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Battle of Thermopylae
http://www.greyhawkes.com/blacksword ^ | 11/15/02 | unknown

Posted on 11/15/2002 2:10:24 PM PST by Sparta

Thermopylae

The Greeks realized that it was only a matter of time before the Persians came back. Darius died in 494 BCE, six years after Marathon. His son, Xerxes, would continue his work. The empire had already expanded as far south, north, and east as possible. The only way to go was west, and conquer Europe. The plan was formulated to invade Greece and Greek Sicily before raiding the rich Italian peninsula.

Xerxes started a large buildup of his army and supplies. He sent slaves to cut a canal through the peninsula at Mount Athos so that his fleet would not meet the same fate as his father’s ships. He had a bridge built across the Hellespont for the army to march across. This was done by lining up boats and connecting them with a bridge. The first attempt was destroyed in a storm, which cost the engineers their lives. The second attempt was successful.

Among the Persians was Demaratus. He had been a king of Sparta until he was exiled on false charges. He had served as an advisor to Xerxes in military matters in Asia Minor, but Xerxes did not seem to believe his advice when it came to the Greeks. Xerxes questioned Demaratus about the Greeks. Xerxes wondered if the Greeks would fight or surrender, considering their small number when compared to the might of Persia. Demaratus informed the King that the Spartans would give battle even if they had only a thousand men to take the field. Xerxes questioned this, asking if the Spartans were such men that they could expect to take on ten men each. Demaratus replied "One-against-one, they are as good as anyone in the world. But when they fight together, they are the best of all. For though they are free men, they are not entirely free. They accept the Law as their master. And they respect this master more than your subjects respect you. Whatever the Law commands, they do. And this command never changes: It forbids them to flee in battle, whatever the number of their foes. He requires them to stand firm – to conquer or die."

The Greeks were well aware that the Persians were building up a massive army. Many of the Greek city-states allied with the Persians to prevent their own destruction, especially those closest to Persia such as Thessaly and Macedonia. Athens got a bit of luck when they discovered a new vein of silver. Instead of dividing the profits with their citizens, Thermistocles convinced the assembly to invest the money in building up the navy. They were able to build and man two hundred additional triremes with the money.

A combined Greek army marched north to try to head off the Persian army in Thessaly at the Pass of Tempe, but they determined that the plain was too wide and it would be too difficult to defend against the Persian cavalry and superior numbers. They decided to pull their armies back.

Representatives from all of the Greek city-states that had not allied with Persia met at Corinth to determine the strategy. The city-states from Peloponnesia, including Sparta, wanted to form a defensive line at the isthmus near Corinth. The city-states east and north of this line wanted a defensive line further north. Thermistocles argued that if Athens fell then the Persians would use their navy to go around the defensive line. He argued that an army at Thermopylae would bottle up the Persians and eliminate the effectiveness of their numbers. Thermopylae was at a narrow stretch of land only 50 feet wide from the cliffs to the sea. Thermopylae took its name from the hot springs there that tourists would come to visit. The narrow pass would not be wide enough for the massive Persian army to out flank them, and it would prevent the use of the Persian Calvary. The Greek navy would protect the army’s flank from the Persian navy. Thermistocles even went to the step of putting the command of the army and navy under Spartan command if King Leonidas would lead the combined army.

Leonidas went back to Sparta to ask for dispensation for the Spartan army to miss the approaching religious holiday, Carneia. The Ephors refused the dispensation. They did not agree that the line should be so far north, but favored a defensive line at Corinth. Furthermore, they received an oracle from Delphi that either Sparta would mourn the loss of a King, or find their city sacked. Under Spartan Law, King Leonidas was allowed to march with his Royal Bodyguard of 300 soldiers without needing dispensation. He planned to march out with his 300 and meet up with allies. They would block the pass until the holiday was over and the rest of the Spartan army would meet them. He realized that it was essentially a suicide mission. The 300 were chosen from men who already had a male heir so that no family lines would die out. As he started the march his wife, Gorgo, met him and asked what she should do. He told her "To marry good men and bear good children."

The Spartans met up with allies along the way to increase their numbers to 7000 soldiers (estimates vary from 4,000 to 8,000). At Thermopylae there was an ancient wall built by the Phoecians to prevent raids from Thessaly, but it was now fallen apart. Leonidas immediately went about rebuilding the wall. He also sent a contingent of local Greeks to protect a goat path that went around the position. He was concerned that if the Persians found out about the track then they would be able to come around behind them and outflank them.

The Persians saw the wall being rebuilt but were not concerned by such a small force. They were more concerned with regrouping their army. The Persian army was so large (estimates vary, but about 200,000-250,000 is most agreed upon) that it took 5 days for the back to catch up with the front. They were literally drinking rivers dry. A spy was sent to see the defenses of the Greeks. The spy could not see past the wall, but was surprised to see the Spartans in front of the wall, combing their hair and doing gymnastics.

