This is a passage I loved even before I read it. My first classics teacher combined a love of Herodotus with a genius for drawing on blackboards. I vividly remember the amused bristling of his eyebrows as he told us of Hippocleides, the suitor with an inopportune taste for dancing on tables, and the relish with which he drew the final, leg-pumping head-stand. Has there ever been a funnier retort than the one that Hippocleides gives to the outraged Cleisthenes? It still makes me smile every time I read it. That it so obviously amused Herodotus himself is one of the clues to his character that I cherish the most.
Κλεισθένεϊ γὰρ τῷ Ἀριστωνύμου τοῦ Μύρωνος τοῦ Ἀνδρέω γίνεται θυγάτηρ τῇ οὔνομα ἦν Ἀγαρίστη. ταύτην ἠθέλησε, Ἑλλήνων ἁπάντων ἐξευρὼν τὸν ἄριστον, τούτῳ γυναῖκα προσθεῖναι.  Ὀλυμπίων ὦν ἐόντων καὶ νικῶν ἐν αὐτοῖσι τεθρίππῳ ὁ Κλεισθένης κήρυγμα ἐποιήσατο, ὅστις Ἑλλήνων ἑωυτὸν ἀξιοῖ Κλεισθένεος γαμβρὸν γενέσθαι, ἥκειν ἐς ἑξηκοστὴν ἡμέρην ἢ καὶ πρότερον ἐς Σικυῶνα, ὡς κυρώσοντος Κλεισθένεος τὸν γάμον ἐν ἐνιαυτῷ, ἀπὸ τῆς ἑξηκοστῆς ἀρξαμένου ἡμέρης.  ἐνθαῦτα Ἑλλήνων ὅσοι σφίσι τε αὐτοῖσι ἦσαν καὶ πάτρῃ ἐξωγκωμένοι, ἐφοίτεον μνηστῆρες: τοῖσι Κλεισθένης καὶ δρόμον καὶ παλαίστρην ποιησάμενος ἐπ᾽ αὐτῷ τούτῳ εἶχε.
 ἀπὸ μὲν δὴ Ἰταλίης ἦλθε Σμινδυρίδης ὁ Ἱπποκράτεος Συβαρίτης, ὃς ἐπὶ πλεῖστον δὴ χλιδῆς εἷς ἀνὴρ ἀπίκετο （ἡ δὲ Σύβαρις ἤκμαζε τοῦτον τὸν χρόνον μάλιστα）, καὶ Σιρίτης Δάμασος Ἀμύριος τοῦ σοφοῦ λεγομένου παῖς.  οὗτοι μὲν ἀπὸ Ἰταλίης ἦλθον, ἐκ δὲ τοῦ κόλπου τοῦ Ἰονίου Ἀμφίμνηστος Ἐπιστρόφου Ἐπιδάμνιος: οὗτος δὲ ἐκ τοῦ Ἰονίου κόλπου. Αἰτωλὸς δὲ ἦλθε Τιτόρμου τοῦ ὑπερφύντος τε Ἕλληνας ἰσχύι καὶ φυγόντος ἀνθρώπους ἐς τὰς ἐσχατιὰς τῆς Αἰτωλίδος χώρης, τούτου τοῦ Τιτόρμου ἀδελφεὸς Μάλης.  ἀπὸ δὲ Πελοποννήσου Φείδωνος τοῦ Ἀργείων τυράννου παῖς Λεωκήδης, Φείδωνος δὲ τοῦ τὰ μέτρα ποιήσαντος Πελοποννησίοισι καὶ ὑβρίσαντος μέγιστα δὴ Ἑλλήνων πάντων, ὃς ἐξαναστήσας τοὺς Ἠλείων ἀγωνοθέτας αὐτὸς τὸν ἐν Ὀλυμπίῃ ἀγῶνα ἔθηκε: τούτου τε δὴ παῖς καὶ Ἀμίαντος Λυκούργου Ἀρκὰς ἐκ Τραπεζοῦντος, καὶ Ἀζὴν ἐκ Παίου πόλιος Λαφάνης Εὐφορίωνος τοῦ δεξαμένου τε, ὡς λόγος ἐν Ἀρκαδίῃ λέγεται, τοὺς Διοσκούρους οἰκίοισι καὶ ἀπὸ τούτου ξεινοδοκέοντος πάντας ἀνθρώπους, καὶ Ἠλεῖος Ὀνόμαστος Ἀγαίου.  οὗτοι μὲν δὴ ἐξ αὐτῆς Πελοποννήσου ἦλθον, ἐκ δὲ Ἀθηνέων ἀπίκοντο Μεγακλέης τε ὁ Ἀλκμέωνος τούτου τοῦ παρὰ Κροῖσον ἀπικομένου, καὶ ἄλλος Ἱπποκλείδης Τισάνδρου, πλούτῳ καὶ εἴδεϊ προφέρων Ἀθηναίων. ἀπὸ δὲ Ἐρετρίης ἀνθεύσης τοῦτον τὸν χρόνον Λυσανίης: οὗτος δὲ ἀπ᾽ Εὐβοίης μοῦνος. ἐκ δὲ Θεσσαλίης ἦλθε τῶν Σκοπαδέων Διακτορίδης Κραννώνιος, ἐκ δὲ Μολοσσῶν Ἄλκων.
