Peloponnese in detail

Other Features

Feature: Agamemnon Affairs

Agamemnon, son of Atreus, is one of the principal characters in Homer's epic poem The Iliad and crops up regularly in Greek legend. The king of Mycenae, he led the Greeks during the Trojan War.

Agamemnon and his brother Menelaus married the daughters of the King of Sparta, Clytemnestra and Helen respectively. According to legend, Helen then eloped with Paris, the son of the Trojan king, and took with her all of her rather valuable possessions. This was the catalyst for the Trojan War (her face 'had launched a thousand ships'), as Agamemnon called on the Greek princes to unite in a war of revenge. However, Artemis, the goddess of hunting, stalled the departing warships with adverse winds because Agamemnon had angered her by claiming he was the better hunter. To make peace with Artemis, Agamemnon was forced to offer his daughter, Iphigenia, as a sacrifice. Artemis set the seas right again, and the Greek ships sailed for Troy, where a 10-year siege ensued. In the war's final year, Agamemnon had a jealous quarrel with Achilles over the attentions of a captive female, which could have cost the Greeks the war.

Finally, though, Agamemnon returned home victorious with his war spoils, which included the Trojan princess Cassandra. His victory was short-lived: his wife Clytemnestra was justifiably upset about her sacrificed daughter and murdered Agamemnon in his bath with the help of her lover, Aegisthus. In classic dysfunctional-family Greek-tragedy style, Agamemnon’s daughter, Electra, and her brother, Orestes, avenged their father’s death by then murdering Aegisthus and Clytemnestra.

Feature: Peregrinations of Pausanias

Lonely Planet and its alternatives were beaten to the publishing of guidebooks by nearly 20 centuries. The traveller and geographer Pausanias wrote what is believed to be the first – and most definitive – ‘guidebook’ for tourists in the 2nd century AD. His work, Description of Greece (sometimes known as Tour or Itinerary of Greece), is a series of 10 volumes in which he describes most of Greece as seen at the time (between AD 143 and 161), covering the regions of Attica, Boeotia, Phocis and Ozolian Locris, plus the regions that make up much of the Peloponnese: Corinthia, Lakonia, Messinia, Elia, Achaïa and Arkadia. Classical Greek scholars, historians and archaeologists regard it as an extremely important historical work for its insight into places, people, monuments and sites, as well as associated facts and legends. Pausanias is believed to be from Lydia in Asia Minor and travelled extensively throughout Greece, Macedonia, Italy and parts of Asia and Africa.

Feature: The Spartans

Maybe you saw the gory and highly imaginative film 300, based (very loosely) on the battle of Thermopylae in 480 BC, one of the most talked-about battles in history? Three hundred elite Spartan soldiers held an entire Persian army (whose force numbered several thousand) at bay at the pass of Thermopylae (near today's Lamia). For three days, wave upon wave of Persian soldiers fell upon their deadly spears and unbridgeable tortoise-shell formation. What kind of soldiers could display such bravery? Ones raised in Sparta, where warfare was held to be the only occupation worthy of its men and where warriors embodied ferocious, self-sacrificing martial supremacy, living (and very often dying) by the motto 'return with your shield, or on it'.

If you were born male and deemed too weak and feeble to make it to adulthood, you would be left on the slopes of the Taÿgetos Mountains to die. Passed the first round? Then at the age of seven, you'd be plucked from the bosom of your family and sent to live in barracks with other boys, to undergo the military education system known as agoge, designed to build physical and emotional toughness. You'd be habitually underfed to encourage you to survive by living off the land and by stealing, but punished harshly if caught. You'd undergo brutal institutionalised beatings, which you'd be expected to bear without showing pain. At the age of 12, you'd form a sexual bond with an older mentor, who'd be responsible for your training. Upon turning 18, you'd become a member of the army until the age of 30, when you'd finally be granted Spartan citizenship, if you had proved yourself worthy.

Born a girl? Then you'd be better off than anywhere else in Greece at the time. You would eat the same food as your brothers, participate in sport and exercise nude. You'd be well educated and literate, and forbidden to marry until your early 20s, which would spare you from teenage pregnancies and miscarriages. Then when you finally did marry, your husband-to-be would 'abduct' you, and you'd have your head shaved and be dressed in men's clothing before the marriage could be consummated. That'd be to make your husband comfortable, since he wouldn't have spent much time around women.