Sayings of Leonidas

1
Leonidas of Sparta Quotes

Leonidas King of Sparta
Leonidas King of Sparta. Clipart.com

Leonidas (Mid 6th century B.C. - 480) is the king of Sparta who led the Spartans at the Battle of Thermopylae (480 B.C.). Thanks to the 300 movies, many who would otherwise not be aware of him now know his name. Plutarch (c. A.D. 45-125), the important biographer of Greek and Roman men, also wrote a book on sayings of famous Spartans (in Greek, with the Latin title "Apophthegmata Laconica"). Below you will find the quotations, attributed by Plutarch to Leonidas, related to his going off to war against the Persians. As well as the sentiments, some of the actual lines may be familiar to you from the movies. The source for this is the 1931 edition of the Loeb Classical Library on Bill Thayer's Lacus Curtius site:

Leonidas, son of Anaxandridas

2 His wife Gorgo [a wise and important Spartan woman] inquired, at the time when he was setting forth to Thermopylae to fight the Persian, if he had any instructions to give her, and he said, "To marry good men and bear good children."  [In a later battler of the Persian Wars, another Greek, but not Spartan queen plays an important role. Read about Artemisia of Halicarnassus.]

3 When the Ephors [a group of 5 annually elected to the Spartan government] said that he was taking but few men to Thermopylae, he said, "Too many for the enterprise on which we going."

4 And when again they said, "Hae ye decided to dae aught else save to keep the barbarians from gettin' by?" "Nominally that," he said, "but actually expecting to die for the Greeks."

5 When he had arrived at Thermopylae he said to his comrades in arms, "They say that the barbarian has come near and is comin' on while we are wastin' time. Truth, soon we shall either kill the barbarians, or else we are bound to be killed oursel's."

6 When someone said, "Because of the arrows of the barbarians it is impossible to see the sun," he said, "Won't it be nice, then, if we shall have shade in which to fight them?"

7 When someone else said, "They are near to us," he said, "Then we also are near to them."

8 When someone said, "Leonidas, are you here to take such a hazardous risk with so few men against so many?" he said, "If you men think that I rely on numbers, then all Greece is not sufficient, for it is but a small fraction of their numbers; but if on men's valour, then this number will do."

9 When another man remarked the same thing he said, "In truth I am taking many if they are all to be slain."

10 Xerxes wrote to him, "It is possible for you, by not fighting against God but by ranging yourself on my side, to be the sole ruler of Greece." But he wrote in reply, "If you had any knowledge of the noble things of life, you would refrain from coveting others' possessions; but for me to die for Greece is better than to be the sole ruler over the people of my race."

11 When Xerxes wrote again, "Hand over your arms," he wrote in reply, "Come and take them."

12 He wished to engage the enemy at once, but the other commanders, in answer to his proposal, said that he must wait for the rest of the allies. "Why," said he, "are not all present who intend to fight? Or do you not realize that the only men who fight against the enemy are those who respect and revere their kings?" [See the "Ephialtes and Anopaia" section of The Battle of Thermopylae.]

13 He bade his soldiers eat their breakfast as if they were to eat their dinner in the other world. [See The Greek Afterlife.]

14 Being asked why the best of men prefer a glorious death to an inglorious life, he said, "Because they believe the one to be Nature's gift but the other to be within their own control."

15 Wishing to save the lives of the young men, and knowing full well that they would not submit to such treatment, he gave to each of them a secret dispatch, and sent them to the Ephors. He conceived the desire to save also three of the grown men, but they fathomed his design, and would not submit to accepting the dispatches. One of them said, "I came with the army, not to carry messages, but to fight;" and the second, "I should be a better man if I stayed here"; and the third, "I will not be behind these, but first in the fight."

Also see Thermopylae Terms.