Lesson IV: King Leonidas, “Molon Labe”


Molon Labe

Steward: Explanation of Ethical Overlay. The purpose of the Ethical Overlay is to provide an overlay to ethical, moral and religious beliefs in areas of identity, family and heritage, to promulgate ethical and moral policyand to help each individual to become a better person and preserve the environment for future generations. Announcements will be at the end of the meeting.

Congregant: Opening words of Inspiration

“Molon Labe”—“Come and take them!” The phrase was reportedly the defiant response of King Leonidas I of Sparta to King Xerxes I of Persia when Xerxes demanded that the Greeks lay down their arms and surrender. This was at the onset of the Battle of Thermopylae (480 BC). Instead, the Greeks held Thermopylae for three days. Although the Greek contingent was defeated, they inflicted serious damage on the Persian army. Most importantly, this delayed the Persians’ progress to Athens, providing sufficient time for the city’s evacuation to the island of Salamis. Though a tactical defeat, Thermopylae served as a strategic and moral victory, inspiring the Greek forces to defeat the Persians at the Battle of Salamis later the same year and the Battle of Plataea one year later. (From https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Molon_labe)

Steward: We will now have a Moment of Silence for: __(decide locally)___. [about 20 second pause].

Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg composed the popular Peer Gynt as incidental music to Henrik Ibsen’s play. While Peer Gynt himself is not an admirable character, the music Grieg composed aptly represents the Norwegian landscape and national character. In the Hall of the Mountain King recounts a scene inside a troll-infested mountain, popular in Norwegian folklore.

[Play musical selection]

Steward: We will now have a discussion on the following topic:

Discussion: King Leonidas and Molon Labe

The Persian army invades Thessaly along the pass of Tempe, and reaches Thermopylae without further incidents. The Greek garrison is small (4000 men, including 300 heavily armored Spartans, 400 Corinthians and 400 Thebans), and Leonidas sends heralds to the Greek towns, asking for reinforcements. Meanwhile, a Persian spy is ordered to find out if it is true that Thermopylae is guarded by a very small number. He confirms the earlier report, and adds that he has seen the Spartans combing their hair. Demaratus explains that the Spartans are preparing themselves for a good fight.
King Xerxes waits four days before he orders his soldiers to attack the contemptibly small Greek garrison. He first sends the Median and Elamite contingents, which are easily repelled by the defenders of the narrow road. A second wave of troops consists of the ten thousand Immortals, the royal bodyguard, but these elite troops do no better. The Persian position does not improve during the second day of the battle. When Xerxes’ soldiers pass through the narrow gap, they are killed by their opponents, who have longer spears and better armor. Many of the invaders fall into the sea and drown.
Then, a Greek named Ephialtes informs the great king of the possibility to turn the position of the Greek army. There is a mountain path. At the beginning of the third day, Leonidas learns that the Immortals, commanded by Hydarnes, will soon descend from the mountains and attack his rear. He sends away the other troops, but orders the Spartans and Thebans to stay. The Thespian contingent and a seer named Megistias refuse to leave.
Herodotus explains why Leonidas decides to stay: because the oracle had announced that Sparta would either be destroyed or lose its king. Leonidas choose the second alternative. Then, he orders his men to go forward against their opponents, who are lashed towards the Spartans by their officers. When Leonidas falls, a bitter struggle over his body breaks out. Herodotus tells that the Greeks have to drive off the enemy four times, and finally succeed in dragging the corpse away. Then, the Thebans desert their allies and surrender; the Spartans and Thespians retreat to a small hill, where they are killed by Persian archers.
After the fall of Thermopylae, the road to Greece lies open. Xerxes orders Leonidas’ body to be crucified. Herodotus quotes the epitaph of the Spartan soldiers: ‘Stranger, go tell the Spartans that here we are buried, obedient to their orders.’ (Summary from https://www.livius.org/sources/about/herodotus/herodotos-bk-7-logos-22/)
1. Although the number of troops on each side of the battle is disputed, even generous estimates put the Greeks as outnumbered more than 10:1. Why were they willing to fight at such bad odds?
2. The Spartans who led the Greek force stayed and fought to their complete destruction. Was it worth it?
3. What values would we be willing to risk our lives for, in our modern world?
4. What does it mean to be brave?
a. How can we develop bravery?
b. When is it more noble/brave to back down than to stand your ground?
5. The phrase “Molon Labe” is (and has been) used as a defiant slogan, especially in context of governmental confiscation of weapons. What does it mean today?
6. Why is it important for a free populace to own their own weapons?
a. What responsibilities come with the right to bear arms?
Congregant: Closing words of inspiration.

“I prefer dangerous freedom over peaceful slavery.”
– Thomas Jefferson, letter to James Madison, January 30, 1787
“Cowards die many times before their deaths; the valiant never taste of death but once.”
-William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar

Extend an invitation/commitment to apply one thing learned this week.

Steward: Take contributions from group made payable to Ethical Overlay. [Take cash, checks, or commitments to pay online].

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