 τοσοῦτοι μὲν ἐγένοντο οἱ μνηστῆρες. ἀπικομένων δὲ τούτων ἐς τὴν προειρημένην ἡμέρην, ὁ Κλεισθένης πρῶτα μὲν τὰς πάτρας τε αὐτῶν ἀνεπύθετο καὶ γένος ἑκάστου, μετὰ δὲ κατέχων ἐνιαυτὸν διεπειρᾶτο αὐτῶν τῆς τε ἀνδραγαθίης καὶ τῆς ὀργῆς καὶ παιδεύσιός τε καὶ τρόπου, καὶ ἑνὶ ἑκάστῳ ἰὼν ἐς συνουσίην καὶ συνάπασι, καὶ ἐς γυμνάσιά τε ἐξαγινέων ὅσοι ἦσαν αὐτῶν νεώτεροι, καὶ τό γε μέγιστον, ἐν τῇ συνεστίῃ διεπειρᾶτο: ὅσον γὰρ κατεῖχε χρόνον αὐτούς, τοῦτον πάντα ἐποίεε καὶ ἅμα ἐξείνιζε μεγαλοπρεπέως.  καὶ δή κου μάλιστα τῶν μνηστήρων ἠρέσκοντο οἱ ἀπ᾽ Ἀθηνέων ἀπιγμένοι, καὶ τούτων μᾶλλον Ἱπποκλείδης ὁ Τισάνδρου καὶ κατ᾽ ἀνδραγαθίην ἐκρίνετο καὶ ὅτι τὸ ἀνέκαθεν τοῖσι ἐν Κορίνθῳ Κυψελίδῃσι ἦν προσήκων.
 ὡς δὲ ἡ κυρίη ἐγένετο τῶν ἡμερέων τῆς τε κατακλίσιος τοῦ γάμου καὶ ἐκφάσιος αὐτοῦ Κλεισθένεος τὸν κρίνοι ἐκ πάντων, θύσας βοῦς ἑκατὸν ὁ Κλεισθένης εὐώχεε αὐτούς τε τοὺς μνηστῆρας καὶ Σικυωνίους πάντας.  ὡς δὲ ἀπὸ δείπνου ἐγίνοντο, οἱ μνηστῆρες ἔριν εἶχον ἀμφί τε μουσικῇ καὶ τῷ λεγομένῳ ἐς τὸ μέσον. προϊούσης δὲ τῆς πόσιος κατέχων πολλὸν τοὺς ἄλλους ὁ Ἱπποκλείδης ἐκέλευσέ οἱ τὸν αὐλητὴν αὐλῆσαι ἐμμελείην, πειθομένου δὲ τοῦ αὐλητέω ὀρχήσατο. καί κως ἑωυτῷ μὲν ἀρεστῶς ὀρχέετο, ὁ Κλεισθένης δὲ ὁρέων ὅλον τὸ πρῆγμα ὑπώπτευε.  μετὰ δὲ ἐπισχὼν ὁ Ἱπποκλείδης χρόνον ἐκέλευσε τινὰ τράπεζαν ἐσενεῖκαι, ἐσελθούσης δὲ τῆς τραπέζης πρῶτα μὲν ἐπ᾽ αὐτῆς ὀρχήσατο Λακωνικὰ σχημάτια, μετὰ δὲ ἄλλα Ἀττικά, τὸ τρίτον δὲ τὴν κεφαλὴν ἐρείσας ἐπὶ τὴν τράπεζαν τοῖσι σκέλεσι ἐχειρονόμησε.  Κλεισθένης δὲ τὰ μὲν πρῶτα καὶ τὰ δεύτερα ὀρχεομένου, ἀποστυγέων γαμβρὸν ἄν οἱ ἔτι γενέσθαι Ἱπποκλείδεα διὰ τήν τε ὄρχησιν καὶ τὴν ἀναιδείην, κατεῖχε ἑωυτόν, οὐ βουλόμενος ἐκραγῆναι ἐς αὐτόν: ὡς δὲ εἶδε τοῖσι σκέλεσι χειρονομήσαντα, οὐκέτι κατέχειν δυνάμενος εἶπε ‘ὦ παῖ Τισάνδρου, ἀπορχήσαό γε μὲν τὸν γάμον.’ ὁ δὲ Ἱπποκλείδης ὑπολαβὼν εἶπε ‘οὐ φροντὶς Ἱπποκλείδῃ.’ ἀπὸ τούτου μὲν τοῦτο ὀνομάζεται.
