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Presently a Persian on horseback rode camp, and offered, for a great sum of up to reconnoiter the pass. He could money, to show the mountain path that not see over the wall, but in front of it would enable the enemy to take the brave and on the ramparts, he saw the Spar- defenders in the rear! A Persian gentans, some of them engaged in active eral, named Hydarnes, was sent off at sports, and others in combing their long night-fall with a detachment to secure hair. He rode back to the king, and this passage, and was guided through told him what he had seen. Now, the thick forests that clothed the hillXerxes had in his camp an exiled Spartanside. In the stillness of the air, at dayPrince, named Demaratus, who had break, the Phocian guards of the path become a traitor to his country, and was were startled by the crackling of the serving as counselor to the enemy.
chestnut leaves under the tread of many Xerxes sent for him, and asked whether feet. They started up, but a shower of his countrymen were mad to be thus arrows was discharged on them, and foremployed instead of fleeing away; but getting all save the present alarm, they Demaratus made answer that a hard fled to a higher part of the mountain, fight was no doubt in preparation, and and the enemy, without waiting to purthat it was the custom of the Spartans sue them, began to descend. to array their hair with especial care As day dawned, morning light showed when they were about to enter upon any the watchers of the Grecian camp below great peril. Xerxes would, however, not a glittering and shimmering in the torrent believe that so petty a force could intend bed where the shaggy forests opened; but to resist him, and waited four days, it was not the sparkle of water, but the probably expecting his fleet to assist shine of gilded helmets and the gleaming him, but as it did not appear, the attack
of silvered spears.
Moreover, a Cimwas made.
merian crept over to the wall from the The Greeks, stronger men and more Persian camp with tidings that the path heavily armed, were far better able to had been betrayed, that the enemy were fight to advantage than the Persians climbing it, and would come down bewith their short spears and wicker shields, yond the Eastern Gate. Still, the way and beat them off with great ease.
It is was rugged and circuitous, the Persians said that Xerxes three times leapt off his would hardly descend before midday, throne in despair at the sight of his and there was ample time for the Greeks troops being driven backwards; and thus to escape before they could thus be shut for two days it seemed as easy to force in by the enemy. a way through the Spartans as through There was a short council held over the the rocks themselves. Nay, how could morning sacrifice. Megistias, the seer, slavish troops, dragged from home to on inspecting the entrails of the slain spread the victories of an ambitious king, victim, declared, as well he might, that fight like freemen who felt that their their appearance boded disaster. Him strokes were to defend their homes and Leonidas ordered to retire, but he refused, children?
though he sent home his only son. There But on that evening a wretched man, was no disgrace to an ordinary tone of named Ephialtes, crept into the Persian mind in leaving a post that could not be
held, and Leonidas recommended all the gone, and Leonidas gave the word to his allied troops under his command to men to take their last meal. “Tomarch away while yet the way was open. night," he said,
night," he said, "we shall sup with As to himself and his Spartans, they had Pluto." made up their minds to die at their post, Hitherto, he had stood on the defenand there could be no doubt that the sive, and had husbanded the lives of his example of such a resolution would do men; but he now desired to make as more to save Greece than their best great a slaughter as possible, so as to efforts could ever do if they were careful inspire the enemy with dread of the Greto reserve themselves for another occa
He therefore marched out sion.
