Aristodemus of Sparta
Aristodemus (Greek: Ἀριστόδημος) was a Spartan warrior, one of the many sent to the Battle of Thermopylae. He was one of only two Spartan survivors, as he was not present at the last stand. Along with a comrade, Eurytus, Aristodemus was stricken with a disease of the eye (they were "ὀφθαλμιῶντες" as Herodotus wrote), causing King Leonidas to order the two to return home before the battle, but Eurytus turned back, though blind, and met his end charging into the fray.
The Greek historian Herodotus believed that had both Aristodemus and Eurytus returned alive, or had Aristodemus alone been ill and excused from combat, the Spartans would have ascribed no blame to Aristodemus. However, because Eurytus did turn back and died in combat, Aristodemus was regarded as a coward and subjected to humiliation and disgrace at the hands of his compatriots; in the words of Herodotus, "no man would give him a light for his fire or speak to him; he was called Aristodemus the Coward."
The other survivor of the Three Hundred was a man named Pantites, who had been sent by Leonidas on an embassy to Thessaly. He failed to return to Thermopylae in time for the battle, and on finding himself in disgrace in Sparta, hanged himself.
At the Battle of Plataea, Aristodemus fought with such fury that the Spartans regarded him as having redeemed himself. Although they removed the black mark against his name, they would not award him any special honors for his valour because he had fought with suicidal recklessness; the Spartans having regarded as more valorous those who fought while still wishing to live (cf. George S. Patton's dictum "No man ever won a war by dying for his country. Wars were won by making the other poor bastard die for his."). Aristodemus charged, berserker-like, out of the phalanx and killed several Persians on his own before dying.
In popular culture
A character slightly based on Aristodemus named Dilios appears in and partly narrates Frank Miller's 1998 graphic novel 300, which retells the events of the Battle of Thermopylae. In the 2007 movie adaptation of the same name, Dilios was portrayed by David Wenham. Unlike Aristodemus, Dilios is not ordered home because of infection, although he does lose an eye in combat. It was so that he can use his oratorial skills to tell the story of his comrades in order to inspire the rest of Sparta, and then all of Greece. As such, he faces no scorn from his comrades on his return, and is later seen leading the Spartan army into battle at Plataea.
- Herodotus, 7.229
- Schmitz vol 1. p304
- Hogewind, BF; Coebergh, JA; Gritters-van den Oever, NC; de Wolf, MW; van der Wielen, GJ (Apr 2013). "The ocular disease of Aristodemus and Eurytus 480 BC: diagnostic considerations.". International ophthalmology 33 (2): 107–9. doi:10.1007/s10792-012-9638-x. PMID 23404726.
- Herodotus 7.231
- Herodotus, 7.232
- The History of Herodotus. Translated into English by G. C. Macaulay.
- Schmitz, Leonhard (1867), "Aristodemus", Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology 1, p. 304