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The Myrmidons, the soldiers from Achilles's homeland of Thessaly who are under his command in the Iliad, get their name from myrmex or ants. Achilles himself is the arch-Myrmidon. In Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida, Ulysses refers to him as:

          the great Myrmidon,
who broils in loud applause (I.iii.386–387).

There are at least two legends about the origins of the Myrmidons. The first is referenced by the 2nd C. theologian Clement of Alexandria in his Exhortations to the Greeks:

What else of the Thessalians? They are reported to worship ants, because they have been taught that Zeus, in the likeness of an ant, had intercourse with Eurymedusa the daughter of Cletor and begat Myrmidon. (Book 2)

The second says that Myrmidons were the descendants of ants on the island of Aegina, whom Zeus transformed into human beings. This legend can be traced as far back as Hesiod, Fragment 76:

And she conceived, and bare knightly Aiakos. But when he came to the measure of lovely youth, he chafed because he was alone. And the Father of men and gods made all the ants that were within the pleasant island men and deep-girdled women. And these were the first who benched curved ships, and the first who set sails as wings of the seafaring ship.

This legend is elaborated in Ovid's Metamorphoses, Book 7. Juno, jealous because the island of Aegina was named after one of Jupiter's lovers, sent a plague that killed all the men there save the king, Aeacus, and his three sons. Aeacus prayed to Jupiter asking for the island to be repopulated, and Jupiter turned its ants into men.

The Myrmidons retain the industriousness, discipline, and martial valor of their ant forebears. Matthew Sears has argued that these qualities, attributable to their mythological origins, make them the elite infantry of the Iliad.

Some two thousand years after Ovid, contemporary mythology also furnishes an example of ant-like heroes. Three individuals in the Marvel Comics universe are identified with the superhero Ant-Man, a founding member of the Avengers. They are Hank Pym, Scott Lang, and Eric O'Grady. The first originated this superhero identity. The latter two later serially usurped that identity by stealing the Ant-Man costume. Within the universe, each has his own back story and adventures. However, all use a cybernetic helmet, part of the Ant-Man costume, to communicate with and control ants. In this way, Ant-Man is like a latter-day Achilles commanding his army of Myrmidons.

There are other parallels between the story of Achilles and the contemporary Ant-Man mythology. For example, Pym becomes Ant-Man to avenge the death of his beloved wife Maria Trovaya, while Achilles enters the Trojan war only after his lover Patroclus is killed. Additionally both Lang and O'Grady lead rather less than heroic lives before assuming the mantle of Ant-Man, while Achilles spends some time disguised as a woman in an attempt to evade joining the Greek heroes gathering for war (Statius, Book 1, ll.590 ff).

But in the absence of specific allusions, such parallels are tenuous and could be explained away as coincidence. So the question is: Is there any evidence that Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, and Jack Kirby, the creators of Ant-Man, deliberately associated that superhero with Achilles and his fellow Myrmidons? Do plot lines or allusions within the comics explicitly make this connection? Does a knowledge of the mythological Myrmidons deepen our understanding or enjoyment of the Ant-Man stories?

References

Clement of Alexandria. Exhortation to the Greeks. Loeb Classical Library. www.theoi.com/Text/ClementExhortation1.html. Retrieved 16 Jan 2021.

Hesiod. The Poems and Fragments. Trans. and Intro. A. W. Mair. Oxford: Clarendon, 1908. archive.org/stream/hesiodpoemsandf00mairgoog/hesiodpoemsandf00mairgoog_djvu.txt. Retrieved 16 Jan 2021.

Homer. The Iliad. Trans. A. S. Kline. 2009. www.poetryintranslation.com/PITBR/Greek/Ilhome.php. Retrieved 16 Jan 2021.

Ovid. Metamorphoses. Trans. Brookes More. Boston: Cornhill, 1922. www.theoi.com/Text/OvidMetamorphoses1.html. Retrieved 16 Jan 2021.

Sears, Matthew. “Warrior Ants: Elite Troops in the Iliad.” The Classical World, vol. 103, no. 2, 2010, pp. 139–155. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/40599925. Accessed 17 Jan. 2021.

Shakespeare, William. Troilus and Cressida. 1602. shakespeare.folger.edu/shakespeares-works/troilus-and-cressida/. Retrieved 16 Jan 2021.

Statius. Thebaid, Achilleid. Trans. J. H. Mozley. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1928. www.theoi.com/Text/StatiusAchilleid1A.html. Retrieved 16 Jan 2021.

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  • TIL that Patroclus has been cast as Achilles's lover. I had thought they were relatives. – Rand al'Thor Jan 17 at 13:14
  • @Randal'Thor Zeus and Hera were siblings. I don’t think “relative” precludes “lover” in Greek and Roman myth .... – verbose Jan 17 at 17:48
  • Ant-man was a throwaway hero created to fill a dozen pages in a pulp. He wasn't even a superhero when he was created, just a scientist guy who shrank down and got chased around by ants and bees. usatoday30.usatoday.com/life/movies/news/… – Valorum Jan 17 at 21:21
  • Patroclus was, indeed, Achilles’s lover. The ancient Greeks were pretty clear about that. In the movie Troy he is referred to as his cousin (which he may also have been), probably because the writers and/or director and/or producers were too chicken to give the full story. Plato, in the Symposium, is quite explicit about it. Aeschylus wrote a play, of which only a few fragments survive, titled The Myrmidons. In it, Achilles professes his love (eros, the Greek word for specifically sexual love) for Patroclus, and specifies that the two have had, at least, specifically interfemoral intercourse. – Valerie Voigt Jan 24 at 13:44
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I would not call Ant-Man a Myrmidon because he is not actually descended from ants, nor does he come from them in any way. He is able to command ants by using his ant-antennaed helmet.

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    Welcome to the site! The question asks about the inspiration for Ant-Man, whether there's any evidence that his creators deliberately associated him with the Myrmidons of classical mythology. The information about Patroclus is interesting but tangential; I'm not sure if this really answers the question that's being asked here? – Rand al'Thor Jan 24 at 16:31
  • As the asker, I think the first sentence of this reply fully answers the question. By definition myrmidon requires a descent from ants, and Ant-Man isn’t so descended. I agree that the second paragraph is irrelevant and should be in a comment to the q rather than in the answer, but I don’t get the downvotes; the answer does satisfy me. – verbose Jan 24 at 21:14

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