Cleisthenes, the son of Aristonymus (who was in turn the son of Myron, and the grandson of Andreas) had a daughter called Agariste. Cleisthenes wanted to identify the best man of all the Greeks, and then to give him his daughter in marriage: an ambition which prompted him, during the same Olympic games as saw him win the four-horse chariot race, to issue a public announcement. “Any Greek who considers himself worthy of becoming my son-in-law should get to Sicyon within sixty days at the latest, since it is from that date onwards that I will be making my decision on the marriage – a decision I will arrive at after the passage of a year.” At this, every Greek with an elevated sense of himself and of his lineage headed straight off to Sicyon – where the suitors found waiting for them a running-track and a wrestling-ground, built specially for the purpose by Cleisthenes.
[127.] Italy was represented by two men: Smindyrides, the son of Hippocrates, who came from Sybaris, and who, at a time when the city stood at the very peak of its prosperity, lived a life of luxury such as no one had ever attained before; and Damasus, who came from Siris, and whose father was the Amyris whom people had nicknamed ‘the Wise’. Those were the suitors from Italy. Meanwhile, from the Ionian Gulf – or, to be more specific, from Epidamnus on the Ionian Gulf – came Amphimnestus, the son of Epistrophus. From Aetolia came Males, whose brother, Titormus, was the strongest man in Greece, but who had turned his back on human company by going to live in the remotest reaches of the Aetolian countryside. From the Peloponnese came Leocedes, whose father, Pheidon, had been the tyrant of Argos, and established the system of weights and measures used by the Peloponnesians; he had also, in a display of arrogance so overweening that no other Greek has ever matched it, given the Elean stewards of the Olympic games their marching orders, and presided over the games himself. There were other Peloponnesians too, as well as the son of Pheidon: Amiantus, the son of Lycurgus, an Arcadian from Trapezus; Laphanes, who was an Azanian from Paeus, and son of the Euphorion who once, according to the tale told in Arcadia, put up the Dioscuroi in his house, and from that moment on never refused any man his hospitality; and Onomastus, the son of Agaeus, who came from Elis. Then, alongside these suitors from the Peloponnese, there came two Athenians: Megacles, son of the Alcmaeon who had visited Croesus, and Hippocleides, who was the son of Tisander, and a man who for wealth and good looks had no superior in Athens. From Eretria, which at this time was highly flourishing, came Lysanias – but no one else from Euboea. Thessaly was represented by one of the Scopadae, Diactorides of Crannon, and the Molossians by Alcon.
[128.] So these were the suitors who came to Sicyon; and Cleisthenes, on the day that had been set as the deadline, began by asking them where they all came from, and what the lineage of each man was. He then kept them with him for a year, over the course of which he was forever testing the mettle of their qualities as men, their temperaments, their education and their dispositions, both one on one, and collectively. The younger ones he would take out to the gymnasia, but the really key tests came when they all ate together: for Cleisthenes, in addition to all his other activities over the period of their stay with him, proved a lavishly generous host. Now, it so happened that the suitors who particularly appealed to him were the pair who had arrived from Athens; and of the two of them, he preferred Hippocleides, the son of Tisander. Cleisthenes had been prompted to this judgement both by the many virtues that Hippocleides had as a man, and by the fact that he was related, courtesy of his ancestry, to the Cypselids of Corinth.
[129.] When the day dawned on which the marriage ceremony was due to be performed, and Cleisthenes to announce which of the various suitors he had chosen, he sacrificed a hundred oxen, and threw a great feast, to which both the suitors themselves and all the Siconyians were invited. Then, with the meal done, the suitors put on a competitive show of music and public speaking. As the wine flowed, so Hippocleides, who had established a clear lead over his rivals, ordered the oboe-player to strike up a jig on his oboe; and then, when the oboe-player did as instructed, began to dance. To the dancer himself, it appeared that he was cutting a tremendous dash; but Cleisthenes, who was watching the entire performance, was signally unimpressed. In due course, Hippocleides paused in his dancing and ordered someone to bring in a table – on which, once it had duly been fetched, he began to perform some Laconian dance moves, then some different Attic turns, before finally, for his third trick, standing on his head on the table, and moving his feet to the rhythm as though they were his hands. Cleisthenes, during the first and second of these dance routines, bit his tongue: for appalled though he now was, witnessing such a shameless display of dancing, at the notion of having Hippocleides as his son-in-law, he did not wish to make his displeasure public. The sight of Hippocleides pumping his legs in the air to the music, however, was the final straw. “Son of Tisander,” he declared, “you have danced away your marriage.” To which Hippocleides retorted: “Hippocleides could not care less!” And that was how the celebrated phrase first came to be uttered.
Chosen by Tom Holland, author, historian and presenter. http://www.tom-holland.org/