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Fascinating Hellenistic Facts


Ø       Only one frieze on the Altar of Zeus at Pergamon shows a Giant winning the battle.  This aberration from the rest of the Altar has been explained as a Giant defeating the mortal twin Kastor instead of defeating a god.

Ø       The Aphrodite sculpted by Praxiteles circa 350 BCE was originally supposed to be given to Cos.  The city, however, refused the statue because it was undraped.  (This was one of the first statues to portray Aphrodite unclothed.)  Instead, the statue was given to Cnidos, where it became a popular tourist attraction.

Ø       Crates of Thebes, a Cynic, treated his wife, Hipparchia, as an equal in what he called their “dog marriage.”  He even took her out to dine with him, something even the most forward thinking men of the time would not do.  Therefore, this Cynic believed in equality of the sexes, an unusual idea for his time.

Ø       The intestinal ailment that supposedly plagued Epicurus may in fact have been what we know today as bulimia.  This cycle of gorging and vomiting does not run counter to the known evidence of his lifestyle.

Ø       Upon his death, Attalus III of Pergamon bequeathed his kingdom to Rome, bringing an end to the Attalid Dynasty.

Ø       The word ‘cynic’ actually means ‘dog’ in Greek.  The philosophical school was given this name because its adherents were thought to act like dogs (i.e. begging for food).

Ø       Of the 90 Macedonians who married Persian maids in the mass marriage ceremony ordered by Alexander, only one man did not repudiate his wife after Alexander’s death in 323 BCE.  That man was Seleucus.

Ø       The phrase “Pyrrhic victory” comes from the battle between Pyrrhus’ troops and Roman troops at Asculum.  While Pyrrhus won the battle he said that another battle like that “would utterly undo him” because of his heavy losses.  Today, a “Pyrrhic victory” is a victory obtained at a great cost.

Ø       The first Attalid ruler to hold the title of “king” was Attalus I.  Philetairos was custodian of Pergamon under Lysimachus and controller of Pergamon under Seleucus, while his successor, Eumenes I, held the title of “ruler.”  Attalus I declared himself king after defeating the Galatians in an important battle.

Ø       There was no love loss between Callimachus and Apollonius.  Apollonius wrote two mock encyclopedia entries for Callimachus: “Callimachus: Trash, cheap joke, blockhead.  Original Sin: Writing Callimachus’ Origins.”  In return, Callimachus compared Apollonius to the Ibis, a bird that was “a foul feeder of gluttonous and indiscriminate voracity, scavenging any kind of filth or carrion.”  The Ibis also gave itself water enemas and had a gut over forty feet long.



Green, Peter.  Alexander to Actium: The Historical Evolution of the Hellenistic Age. 

                Berkeley, University of California Press: 1990.

Pollitt, J.J.  Art in the Hellenistic Age.  Cambridge, Cambridge University Press: 1986.

Walbank, F.W.  The Hellenistic World.  Cambridge, Harvard University Press: 1992.



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