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According to Greek legend, the Myrmidons were a troop of fierce warriors who fought under the leadership of the hero Achilles* in the Trojan Warf. Originally from the island of Aegina, they were created from a colony of ants to repopulate the island after a plague had killed nearly all of its inhabitants.

The plague had been sent by Hera, the jealous wife of Zeus*, because Aegina was named after one of her husband's lovers. After most of the island's population died, King Aeacus of Aegina prayed to Zeus to restore his people. Aeacus then heard a thunderclap, which he took to be a favorable omen from the gods. At that moment he saw a line of ants crawling up a tree, carrying grains in their mouths. He asked Zeus for as many subjects as the number of ants he saw, so that his kingdom would survive. That night he dreamed that the ants changed into human beings.

omen sign of future events

epic long poem about legendary or historical heroes, written in a grand style

When Aeacus awoke the next morning, he found that the vision in his dream had come true. He named the new people Myrmidons from the Greek name of the ant from which they came, myrmex. Aeacus's grandson Achilles ultimately inherited command of the Myrmidons. The Greek epic the Iliad* tells the story of the role played by the Myrmidons under Achilles in the Trojan War. Today the term myrmidon refers to an individual who carries out a command faithfully, regardless of how cruel or inhuman it might be.

See also Achilles; Animals in Mythology; Hera; Iliad, The; Trojan War.

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