Getting started on ancient Greek
Getting started on ancient Greek

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Getting started on ancient Greek

6 The genealogy of Leonidas

Names in the genitive case can be linked to form a genealogy. One impressive example is that of King Leonidas, who led the 300 Spartans at the battle of Thermopylae against the Persians in 480 BCE. Herodotus records it in chapter 204 of the seventh book of his Histories. The list contains 21 names in total. It starts like this:

  • Λεωνίδης ὁ Ἀναξανδρίδεω τοῦ Λέοντος τοῦ …
  • Leonidas, the [son of] Anaxandridas, the [son of] Leon, the [son of] …

The name Leonidas is in the nominative case, the names of his ancestors are in the genitive case. The shape of the definite article also changes according to the case of the name it accompanies: ὁ is nominative, referring back to Λεωνίδης, the first instance of τοῦ is genitive, referring back to Ἀναξανδρίδεω, the second τοῦ is genitive, referring back to Λέοντος, and so on. The word ‘son’ does not need to be spelled out in this context.

Activity 5 Genitive genealogy

Timing: Allow about 5 minutes

Here is the full genealogy of 21 names. All names are in the genitive case, except for Leonidas. The final name has been left untranslated. From whom did Leonidas claim ultimate descent?

  • Λεωνίδης ὁ      Leonidas, the [son of]
  • Ἀναξανδρίδεω τοῦ   Anaxandrides, the [son of]
  • Λέοντος τοῦ        Leon, the [son of]
  • Εὐρυκρατίδεω τοῦ   Eurykratides, the [son of
  • Ἀναξάνδρου τοῦ      Anaxandros, the [son of]
  • Εὐρυκράτεος τοῦ     Eurykrates, the [son of]
  • Πολυδώρου τοῦ       Polydoros, the [son of]
  • Ἀλκαμένεος τοῦ       Alkamenes, the [son of]
  • Τηλέκλου τοῦ     Teleklos, the [son of]
  • Ἀρχέλεω τοῦ      Archelaos, the [son of]
  • Ἡγησίλεω τοῦ       Hegesilaos, the [son of]
  • Δορύσσου τοῦ      Doryssos, the [son of]
  • Λεωβώτεω τοῦ     Leobotas, the [son of]
  • Ἐχεστράτου τοῦ      Echestratos, the [son of]
  • Ἤγιος τοῦ       Agis, the [son of]
  • Εὐρυσθένεος τοῦ    Eurysthenes, the [son of]
  • Ἀριστοδήμου τοῦ    Aristodemos, the [son of]
  • Ἀριστομάχου τοῦ    Aristomachos, the [son of]
  • Κλεοδαίου τοῦ      Kleodaios, the [son of]
  • Ὕλλου τοῦ         Hyllos, the [son of]
  • Ἡρακλέος        ?

Discussion

Leonidas claimed descent from Heracles (i.e. Hercules). The genealogy’s main purpose was to ground the king’s authority in the distant and heroic past. Since Leonidas became king after the mysterious death of his half-brother Cleomenes, advertising his heroic ancestry was perhaps especially valuable. Only the more recent names are likely to be historically accurate.

Sparta had two royal houses and therefore two kings simultaneously. The other king at this time, Leotychidas, had a similar pedigree, also presented by Herodotus (Histories, book 8, chapter 131).

You might have noticed that the genitive case endings in the genealogy vary. As you will see later, each noun follows one of a small number of patterns. The name Πολύδωρος, for instance, follows the same pattern as λόγoς. Its genitive case is therefore Πολυδώρου (like λόγου). Other names follow different patterns. You will learn more about these noun patterns, known as ‘declensions’, in Session 6.

GCG_1

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