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Greek city of Syracuse in Sicily
Agathocles: Tyrant of Syracuse 317-289, King of Sicily 304-289 B.C.
Bronze  Struck circa 317-310 B.C.
Head of Kore left.
Bull butting left.

In Greek mythology, Persephone also called Kore (the maiden)is the daughter of Zeus and the harvest-goddess Demeter, and queen of the underworld. Homer describes her as the formidable, venerable majestic queen of the shades, who carries into effect the curses of men upon the souls of the dead. Kore was abducted by Hades, the god-king of the underworld [2] The myth of her abduction represents her function as the personification of vegetation which shoots forth in spring and withdraws into the earth after harvest; hence she is also associated with spring and with the seeds of the fruits of the fields. Similar myths appear in the Orient, in the cults of male gods like Attis, Adonis and Osiris,[3] and in Minoan Crete.

Goddess of SpringPersephone as a vegetation goddess (Kore) and her mother Demeter were the central figures of the Eleusinian mysteries that predated the Olympian pantheon, and promised to the initiated a more enjoyable prospect after death. The mystic Persephone is further said to have become by Zeus the mother of Dionysos, Iacchus, or Zagreus. The origins of her cult are uncertain, but it was based on very old agrarian cults of agricultural communities.

Persephone was commonly worshipped along with Demeter, and with the same mysteries. To her alone were dedicated the mysteries celebrated at Athens in the month of Anthesterion. In Classical Greek art, Persephone is invariably portrayed robed; often carrying a sheaf of grain. She may appear as a mystical divinity with a sceptre and a little box, but she was mostly represented in the act of being carried off by Hades.

In Roman mythology, she is called Proserpina.

Her name

Etymology

Triptolemus, Demeter, and Persephone by the Triptolemos Painter,ca 470BC

In a Linear B (Mycenean Greek) inscription on a tablet found at Pylos dated 1400-1200 BC, John Chadwick reconstructs the name of a goddess *Preswa who could be identified with Persa, daughter of Oceanus and finds speculative the further identification with the first element of Persephone.[4] Persephonē (Greek: Περσεφόνη) is her name in the Ionic Greek of epic literature. The Homeric form of her name is Persephoneia (Περσεφονεία,[5] Persephonēia). In other dialects she was known under variant names: Persephassa (Περσεφάσσα), Persephatta (Περσεφάττα), or simply Korē (Κόρη, "girl, maiden").[6] Plato calls her Pherepapha (Φερέπαφα) in his Cratylus, "because she is wise and touches that which is in motion". There also the forms Perifona (Πηριφόνα) and Phersephassa (Φερσέφασσα). The existence of so many different forms shows how difficult it was for the Greeks to pronounce the word in their own language and suggests that the name has probably a pre-Greek origin.[7]

An alternative etymology is from φέρειν φόνον, pherein phonon, "to bring (or cause) death".[8]

Another mythical personage of the name of Persephione is called a daughter of Minyas and the mother of Chloris, a nymph of spring, flower and new growth.[8] The Minyans were a group considered autochthonous, but some scholars assert that they were the first wave of Proto-Greek speakers in the second milemnium BC.[9]

The Roman Proserpina

The Romans first heard of her from the Aeolian and Dorian cities of Magna Graecia, who used the dialectal variant Proserpinē (Προσερπινη). Hence, in Roman mythology she was called Proserpina, a name erroneously derived by the Romans from "proserpere", "to shoot forth"[10] and as such became an emblematic figure of the Renaissance.[citation needed]

At Locri, perhaps uniquely, Persephone was the protector of marriage, a role usually assumed by Hera; in the iconography of votive plaques at Locri, her abduction and marriage to Hades served as an emblem of the marital state, children at Locri were dedicated to Proserpina, and maidens about to be wed brought their peplos to be blessed.[11]

Nestis

In a Classical period text ascribed to Empedocles, c. 490–430 BC,[12] describing a correspondence among four deities and the classical elements, the name Nestis for water apparently refers to Persephone: "Now hear the fourfold roots of everything: enlivening Hera, Hades, shining Zeus. And Nestis, moistening mortal springs with tears."[13]

Of the four deities of Empedocles's elements, it is the name of Persephone alone that is taboo—Nestis is a euphemistic cult title[14]—for she was also the terrible Queen of the Dead, whose name was not safe to speak aloud, who was euphemistically named simply as Kore or "the Maiden", a vestige of her archaic role as the deity ruling the underworld.

