Molon labe (mo-lone lah-veh)
Two little words. With these two words, two concepts were verbalized that have lived for nearly two and a half Millennia. They signify and characterize both the heart of the Warrior, and the indomitable spirit of mankind. From the ancient Greek, they are the reply of the Spartan General-King Leonidas to Xerxes, the Persian Emperor who came with 600,000 of the fiercest fighting troops in the world to conquer and invade little Greece, then the center and birthplace of civilization as we know it. When Xerxes offered to spare the lives of Leonidas, his 300 personal bodyguards and a handful of Thebans and others who volunteered to defend their country, if they would lay down their arms, Leonidas shouted these two words back. Molon Labe! (mo-lone lah-veh) They mean, Come and get them! They live on today as the most notable quote in military history. And so began the classic example of courage and valor in its dismissal of overwhelming superiority of numbers, wherein the heart and spirit of brave men overcame insuperable odds. Today, there lies a plaque dedicated to these heroes all at the site. It reads: Go tell the Spartans, travelers passing by, that here, obedient to their laws we lie.
Molon Labe: A Response to Tyranny
Go and tell the Spartans, stranger passing by,
That here, obedient to their laws, we lie.
In the 5th century BC, mankind was still living the way he had been since the dawn of history. Existing in either scattered tribal villages or in kingdoms and empires ruled by god-kings. All except for one rocky corner of the Mediterranean world where a new idea had taken root: the concept of free citizens who owed allegiance to their nation and not a king. They were imperfect, true; women's rights were, well, a non-concept and although racism was largely unknown, equal-opportunity slavery was widespread. Still and all, though, they enjoyed a measure of freedom unknown in the stagnant empires of the Nile, Yangtze, Indus, and Tigris-Euphrates river valleys. They were not subjects, they were the world's prototypical citizens. Unfortunately, just across the Aegean Sea the largest empire in the known world was looking Westward with greedy eyes. When word reached them that Emperor Xerxes of Persia was crossing the Dardanelles with an army of as many as 250,000 men, prospects for their continued freedom looked grim indeed.
It would take time for the scattered city-states to raise their armies of citizen-soldiers, so those that could sent what contingents were available to serve in a 'Multinational Field Force' commanded by one of the two elected kings of Sparta, Leonidas. With its backbone provided by Leonidas' bodyguard of 300 Spartan soldiers, the force numbered some 4,000. Leonidas positioned this group at the 'Hot Gates'; Thermopylae, a narrow place on the coast road from the north, to hold back the Persian advance and buy time for the rest of the city-states to issue the call to arms. Manning a hastily-constructed wall across the narrow strip between mountains and sea, it was not long before the Greeks faced the massive Persian host assembled on the thin strip of coast ahead of them. When the defenders were not impressed into surrender by the sight of his army, Xerxes sent forth a herald offering simple terms Lay down your weapons, and you will be allowed to live. Leonidas responded with the only answer a free citizen can give to that question!
Last Modified by Melinda & Kirby Wright 09 April 2007 0710.
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