Saturday, February 17, 2007

The Pass With Warm Springs

Hot Air has a new clip of the movie the 300 coming out March 9, 2007.

The title of this post is the translation my copy of Herodotus' the Histories has for Thermopylae. He also relates that although the Heraclid Leonidas (the King of Sparta and descendant of Hercules), had the famous 300 heavily armored men, there were others there initially. "500 from Tegea and another 500 from Mantinea, 120 from Orchomenus in Arcadia, and 1000 from the rest of Arcadia and their were 400 from Corinth, 200 from Phleious, and 80 from Mycenae." Also "Boetia supplied 700 from Thespiae and 400 from Thebes." So at the begining before Leonidas orders the allies away there were 4000 greeks. There were, according to Herodotus, millions of men under Xerxes of the Persian Empire. The Emperor of Persia had come to add all of Greece to his vast holdings.

Xerxes sent a scout who saw the "Lacedaemonians" outside the walls "excercising naked and combing their hair." Xerxes did not buy that they were going to fight to the death. In fact, says old man Herodotus "Their behavior struck him as laughable."

He calls on a former King of Greeks and now advisor to him, Demaratus who says "I told you about these men before..when we were setting out for Greece. You laughed at me then...These men have come to fight us for this pass and they are getting ready to do just that. It is their custom to do their hair when they are about to risk their lives." He then told Xerxes that if he was lying or wrong he could be killed.

Four days go by and Xerxes sends in the Medes and they "die in large numbers" which makes clear to Xerxes that "although he had many troops, hed did not have many men." (old H knows how to twist the knife).

Then he sends in his best Persian unit "the Immortals." But the closed confines and longer speers of the Greeks tell again. "The Lacedemonians fought a memorable battle; they made it quite clear that they were the experts, adn that they were fighting against amatuers." (twist, twist).

A Greek traitor shows Xerxes a path that lets him flank the Greeks. Leonidas sends all the other Greeks back to defend their towns. Leonidas believed that staying "would win great renown, and would also preserve Sparta in its prosperity." He thought this because the Oracle at Delphi had prophesized that either the City of Sparta would be destroyed "by men descended from Perseus" or it would not "But the Borders of Lacedaemon will mourn the death of a king descended form Heracles." So to fufill the prophecy, save Sparta and "lay up a store of fame for Sparta alone" Leonidas determines to hold the pass without allies. Only the Thespians and Thebans stayed, the latter as hostages (and they eventually ran and surrendered).

Because they knew they would die from the flanking maneuver, the Spartans "rode out" to meet Xerxes. The Persians used whips and spears to impel their men forward. Many were trampled or plunged into the sea. Leonidas, surrounded by foes, fell. The Spartans repelled the Persians four times to save his body and drag it back to the wall (where in Herodotus' time and maybe now a stone lion stood to mark his death). The Spartans fought with knives hands and teeth if necessary while the Persians buried them in arrows.

Bravest of all, it was said, was Dianeces, who when told the Persians were so numerous that "when they fired their bows, they hid the sun with the mass of arrows" replied "All to the good, my friend for I prefer to fight in the shade."

All of them died and Xerxes violated Persian custom to desecrate Leonidas body because, "of all the men in the world" he had most vexed the Emperor.

And a memorial went up there, referring to holding the pass before Leonidas sent the greeks away, "Here once were three million of the foe opposed by four thousand from the Peloponnese." and for the Spartans alone "Stranger, tell the people of Lacedaemon that we who lie here obeyed their command."

Anyway, Xerxes does not listen to Demaratus' good advice on how to pin down the rest of Sparta while he takes Greece apart piecemeal and eventually loses.

This new movie looks awesome. Sparta built no walls (her men were her walls) and almost nothing now exists of its brutal society. But Leonidas and the 300 built a legend that has stood 2500 years. A good day to die.

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