Between school and work and all the other things life likes to toss out there, I’ve been squeezing in bits of Herodotus nearly every evening. I am reading book VII which contains the Battle of Thermopylae, and wow, is it good!
Herodotus starts with Xerxes deciding he is going to conquer all of Hellas. We are privy to all of the years of planning that goes into creating and moving an army of over 1,700,000 from Persia to Greece. There is advice not to go. There are dreams. There are signs and omens. There is pride, lots and lots of pride. Oedipus has nothing on Xerxes in the hubris department. He is so sure of ultimate victory that when a couple of spies from Athens and Sparta are caught, instead of killing them he has them shown around the entire land and sea encampment so they will know what they are up against and know that they cannot win. Xerxes hopes the Hellenes will be so afraid they will give up without a fight.
Cut away to Greece where Athens and Sparta have consulted the Oracle at Delphi and debated about what the prophecy means. Athens has decided that it means they are to attack Persia by sea. Conveniently they had just built a bunch of ships for a war against the Eginetans and so are now building more. Athens and Sparta have also realized that they won’t be able to beat the Persians if they can’t make up with all the surrounding states that they have happily been warring against off and on for years. So they are currently sending out envoys asking to let bygones be bygones. Unfortunately all these kings say, sure, we’ll help but I get to be in charge of the army. The Spartans of course get ruffled by this and basically say something such as “like hell you are!” And the kings then say it’s been nice knowing you.
Athens and Sparta will not back down against Persia even if they are the only ones willing to fight. They love their laws and freedoms too much and will bow to no one. Even when the spies were caught by the Persians and brought before Xerxes they refused to kneel.
The story is well told and I’m on pins and needles even knowing what the outcome will be. History doesn’t get much better than this!