Author's note: This is an oneshot I was inspired to write after watching the movie 300 for the sixth –I think, if I have not lost counting- time. I have long wanted to write something about the battle of Thermopylae, but I did not know what exactly, until this came to me. I'm also thinking of writing a story inspired by the movie, but this oneshot is for starters. If you liked the movie 300 and/or the graphic novel by Frank Miller, you should read the "Gates of Fire" by Steven Pressfield. I have read it 3 times, and I rarely read a book more than once. About this oneshot now, it's actually me narrating, as I stand before the modern monument in Thermopylae. There is some truth to the narration, because whenever I visit the site I get emotional and think of the battle. Read on, and please review! I appreciate it very much, and I reply all reviews!
«Ὦ ξεῖν', ἀγγέλλειν Λακεδαιμονίοις ὅτι τῇδε
κείμεθα, τοῖς κείνων ῥήμασι πειθόμενοι.»
This is the epitaph on the plain monument of the battle of Thermopylae, composed by Simonides. Now, 2,487 years later, a modern monument stands on the place of the ancient one, bearing the same words, those words that describe so briefly, and still so brilliantly, the sacrifice of the 300 Spartans here at this very place, in 480 B.C. In English it would translate as "Oh stranger, announce to the Lacedaemonians that here we lie, to their commands compliant". I stare at the epigraph, and my mind travels, my imagination breaks loose… Images of this ancient battle form in my mind, and they are a mix of what I have been taught in History lessons back at school, with the scenes from the relevant films and books I have seen and read, respectively. I glance at the landscape before me and in my mind it transforms and regains its ancient form, with the sea reaching much inner in the mainland, leaving just a narrow passage between the coast and the mount Kallidromon. This is the place the Greeks chose to make a stand, and I can see now the 300 standing there and blocking it. Their brass shields gleam under the sun, bearing the "Λ" for "Λακεδαίμων (Lacedaemon)". Their crimson capes proudly declare that they are Spartans, Lacedaemonians as they were called in the ancient times, and the term is still used in my time for the Spartans. Spartans, the fiercest of all Greeks, the best warriors of them all, with incomparable battle skills and nerve, as this was the result of the Agoge. And I can see that they keep their battle formations with perfect discipline; the spears are held upright, and they are steady. No hand trembles, no heartbeat rises. Spartans are born and bred to do exactly what they are about to do now: to fight, and die. Spartans never retreat. Spartans never surrender. And if what awaits them is only death, then they are happy and proud and they welcome it, because death is their means to protect Sparta and to preserve their sacred laws and ideals; their life is the only thing they have to offer to Sparta, and they will willingly lay it down, for their death will be the way to their eternal glory. Spartans know this since they are born, and they wish for such a death. And they are not afraid. Their respect for their laws, their pride for Sparta and their love for its people has beaten death.
Now I can see the vast Persian army, expanding far beyond my sight can reach. A colorful and peculiar sight, compared to the dark yellowish metal of the Spartan shields and helmets and the crimson of the Spartan capes. I'm sure Persians had made quite an impression on my ancestors. But no strange sight can shake them; nothing is able to make cowardice appear among them. On the contrary, the Persians look nervous at the terrific sight of the phalanx opposite them that seems to consist of exclusively metal. Their lines are hardly kept, nervous talk rises among them and the spears dance shakily in their hands. On the other hand, silence reigns in the Spartan lines. Before the battle begins, Spartans are asked to give up their arms. Leonidas' answer is "Μολών λαβέ (Come and get them)", a phrase that is used even in our days. And when the signal is given for the Persians to attack, they run forward under the whips of their masters, holding forth their short spears and hiding behind their straw shields, while their barbaric battle howls and cries fill the air. But the Spartans hold their positions steadily. Each heavy shield protects the man on the left of its bearer, and the spears of the front lines are lowered, ready to penetrate Persian flesh. The breathing of the Spartans is steady; they are waiting. I close my eyes and I can feel everything, as if I am among the Greek army. The moment the Persians crush against the 300 sends thrills down my spine. The pressure is massive, but they do not retreat. They do not throw away their shields and run to save themselves, for they should come back with them, meaning victorious, or on them, meaning dead. So, what they do is stand and fight. And like a perfect war machine they are, they push them back, and out of the narrow passage. The brave sons of the East throw themselves again and again against the impenetrable Spartan phalanx, only to be pushed back, and be killed. And as their attempts fail and their concentration is lost, the massacre begins. Under the command of Leonidas, the Spartan King, the 300 start doing what they do best: fight and