His wife Gorgo, when he went forth to Thermopylae to fight the Persian, asked him what command he left with her; and he replied, Marry brave men, and bear them brave children.
The Ephors saying, You lead but few to Thermopylae; They are many, said he, considering on what design we go.
And when they again asked him whether he had any other enterprise in his thought, he replied, I pretend to go to hinder the barbarians’ passage, but really to die fighting for the Greeks.
When he was at Thermopylae, he said to his soldiers: They report the enemy is at hand, and we lose time; for we must either beat the barbarian or die ourselves.
And to another saying, What, the flights of the Persian arrows will darken the very sun, he said, Therefore it will be pleasant for us to fight in the shade.
And another saying, What, Leonidas, do you come to fight so great a number with so few? — he returned: If you esteem number, all Greece is not able to match a small part of that army; if courage, this number is sufficient.
And to another discoursing after the same manner he said, I have enough, since they are to be killed.
When Xerxes wrote to him thus, Sir, you may forbear to fight against the Gods, but may follow my interest and be lord of all Greece, he answered: If you understood wherein consisted the happiness of life, you would not covet other men’s; but know that I would rather die for the liberty of Greece than be a monarch over my countrymen.
And Xerxes writing to him again thus, Send me thy arms, he returned, Come and take them.
When he resolved to fall upon the enemy, and his captains of the war told him he must stay till the forces of the allies had joined him, he said: Do you think all those that intend to fight are not here already? Or do you not understand that those only fight who fear and reverence their kings?
And he ordered his soldiers so to dine, as if they were to sup in another world.
And being asked why the bravest men prefer an honourable death before an inglorious life, he replied, Because they believe one is the gift of Nature, while the other is peculiarly their own.
Being desirous to save the striplings that were with him, and knowing very well that if he dealt openly with them none would accept his kindness, he gave each of them privately letters to carry to the Ephors. He desired likewise to save three of those that were grown men; but they having some notice of his design refused the letters. And one of them said, I came, sir, to be a soldier, and not a courier; and the second, I shall be a better man if here than if away; and the third, I will not be behind these, but the first in the fight.
From Plutarch’s Laconic Apophthegms; or remarkable sayings of the Spartans
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