Titles and functions

The Eleusinian trio: Persephone, Triptolemus and Demeter on a marble bas-relief from Eleusis, 440-430 BC

The epithets of Persephone reveal her double function as chthonic and vegetation goddess. The surnames given to her by the poets refer to her character as Queen of the lower world and the dead, or her symbolic meaning of the power that shoots forth and withdraws into the earth. Her common name as a vegetation goddess is Kore and in Arcadia she was worshipped under the title Despoina "the mistress", a very old chthonic divinity. Plutarch identifies her with spring and Cicero calls her the seed of the fruits of the fields. In the Eleusinian mysteries her return is the symbol of immortality and hence she was frequently represented on sarcophagi.[8]

In the mystical theories of the Orphics and the Platonists, Kore is described as the all-pervading goddess of nature [15] who both produces and destroys everything and she is therefore mentioned along or identified with other mystic divinities such as Isis, Rhea, Ge, Hestia, Pandora, Artemis, and Hecate.[16] The mystic Persephone is further said to have become by Zeus the mother of Dionysos, Iacchus, or Zagreus.[8]

Demeter and Persephone were often referred to as "the two goddesses" or "the mistresses".[17]

Origins

Lady of Auxerre Louvre-An Archaic (640 BC) image from Crete, probably a version of the Minoan Goddess identified with Kore.

The myth of the rape of the vegetation goddess is Pre-Greek. In the original Near eastern myth of the primitive agricultural societies, every year the fertility goddess bore the "god of the new year", who then became her lover, and died immediately in order to be reborn and face the same destiny. Similar myths appear in the Orient in the cults of Attis, Adonis and Osiris,[18] and in Minoan Crete, where the myth is related with a female vegetation goddess.[19]

The cult of Persephone and Demeter in the Eleusinian mysteries and in the Thesmophoria was based on very old agrarian cults. Ancient cults like age-old cults of the dead, worship of animal headed gods, and rituals for the new crop, had their position in Greek religion because they were connected with daily or seasonal tasks and concecrated by immemorial practices. A lot of ancient beliefs was based on initiation in jealously guided mysteries (secret rites) because they oferred prospects after death more enjoyable than the final end at the gloomy space of the Greek Hades. However it is doubtful if the idea of immortality which appears in the syncretistic religions of Near East existed in the Eleusinian mysteries at the very beginning.[20][21]

It seems that the Eleusinian mysteries were established during the Mycenean period.[22] In the mysteries Demeter and Kore were usually referred to as "the two goddesses" or "the mistresses" in historical times.[23] The names Demeter and Kore are Greek, and this probably indicates that the Greeks adopted these divinities during their wandering, and that they were later fused with local divinities in the ancient cults.[24] In the Mycenean Greek tablets dated 1400-1200 BC, the "two mistresses and the king" are mentioned. John Chadwick believes that these were the precursor divinities of Demeter, Persephone and Poseidon.[25] The cult was originally private, and we have no information for it, but it seems that it had similarities with the cult of Despoina, "the mistress" in isolated Arcadia .[26] Despoine was one of her surnames just as the surname of Persephone Kore.[27] Demeter and Persephone, were the two Great Goddesses, "the mistresses" of the Arcadian mysteries . Despoina, whose name was not allowed to be revealed to the not initiated, was daughter of Demeter, who was united with the god of the storms and earthquakes Poseidon Hippios (horse).[28] The union of the fertility goddess with the beast in a ritual copulation is an old Near Eastern myth, which appears in many primitive agricultural societies.[19] Processions of women with animal-masks in a ritual dance,[29] or processions of daemons in front of a goddess appear in the temple of Despoina at Lycosura, and on Mycenean frescoes and goldrings.[30][31]

Kerenyi theorizes that the cult of Pesephone was the continuation of the worship of a Minoan Great goddess, and he identifies her with the nameless “mistress of the labyrinth “ who appears in a Mycenean Greek inscription from Knossos in Crete. He suggests that the Greeks gave to her euphemistically the name Ariadne ( derived from αγνή, hagne, "pure").[32][33] The Greeks used to give to the deities of the underworld euphemistically friendly names, and such were the common epithets of Persephone despoina, "mistress" and Hagne, "pure" .[34][35] However besides these similarities, Burkert notifies that up to now we don’t know to what extent one can and must differentiate between Minoan and Mycenean religion [36] It seems that the Minoan vegetation goddess Ariadne was absorbed by more powerful divinities.[37] She survived in Greek folklore as the consort of Dionysos, with whom she was worshipped in some local cults like the Anthesteria.

