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The phrase a "Pyrrhic victory" is often used to denote a win that costs the victor more than the loser, but few have any notion of how the term came into use. Indeed, it would probably come as a surprise to many that it derives from a remark made by Pyrrhus of Epirus after a battle in which he had defeated his Roman enemies at Asculum. In the wake of the battle, Pyrrhus reportedly said, "If we are victorious in one more battle with the Romans we shall be utterly ruined."

Pyrrhus lived between 319 BCE and 272 BCE, and he was king of Epirus for the last 25 years of his life. He also ruled Macedonia on two separate occasions, from 288-284 BCE and from 273-272 BCE In addition to these achievements, Plutarch recorded that Hannibal regarded this mercurial leader as the greatest commander the world had ever known after Alexander the Great.

Despite that high praise, he was hardly the image of the great warrior king. Plutarch wrote that he had, from an early age, a more terrifying appearance than a majestic one, with a distorted face and few teeth: "In the aspect of his countenance Pyrrhus had more of the terror than of the majesty of kingly power. He had not many teeth, but his upper jaw was one continuous bone, on which the usual intervals between the teeth were indicated by slight depressions. People of a splenetic habit believed that he cured their ailment; he would sacrifice a white cock, and, while the patient lay flat upon his back, would press gently with his right foot against the spleen. Nor was any one so obscure or poor as not to get this healing service from him if he asked it."

©2017 Charles River Editors (P)2017 Charles River Editors

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For Children

The work is merely a survey of the great general's life. Good for kids only

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