Brutal's nightmare


July 3, 2022

Ephialtes of Trachis, son of Eurydemus of Malis (in ancient Greek: Ἐφιάλτης, Ephiàltes; Trachis, 6th century BC - Anticira, 480 BC) was a Greek shepherd who in 480 BC betrayed Leonidas I's Spartans during the Battle of Thermopylae.


The figure of Ephialtes is closely linked to the betrayal of the Greek soldiers who fought against the Persians during the battle of Thermopylae, during the second Persian war: Ephialtes led the body of the Immortals along a path called Anopea, located along the homonymous slope of Mount Eta , allowing them to get behind the Greeks who were fighting the Persians. This path had been discovered by the local Malians, who had used it to guide the Thessalians against the Phocians. However, it was not known to the contingents fighting at Thermopylae. Led by Idarne the Persians, after having put to flight the Phocean rearguard contingent, attacked, defeated and massacred the Trecento of Leonidas. Ephialtes expected a reward, but the Persian defeat at the Battle of Salamis ruined his plans. The shepherd then fled to Thessaly: the pilagori, the external advisers of the Delphic-Pilaic amphyition, promised a reward for those who had captured him. Returning to Anticira, Ephialtes was killed by Athenad of Trachis, who was rewarded for this by the Spartans, although Herodotus claims that Athenad actually killed him for unknown reasons, not related to the betrayal. Herodotus also reports another secondary and not very credible version : it would have been a man of Caristo, Orete son of Fanagore, and the Anti-Syrian Coridallo who betrayed Leonidas, but highlights how this second thesis is less reliable, since the pilagori only put the size after careful research.


Ephialtes was considered the archetype of the traitor of the Greek cause, although other Greeks also helped Xerxes. The name Ephialtes in ancient Greek means "nightmare", imagined as a demon (a proposed etymology is from the verb ἐφάλλομαι, "to jump over", although present phonetic difficulties).

Epialtes in mass culture

In the comic and homonymous film 300, Ephialtes is described as a Spartan born crippled and deformed, therefore destined to die in swaddling clothes thrown from the Taygetos according to Spartan customs, but saved by the affection of the parents who fled taking him with them. Ephialtes follows the Spartans and confers with Leonidas, asking to be able to fight with the 300 to redeem his father's honor and his own. Although the king appreciates the warrior spirit, he rejects it, because he is unable to raise his shield: this would damage the Spartan phalanx. Later, furious at being rejected, Ephialtes travels to the camp of the Persians and, in exchange for a position of prestige within the army of Xerxes, reveals the secret route to cross Thermopylae. When Ephialtes' move is discovered, the Arcadians retreat and Leonidas orders Delios to leave with them and return to Sparta, to tell all of Greece about their exploits. In the finale of the story Leonidas, before being overwhelmed, mockingly insults him, wishing him to "live forever" (since the Spartans considered it a "primary objective" and, therefore, an honor to die on the battlefield). However, it is necessary to highlight some differences between historical reality and cinematographic invention: in the first place Ephialtes was not a Spartan, but a local shepherd; moreover, Herodotus does not specify anything about his appearance, so we do not know if he was deformed or not, although it is known that in Greek literature the wicked were represented as men with an unpleasant appearance precisely because they externally reflected their cruel soul (the kalokagathia , the principle of "beautiful and good", in ancient Greek: καλὸς καὶ ἀγαθός: what is good is also aesthetically beautiful, while what is inte