Greek mythology

Abduction myth

The Return of Persephone by Frederic Leighton (1891)

Persephone used to live far away from the other deities, a goddess within Nature herself before the days of planting seeds and nurturing plants. In the Olympian telling, the gods Hermes, Ares, Apollo, and Hephaestus had all wooed Persephone; but Demeter rejected all their gifts and hid her daughter away from the company of the Olympian deities.[38]

The story of her abduction by Pluto against her will, is traditionally referred to as the Rape of Persephone. It is first mentioned in Hesiod's Theogony.[39] Zeus, it is said, advised Pluto (Hades) who was in love with the beautiful Persephone, to carry her off, as her mother Demeter, was not likely to allow her daughter to go down to Hades. Persephone was gathering flowers with Artemis and Athena, the Homeric hymn says—or Leucippe, or Oceanids—in a field when Hades came to abduct her, bursting through a cleft in the earth. Demeter, when she found her daughter had disappeared, searched for her all over the earth with torches. In most versions she forbids the earth to produce, or she neglects the earth and in the depth of her despair she causes nothing to grow. Helios, the sun, who sees everything, eventually told Demeter what had happened and at length she discovered the place of her abode. Finally, Zeus, pressed by the cries of the hungry people and by the other deities who also heard their anguish, forced Hades to return Persephone.[40]

Hades indeed complied with the request, but first he tricked her giving her a kernel of a pomegranate to eat. She ate four seeds, which correspond to the dry summer months in Greece. It was a rule of the Fates that whoever consumed food or drink in the Underworld was doomed to spend eternity there. Persephone was released by Hermes, who had been sent to retrieve her, but she was obliged to spend four months of a year in the underworld, and the remaining two thirds with the gods above.[40]

The various local traditions each place Persephone's abduction in a different locatiom. The Sicilians, among whom her worship was probably introduced by the Corinthian and Megarian colonists, believed that Hades found her in the meadows near Enna, and that a well arose on the spot where he descended with her into the lower world. The Cretans thought that their own island had been the scene of the rape, and the Eleusinians mentioned the Nysaean plain in Boeotia, and said that Persephone had descended with Hades into the lower world at the entrance of the western Oceanus. Later accounts place the rape in Attica, near Athens, or near Eleusis.[8][40]

In some versions, Ascalaphus informed the other deities that Persephone had eaten the pomegranate seeds. When Demeter and her daughter were reunited, the Earth flourished with vegetation and color, but for some months each year, when Persephone returned to the underworld, the earth once again became a barren realm. This is an origin story to explain the seasons.

In an earlier version, Hecate rescued Persephone. On an Attic red-figured bell krater of ca 440 BC in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Persephone is rising as if up stairs from a cleft in the earth, while Hermes stands aside; Hecate, holding two torches, looks back as she leads her to the enthroned Demeter.[41]

The tenth-century Byzantine encyclopedia Suda introduces a goddess of a blessed afterlife assured to Orphic mystery initiates. This Macaria is asserted to be the daughter of Hades, but no mother is mentioned.[42]

 Pluto-Interpretetion of the myth

In the myth Pluto abducts Persephone to be his wife and the queen of his realm.[43] Pluto ( Πλούτων, Ploutōn) was a name for the ruler of the underworld; the god was also known as Hades, a name for the underworld itself. The name Pluton was conflated with that of Ploutos ( Πλούτος Ploutos, "wealth"), a god of wealth, because mineral wealth was found underground, and because Pluto as a chthonic god ruled the deep earth that contained the seeds necessary for a bountiful harvest.[43] Plouton is lord of the dead, but as Persephone's husband he has serious claims to the powers of fertility.[44]

In the Theogony of Hesiod Demeter was united with the hero Iasion in Crete and she bore Ploutos, who can make everyone rich.[39] This union seems to be a reference to a hieros gamos (ritual copulation) to ensure the earth's fertility.[44] This ritual copulation appears in Minoan Crete, in many Near Eastern agricultural societies, and also in the Anthesteria [45]

Nilsson believes that the original cult of Ploutos ( or Pluto) in Eleusis was similar with the Minoan cult of the "divine child", who died in order to be reborn. The child was abandoned by his mother and then it was brought up by the powers of nature. Similar myths appear in the cults of Hyakinthos (Amyklai), Erichthonios (Athens), and later in the cult of Dionysos.[46]

