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Hippokleides, Dirty Dancing, and the Panathenaia

Brian M. Lavelle

            Renowned for dancing away his marriage, Hippokleides is an intriguing, but obscure figure in early Athenian history.  There are only two testimonia about him.  He was archon when the Greater Panathenaia was established in 566 BCE (Euseb. Chron. 102a-b Helm; Pherykydes FrGrHist 3 F 2), a fact that has been taken to imply his connection to the festival.  And of course he stars in Herodotos’ famous “marriage of Agariste” tale (6.126-30) until his disreputable dancing undoes him at the exact moment of triumph.  The purposes of this paper are to demonstrate that Herodotos’ account of Hippokleides’ dancing is a slander; that its sources, the Alkmeonids, were political rivals of his, whose efforts to disparage him resemble other such efforts aimed at rivals and further index his political significance; and that the “marriage of Agariste” story, which characterizes Hippokleides as generally superlative in athletic and musical competitions, offers further grounds for connecting him to the Greater Panathenaia.

            Herodotos’ account of Hippokleides’ disastrous dancing may only be taken as opprobrious.  His almost father-in-law, Kleisthenes of Sikyon, considered it disgraceful;  it costs Hippokleides everything for which he’d been contesting for a year;  and, above all, his headstand dancing and wild leg-gesticulations conjure the image of a drunken satyr displaying himself in a sexually provocative fashion (cf. Douris, Red Figure psykter [BM E678]).  All signs point to the Alkmeonids as Herodotos’ sources:  that the Alkmeonid Megakles won the bride, proving his superiority to Hippokleides merely through sobriety, seems a gloat and the “marriage of Agariste” is embedded among several stories in Herodotos that conspicuously favor or flatter the earlier Alkmeonids (6.121-31). 

            Actually, the shameful spectacle of Hippokleides in Herodotos and its implications are of a piece with other stories obviously derived from Alkmeonid sources which disparage their Athenian political foes by imputing sexual misconduct to them, while commending the Alkmeonids for right conduct. Peisistratos had sex with his Alkmeonid bride οὐ κατὰ νόμον (Hdt.1.61.1), an act which caused her outraged father Megakles to run him out of Athens.  Isagoras, the opponent of Kleisthenes the lawmaker, permitted his wife to have intercourse with Kleomenes of Sparta (Hdt. 5.70.1):  the Athenians, acting as partisans for Kleisthenes, expelled both men from Athens.  During Kimon’s trial in the mid-5th century BCE, Perikles refused Elpinike’s overt sexual offer (Plut. Kim.14.6-8), the implication being that her brother, Kimon, with whom she was said to have had an incestuous relationship, allowed it, if he did not put her up to it.  The common threads in these and the Hippokleides-story – smears really – are that rivals of the Alkmeonids are depraved while they themselves are explicitly or implicitly morally superior.  The “marriage of Agariste” tale marks Hippokleides, whose archonship confirms his standing at Athens, as a political rival of Megakles important enough to earn such Alkmeonid smearing. 

            Herodotos’ details of the run-up to Hippokleides’ “dirty dancing” are significant in this light.  After Kleisthenes announced the marriage-competition for Agariste at the Olympic games, he prepared a running track and wrestling ground at Sikyon for competitions to take place throughout the year.  Until his unfortunate wedding-feast finale, Hippokleides excelled not only in every athletic competition, but also in music, speaking, and sober dancing – that is, every agōn of the panhellenic games, including the Greater Panathenaia.  Concession of this excellence in Herodotos’ Alkmeonid story indicates memory of Hippokleides as conspicuously linked to such competitions.  While it is not possible to close the ring entirely, Hippokleides was a significant political figure and stands forth as the likeliest candidate for originator or sponsor of the Greater Panathenaia during his archonship.  (The only other candidate possible, Peisistratos, did not become tyrant until 561/60 and even then was so politically weak that he was expelled from Athens twice by the selfsame Megakles.)   Hippokleides’ descendants considered him an ornament on the family tree, not a taint, as Pherekydes’ Philaiad genealogy (FrGrHist 3, F 2) shows.

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Problems in Greek History and Historiography

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