Friday, December 15, 2006

SPARTAN THOUGHTS

Today was a beautiful day to enjoy sloth and do nothing much of anything. I gathered up the Golden Dog and drove to Tellico Lake for a boat ride. I wanted to boat over to the East Coast Trail and just fool around. We walked up the hillside and sat in the dried leaves. I went to the movies last night for a change and the preview clips presented a movie coming soon named “Thee 300”. Hollywood certainly had a real life adventure to fool with this time. Anyway, I couldn’t get the 300 out of my head. The story of the Spartans at Thermopylae has always been one of my favorite adventures to ponder over. I couldn’t get it out of my head today. I have always been fascinated by stories of men and women who would forsake all, knowingly, for what they believed in and held dear to them. Does the Alamo sound familiar? Douglas! Come! He insists on going over a hill where I can’t see him. The only thing I worry about where he is concerned is a deer crossing his path. This has happened before but I have always been there to yell, “NO!” Oh well, I’ll let him be. So I clasp my fingers together behind my head and lie back into the great pile of dried leaves beneath me and close my eyes-------------------and ponder. Its 486BC and an enormous army of Persian soldiers 150,000 strong are trudging down mountain sides and across the plains toward a narrow divide in the southern mountains at Thermopylae. They cover the earth in an endless sea of soldiers. They are lead by King Xerxes and around him are his dreaded Immortals. They are called Immortals because Xerxes replaces each fallen Immortal with a new conscript. It appears as if their ranks never become less. With them are machines of war. Catapults capable of waging war on cities. Their eyes are set on the Greek cities of Athens, Thebes and Sparta. Ahead of them at the Isthmus (a narrow mountain pass) of Thermopylae stands the vanguard of the Greek army. King Leonidas had arrived here with 10,000 Greek troops to fight a war that would delay the Persians until a proper army could be raised by the Greeks. No one thought that King Xerxes could move that many troops in so short of time. A great fear arose when Leonidas found out that the Persians were deploying 600 war ships toward the principal cities. He sent all the troops back to bolster the ranks of the army for the defense of Thebes, Athens and Sparta. All, that is, save 300 Spartan warriors. These 300 were to hold the Persians back as long as possible. They were expected to fight to the death. They would buy time for the Greek army to mobilize and deploy. “Douglas!” “Douglas! “Where is he?” Crunching leaves give him away. He’s heading toward the beach and the water. Good. He’s hanging out with me. Spartan soldiers are enlisted at the age of seven. The children are taken from the families and learn the techniques of soldiering. From that time on, they are wards of the state. The state gives them everything they need. Everything including land. The land is worked by peasants and the money is placed in a bank for the Spartan. At the age of 37 the soldier has his nest egg. But he is forbidden to marry or to engage in any activity related to domestic life. He is trained to become a warrior. The best warrior! Xerxes stopped and relaxed his troops on the plain of Thermopylae and immediately threw two thousand of his front line troops at the narrow pass and the Spartans. As the Persians entered the pass the sides became narrow and they had to fall behind each other. The clash with the Spartans was disastrous. The Persians were hacked to pieces. The Persian weaponry was light weight for travel and their swords short for close-in thrusting after over running an opponent. The Greeks engaged them with seven foot lances and long swords. It was a route. Again and again the Persians attacked and were thwarted. The Greek casualties were few. The Persian bodies were piling up as if a wall were built from the dead. Even the Immortal’s were thrown back. Leonidas would create lines of Spartans three rows deep at the most narrow part of the pass. The fourth line was rested and put into service to replace one of the tired battle lines. Hence, it appeared to the Persians that the Spartans were tireless. They could not be worn down. Xerxes was now becoming concerned over the lost time it was taking to get past Thermopylae. He troops were devouring valuable food and so were his horses and animals. He needed to move. Just then he got his break. I turn on my left side as I hear what sounds like a million wings beating. Douglas has happened upon not one, but several coveys of quail. They were nearby all this time. I can almost see them hugging the ground tightly, secretly, hoping the interlopers wouldn’t find them. But the Golden Dog accidentally did. And off they went. Douglas was so startled that all he could do is stand there and look in all directions. His head snatched left and right quickly and then up and left and right. Never moved a paw. Big time hunter! Sure feels good lying here in the sun. His big break came in the form of a traitor. A soldier named Ephilates went to Xerxes and offered a way to attack the Spartans from two sides at once----------for a price. Xerxes agreed and Ephilates told Xerxes of a goat path that lead around the North side of the mountain and up and over to the South side and to the rear of the Spartans. That night Xerxes sent his Immortals on this road. In the morning the Spartans found themselves facing foes to their front and rear simultaneously. They fought valiantly. The final few fighters were felled by flights of arrows. The body of King Leonidas was taken before Xerxes. Xerxes commanded that the head be removed and placed upon a pike and situated in the center of the entrance to the pass of Thermopylae as a warning to the Greeks. The Persians paid a heavy price to pass through Thermopylae. 14,000 of them were felled by the Spartans. If things are quiet and one has an imagination; the clash of steel on steel and the screams of excitement mingled with cries of pain can be heard and hard breathing and grunts as strong arms swing swords in an effort to butcher the enemy. And then the quiet after. Guess its time to show a little life. This isn’t Greece, its Tennessee. Now if I can only keep Douglas on the sandy part of the beach and out of the mud when we get back into the boat.