“Molon Labe: A Response to Tyranny”

“Go and tell the Spartans, stranger passing by,
That here, obedient to their laws, we lie.

                In the 5th century BC, mankind was still living the way he had been since the dawn of history.  Existing in either scattered tribal villages or in kingdoms and empires ruled by god-kings.  All except for one rocky corner of the Mediterranean world where a new idea had taken root: the concept of free citizens who owed allegiance to their nation and not a king.  They were imperfect, true; women’s rights were, well, a non-concept and although racism was largely unknown, equal-opportunity slavery was widespread.  Still and all, though, they enjoyed a measure of freedom unknown in the stagnant empires of the Nile, Yangtze, Indus, and Tigris-Euphrates river valleys.  They were not subjects, they were the world’s prototypical citizens.  Unfortunately, just across the Aegean Sea the largest empire in the known world was looking Westward with greedy eyes.  When word reached them that Emperor Xerxes of Persia was crossing the Dardanelles with an army of as many as 250,000 men, prospects for their continued freedom looked grim indeed.

                It would take time for the scattered city-states to raise their armies of citizen-soldiers, so those that could sent what contingents were available to serve in a ‘Multinational Field Force’ commanded by one of the two elected kings of Sparta, Leonidas.  With its backbone provided by Leonidas’ bodyguard of 300 Spartan soldiers, the force numbered some 4,000. Leonidas positioned this group at the ‘Hot Gates’; Thermopylae, a narrow place on the coast road from the north, to hold back the Persian advance and buy time for the rest of the city-states to issue the call to arms.  Manning a hastily-constructed wall across the narrow strip between mountains and sea, it was not long before the Greeks faced the massive Persian host assembled on the thin strip of coast ahead of them.  When the defenders were not impressed into surrender by the sight of his army, Xerxes sent forth a herald offering simple terms “Lay down your weapons, and you will be allowed to live.” Leonidas responded with the only answer a free citizen can give to that question:

                “Molon Labe”; ancient Greek for  “Come and get them”.

  To the brave men in that narrow pass so long ago, freedom was more important than anything; even their lives.  May we ever remember that fact should we be issued the same degrading terms.