Here we are again for our weekly appointment with illustrious women! This week our protagonist is the Sicilian Harmonia, praised by Boccaccio for her strength of mind and her compassion.
Daughter of Gelone, who was the brother of the tyrant of Syracuse Hieron, she almost survived the massacre of the detested royal family thanks to the sacrifice of a servant. Her story took place in 214 BC, when Hieronymus, son of Hieron, ascended to the throne at a very young age. Because of his cruelty, he became so hated by the Syracusans that they killed him in a popular riot. The other members of the royal family suffered the same fate: Andranodoro, son-in-law of Hieron, Temistio, brother-in-law of Hieronymus, and Damarata and Erissa, daughters of Hieron, were all murdered along with him. Therefore, to save Harmonia, her nurse decided to make a girl of her age take her place by dressing her with royal garments. The faithful servant did not reveal her true identity and, mistaken for her mistress, was killed in her place. Harmonia, however, could not accept to live because of the sacrifice of an innocent: she thus turned herself in to the executioners, revealing her real identity, and was slaughtered as well.
The brave and honest Harmonia, who refused to let someone else die in her place, was celebrated by Boccaccio and by Valerius Maximus before him. Even if her life was taken so soon, her fearless decision to face death made her immortal.
“Harmonia”, illumination from the manuscript “De Mulieribus Claris”, decorated by Robinet Testard, ms. Français 599, f. 59r, 1488-1496, Bibliothèque nationale de France, Département des Manuscrits, Paris.