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obey his imperious orders, which he foolishly imagined all mankind should respect; he therefore determined to make an expedition with a mighty army into Greece, and to conquer the country. For this purpose he raised such a prodigious army, that it is almost impossible to describe it; the number of men that composed it seemed sufficient to conquer the whole world, and all the forces the Greeks were able to raise would scarcely amount to a hundredth part. Now the Greeks held public councils to consult about their common safety, and they nobly determined that, as they had hitherto lived free, so they would either maintain their liberty, or bravely die in its defence.
In the meantime Xerxes was continually marching forward, and at length entered Greece. The Greeks had not yet been able to assemble their troops, or make their preparations, and therefore they were struck with consternation at the approach of such an army.
Leonidas was at that time King of Sparta ; and when he considered the state of affairs, he saw one method alone by which the ruin of his country and all Greece could be prevented. In order to enter the more cultivated parts of that country, it was necessary for the Persian army to march through a very rough and mountainous district called Thermopylæ. There was only one narrow road through all these mountains, which it was possible for only a very small number of men to defend for some time against the most numerous army.
Leonidas perceived that if a small number of resolute men would undertake to defend this passage, it would retard the march of the whole Persian army, and give the Greeks time to collect their troops.
But who would undertake so desperate an enterprise where there was scarcely any possibility of escaping alive?
For this reason, Leonidas determined to undertake the expedition himself, with such of the Spartans as would of their own free will attend him, and to sacrifice his own life for the preservation of his country.
With this design, he assembled the chief persons of Sparta, and laid before them the necessity of defending the pass of Thermopylæ. They were equally convinced of its importance, but knew not where to find a man of such determined bravery as to undertake it. “Then," said Leonidas, “since
” ” there is no more worthy man ready to perform this service, I myself will undertake it with those who will voluntarily go with me.” They were struck with admiration at his proposal, and praised the greatness of his mind, but set before him the certain destruction which must await him. this,” said Leonidas, “I have already considered ; but I am resolved to go, with the appearance in
I deed of defending the pass, but in reality to die for the liberty of Greece."
Saying this, he instantly went out of the Assembly, and made ready for the expedition, taking with him about three hundred Spartans. Before he went he embraced his wife, who hung about him in tears, as being well acquainted with
the dangerous purpose of his march ; but he endeavoured to comfort her, and told her that a short life was well sacrificed to the interests of his country, and that Spartan women should be more careful about the glory than the safety of their husbands. He then kissed his infant children, and charging his wife to educate them in the same principles he had lived in, went out of his house, to put himself at the head of those brave men who were to accompany him.
As they marched through the city, all the inhabitants attended them with praises and acclamations; the young women sang songs of triumph, and scattered flowers before them; the youths were jealous of their glory, and lamented that such a noble doom had not rather fallen upon themselves; while all their friends and relations seemed rather to exult in the immortal honour they were going to gain, than to be unhappy with the fear of their loss. And as they continued their march through Greece, they were joined by various bodies of their allies, so that their numbers amounted to about six thousand when they took possession of the Straits of Thermopylæ.
In a short time Xerxes approached with his innumerable army, which was composed of various
, nations, and armed in a thousand different ways; and when he had seen the small number of his
enemies, he could not believe they really meant to oppose his passage. But when he was told that this was surely their design, he sent out a small detachment of his troops, and ordered them to take those Greeks alive, and bring them bound before him. The Persian troops set out, and attacked the Greeks with great fury; but in an instant they were routed, the greater part slain, and the rest obliged to fly. Xerxes was enraged at this misfortune, and ordered the combat to be renewed with greater forces. The attack was renewed, but always with the same result, although he sent the bravest troops in his whole army. Thus was this immense army stopped in its career, and the pride of their monarch humbled, by so inconsiderable a body of Greeks that they were not at first thought worthy of a serious attack. At length, what Xerxes with all his troops was incapable of effecting, was performed by the treachery of some of the Greeks who inhabited that country. For a great reward, they undertook to lead a chosen body of the Persians across the mountains by a secret path with which they alone were acquainted. Accordingly, the Persians set out in the night, and having passed over the mountains in safety, encamped on the other side.
As soon as day arose, Leonidas perceived that he had been betrayed, and that he was surrounded by the enemy; nevertheless, with the same undaunted courage he took all necessary measures, and prepared for the fate which he had long resolved to meet. After praising and thanking the allies for the bravery with which they had behaved, he sent them all away to their respective countries. Many of the Spartans, too, he would have dismissed under various pretences; but they, who were all determined rather to perish with their king than to return, refused to go. When he saw their resolution, he consented that they should stay with him and share in his fate. All day, therefore, he remained quiet in his camp; but when evening approached, he ordered his troops to take some refreshment, and, smiling, told them to dine like men who were to sup in another world." They then completely armed themselves, and waited for the middle of the night, which Leonidas judged most proper for the design he meditated. He saw that the Persians would never imagine it possible that such an insignificant body of men should think of attacking their numerous forces ; he was therefore determined, in the silence of the night, to break into their camp, and try, amid the terror and confusion which would follow, to surprise Xerxes himself.
About midnight, therefore, this resolute body of Greeks marched out, with Leonidas at their head. They soon broke into the Persian camp, and put all to flight that dared to oppose them. It is impossible to describe the terror and confusion which ensued among so many thousands, thus unexpectedly surprised. Still the Greeks märched on in close order, overturning the tents, destroying all that dared to resist, and driving that mighty army