In the United States, when the name, Benedict Arnold is mentioned, everyone immediately thinks, “traitor.” What General Arnold did to undermine the American Revolution and figuratively stab George Washington in the back, has resonated through this country for the last 243 years, and his name shall live on in infamy.
Go back another 2,000 years, and another name, even more infamous than General Arnold, is Judas Iscariot. The betrayer of Jesus Christ, Judas’ name has been placed on the pantheon of traitors that is the collective history of the world, together with such others as Guy Fawkes, Brutus, Wang Jingwei, and Mir Jafar.
However, there is another that reeks of treachery and betrayal who sold out his country. A man named Efialtis of Trachis.
Some of you may know who he is, and probably heard his name but cannot place it. Sometime in 480 BC, as King Leonidas and his 300 Spartans and almost 3,900 Greek allies, held the pass at Thermopylae against King Xerxes I and his Persian forces, it was Efialtis, who lived in the area near the sight of the battle, that led the Persian Immortals through a trail known to the locals that circumvented the pass. The Persians now outflanked the Greeks. King Leonidas sent the allies to safety as he, his Spartans, and about 700 Thespians, remained to defend the pass. As we all know, the Spartans and Thespians died to a man in defense of Hellas.
Efialtis expected to be rewarded by Xerxes for his betrayal but he received nothing. After the Battle of Salamis, he fled to Thessaly. A reward was announced for the death of Efialtis and ten years later, a man named Athenades of Trachis killed him for unrelated reasons. Athenades was then pleasantly surprised to receive the reward for the killing of this traitor.
For centuries after, every Greek has remembered this traitor, but not only for what he did, but what his name has become in the lexicon of the Greek language. Simply, Efialtis (Εφιάλτης) translated into English is nightmare. The Greeks so despised the treachery of this man that his name has become synonymous with the word for a frightening and terrifying dream.
History has recorded the names of traitors who will be remembered for their wickedness, some more than others, but the name of Efialtis has transcended even them and has become a word in a 3,000 year old language.
He should have stayed home that day.