88. Aeacus and the Myrmidons

Once upon a time, King Aeacus of Oenopia was approached by Cephalus, an Athenian hero, who sought help to fight against King Minos of Crete. Aeacus agreed and while they were resting, Aeacus told his experience.

Aeacus, son of Jove and the nymph Aegina, said that he had named the island of Oenopia as Aegina, after his mother’s name. But Juno became jealous, because the island bore the name of her rival Aegina. Unsettled with envious rage, Juno made a deadly plague visit the island.

Searing darkness enveloped the island with enormous heat, while the south winds blew steaming hot air. People felt tremendous heat, red blotches appeared all over, the lungs pained with strenuous breathing, the swollen tongue came out of the gaping dry mouth, and toxic blood coursed through inflamed veins. Unable to endure the pain any further, many chose to accept death by voluntary means. Temples, roads and fields were filled with corpses.

The heart-broken Aeacus, wailed to Jove that if Jove had found comfort in Aegina’s arms, and if Jove were not ashamed of his son Aeacus, then may Jove either restore Aeacus’ kingdom, or entomb Aeacus along with his dying people. At that moment, thunderous lightning flashed and nearby, Aeacus saw a sacred oak tree swarming with ants, who were storing grain in the wrinkled bark.

At night, Aeacus dreamt that the ants descended the oak tree, and as they touched the ground, they changed to human beings. Suddenly Aeacus awoke. He saw his son Telamon standing beside his bed, and informing that many people had gathered in the palace. Aeacus went to see and was astonished, as they were the same people, whom he had seen in his dream. Seeing the living evidence of his dream, he named them as Myrmidons, who like ants, were highly industrious. They stored the profits of their toil, guarded it with courageous skill, and increased it over time. The land of Aegina, was restored to its former self.

Excerpt from the book “Once Upon A Time-II: 150 Greek Mythology Stories” by Rajen Jani

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