Imatges de pàgina

obedience, condemned all his sons to have their eyes Xerxes. put out. Xerxes continued his march through Thrace, Macedonia, and Thessaly, every thing giving way before him till he came to the streight of Thermopyla.

One cannot see, without the utmost astonishment, with what an handful of troops the Grecians opposed the innumerable army of Xerxes. We find a particular account of their number in Pausanias. All their forces joined together, amounted only to eleven thousand two hundred men. Of which number four thousand only were employed at Thermopyla to defend the pass. But these soldiers, adds the historian, were all determined to a man either to conquer or die. And what is it, that an army of such resolution is not able to effect?

* When Xerxes advanced near the streights of Thermopyla, he was strangely surprised to find that they were prepared to dispute his passage. He had always flattered himself, that on the first hearing of his arrival, the Grecians would betake themselves to flight; nor could he ever be persuaded to believe, what Demaratus had told him from the beginning of his project, that at the first pass he came to, he would find his whole army stopped by an handful of men. He sent out a spy before him to take a view of the enemy. The spy brought him word, that he found the Lacedæmonians out of their entrenchments, and that they were diverting themselves with military exercises, and combing their hair: This was the Spartan manner of preparing themselves for battle.

Xerxes, still entertaining some hopes of their flight, waited four days on purpose to give them time to retreat. And in this interval of time he used his utmost endeavours to gain Leonidas, by making him magnificent promises, and assuring him,

i Paus. 1. x. p. 645. 1. xi. p. 5, 10.


k Herod. 1. vii. c. 207-231. Diod. Plut. in Lacon. Apoph. p. 225.


Xerxes. that he would make him master of all Greece, if he would come over to his party. Leonidas rejected his proposal with scorn and indignation. Xerxes having afterwards wrote to him to deliver up his arms, Leonidas, in a stile and spirit truly laconical, answered him in these words; * Come and take them. Nothing remained, but to prepare themselves to engage the Lacedæmonians. 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 flight, they shewed, says Herodotust, 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 stayed himself with his three

* ̓Αντέγραψε, μολων λαβε.

ν Ὅτι πολλοὶ μὲν ἄνθρωποι ἔνεν, ὀλιγοι δὲ ἄνδρες.

Quod multi homines essent pauci autem viri.

When the Gauls, two hundred years after this, came to invade Greece, they possessed themselves of the streights of Thermopyla by means of the same by-path, which the Gre cians had still neglected to secure. Pausan. 1. i. p. 7, & 8.

hundred Lacedæmonians, all resolved to die with Xerxes. their leader, who being told by the oracle, that either Lacedæmon or her king must necessarily perish, determined, without the least difficulty or hesitation, to sacrifice himself for his country. The Spartans lost all hopes either of conquering or escaping, and looked upon Thermopyla 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 exceeding violent and bloody. Leoni das himself was one of the first that fell. The endea vours of the Lacedæmonians 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. 1 Xerxes, enraged to the last degree against Leonidas for daring to make head against him, caused his dead body to be hung on 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 Thermopyla to the honour of these brave defenders of Greece, and upon the monument were two inscriptions; one of which was general, and related to all those that died at Thermopylæ, importing, that the Greeks of Peloponnesus, to the number only of four thousand, had made head against the Persian which consisted of three millions of men: The other related to the Spartans in particular. It was


Herod. 1. vii. c. 238.

Xerxes. composed by the poet Simonides, and is very remark able for its simplicity. It is as follows :


* Ω ξεῖν, ἄγειλον Λακεδαιμονίοις, ὅτι τῇ δὲ
Κείμεθα, τοῖς κείνων πειθόμεν νομίμοις.

That is to say; Go, passenger, and tell at Lacedæmon, that we died here in obedience to her sacred laws. Forty years afterwards, Pausanias, who obtained the victory of Plata, caused the bones of Leonidas to be carried from Thermopylae 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 publick game, wherein none but Lacedæmonians had a right to partake, in order to shew, that they alone were concerned in the glory obtained at Thermopyla.


Xerxes in that affair lost above twenty thousand men, among which 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 a thousand, whose bodies he or dered to be left upon the field, to be thrown together into large holes, which were secretly made, and covered over afterwards with earth and herbs. This stratagem succeeded 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 discover his own littleness of soul, than to conteal the number of the slain.

m Herod. 1. viii. c. 24, 25.

Pari ammo Lacedæmonii in Thermopylis occiderunt, in quos Si


Dic, hospes, Sparte nos te hic vidisse jacentes,
Dum sanctis patriæ legibus obsequimur.

Cic. Tusc. Quæst. 1. i. n. 101,

Dismayed with a victory that had cost him so Xerxes. dear, he asked Demaratus, if the Lacedæmonians had many such soldiers. That prince told him, that the Spartan republick had a great many cities belonging to it, of which all the inhabitants were exceeding brave; but that the inhabitants of Lacedæmon, who were properly called Spartans, and who were about eight thousand in number, surpassed all the rest in valour, and were all of them such as those who had fought under Leonidas.

I return a little to the battle of Thermopyla, the issue of which, fatal in appearance, might make an impression upon the minds of the readers to the disadvantage of the Lacedæmonians, 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 encomium 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 pre, tended to 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 Persians, 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 shew 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,

n Herod. 1. vii. c. 13, 137.

Lib. xi. p. 9.


« AnteriorContinua »