If you want a quick and dirty understanding of the battle of Thermopylae (wiki), the movie The 300 (or the comic version on which the movie was based) will do in a pinch, and the History Channel videos posted below do a pretty good job.
mors et fugacem persequitur virum.
nec parcit imbellis iuventae
poplitibus timidove tergo.
~ Quintus Horatius Flaccus (Horace, 65-27 B.C.) (Carmina, III, ii, 13)
(To die for the fatherland is a sweet and admirable thing.*
Death is at the heels even of the runaway, nor spares the haunches and back of the coward and malingerer.)
Go tell the Spartans, thou, that passeth by, that here, according to their laws, we lie.
~ Simonides of Ceos (556-458 B.C.) (epitaph for the Spartan dead at Thermopylae)
|Leonidas at Thermopylae, by Jacques-Louis David, 1814.|
|The pass of Thermopylae today - the road to |
the far right is built on land reclaimed from the sea
"...they defended themselves to the last, such as still had swords using them, and the others resisting with their hands and teeth; until the barbarians, who had in part pulled down the wall and attacked them in front, also had gone round and now encircled them on every side, overwhelmed and buried the remnant left beneath showers of missile weapons."
Thermopylae has ever since been celebrated in song and story as one of the legendary battles of western history, although George William Curtis (1824-1892) places it in a larger context:
"Every great crisis of human history is a pass of Thermopylae, and there is always a Leonidas and his three hundred to die in it, if they cannot conquer."Here's a rather well-done History Channel documentary, broken into 3 pieces:
* N.B. Two contrary views:
Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.
Gas! Gas! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime...
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.
~ Wilfred Owen (1893-1918) ("Dulce et Decorum Est")
I was the first fruits of the battle of Missionary Ridge.
When I felt the bullet enter my heart
I wished I'd stayed home and gone to jail
For stealing the hogs of Curl Trenary,
Instead of running away and joining the army.
Rather a thousand times the county jail
Than to lie under this marble figure with wings,
And this granite pedestal
Bearing the words, "Pro Patria."
What do they mean, anyway?
~ Edgar Lee Masters (1868-1950) (Spoon River Anthology, "Knowlt Hoheimer")
This whole discussion reminds me of the Patton quote, “The object of war is not to die for your country but to make the other bastard die for his.”