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LEONIDAS, SON OF ANAXANDRIDAS 1


Leonidas, the son of Anaxandridas and the brother of Cleomenes, in answer to a man who remarked, ‘Except for your being king, you are no different from the rest of us,’ said, ‘But if I were no better than you others, I should not be king.’


His wife Gorgo inquired, at the time when he was setting forth to Thermopylae to fight the Persian, if he had any instructions to give her, and he said, ‘To marry good men and bear good children.’ 2


When the Ephors said that he was taking but few men to Thermopylae, he said, ‘Too many for the enterprise on which we are going.’ 3


And when again they said, ‘Hae ye decided to dae aught else save to keep the barbarians from gettin' by?’ ‘Nominally that,’ he said, ‘but actually expecting to die for the Greeks.’


When he had arrived at Thermopylae, he said to his comrades in arms, ‘ They say that the barbarian [p. 349] has come near and is comin' on while we are wastin' time. Truth, soon we shall either kill the barbarians, or else we are bound to be killed oursel's.’


When someone said, ‘Because of the arrows of the barbarians it is impossible to see the sun,’ he said, ‘Won't it be nice, then, if we shall have shade in which to fight them ?’ 4


When someone else said, ‘They are near to us,’ he said, ‘ Then we also are near to them.’ 5


When someone said, ‘Leonidas, are you here to take such a hazardous risk with so few men against so many ?’ he said, ‘If you men think that I rely on numbers, then all Greece is not sufficient, for it is but a small fraction of their numbers; but if on men's valour, then this number will do.’


When another man remarked the same thing he said, ‘In truth I am taking many if they are all to be slain.’ 6


Xerxes wrote to him, ‘It is possible for you, by not fighting against God but by ranging yourself on my side, to be the sole ruler of Greece.’ But he wrote in reply, ‘If you had any knowledge of the noble things of life, you would refrain from coveting others' possessions; but for me to die for Greece is better than to be the sole ruler over the people of my race.’


When Xerxes wrote again, ‘Hand over your arms,’ he wrote in reply, ‘Come and take them.’ [p. 351]


He wished to engage the enemy at once, but the other commanders, in answer to his proposal, said that he must wait for the rest of the allies. ‘ Why,’ said he, ‘are not all present who intend to fight ? 7 Or do you not realize that the only men who fight against the enemy are those who respect and revere their kings ?’


He bade his soldiers eat their breakfast as if they were to eat their dinner in the other world. 8


Being asked why the best of men prefer a glorious death to an inglorious life, he said, ‘Because they believe the one to be Nature's gift but the other to be within their own control.’


Wishing to save the lives of the young men, and knowing full well that they would not submit to such treatment, he gave to each of them a secret dispatch, 9 and sent them to the Ephors. He conceived the desire to save also three of the grown men, but they fathomed his design, and would not submit to accepting the dispatches. 10 One of them said,‘I carne with the army, not to carry messages, but to fight;’ and the second, ‘I should be a better man if I stayed here’; and the third, ‘I will not be behind these, but first in the fight.’

1 The hero of Thermopylae. These sayings were doubtless incorporated, or meant to be incorporated, in Plutarch's Life of Leonidas, according to what he says in Moralia, 866 B; and some of them may be found in Moralia, 854 E-874 D (De Herodoti malignitate).

2 Cf. Moralia, 240 E (6), infra, and 866 B.

3 Ibid. Cf. also 225 B (8 and 9), infra, and 866 B.

4 The remark is attributed to Dieneces by Herodotus, vii. 226. Cf. Stobaeus, Florilegium, vii. 46; Valerius Maximus, iii. 7, ext. 8; Cicero, Tusculan Disputations, i. 42 (101).

5 Cf. Moralia, 194 D, supra, and 234 B.

6 Cf. Moralia, 225 A (3), supra, and 866 B.

7 Cf. Moralia, 185 F, supra.

8 Cf. Cicero, Tusculan Disputations, i. 42 (101); Valerius Maximus, iii. 2, ext. 3.

9 The reference is to a well-known form of cipher message in use among the Spartans. A narrow leather thong was wrapped around a cylinder, and on the surface thus formed the message was written. When the thong was received it was applied to a duplicate cylinder kept by the recipient, and so the message was read.

10 Cf. Moralia 866 B; and Herodotus, vii. 221, 229, 230.

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