The Greek version of the abduction myth, is related with the corn which was the most important and rare in the Greek environment, and the return (ascent) of Persephone was celebrated at the autumn sowing. Pluto (Ploutos) represents the wealth of the corn that was stored in underground silos or ceramic jars (pithoi), during summer months. Similar subterranean pithoi were used in ancient times for burials and Pluto is fused with Hades, the King of the realm of the dead. During summer months, the Greek Corn-Maiden (Kore) is lying in the corn of the underground silos, in the realm of Hades and she is fused with Persephone, the Queen of the underworld. At the beginning of the autumn, when the seeds of the old crop are laid on the fields, she ascends and is reunited with her mother Demeter, for at that time the old crop and the new meet each other. For the initiated this union was the symbol of the eternity of human life that flows from the generations which spring from each other.[47][48]

Elysion

Hesiod refers to the island of the "happy dead" [49] and it is the Elysion, where according to an old Minoan belief, the departed could have a different, but happier existence.[50] Elysion is probably counterpart with Eleusis, the city of the Eleusinian mysteries, and it may have been oferred like a reward to the initiated. The Greeks believed that only the beloved of the gods could exist there.[51] Pindar in some fragments speeks for the immortality of the souls, which may spent in Elysion a happy eternity.[52] In Odyssey Homer carries the old belief to the ideal island for mortals Scheria, the imaginary perfect world that was offered to the future emigrants. This island, which the tradition relates with Elysion, became the lost dream of the Greek world.[53]

The Arcadian myths

The primitive myths of isolated Arcadia seem to be related with the first Greek-speaking people who came from the north-east during the bronze age. Despoina, (the mistress) the goddess of the Arcadian mysteries, is the daughter of Demeter and Poseidon Hippios (horse), who represents the river spirit of the underworld that appears as a horse as often happens in northern-European folklore. He pursues the mare-Demeter and from the union she bears the horse Arion and a daughter who originally had the form or the shape of a mare. The two goddesses were not clearly separated and they were closely connected with the springs and the animals. They were related with the god of rivers and springs; Poseidon and especially with Artemis, the Mistress of the Animals who was the first nymph.[2] According to the Greek tradition a hunt-goddess preceded the harvest goddess.[54] In Arcadia Demeter and Persephone were often called Despoinai (Δέσποιναι, "the mistresses") in historical times. They are the two Great Goddesses of the Arcadian cults, and evidently they come from a more primitive religion.[23] The Greek god Poseidon probably substituted the companion (Paredros, Πάρεδρος) of the Minoan Great goddess .[55] in the Arcadian mysteries.

Queen of the Underworld

Seated goddess, probably Persephone on her throne in the underworld, Severe style ca 480–60, found at Tarentum, Magna Graecia (Pergamon Museum, Berlin)

Persephone held an ancient role as the dread queen of the Underworld, within which tradition it was forbidden to speak her name. This tradition comes from her conflation with the very old chthonic divinity Despoina (the mistress), whose real name could not be revealed to anyone except those initiated to her mysteries.[28] As goddess of death she was also called a daughter of Zeus and Styx,[56] the river that formed the boundary between Earth and the underworld. Homer describes her as the formidable, venerable majestic queen of the shades, who carries into effect the curses of men upon the souls of the dead, along with her husband Hades.[57] In the reformulation of Greek mythology expressed in the Orphic Hymns, Dionysus and Melinoe are separately called children of Zeus and Persephone.[58] Groves sacred to her stood at the western extremity of the earth on the frontiers of the lower world, which itself was called "house of Persephone".[59]

Her central myth served as the context for the secret rites of regeneration at Eleusis,[60] which promised immortality to initiates.

Cult of Persephone

Persephone was worshipped along with her mother Demeter and in the same mysteries. Her cults included agrarian magic, dancing, and rituals. The priests used special vessels and holy symbols, and the people participated with rhymes. In Eleusis there is evidence of sacred laws and other inscriptios [61]

Cult of Demeter and the Maiden is found at Attica, in the main festivals Thesmophoria and Eleusinian mysteries and in a lot of local cults. These festivals were almost always celebrated at the autunn showing, and at full-moon according to the Greek tradition. In some local cults the fests were dedicated to Demeter.

 Thesmophoria

Thesmophoria, were celebrated in Athens, and the festival was widely spread in Greece. This was a festival of secret women-only rituals connected with marriage customs and commemorated the third of the year when Kore was abducted and Demeter abstained from her role as goddess of harvest and growth. The ceremony involved sinking sacrifices into the earth by night and retrieving the decaying remains of pigs that had been placed in the megara of Demeter, ( trenches and pits or natural clefts in rock) , the previous year. [62] This agrarian magic was also used in the cult of the earth-goddesses "potniai" ( mistresses) in the Cabeirian, and in Knidos. [63] . The festival was celebrated in three days. The first was the "way up" to the sacred space, the second the day of festing when they ate pomegranate seeds and the third was a meat fest in celebration of "Kalligeneia" a goddess of beautiful birth. Zeus [62] which is an euphemistical name of Hades (Chthonios Zeus).[64].