beyond the wall, without waiting to be All the allies consented to retreat, attacked, and the battle began. The except the eighty men who came from Persian captains went behind their Mycenae and the 700 Thespians, who wretched troops and scourged them on declared that they would not desert to the fight with whips! Poor wretches, Leonidas. There were also 400 Thebans they were driven on to be slaughtered, who remained; and thus the whole num pierced with the Greek spears, hurled ber that stayed with Leonidas to confront into the sea, or trampled into the mud of two million of enemies were 1400 war the morass; but their inexhaustible numriors, besides the helots or attendants on bers told at length. The spears of the the 300 Spartans, whose number is not Greeks broke under hard service, and known, but there was probably at least their swords alone remained; they began one to each. Leonidas had two kinsmen to fall, and Leonidas himself was among in the camp, like himself, claiming the the first of the slain. Hotter than ever blood of Hercules, and he tried to save was the fight over his corpse, and two them by giving them letters and messages Persian princes, brothers of Xerxes, were to Sparta; but one answered that "he there killed; but at length word was had come to fight, not to carry letters"; brought that Hydarnes was over the and the other, that "his deeds would tell pass, and that the few remaining men all that Sparta wished to know.” Another were thus enclosed on all sides. The Spartan, named Dienices, when told that Spartans and Thespians made their way the enemy's archers were so numerous to a little hillock within the wall, resolved that their arrows darkened the sun, re to let this be the place of their last stand; plied, "So much the better, we shall fight but the hearts of the Thebans failed in the shade.” Two of the 300 had been them, and they came towards the Persent to a neighboring village, suffering sians holding out their hands in entreaty severely from a complaint in the eyes. for mercy. Quarter was given to them, One of them, called Eurytus, put on his but they were all branded with the king's armor, and commanded his helot to lead mark as untrustworthy deserters. The him to his place in the ranks; the other, helots probably at this time escaped into called Aristodemus, was so overpowered the mountains; while the small desperate with illness that he allowed himself to band stood side by side on the hill still be carried away with the retreating allies. fighting to the last, some with swords, It was still early in the day when all were others with daggers, others even with
their hands and teeth, till not one living “Here did four thousand men from Pelops' man remained amongst them when the
land sun went down. There was only a
Against three hundred myriads bravely
stand.” mound of slain, bristled over with arrows.
In honor of the Spartans was another Twenty thousand Persians had died columnbefore that handful of men! Xerxes
“Go, traveler, to Sparta tell asked Demaratus if there were many That here, obeying her, we fell." more at Sparta like these, and was told
On the little hillock of the last resistthere were 8,000. It must have been
ance was placed the figure of a stone lion, with a somewhat failing heart that he
in memory of Leonidas, so fitly named invited his courtiers from the fleet to see
the lion-like; and Simonides, at his own what he had done to the men who dared
expense, erected a pillar to his friend, the to oppose him, and showed them the head and arm of Leonidas set up upon a
seer Megistiascross; but he took care that all his own “The great Megistias' tomb you here may slain, except 1,000, should first be put
view, out of sight. The body of the brave
Who slew the Medes, fresh from Spercheius king was buried where he fell, as were
Well the wise seer the coming death foreknew, those of the other dead. Much envied
Yet scorn'd he to forsake his Spartan lords." were they by the unhappy Aristodemus, who found himself called by no name but The names of the 300 were likewise the “Coward,” and was shunned by all his fellow-citizens. No one would give him fire or water, and after a year of long since passed away, even the very misery, he redeemed his honor by perish-spot itself has changed; new soil has been ing in the forefront of the battle of formed, and there are miles of solid Platæa, which was the last blow that ground between Mount Oeta and the drove the Persians ingloriously from gulf, so that the Hot Gates no longer Greece.
exist. But more enduring than stone The Greeks then united in doing honor or brass-nay, than the very battle-field to the brave warriors who, had they been itself — has been the name of Leonidas. better supported, might have saved the Two thousand three hundred years have whole country from invasion. The poet sped since he braced himself to perish Simonides wrote the inscriptions that for his country's sake in that narrow, were engraved upon the pillars that were marshy coast road, under the brow of the set up in the pass to commemorate this wooded crags, with the sea by his side. great action. One was outside the wall, Since that time how many hearts have where most of the fighting had been glowed, how many arms have been It seems to have been in honor of the nerved at the remembrance of the Pass whole number who had for two days of Thermopylae, and the defeat that was resisted
worth so much more than a victory!
. Forsooth he cometh unto you with a tale which holdeth children from play, and old men from the chimney corner; and, pretending no more, doth intend the winning of the mind from wickedness to virtue even as the child is often brought to take most wholesome things by hiding them in such others as have a pleasant taste.
-Sir Philip Sidney, An Apologie for Poetrie.