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themselves to engage the Lacedemonians. Xerxes first commanded his Median forces to march against them, with orders to take them all alive, and bring them to him. These Medes were not able to stand the charge of the Grecians; and being shamefully put to fight, they showed, says Herodotus,' that Xerxes had a great many men, and but few soldiers. The next that were sent to face the Spartans, were those Persians called the immortal band, which consisted of ten thousand men, and were the best troops in the whole army. But these had no better success than the former.
Xerxes, out of all hopes of being able to force his way through troops so determined to conquer or die, was extremely perplexed, and could not tell what resolution to take, when an inhabitant of the country came to him, and discovered a secret path to the top of an eminence, which overlooked and commanded the Spartan forces. He quickly dispatched a detachment thither ; which, marching all night, arrived there at the break of day, and possessed themselves of that advantageous post.
The Greeks were soon apprised of this misfortune ; and Leonidas, seeing that it was now impossible to repulse the enemy, obliged the rest of the allies to retire, but staid himself with his three hundred Lacedemonians, all resolved to die with their leader ; who being told by the oracle, that either Lacedemon or her
«Οτι πολλοι μεν ανθρωποι εγεν, ολίγοι δε ανδρες.
Quod multi homines essent, pauci autem viri. When the Gauls 200 years after this, came to invade Greece, they possessed themselves of the straits of Thermopyle by means of the same by path, which the Grecians had still neglected to secure. Pausan. I. i. p. 7. et 8.
king must necessarily perish, determined, without the least difficulty or hesitation, to sacrifice himself for his country. The Spartans lost all hopes either of con. quering or escaping, and looked upon Thermopyle as their burying place. The king, exhorting his men to take some nourishment, and telling them at the same time, that they should sup together with Pluto, they set up a shout of joy as if they had been invited to a banquet, and full of ardour advanced with their king to battle. The shock was exceedingly violent and bloody. Leonidas himself was one of the first that fell. The endeavours of the Lacedemonians to defend his dead body were incredible. At length, not vanquished, but oppressed by numbers, they all fell except one man, who escaped to Sparta, where he was treated as a coward and traitor to his country, and nobody would keep company or converse with him. But soon afterwards he made a glorious amends for his fault at the battle of Platea, where he distinguished himself in an extraordinary manner. "Xerxes, enraged to the last degree against Leonidas for daring to make head against him, caused his dead body to be hung upon a gallows, and made his intended dishonour of his enemy his own immortal shame.
Some time after these transactions, by order of the Amphictyons, a magnificent monument was erected at Thermopyle to the honour of these brave defenders of Greece ; and upon the monument were two inscrip. tions; one which was general, and related to all those that died at Thermopyle, importing, that the Greeks of Peloponnesus, to the number only of four thousand, had made head against the Persian army, which consisted
• Herod. I. vii. c. 238.
of three millions of men : the other related to the Spar. tans in particular. It was composed by the poet Si. monides, and is very remarkable for its simplicity. It is as follows:
wačur', ag leszov Alexed as persoas, ofi Tudo
Καμεθα, τοις κείνων πειθομενοι νομικοις. That is to say, “Go, passenger, and tell at Lacede. mon, that we died here in obedience to her sacred laws.” Forty years afterwards, Pausanias, who ob. tained the victory of Platea, caused the bones of Leon. idas to be carried from Thermopyle to Sparta, and erected a magnificent monument to his memory; near which was likewise another erected for Pausanias. Every year at these tombs was a funeral oration pronounced to the honour of these heroes, and a public game, wherein none but Lacedemonians had a right to partake, in order to show, that they alone were concerned in the glory obtained at Thermopyle.
*Xerxes in that affair lost above twenty thousand men, among whom were two of the king's brothers. He was very sensible, that so great a loss, which was a manifest proof of the courage of their enemies, was capable of alarming and discouraging his soldiers. In order, therefore to conceal the knowledge of it from them, he caused all his men that were killed in that action, except one thousand, whose bodies he ordered to be left upon the field, to be thrown together into large holes, which were secretly made, and covered over
Pari animo Lacedæmonii in Thermopylis occiderunt, in quos Simon.
Dic, hospes, Spartæ nos te hic vidisse jacentes,
Cic. Tusc. QUAEST. 1. i, n. 101.
afterwards with earth and herbs. This stratagem suc. ceeded very ill ; for when the soldiers in his fleet, being curious to see the field of battle, obtained leave to come thither for that purpose, it served rather to dis. cover his own littleness of soul, than to conceal the number of the slain.
y Dismayed with a victory that had cost him so dear, he asked Demaratus, if the Lacedemonians had many such soldiers. That prince told him, that the Spartan republic had a great many cities belonging to it, of which all the inhabitants were exceeding brave ; but that the inhabitants of Lacedemon, who were properly called Spartans, and who were about eight thousand in number, surpassed all the rest in valor, and were all of them such as those who had fought under Leonidas.
I return a little to the battle of Thermopyle, the issue of which, fatal in appearance, might make an impression upon the minds of the readers to the disadvan. tage of the Lacedemonians, and occasion their courage to be looked upon as the effect of a presumptuous temerity, or a desperate resolution.
That action of Leonidas, with his three hundred Spartans, was not the effect of rashness or despair, but was a wise and noble conduct, as Diodorus Siculus ? has taken care to observe, in the magnificent encomi. um upon that famous engagement, to which he ascribes the success of all the ensuing victories and campaigns. Leonidas, knowing that Xerxes marched at the head of all the forces of the east, in order to overwhelm and crush a little country by the dint of his numbers, rightly conceived, from the superiority of his genius and understanding, that if they pretended to 9 Herod. I. vii. c. 134-137.
? Lib. xi. p. 9.
make the success of that war consist in opposing force to force, and numbers to numbers, all the Grecian nations together would never be able to equal the Per. sians, or to dispute the victory with them; that it was therefore necessary to point out to Greece another means of safety and preservation, whilst she was under these alarms; and that they ought to show the whole universe, who had all their eyes upon them, what glorious things may be done, when greatness of mind is opposed to force of body, true courage and bravery against blind impetuosity, the love of liberty against tyrannical oppression, and a few disciplined veteran troops against a confused multitude, though ever so numerous. These brave Lacedemonians thought it became them, who were the choicest soldiers of the chief people of Greece, to devote themselves to certain death, in order to make the Persians sensible how difficult it is to reduce free men to slavery, and to teach the rest of Greece, by their example, either to vanquish or to perish.
I do not copy these sentiments from my own invention, or ascribe them to Leonidas without foundation: they are plainly comprised in that short answer which that worthy king of Sparta made a certain Lacedemonian ; who, being astonished at the generous resolution the king had taken, spoke to him in this manner: *“ Is it possible then, Sir, that you can think of marching with an handful of men against such a mighty and innumerable army ?” “If we are to reckon upon numbers,” replied Leonidas, “all the people of Greece together would not be sufficient, since a small part of
a Plut. in Lacon. Apoph. p. 225.