Eleusinian mysteries

The Eleusinian mysteries was a festival celebrated at the autumn sowing in the city Eleusis. Inscriptions are referring to "the two Goddesses" accompanied by the agricultural god Triptolemus probably son of Ge and Oceanus [65] and "the God and the Goddess" (Persephone and Ploutos) accompanied by Eubuleus who probably led the way back from the underworld. [66] The myth was represented in a cycle with three phases: the "descent", the "search", and the "ascent", with contrasted emotions from sorrow to joy which roused the mystae to exultation. The main theme was the ascent of Persephone and the reunion with her mother Demeter. [47] The festival activities included dancing, probably across the Rharian field, where according to the myth the first corn grew. At the beggining of the fest the priests filled two special vessels and poured out, the one towards the west, the other towards the east. The people looking both to the sky and the earth shouted in a magical rhyme "rain and conceive". In a ritual a child initiated from the herth ( the divine fire). It was the ritual of the "divine child" who originally was Ploutos. In the Homeric hymn the ritual is connected with the myth of the agricultural god Triptolemos [67] The high point of the celebration was "an ear of corn cut in silence", which represented the force of the new life. The idea of immortality didn't exist in the mysteries at the beginning, but the initiated believed that they would have a better fate in the underworld. Death remained a reality, but at the same time a new beggining like the plant which grows from the burried seed. [61] In the earliest depictions Persephone is an armless and legless deity, who grows out of the ground. [68]

Local cults

Local cults of Demeter an Kore existed in Greece, Asia Minor, Sicily and Magna Graecia:

  • Attica:
    • Piraeus: The Skirophoria, a festival related with the Thesmophoria [69]
  • Boeotia:
    • Thebes, which Zeus is said to have been given to her as an acknowledgement for a favour she had bestown to him. [70] Pausanias records a grove of Cabeirian Demeter and the Maid, three miles outside the gates of Thebes, where a ritual was performed, so called on the grounds that Demeter gave it to the Cabeiri, who established it at Thebes. The Thebans told Pausanias that some inhabitants of Naupactus had performed the same rituals there, and had met with divine vengeance.[71]
    • Thebes: Cult of Demeter and Kore in a fest named Thesmophoria but probably different. It was celebrated in the summer month Bukatios [69]. [72]
  • Peloponnese (except Arcadia) [69]
    • Hermione  : An old cult of Demeter Chthonia, Kore, and Klymenos (Hades). It is possible that Hermione was a mythical name, the place of the souls. [64]
    • Asine: Cult of Demeter Chthonia. The cult seems to be related with the original cult of Demeter in Hermione. [64]
    • Sparta: Temple of Demeter Eleusinia. The name was given before the relation of Demeter with the cult of Eleusis.
    • Corinth: Cult of Demeter, Kore and Pluton. [64]
    • Triphylia in Elis: Cult of Demeter, Kore and Hades. [64]
    • Lakonia at Aigila: Dedicated to Demeter. Men were excluded.
    • Pellene: Dedicated to the Mysian Demeter. Men were excluded.
    • Megara :Temple consecrated to Demeter or to the Maid .[8]
  • Arcadia [73]
    • Pheneos : Mysteries of Demeter Thesmia and Demeter Eleusinia. The Eleusinian cult was introduced later. The priest used the mask of Demeter Kidaria,and a kind of agrarian magic.
    • Karyai: Cult of Kore and Pluton. [64]
    • Tegea: Cult of Demeter and Kore, the Karpophoroi, "Fruit givers".
    • Megalopolis: Cult of the Great goddesses, Demeter and Kore Sotira, (probably Trapezus) "the savior ".
    • Mantinea: Cult of Demeter and Kore in the fest Koragia.[74]
    • Trapezus: Mysteries of the Great goddesses, Demeter and Kore.
    • Andania : Cult of the Great goddesses, Demeter and Hagne. Hagne , a goddess of the spring, was the original deity before Demeter.
    • near Thelpusa in Onkeion: Temple of Demeter Erinys (vengeful) and Demeter Lusia (bathing). She bears the horse Arion and the unnamed. The name Despoina was given in West Arcadia.
    • Phigalia: Cult of the mare-headed Demeter ( black), and Despoina. Demeter was depicted in her archaic form , a Medusa type with a horse's head with snaky hair, holding a dove and a dolphin. [75]
    • Lycosura, Cult of Demeter and Despoina. In the portico of the temple of Despoina there was a tablet with the inscriptions of the mysteries. In front of the temple there was an altar to Demeter and another to Despoine, after which was one of the Great Mother. By the sides stood Artemis and Anytos, the Titan who brought up Despoine. Besides the temple there was the hall where the Arcadians celebrated the mysteries . [76][77]
  • Islands
    • Paros: Cult of Demeter, Kore and Zeus-Eubuleus. [64]
    • Amorgos: Cult of Demeter, Kore and Zeus-Eubuleus. [64]
    • Delos: Cult of Demeter, Kore, and Zeus-Eubuleus. Probably a different fest with the name Thesmophoria, celebrated in a summer month ( the same month in Thebes) [69] [72]
  • Asia Minor
  • Sicily
    • Syracuse: There was a harvest festival of Demeter and Persephone at Syracuse when the grain was ripe (about May). [79]
  • Magna Graecia
    • Epizephyrian Locri: A temple associated with childbirth; its treasure was looted by Pyrrhus.[80]
    • Archaeological finds suggest that worship of Demeter and Persephone was widespread in Sicily and Greek Italy.

