Ancient Hoplites

Ancient Hoplites

Sunday, March 15, 2020

A Spartan Father - An Excerpt from A Heroic King

The historical record is silent about Leonidas as a father. A novelist, however, is free to imagine. 
In the scene  below, Leonidas, not yet king, is speaking with a Persian cavalry commander who has come with the Persian Ambassador to Sparta to learn more about the Spartan army. He has just witnessed the Spartan army at drill and Leonidas has challenged him to charge a phalanx on horseback together.

Zopyrus smiled graciously and bowed his head to the king's brother. "No, my lord. I know you would win because your horse is familiar with a Spartan phalanx and mine is not. What price do you want for him?"

"For who?"

"Your horse, my lord," Zopryus replied with a smile.

 The king's brother smiled but shook his head. "He is not for sale."

"I'll give you ten gold pieces," Zopyrus offered extravagantly. No horse was worth that much, but he wanted to both show that he could afford it and indicate he was not about to haggle. He wanted the horse.

"He's not for sale," the king's brother repeated more firmly. He was no longer smiling.

"Twenty," Zopyrus retorted. He hated being thwarted in anything, and he wanted to show he would have his way at any price.

"Sir, you could offer me the entire Persian treasury, and the answer would be the same. He is not for sale."

"No horse is priceless," Zopyrus scoffed.

"I did not say he was priceless; I said he is not for sale. I do not sell the things I love at any price."

Zopyrus laughed. "You are a strange man. What did you say your name was?"


"The Lion's Son. Do you not resent that your brother, your twin, is a king and you are given no honors? In Persia, the twin brother of the king would be the second greatest nobleman in the realm, with vast powers and riches."

Leonidas smiled but replied earnestly. "In Persia, I do not believe the twin brother of the king would be allowed to live at all."

Zopyrus was caught off guard by this perceptive remark. Although he had given it no thought until now, he realized that no king with absolute power could risk having a living twin. 

Zopyrus' curiosity was aroused. "Do you have many sons, Leonidas?"

"I have one son and one daughter."

"Is that all?" Zopyrus was flabbergasted. Leonidas looked about forty years old, an age at which a Persian nobleman usually ha scores of children.

"I lost two children in a fire," Leonidas conceded, his face closed, and he quickly asked back, "And you?"

"I have seven sons by my wives and another nine by concubines."

"And daughters?"

"I don't keep track of them," Zopyrus replied, dismissing the nuisances. Each female child was a wasted pregnancy and an added expense. 

"You are a poor man." Leonidas turned his horse around and started riding down from the hillock, his big horse on a loose rein.

"Poor?" Zopyrus' temper flared, and he put his heels to his stallion so that with a leap he was beside Leonidas again. "You dare to call me poor when you ride around on a plow horse and have only one son?"
Leonidas pulled up and stared at the Persian. "Tell me, what was the first word your eldest son said?"

"How should I know?" Zopyrus dismissed the question irritably. "Nursery talk is for women and eunuchs. What matters is that I have seven legitimate sons who will carry on my line and nine more that carry my blood! They will grow up to be great warriors!"

"I have a thousand boys who call me 'father,'" Leonidas countered, "and each of them is being forged into a splendid soldier, but my son -- and my daughter -- have enriched me beyond measure with their smiles and temper tantrums and the trust in their eyes when I take them in my arms.  You are a poor man, Persian, who has never known the joy of a little girl's laugh or the peace of holding a sleeping infant in your arms."

Zopyrus had no answer for this speech. It was incomprehensible to him. They were both speaking Greek, but they clearly did not understand each other.

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