The Myrmidons or Myrmidones (Greek: Μυρμιδόνες) were a legendary people of Greek history. They were very brave warriors: trained and commanded by Achilles, as described in Homer's Iliad. Their eponymous ancestor was Myrmidon, a king of Thessalian Phthia, who was the son of Zeus and "wide-ruling" Eurymedousa, a princess of Phthia.
An etiological myth of their origins, expanding upon their etymology — the name in Classical Greek was interpreted as "ant-people", from μυρμηδών (murmedon) "ant's nest" and that from μύρμηξ (murmex) "ant" — was first mentioned by Ovid, in Metamorphoses: in Ovid's telling, King Aeacus of Aegina, Achilles' grandfather, pleaded with Zeus to populate his country after a terrible plague. Zeus said his people would number as the ants on his sacred oak, and from the ants sprang the people of Aegina, the Myrmidons.
Later use of the term
In Manichaeism, the name myrmidons is used to refer to a certain class of demonic soldiers that fight for darkness against light. This has been found by archaeologists in papyri known as Coptic Manichaean Psalm-books. These papyri were found in Medinet Maadi, Egypt.
The Myrmidons of Greek myth were known for their skill in battle and loyalty to their leaders. In pre-industrial Europe the word "myrmidon" carried many of the same connotations that "minion" does today. Myrmidon later came to mean "hired ruffian" (according to the Oxford English Dictionary) or "a loyal follower, especially one who executes orders without question, protest, or pity - unquestioning followers." (Dictionary.com).
Troilus and Cressida, a William Shakespeare play in which the Myrmidons appear
- Achilles himself is "the great Myrmidon/Who broils in loud applause" in Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida.
- Murmedon, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, at Perseus
- Murmex, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, at Perseus
- Barnstone W & Meyer M (2009) The Gnostic Bible: Gnostic texts of mystical wisdom from the ancient and medieval worlds. Shambhala Publications: Boston & London.