Myrmidons versus minions

The Myrmidons entered history as a group of fierce and loyal Greek soldiers led by Achilles to the Trojan War. And like several peoples of Homer’s Odyssey and Illiad their traits became cemented into the English language.

The Trojans endured 30 years of siege and to be trojan is to be determined and hard-working. The Spartans lived a militaristic life so to be spartan is to live frugally without luxury.

Spartans and Trojans came from real places. However Myrmidons come from Phthiotis in Thessaly and their name comes from mythology. Zeus created an army on the island of Aegina (27 kilometres off the coast of Athens) in response to prayers from Aeacus, Achilles grandfather and the king of the island. The island had lost most of its people due to a plague and Aeacus needed people to support the island. To create the army Zeus changed the local ants into warriors (see Batrachomyomachia for a different story of small creatures as warriors). The Myrmidon’s name derives from the Greek word for ant, myrmex (we see it in myrmecology, the study of ants). The Mrymidons were also said to be the first to build ships with sails, which is perhaps how they ended up in Thessaly, further north in Greece.

The Myrmidons were above all else fierce and unconditionally loyal to their leaders. Myrmidon in English means a hired ruffian, henchman or a loyal follower, especially one who executes orders without question, protest, or pity. Myrimidon is not used as commonly as it once was.

Minion is more commonly used nowadays for the subservient, unconditionally-loyal, henchman. A minion is a loyal servant usually of a more powerful being; it is a sycophantic follower whose only benefit is the reward of service. Minion is a French borrowing from the Middle French word mignon meaning lover, royal favourite, or darling. It came from Old French, mignot, for dainty, pleasing, gentle, and kind.

The successful films Despicable Me and Despicable Me 2 have created an army of creatures that exist to seek out and serve the most despicable master they can find. These creatures have been given the names Minions. They will have their own spin-off film later this year.

However, having a group of minions to carry out your bidding may be attractive to the megolomaniacs amongst us but if you really want to succeed in your plans for world domination you really should employ myrmidons.