The Myrmidons (or Myrmidones Μυρμιδόνες) were an ancient nation of Greek mythology. In Homer's Iliad, the Myrmidons are the soldiers commanded by Achilles. Their eponymous ancestor was Myrmidon, a king of Phthiotis who was a son of Zeus and "wide-ruling" Eurymedousa, a princess of Phthiotis. She was seduced by him in the form of an ant. An etiological myth of their origins, simply expanding upon their supposed etymology— the name in Classical Greek was interpreted as "ant-people", from murmekes, "ants"— was first mentioned by Ovid, in Metamorphoses: in Ovid's telling, the Myrmidons were simple worker ants on the island of Aegina.
Ovid's myth of the repopulation of Aegina
Hera, queen of the gods, sent a plague to kill all the human inhabitants of Aegina because the island was named for one of the lovers of Zeus. King Aeacus, a son of Zeus and the intended target of Hera along with his mother, prayed to his father for a means to repopulate the island. As the ants of the island were unaffected by the sickness, Zeus responded by transforming them into a race of people, the Myrmidons. They were fierce and hardy as ants, and intensely loyal to their leader. Because of their ant-ish origins, they wore brown armour.
After a time, Aeacus exiled his two sons, Peleus and Telamon, for murdering their half-brother, Phocis. Peleus went to Phthia and a group of Myrmidons followed him to Thessaly. Peleus's son, Achilles, brought them to Troy to fight in the Trojan War. They feature as the loyal followers of Achilles in most accounts of the Trojan War from Homer to the 2004 film Troy.
Another tradition states that the Myrmidons had no such remarkable beginnings, but were merely the descendants of Myrmidon, a Thessalian nobleman, who married Peisidice, the daughter of Aeolus, king of Thessaly. Myrmidon was the father of Actor and Antiphus. As king of Phthia, Actor (or his son) invited Peleus to stay in Thessaly.
The Myrmidons of Greek myth were known for their loyalty to their leaders, so that in pre-industrial Europe the word "myrmidon" carried many of the same connotations that "robot" does today. "Myrmidon" later came to mean "hired ruffian", according to the Oxford English Dictionary.
- "The Myrmidons" was the name adopted in 1865 by a private dining society in Merton College, Oxford. It is thought to be the oldest continuously active dining society in the University of Oxford. Max Beerbohm was a member, and the club called "The Junta" that features in his Oxford novel Zuleika Dobson is probably modeled on the Myrmidons. Other former members include Lord Randolph Churchill and Andrew Irvine.
Myrmidons in literature
- In The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle by Tobias Smollett, the crew of Commodore Trunnion's garrison were referred to as "Myrmidons" due to their fierce loyalty.
- In Grant Morrison's comic book The Invisibles, the humans who serve the Archons and who have given themselves up for modification are known as Myrmidons.
- In Chonchu, a Manhwa (a Korean style of comics similar to the Japanese manga), the Mirmidons (with a little difference in the name's spelling) are a dreadful warrior tribe known for their strength and spirit. They are fierce fighters who live only for the delight of battling.
- In Garth Nix's young adult novel, Shade's Children, alien Overlords reconstruct human children into mindless soldiers called Myrmidons.
- In The Languages of Pao by Jack Vance, a planet's population is artificially divided into three castes by imposing linguistic and cultural barriers; the members of the warrior caste refer to themselves as "Myrmidons."
- In Hercules, My Shipmate by Robert Graves, Myrmidons are mentioned quite a few times as the book is about the story of Jason and the Argonauts.
- The Myrmidons were depicted twice in the DC Comics book Wonder Woman. The first time was when Wonder Woman astral projected into the mythological past to gain knowledge, and the second was in the Artemis/Requiem mini-series. There they are shown to now live in the underworld as servants, keeping guard over the dead.
- In Jan Morris' novel 'Hav', which was first published as 'Last letters from Hav' in 1985, a second part appears in the 2006 version entitled 'Hav of the Myrmidons'. It portrays the (fictional) claim by a post-revolutionary regime to a mythical past derived from the legendary Myrmidons, companions of Achilles. The novel itself blurs the distinction between factual account and fiction, geographical precision and utopian abstraction to use Myrmidons as a metaphor for domination seeking to legitimate itself through ethnic descent from an ancient tribe. The grotesque 'Myrmidonic Tower' in Hav symbolises the instrumental use of ancient legends at the height of modernity.
Myrmidons in video games
The term myrmidon enjoys widespread use in Computer and Video games, especially those in the Role-playing game genre. It is in common use as a title for character classes or enemies, and even occasionally used as the name for a piece of equipment or vehicle within a game.