Greek-American Stories: Pyrrhus, the Trouble Maker

In the evening, jeopardy is a program I watch faithfully. One evening, the final answer was, “what ancient Greek said, ‘One more such victory and I am lost!’” The contestants all wrote down their answers while I wondered who said that. I had never heard that phrase. Time was up! The answer was ‘Pyrrhus’. (318- 272 BC) All three contestants knew the answer – as if it were common knowledge like Colgate or Tums. So, I went through my books in search of Pyrrhus. Here’s what I found: he was king of Epirus. He fought at Ipsus with Demetrius I of Macedonia (295 BC). Then, Ptolemy I helped him become partner king of Epirus with Neoptolemus. He decided to get rid of Neoptolemus, took over the kingdom, and then, got rid of Demetrius I, too! (291-286 BC). Pyrrhus occupied half of Macedonia and Thessaly but was driven back by the Thessalian general, Lysimachus who was Alexander the Great’s body guard. After that, getting restless, he went to Sicily, declared war and defeated (280 BC) the Romans at Heraclea, capital of Sicily. Wanting to make peace with them, the Romans refused any peace agreement from him. They rearmed and attacked Pyrrhus’s army at Asculum. Although the losses were heavy, Pyrrhus won, again. That’s when he said, “one more such victory and I am lost!” Asculum was a huge Pyrrhus victory. But, at Beneventum (275 BC) the Romans reassembled and attacked and won. Pyrrhus, who didn’t like losing, gained back his prestige with a victory (273 BC) over Antigonus II in Macedonia. Then, Sparta became his new target. Unable to overcome Sparta he fled to Argos where a mob who, probably, thought he was coming after them, too, recognized him and killed him. In all those betrayals and battles he really had gained nothing beyond the ruin of Epirus.

This guy was a real trouble maker. He liked making war, using his soldiers like plastic toys. All that research was fascinating I have to admit. But, I’d bet the farm that you didn’t know Pyrrhus, either. How did three contestants know about an obscure guy whose very name means ‘fire’?

That bit of information made me research through all my books for other ‘unknowns’.  I discovered a host of troublemakers; enough to cover the office and hall way of the police department’s ‘Mug Shots’ wall. Demetrius I (of above fame), in order to regain the throne of Macedonia, after taking Athens murdered his competitors, including Cassandra and her sons. Then, he decided to take over Asia Minor but his enemies united against him. When Lysimachus and Pyrrhus (of above fame) invaded Macedonia he was forced to seek refuge with Seleucus I, who kept him safe (what are friends for?) until he died. His son, Antigonus II became king of Macedonia, but he had troubles with his step mother, Vereniki. So he murdered her and her infant son before her brother, Ptolemy III could arrive from Egypt. Seleucus waged war with his brother, Antiochus Hierax for control of Asia Minor. There was a revolt and that took care of Seleucus II. BUT, his son Seleuchus III took over. He sat on the throne for three years until he was killed. So, Antiochus III, son of Antiochus II, became king. (That’s keeping it all in the family. But, he was crushed by the Romans at Thermopylae and again at Magnesia (190 BC) and, his dreams of reviving Alexander’s empire died. But, hold on! Enter Antiochus IV.Trouble there, too! So! Next came Antiochus V, a boy king who was overthrown by Demetrious I. Remember him? The guy Pyrrhus got rid of? It seems no one can get along with anyone. Always on the prowl for making trouble!

But, looking around, little has changed in human nature. Generals and other ambitious troublemakers, whether it’s a local politician, president, or neighbor, still look over the fence at a piece of land and decide, “I’m the grandest tiger in the jungle! And, I’ll prove it!” Is it nature? Or, is the sense of proving powerful so intriguing? I think it’s a question that has long been pondered by philosophers and reasonable people. Troublemakers have always existed. We’ve seen that! Wanting to live well and wanting others to live well, too, is what it should be all about. Oh oh! It’s almost time for Jeopardy.


Elmer ‘Lucky’ McGinty’s crystal clear memories of a life well lived flow with a thickness, a richness, that borders on the hypnotic.

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