EPAMINONDAS, Greek warrior and general, born (d: 362 B.C.E.); Considered to have been one of the great military geniuses of the ancient world, he is included here, on Christmas Day, not because of his victories in battle, but because he was revered for his moral character. He was revered, too, since he had risen from an impoverished family because of his goodness, strength and character.

Epaminondas was well educated; his musical teachers were among the best in their disciplines, as was his dance instructor. Most notably, his philosophy instructor Lysis of Tarentum (who had come to live with Polymnis in his exile) was one of the last major Pythagorean philosophers. Epaminondas was devoted to Lysis and was noted for his excellence in philosophical studies.

Not merely an academic, Epaminondas was noted for his physical prowess, and in his youth he devoted much time to strengthening and preparing himself for combat. In 385 B.C.E., in a skirmish near the city of Mantinea, Epaminondas, at great risk to his own life, saved the life of his future partner Pelopidas, an act thought to have cemented the life-long friendship between the two.

He was, like most Greek warriors, homosexual – but with a difference. He never married and did not produce an heir. His delight in boys was complete in itself for him. His two favorite boys, Asopichus and Leuctra, both fell in battle, as did Epaminondas. Both, by his order, are buried in his tomb.