Agathocles (361-289 BC), (Greek name Ἀγαθοκλῆς (Agathokles): derived from αγαθός (agathos) good and κλέος (kleos) glory), was tyrant of Syracuse (317-289 BC) and king of Sicily (304-289 BC).

 Biography

Agathocles was born at Thermae Himeraeae (modern name Termini Imerese) in Sicily. The son of a potter who had moved to Syracuse in about 343 BC, he learned his father's trade, but afterwards entered the army. In 333 BC he married the widow of his patron Damas, a distinguished and wealthy citizen. He was twice banished for attempting to overthrow the oligarchical party in Syracuse.

In 317 BC he returned with an army of mercenaries under a solemn oath to observe the democratic constitution which was then set up. Having banished or murdered some 10,000 citizens, and thus made himself master of Syracuse, he created a strong army and fleet and subdued the greater part of Sicily.

War with Carthage followed. In 311 BC Agathocles was besieged and defeated in Syracuse in the battle of Himera. After defeat in 310 BC he took the desperate resolve of breaking through the blockade and attacking the enemy in Africa. In Africa he concluded the treaty with Ophellas, ruler of Cyrenaica. After several victories he was at last completely defeated (307 BC) and fled secretly to Sicily.

After concluding peace with Carthage in 306 BC, Agathocles styled himself king of Sicily in 304 BC, and established his rule over the Greek cities of the island more firmly than ever. A peace treaty with Carthage left him in control of Sicily east of the Halycus River. Even in his old age he displayed the same restless energy, and is said to have been contemplating a fresh attack on Carthage at the time of his death.

His last years were plagued by ill-health and the turbulence of his grandson Archagathus, at whose instigation he is said to have been poisoned (by his eromenos, Menon of Ægista, who poisoned the tooth-cleaning quill);[1] according to others, he died a natural death. He was a born leader of mercenaries, and, although he did not shrink from cruelty to gain his ends, he afterwards showed himself a mild and popular "tyrant." Agathocles restored the Syracusan democracy on his death bed and did not want his sons to succeed him as king.

The historian Justin says that Agathocles was born in poverty but very early in life parlayed his remarkable beauty into a career as a prostitute, first for men, and later, after puberty, for women, then made a living by robbery before becoming a soldier.

Agathocles married Theoxena, stepdaughter of Ptolemy I of Egypt. His daughter Lanassa married King Pyrrhus of Epirus.

 Legacy

Agathocles was cited as from the lowest, most abject condition of life and as an example of “those who by their crimes come to be princes” in Chapter VIII of Niccolò Machiavelli’s treatise on politics, The Prince (1513). He was described as behaving as a criminal at every stage of his career. However, he came to "glory" as much as he did brutality by repelling invading Carthaginians and winning the loyalty of the denizens of his land. However, many later disapproved of his actions, including to an extent Machiavelli, who claimed "It cannot be called prowess to kill fellow-citizens, to betray friends, to be treacherous, pitiless, irreligious."[2]. Machiavelli, though, merely means that Agathocle's actions do not exemplify prowess, as he does with many other examples in Chapter XV. He actually admired Agothocles for his brutality, but criticized him for being so cruel in public and thus losing the people's trust.