kill... They march out of the passage, eager to slaughter those who had come to arrogantly claim Sparta's submission to Xerxes, their god-king, those who had come to conquer Greece, not having learned their lesson ten years ago at Marathon. Spears thrust into flesh, their sharp heads come out dripping blood. And when they are thrown with expertise and kill faraway enemies, the swords come out. And those short Spartan swords are lethal, the perfect weapon in the hands of the skilled warriors. Heads and limbs are cut and Persians fall, deep gashes are managed, blood jumps out, and Persians die… During the horrific battle I can picture Xerxes, who is watching the battle sitting in his throne high atop a hill, jumping from his golden seat three times, unable to believe what's taking place down there in the narrow passage. What he had considered a walk in the park proves to be a war he is on the verge of losing, despite the fact that he is attacking with thousands against a few hundred. Acts of ultimate bravery are performed in the battlefield, and my eyes admire the mastered fighting skills of the Spartans. Truth be said, the Persians are also well-trained and brave fighters, but what can their thin shields and short spears do against the all-brass Greek phalanx? Their methods are effective in the vast plains of the East, and their cavalry is incomparable to any other there, but here, in Thermopylae, all these are proved weak and ineffective when they face the Spartan way of fighting. And as the time passes, the dry soil gets wet and painted with blood, and it looks like it had been plowed. Persian bodies come to fall one upon another, creating piles of dead human flesh, while the Greeks suffer only minor losses.
It seems in my mind's eyes that this battle would have lasted forever, had it not been for Ephialtes, a name that in my language has come to mean "nightmare" and is synonymous to "traitor". After seven days of restless battle, where even the famous 10,000 Immortals have failed their name, one man comes to succeed in where thousands of men have failed. He leads the Immortals along a passage well-hidden in the mount Kallidromon, a passage that leads behind the Greeks. The news of the betrayal soon reaches the army of the defendants, and the rest of the Greeks are free to leave. Leonidas knows that they are facing certain death, and he does not want to waste those men's lives. Anyone who wishes to leave, is free to leave. But the Spartans will stay. They will stay and defend the passage down to the last man. This is what their laws command, this is what they have lived for, and this is why they came here: to fight, and die. It was a suicidal mission; all 300 knew that, and so did the rest of the Spartans, and the brave Spartan women, who sent their husbands and sons to war with the words "Ή τάν ή επί τάς (with it or on it)". And those Spartans who were not chosen among the 300 had wished with all their hearts to have been among them.
Now the Persians have encircled the Greeks. I can see them as they approach, and the final battle begins. The 300's stand is the epitome of bravery and sacrifice for a high purpose. King Leonidas falls, and his men fight like lions to save his body from the hands of the barbarians and the atrocities they will surely perform on it. But these men, even though they manage to take their King's body, are gradually reduced in number, and finally none of them is left standing. The 300 are dead, and the Persians are victors. But are they really?
I open my eyes and gaze once more at the landscape where this bloody battle took place so many centuries ago. Today the once narrow passage is much wider, and there is a modern statue of King Leonidas to be found, reminding to every passer-by what happened here in 480 B.C. My eyes leave the land before me and come to rest on the monument with the epigraph once more. It is said that here, under this earthen mound upon which the monument is placed, the bodies of the 300 had been buried, and also that it is the place where the last of them fell. The thought that their sacred bones rest beneath my feet puts a chill to my bones and sets a fire to my heart. Tears come up to my eyes and I let them run down freely, as I kneel before the simple stone with the epigraph. I read it once more, and it speaks right in my heart. You could say that it's just an illusion, but I can feel the spirits of the 300 hundred rising around me, forever to remind us of their sacred sacrifice. Had it not been for it, had it not been for them who delayed the Persian invasion, Greece might not be the way I know it today. Europe might not be the way we know it today. Humanity owes so much to these 300, but they would never ask anything in return, save this: to remember them. And we do. They are alive in our hearts. They are alive in my heart, and the flame of their eternal glory is bright and will never go out, reminding us that they were just doing their duty, obeying to their laws, and for the sake of freedom. But no long passages and vain words are fit to express the spirit of those Spartans. In fact, I believe that their laconic manners would have instructed them to hate this flattering and dithyrambs. The only words able to express that spirit and its nature are these: "Oh stranger, announce to the Lacedaemonians that here we lie, to their commands compliant."