Ancient Hoplites

Ancient Hoplites

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Farwell to Lacedaemon - An Excerpt from "A Heroic King"

In remembering the stand of Leonidas, the Three Hundred and the Thespeians at Thermopylae, we often forget the impact of their loss on those who loved them. 
In this excerpt from “A Heroic King” Leonidas’ daughter and wife face his impending departure.



Agiatis was sitting at the end of the pier, clutching her knees and holding her face down on top of them. Gorgo eased herself down beside her daughter and pulled Agiatis into her arms.

“Why?” Agiatis burst out instantly, coming up for air, then burying her face again, this time in her mother’s lap to wail like a little child.

Gorgo held her close. Agiatis’ sobbing shook her whole body and her tears soaked through Gorgo’s skirts. Gorgo started to rock back and forth in an age-old gesture of motherly love. “Hush, sweetheart, hush.”

“But why does he have to do it? Doesn’t he love us even a little? Why does Sparta always have to come first? Why?”

“Oh, sweetheart! Do you really not see?” Gorgo was genuinely surprised by her daughter’s misunderstanding. “This isn’t about Sparta at allit is about us.”

“Then let Leotychidas die! No one would even miss him!”

“Of course not, but no one would follow him, either,” Gorgo reminded her daughter.

“The army has to!” Agiatis spat back furiously. “He’s a king, too!”

“Many of our citizens think he’s not. They think Demaratus is the rightful king. And even if they obeyed Leotychidas out of respect for our laws, the Confederation would notand so everyone would fight alone and would be defeated alone, and then the Persians would keep coming, unstoppable, to destroy us.”

Agiatis sat upright, revealing her puffy, red face. She wiped her running nose on the back of her armas if she were four rather than fourteenand argued, “But if Leotychidas were killed fighting up north, then Dad could lead the defense here successfully, because the prophecy would already be fulfilled.”

“Oh, sweetheart, why do you think Leotychidas would die just because he went north? He is far more likely to accept a Persian bribe or just run away. And if he’s not Sparta’s rightful king, then even his death would not appease Zeus. Either way, your father would be left to rally what is left of our forces in a hopeless situation, and his life would still be forfeitor we would be destroyed. Maybe both. Surely you see that he needs to make his sacrifice militarily meaningful to ensure his death brings us safety and freedom?”

Agiatis stared at her mother stubbornly, unwilling to admit that she could see her mother’s point. Gorgo understood her silence, and pulled her daughter back into her arms to hold her. They clung to each other for a few moments in silence; then Gorgo loosed her hold a little to stroke her daughter’s soft, slender arms and comb her tangled, tear-wet hair out of her face. “Agiatis, you have to apologize to your father.”

Agiatis didn’t answer, but she squirmed defiantly in Gorgo’s arms and shook her head. She pressed her face into Gorgo’s lap again.

“You have to,” Gorgo insisted gently but firmly, “not for his sakehe knows how much you love him, and he will forgive you whether you ask it of him or not. You have to go back and tell him how much you love him because if you don’t, you will hate yourself for the rest of your life.” Agiatis went dead still and Gorgo continued, “You do not want to live with the memory that the last words you said to your father before he died for you were, ‘I hate you.’”

“My last words were, ‘I’ll never forgive you. Never,’” Agiatis corrected her mother.

“Is that better? Is that what you want to remember as your last exchange with your father? Do you want your last memory of him to be his wounded face when you flung those words at him?”

Agiatis sat up again and looked straight at her mother. Tears were brimming in her eyes. “Oh, Mom, it’s not fair!”

That was too much for Gorgo. Her own throat was already cramping from trying to hold back tears, and suddenly she couldn’t anymore. She pulled Agiatis back into her arms and surrendered to her own emotions, sobbing almost as hard as her daughter had only a few moments earlier.

Gorgo’s self-indulgence did not last long. After a little while she drew back, wiped the tears from her face, and turned Agiatis to face her. “We have to pull ourselves together and make sure that your father’s last memories of us are comforting onesimages to warm and cheer him not only as he marches into battle, but into the darkness of the underworld itself.”

This time Agiatis nodded. In fact, she took a deep breath and announced, “You’re right, Mom. We will. We will be better than Andromache for Hektor, because there are two of usand Dad’s going to win. Sparta isn’t going to fall like Troy. You will never be a foreign prince’s slave, and no Persian will rape me and make me serve him like a whore! And no one would dare mutilate Dad’s corpse, because the Guard will defend it and bring it home, and he will be buried right here on the banks of the Eurotas he loved. And we’ll put up a monument to him, like the one over Kastor’s grave, and we’ll visit him there, and talk to him, and tell him how happy we are. How good Lakrates is to mehe is a good man, isn’t he?”

“He’s a delightful young man,” Gorgo assured her. “With a wonderful sense of humor, as well as being a brilliant armed runner and javelin thrower.”

Agiatis nodded, satisfied. “All right. Then we’d better go fix ourselves up so Dad can’t tell we’ve been crying.”

“Exactly,” Gorgo agreed. They helped each other up and, hand in hand, walked down the pier and headed back for the house.

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Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Come and Take Them!

In honor of those who died at Thermopylae

Modern Monument to Leonidas at Thermopylae
The following is an excerpt from a longer poem written by Simonides about the Battle of Thermopylae in English translation:



Of those who died

at Thermopylae,

glorious is the fortune,

fair is the fate.

Their grave is an altar.

Instead of lamentation,

they have remembrance,

for pity they have praise.

Such a shroud

neither mold

nor all-subduing time

can make obscure.

This shrine of noble men

chose the good reputation of Greece

as its inhabitant.

Leonidas also bears witness,

king of Sparta,

who left behind a great adornment

of valor and ever-flowing fame.

The Hot Springs Today


 The Monument to the Thespian 700



The Pass as it is Today

The Battle of Thermopylae is described in detail in "A Heroic King":

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