Syracuse pronounced, Sicilian: Sarausa, Ancient GreekΣυράκουσαι – transliterated: Syrakousai) is a historic city in southern Italy, the capital of the province of Syracuse. The city is famous for its rich Greek history, culture, amphitheatres, architecture and association to Archimedes, playing an important role in ancient times as one of the top powers of the Mediterranean world; it is over 2,700 years old. Syracuse is located in the south-east corner of the island of Sicily, right by the Gulf of Syracuse next to the Ionian Sea.

The city was founded by Ancient Greek Corinthians and became a very powerful city-state. Syracuse was allied with Sparta and Corinth, exerting influence over the entire Magna Grecia area of which it was the most important city. Once described by Cicero as "the greatest Greek city and the most beautiful of them all", it later became part of the Roman Republic and Byzantine Empire. After this Palermo overtook it in importance, as the capital of the Kingdom of Sicily. Eventually the kingdom would be united with the Kingdom of Naples to form the Two Sicilies until the Italian unification of 1860.

In the modern day, the city is listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site along with the Necropolis of Pantalica. In the central area, the city itself has a population of around 125,000 people. The inhabitants are known as Siracusans, and the local language spoken by its inhabitants is the Sicilian language. Syracuse is mentioned in the Bible in the Acts of the Apostles book at 28:12 as Paul stayed there.[2] The patron saint of the city is Saint Lucy; she was born in Syracuse and her feast day, Saint Lucy's Day, is celebrated on 13 December.

Greek period

Syracuse and its surrounding area have been inhabited since ancient times, as shown by the findings in the villages of Stentinello, Ognina, Plemmirio, Matrensa, Cozzo Pantano and Thapsos, which already had a relationship with Mycenaean Greece.

Syracuse was founded in 734 or 733 BC by Greek settlers from Corinth and Tenea, led by the oecist (colonizer) Archias, who called it Sirako, referring to a nearby salt marsh. The nucleus of the ancient city was the small island of Ortygia. The settlers found the land fertile and the native tribes to be reasonably well-disposed to their presence. The city grew and prospered, and for some time stood as the most powerful Greek city anywhere in the Mediterranean. Colonies were founded at Akrai (664 BC), Kasmenai (643 BC), Akrillai (VII century BC), Helorus (VII century BC) and Kamarina (598 BC). The descendants of the first colonist, called Gamoroi, held the power until they were expelled by the Killichiroi, the lower class of the city. The former, however, returned to power in 485 BC, thanks to the help of Gelo, ruler of Gela. Gelo himself became the despot of the city, and moved many inhabitants of Gela, Kamarina and Megera to Syracuse, building the new quarters of Tyche and Neapolis outside the walls. His program of new constructions included a new theater, designed by Damocopos, which gave the city a flourishing cultural life: this in turn attracted personalities as Aeschylus, Ario of Metimma, Eumelos of Corinth and Sappho, who had been exiled here from Mytilene. The enlarged power of Syracuse made unavoidable the clash against the Carthaginians, who ruled western Sicily. In the Battle of Himera, Gelo, who had allied with Theron of Agrigento, decisively defeated the African force led by Hamilcar. A temple, entitled to Athena (on the site of the today's Cathedral), was erected in the city to commemorate the event

Gelon was succedeed by his brother Hiero, who fought against the Etruscans at Cumae in 474 BC. His rule was eulogized by poets like Simonides of Ceos, Bacchylides and Pindar, who visited his court. A democratic regime was introduced by Thrasybulos (467 BC). The city continued to expand in Sicily, fighting against the rebellious Siculi, and on the Tyrrhenian Sea, making expeditions up to Corsica and Elba. In the late 5th century BC, Syracuse found itself at war with Athens, which sought more resources to fight the Peloponnesian War. The Syracusans enlisted the aid of a general from Sparta, Athens' foe in the war, to defeat the Athenians, destroy their ships, and leave them to starve on the island (see Sicilian Expedition). In 401 BC, Syracuse contributed a force of 3,000 hoplites and a general to Cyrus the Younger's Army of the Ten Thousand.

Then in the early 4th century BC, the tyrant Dionysius the Elder was again at war against Carthage and, although losing Gela and Camarina, kept that power from capturing the whole of Sicily. After the end of the conflict Dionysius built a massive fortress on the Ortygia island of the city and 22 km-long walls around all of Syracuse. Another period of expansion saw the destruction of Naxos, Catania and Lentini, then Syracuse entered again in war against Carthage (397 BC). After various changes of fortune, the Carthaginians managed to besiege Syracuse itself, but were eventually pushed back by a pestilence. A treaty in 392 BC allowed Syracuse to enlarge further its possessions, founding the cities of Adrano, Ancona, Adria, Tindari and Tauromenos, and conquering Reggio Calabria on the continent. Apart from his battle deeds, Dionysius was famous as a patron of art, and Plato himself visited Syracuse several times.

