμενος δ᾿ ἐν τῇ Ἀργολικῇ, νυκτὸς καταλαμβανούσης, εἰς πανδοκεῖόν τι κατήχθη· κατὰ τὸ αὐτὸ δὲ καὶ πρεσβύτης τις ἕτερος τὸ γένος ἐξ Ὠρεοῦ πόλεως τῆς Ἑστιαιάτιδος· [F] οὗ στενάξαντος καὶ κατὰ Λακεδαιμονίων ἀρὰς ποιουμένου ἀκούσας ὁ Σκέδασος ἐπυνθάνετο τί κακὸν ὑπὸ Λακεδαιμονίων πεπονθὼς εἴη. ὁ δὲ διηγεῖτο, ὡς ὑπήκοος μέν ἐστι τῆς Σπάρτης, πεμφθεὶς δ᾿ εἰς Ὠρεὸν Ἀριστόδημος ἁρμοστὴς παρὰ Λακεδαιμονίων ὠμότητα καὶ παρανομίαν ἐπιδείξαιτο πολλήν. “ἐρασθεὶς γάρ,” ἔφη, “τοῦ ἐμοῦ παιδός, ἐπειδὴ πείθειν ἀδύνατος ἦν, ἐπεχείρει βιάσασθαι καὶ ἀπάγειν αὐτὸν τῆς παλαίστρας· κωλύοντος δὲ τοῦ παιδοτρίβου καὶ νεανίσκων πολλῶν ἐκβοηθούντων, παραχρῆμα ὁ Ἀριστόδημος ἀπεχώρησε· τῇ δ᾿ ὑστεραίᾳ πληρώσας τριήρη συνήρπασε τὸ μειράκιον, καὶ ἐξ Ὠρεοῦ διαπλεύσας εἰς τὴν περαίαν ἐπεχείρει ὑβρίσαι, οὐ συγχωροῦντα δ᾿ αὐτὸν ἀπέσφαξεν. ἐπανελθὼν δ᾿ εἰς τὴν Ὠρεὸν εὐωχεῖτο.  ἐγὼ δ᾿,” ἔφη, “τὸ πραχθὲν πυθόμενος καὶ τὸ σῶμα κηδεύσας παρεγενόμην εἰς τὴν Σπάρτην καὶ τοῖς ἐφόροις ἐνετύγχανον· οἱ δὲ λόγον οὐκ ἐποιοῦντο.” Σκέδασος δὲ ταῦτα ἀκούων ἀθύμως διέκειτο, ὑπολαμβάνων ὅτι οὐδ᾿ αὐτοῦ λόγον τινὰ ποιήσονται οἱ Σπαρτιᾶται· ἐν μέρει τε τὴν οἰκείαν διηγήσατο συμφορὰν τῷ ξένῳ· ὁ δὲ παρεκάλει αὐτὸν μηδ᾿ ἐντυχεῖν τοῖς ἐφόροις, ἀλλ᾿ ὑποστρέψαντα εἰς τὴν Βοιωτίαν κτίσαι τῶν θυγατέρων τὸν τάφον. οὐκ ἐπείθετο δ᾿ ὅμως ὁ Σκέδασος, ἀλλ᾿ εἰς τὴν Σπάρτην ἀφικόμενος τοῖς ἐφόροις ἐντυγχάνει· [B] ὧν μηδὲν προσεχόντων, ἐπὶ τοὺς βασιλέας ἵεται καὶ ἀπὸ τούτων ἑκάστῳ τῶν δημοτῶν προσιὼν ὠδύρετο. μηδὲν δὲ πλέον ἀνύων ἔθει διὰ μέσης τῆς πόλεως, ἀνατείνων πρὸς ἥλιον τὼ χεῖρε, αὖθις δὲ τὴν γῆν τύπτων ἀνεκαλεῖτο τὰς Ἐρινύας καὶ τέλος αὑτὸν τοῦ ζῆν μετέστησεν.|
The rest of the story relates how when the Theban army came to meet the Spartan one at Leuktra, “the story goes that” Pelopidas, one of the Theban generals, was visited in a dream by Skedasos, who told him the Spartans were come to Leuktra to pay the penalty for what they had done and that Pelopidas should sacrifice a white colt at his daughters’ tomb before the battle. Much emboldened, Pelopidas then utterly defeated the Spartans “precisely in the vicinity of the tombstone of the daughters of Skedasos”, thus ending the period of their hegemony over Greece.
 As becomes clear in this particular story, the word ἐρασταί, translated here as “lovers”, means men in love with a boy, rather than men who had won his heart or body. “Suitors” might be a less misleading translation. [Website note]
 The famous Isthmian games in honour of Poseidon, for victors in which Pindar composed some of his odes. [Translator’s note]
 The noble family which ruled Corinth in the eighth and seventh centuries B.C. Periandros is its most famous member. [Translator’s note] About Periandros, tyrant of Corinth, this is nonsense. He was the son of Kypselos, who overthrew the Bakchiadai in 657 BC. [Website note]
 The ephors were the annual magistrates who effectively ruled Sparta (despite her also having Kings). [Website note]
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