Pyrrhus’ Miraculous Toe


  • Simone Rendina



 Pyrrhus, the king of Epirus, was an extremely charismatic figure who was always striving to match the prestige of Achilles and of Alexander the Great. He thus established a cult of himself, and was also reputed to exercise thaumaturgical powers. In particular, there was a belief that Pyrrhus’ right big toe could cure diseases of the spleen. According to Plutarch, Pyrrhus exercised this power during his lifetime, and the big toe was preserved even after his death because of the miraculous powers attributed to it. The cult of Pyrrhus’ big toe was linked to the world of myth, in which healing heroes, such as Pyrrhus’ presumed ancestor Achilles, also appear. Although this striking aspect of the cult of Pyrrhus is perhaps the only case of a thaumaturgic kingship in Antiquity, it never led to a systematic royal ideology centred on the figure of Pyrrhus. This failure to develop Pyrrhus’ kingship into a programmatic “Hellenistic” kingship is, of course, due to the failure of Pyrrhus’ military plans in the Balkans, and to his abrupt death. Moreover, Pyrrhus never exploited Alexander’s legacy to legitimize his own existence as a charismatic king and as a living institution. Instead he focused on the legacy of the warring Alexander, since he wanted to appear unstoppable in his conquests, as Alexander had been.



2021-07-30 — Updated on 2024-06-29