His successor was Dionysius the Younger, who was however expelled by Dion in 356 BC. But the latter's despotic rule led in turn to his expulsion, and Dionysius reclaimed his throne in 347 BC. A democratic government was installed by Timoleon in 345 BC. The long series of internal struggles had weakened Syracuse's power on the island, and Timoleon tried to remedy this, defeating the Carthaginians in 339 BC near the Krimisos river. But the struggle among the city's parties restarted after his death and ended with the rise of another tyrant, Agathocles, who seized power with a coup in 317 BC. He resumed the war against Carthage, with alternate fortunes. He however scored a moral success, bringing the war to the Carthaginians' native African soil, inflicting heavy losses to the enemy. The war ended with another treaty of peace which did not prevent the Carthaginians interfering in the politics of Syracuse after the death of Agathocles (289 BC). The citizens called Pyrrhus of Epirus for help. After a brief period under the rule of Epirus, Hiero II seized power in 275 BC.

Hiero inaugurated a period of 50 years of peace and prosperity, in which Syracause became one of the most renowned capitals of Antiquity. He issued the so-called Lex Hieronica, which was later adopted by the Romans for their administration of Sicily; he also had the theater enlarged and a new immense altar, the "Hiero's Ara", built. Under his rule lived the most famous Syracusan, the natural philosopher Archimedes. Among his many inventions were various military engines including the claw of Archimedes, later used to resist the Roman siege of 214 BC–212 BC. Literary figures included Theocritus and others.

Hiero's successor, the young Hieronymus (ruled from 215 BC), broke the alliance with the Romans after their defeat at the Battle of Cannae and accepted Carthage's support. The Romans, led by consul Marcus Claudius Marcellus, besieged the city in 214 BC. The city held out for three years, but fell in 212 BC. It is believed to have fallen due to a peace party opening a small door in the wall to negotiate a peace, but the Romans charged through the door and took the city, killing Archimedes in the process.

 From Roman domination to the Middle Ages

Though declining slowly by the years, Syracuse maintained the status of capital of the Roman government of Sicily and seat of the praetor. It remained an important port for the trades between the Eastern and the Western parts of the Empire. Christianity spread in the city through the efforts of Paul of Tarsus and Saint Marziano, the first bishop of the city, who made it one of the main centres of proselytism in the West. In the age of the persecutions massive catacombs were carved, whose size is second only to those of Rome.

After a period of Vandal rule, Syracuse and the island was recovered by Belisarius for the Byzantine Empire (31 December 535). From 663 to 668 Syracuse was the seat of Emperor Constans II, as well as metropolis of the whole Sicilian Church.

Another siege in 878, resulted in the city coming under two centuries of Muslim rule. The capital was moved from Syracuse to Palermo. The Cathedral was converted into a mosque and the quarter on the Ortygia island was gradually rebuilt along Islamic styles. The city, nevertheless, maintained important trade relationships, and housed a relatively flourishing cultural and artistic life: several Arab poets, including Ibn Hamdis, the most important Sicilian poet of the 12th century, flourished in the city.

In 1038, the Byzantine general George Maniaces reconquered the city, sending the relics of St. Lucy to Constantinople. The eponymous castle on the cape of Ortygia bears his name, although it was built under the Hohenstaufen rule. In 1085 the Normans entered Syracuse, one of the last Arab strongholds, after a summer-long siege by Roger I of Sicily and his son Jordan of Hauteville, who was given the city as count. New quarters were built, and the cathedral was restored, as well as other churches.

In 1194 Henry VI of Swabia occupied Syracuse. After a short period of Genoese rule (1205–1220), which favoured a rise of trades, Syracuse was conquered back by emperor Frederick II. He began the construction of the Castello Maniace, the Bishops' Palace and the Bellomo Palace. Frederick's death brought a period of unrest and feudal anarchy. In the struggle between the Anjou and Aragonese monarchies, Syracuse sided with the Aragonese and defeated the Anjou in 1298, receiving from the Spanish sovereigns great privileges in reward. The pre-eminence of baronal families is also shown by the construction of the palaces of Abela, Chiaramonte, Nava, Montalto.

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