This article gives almost the same definition of a Pyrrhic victory as had always been given to me, but not quite…what interests me is that it arrives there by a totally different route. As the character here predates my Pyrrhus by some 200 years I’m perfectly prepared to concede that this is the correct explanation, but would appreciate any suggestion as to links between the two.
As the thread title kind’ve gave away, my Pyrrhus is in Virgil’s epic poem “The Aeneid”. If memory serves (it has been some years) he’s a prince, son of Achilles, and one of the main driving forces behind the sack of Troy. What I DEFINITELY remember is that he kills King Priam of Troy while Aeneas watches on.
My classics teacher (in accordance with all classics teachers everywhere) was one of these folk who like to talk around the subject at hand - so while studying this passage we were treated to an explanation of “Pyrrhic victory” which relates to THIS Pyrrhus’s eventual death at the hands of Orestes. Probably over a woman. It was usually over a woman. My memory is hazy, and had I a copy of the Aeneid to hand I would look it up instead (although I don’t recall being specifically told that it was in the Aeneid…) but my understanding of it was that Pyrrhus was killed in rather lacklustre fashion, having just put on a fine display of swordsmanship to fight his way through a lot of opponents.
In other words, he went to great lengths to fight off a group of adversaries and won a great battle…but left himself exhausted and totally vulnerable to a quick jab from Orestes. Boom. Hollow, or Pyrrhic, victory.
…now, of course, Virgil wrote in 19BC - long after the exploits of this Pyrrhus. But the time he was writing about was the fall of Troy - long BEFORE the exploits of this Pyrrhus. The logical explanation would seem to be (and it appeals, as it adds another layer to the epic) that the common folk for whom Virgil was writing would be familiar with tales of King Pyrrhus’s hollow victories and decided to name a fictional character who suffered a similar victory after him…but the Aeneid was also quasi-historical, and drew heavily on myths that were already in existence so he could equally well have been incorporating an existing tale into his poem, no?
Anyway - I hope someone can help out. I’m intrigued by this whole thing.