Sunday, May 14, 2006

# Posted 1:50 PM by Patrick Porter  

MOLON LABE: I still love this story:

In 480 BC, Xerxes (son of Darius, King of Persia) was in full preparation to invade Athens, the leader of the Greek city-states. King Leonidas of Sparta (Left), another city-state, had agreed to help stop the invading Persians, and marched with 300 hand-picked troops to Thermopylae on the north coast of Greece.

Thermopylae was the best of three possible defensive areas in which Xerxes' invading army had to advance. This mountain gap along the coast was about 60 feet wide, and was the best location for a blocking action.

When Leonidas was preparing to make his stand, a Persian envoy arrived. The envoy explained to Leonidas the futility of trying to resist the advance of the huge Persian army and demanded that the Spartans lay down their arms.

Leonidas told Xerxes "Molon Labe", or "Come And Get Them."
Laconic humour in the face of death. Mythology with an edge. Good stuff.

Not all the Harry Potter/Dan Brown cult novels in the world could give me so much pleasure.
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Serious men of few words, often funny. A soldier from Trachis who was with the Spartans reported that the Persians had so many bowman that their arrows would darken the sky. One of the Spartans, who had had his share of fighting on hot Greek days, responded that that was good because they'd get to fight in the shade. Or so said Herodotos, who preserved his name, Dienekes.
Once upon a time, the Macedonians decided to invade Sparta. Their king sent the following message:

"If I enter Lacedaemon, I shall raze it."

To which the Spartans replied:


Easily the most bad-ass quote in history
Sir Charles Napier, on conquering the province of Sind in 1843, is said to have announced victory in a telegram of a single word. It read: "peccavi", the latin for "I have sinned". Sadly it's apocryphal, but none the worse for that.
Plutarch's 'Sayings of the Lacedaemonians' has lots more. Here's one I recall. When the Spartas were suffering from famine, they sent an ambassador to a friendly neighboring city to ask for grain. He went to their assembly, held up an empty grain sack, and said "empty". When he got home, he was criticized for using one word too many: the empty sack spoke for itself.
Hard to beat Gen. Anthony McAuliffe at the Battle of the Bulge, when the Germans demanded he surrender: "Nuts."
Steven Pressfield has written a great historical novel on this battle and on Sparta in general, "Gates of Fire".

Check it the reader ratings on Amazon.
"We will welcome them with bullets and shoes." - Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf, a.k.a. "Baghdad Bob"
I could be mistaken, but my understanding of the exchange including 'molon labe' was after a pretty long fight, not upon the Persian's initial approach.
The initial stand at Thermopylae was made by about 7,000 Greeks, of which only 300 were Spartans, including their king Leonidas, who commanded the army.

Standing shoulder to shoulder in the narrow pass, the Greeks repulsed all Persian assaults for two days. Then a traitor, Ephialtes, showed the Persians a path through the mountains.

Leonidas then ordered the other Greeks to retreat, while the Spartans stood as rear guard. 700 Thespians also volunteered to stay behind. All died in the battle.

The exchange between Leonidas and the Persian heralds was before the fighting started.
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