High Life

Ancient History All Over Again

July 01, 2016

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Leonidas of Sparta

The two most beautiful words in the history of the world, and in any language, are “Molon Labe,” the accent on the second syllable of both words, the b pronounced v in the second. These two little words were the laconic response by King Leonidas of Sparta to the offer by the great Persian king Xerxes of not only safe passage, if they lay down their arms, but also a settlement of lands of better quality than any they had possessed up to that time.
     
You know what I’m talking about. The Hot Gates, or Thermopylae, in Greek. The year is 480 B.C., the month is August, and the Persians number more than 1,250,000 fighters, accompanied by 1,800 triremes in support. The rest of the Greeks under Themistocles are praying for time—and gales—farther south, and Leonidas has only 300 Spartans he can count on. (The Thebans have already seen the Persian hordes arriving and have left the battlefield.) The Persian scouts who surveyed the Hot Gates’ defenders in astonishment were allowed to gallop around freely. Later in the day an emissary from Xerxes approached the Spartans. The offer of safe passage and riches to come if they lay down their arms was made, followed by Leonidas’ answer, “Molon Labe,” or “Come and get them.” The great Brit historian Tom Holland called these Spartan bits “gems of cool,” and they were the coolest words one could utter in 480 B.C. When the Persians tried to reason with the Spartans, who brazenly combed their long hair, by telling them that their million arrows would hide the sun, they announced this excellent news: “If the Medes hide the sun, then so much the better for us, we can fight in the shade.” (The Spartans thought arrows mere spindles, to be swiped away with their shields.)

“You Brits chose freedom. You should be proud.”

It was gallows humor, but those two words by Leonidas I first heard from my Spartan mother when I was very, very young. They led to immortality for Leonidas and his 300, the preference for death to a life of cowardice and shame, but a richer one, to be sure, and a far more comfortable one. The Spartan never gave it a second thought. “Come and get them” was all he said when asked to lay down his arms. “Molon Labe,” the two greatest words ever uttered.
     
And we all know the rest: After the heroic Spartan stand, Miltiades and 10,000 Athenians slaughtered the Persians on the beaches of Marathon, and Themistocles bottled up the Persian fleet in Salamis and sank it. No Persian invaded Greece ever again, but Alexander went over there and took the whole kit and caboodle. It all started with Leonidas’ two little words. They have obsessed me ever since I was a little boy, and in a very, very small way I’ve tried to live up to them by never backing off, and by hero-worshipping Rommel’s 7th Panzer, the defenders of Iwo Jima, and the U.S. Marine Corps, among many others, including the Polish lancers’ charge at Somosierra (successful) and that of Pickett at Gettysburg (unsuccessful). Which brings me to the present.
     
Two thousand four hundred and ninety-six years later, there are no cool bits. Just a lot of moaning and groaning and “let’s do it all over again” by the losers. No, I am not comparing the self-sacrifice of the Spartans to the Leavers, but freedom is freedom and there are no other words to replace it. Fuck Juncker and the technocratic dictatorship of Brussels—they’ve already enslaved my country, but they will not enslave England. (Scotland will play it like Thebes did in 480, but then it might not.) All people should say “Molon Labe” to the Circe-like offers of money and comfort by the E.U. technocratic hordes, “Molon Labe” until the bureaucracy reforms itself and its rigid, doctrinaire ways. Juncker, an unelected Xerxes but without the king’s grandeur, showed his petty spirit when rebuffed by the Brits last week by puffing up his sunken chest and warning there will be consequences. My arse. All the Brits need to do is trigger Article 50 at their convenience, not Juncker’s, as is the law, and assure countries like Germany and France that “we continue to trade.” Brussels would never reform itself if the status quo prevailed, and would have continued to lie about freedom of “labor” movement, having turned it into free movement for everyone and anyone.

And now for the Greek chorus of women announcing doom and gloom. One American woman wrote that populism, nativism, and isolationism are the future. Bollocks. A Brit hack blamed Boris for the whole thing. More bollocks. A bald NY Times man announced the end of the world. On the BBC, a female academic (who sounded anything but) blamed us oldies. The good professor Starkey had the perfect answer: “Would you prefer we gave two votes to anyone under 30, my dear?”
     
The Greeks fought off the Persians because they tried to conquer us through force of arms. The Brits said no to the E.U. because it tried to conquer through stealth and lies. The E.U. would never reform itself without a push. Now it has been pushed rather hard. Modern Greece chose the easy way six years ago because we no longer have Spartans leading us—just Ephialteses, Ephialtes being the traitor who led the Persians to outflank the 300 through a pass. Greece is an E.U. protectorate, so heaven help us. You Brits chose freedom. You should be proud.

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