An envoy went to the Spartans to warn them to surrender. They explained that there were so many Persian archers that when the fired their arrows blotted out the sun. Leonidas responded "How pleasant then, if we’re going to fight them in the shade." Xerxes waited for five days expecting that the small Greek army would turn in flight as they saw the size of the Persian army opposing them. But the Greeks did not flee.

The first day of battle was mid August 480 BC. It started with the Medes attacking the Greeks in the Pass. The Greeks were able to defeat the Medes either by weapon, or by pushing them off the cliff into the sea. When there seemed to be a stalemate the Spartans would start to run back as if fleeing in fear. The enemy would run after them only to find the Spartans wheeling around and slaughtering more. At the back of the Persian line the commanders were whipping their men to storm forward. The Mede line grew thin and Xerxes sent in a second army, the Cissians, who did not fare any better than the Medes. Three times Xerxes is said to have jumped to his feet for concern over his army. As the first day ended the Greeks were still in the pass and many Persians were dead.

On the second day Xerxes sent another envoy to the Spartans. He told them that Xerxes had great respect for their courage and ability. If they put down their weapons and march away then Xerxes will let them live, and would place them at the head of the Persian army, as it’s first unit. When the envoy asked what answer he should give Xerxes Leonidas told him "Molon labe"-- come and take them. Xerxes proceeded to send in the 10,000 Immortals, his best troops commanded by his brother, Hydarnes. Like the Spartans, they were professional disciplined soldiers. But they did not have the armor and weapons to match the Greeks. Again, the results were the same, at the end of the day the Greeks still held the pass, but Xerxes had lost a brother and many of the Immortals. Now the whole Persian army was demoralized to see the crack Immortals defeated.

A traitor, Ephialtes, told Xerxes about the goat path. Xerxes had the traitor lead the Immortals around the path. He expected that the Immortals would be in position behind the army by noon the next day. Leonidas found out that the track was discovered. He dispatched most of the Greek troops to go back and wait for the next battle. The Thebians refused to leave and were given the position to protect the goat path. The Spartans would not withdraw. By this time many of the 300 Spartans were already injured or dead. Leonidas sent several back as messengers to save their lives. A couple of the older ones sensed what Leonidas was doing and refused to go, saying that they were a soldier and not a messenger. Two of the Spartans had lost their vision due to infection. One insisted on fighting anyway and was led blind into the battle. The other was led back to Sparta and soon regained his vision, but was treated by some as a coward. He proved his valor in the battle of Plataea, but was considered too reckless at that battle. Spartans believed that a man’s valor should keep him solid in the line, neither allowing him to run back as a coward, nor leave the line forward in recklessness. Either action would leave a hole in the line and endanger the other Spartans.

On the third day the remaining Spartans attacked with the aim to do as much damage as they could. Leonidas was killed and there was a fight to retrieve his body. The Spartans finally retrieved his body and retreated to a small hillock nearby. The Immortals found the Thebians unprepared on the path and quickly killed them. They came through the gate to surround the Spartans. Xerxes did not wish to risk further casualties and ordered his archers forward. Volleys of arrows finally killed the Spartans.

After the battle the body of Leonidas was identified. He was decapitated and his head put on a stake. The bodies of the Persian dead were quickly buried to hide the fact that so many were killed by such a small group. In all, about 1,000 - 2,000 Greeks died, while the Persians lost more than 20,000.


TOPICS: Culture/Society; Foreign Affairs; Front Page News; Miscellaneous; Philosophy
KEYWORDS: archaeology; ggg; godsgravesglyphs; history; leonidas; molonlabe; sparta; westerncivilization
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A little something to think about when Western Civilzation was nearly strangled in the cradle. Also, the battle is good story of a last stand, like the Alamo.
1 posted on 11/15/2002 2:10:24 PM PST by Sparta
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To: Sparta
bump
2 posted on 11/15/2002 2:14:42 PM PST by gridlock
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To: Sparta
Thx for the post.
3 posted on 11/15/2002 2:16:37 PM PST by sauropod
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To: Sparta
"Go tell the Spartans, passer-by that here, obedient to their laws, we lie."
4 posted on 11/15/2002 2:17:07 PM PST by IoCaster
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To: Sparta
"Thermopylae had her messenger of defeat-the Alamo had none."
-Thomas Jefferson Green
(inscription on the first Alamo monument in Austin, Texas)

5 posted on 11/15/2002 2:17:32 PM PST by WaveThatFlag
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To: All
I posted a vanity thread about the Western victories over Islamic Hoardes yesterday. If you're interested:

http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/news/789090/posts

God bless Western Civilization in its battle for survival!!
6 posted on 11/15/2002 2:21:58 PM PST by Sparta
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To: Sparta
Excellent post....we can still learn from the past. Tactics and character.
7 posted on 11/15/2002 2:22:36 PM PST by pgobrien
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To: Sparta
As reported by Simonides c556-468 bce. a memorial was placed at Thermoplylae that read:

"Go tell the Spartans, thou who passest by,
That here, obedient to their laws, we lie.

Not a bad epitaph for soldiers.
8 posted on 11/15/2002 2:27:27 PM PST by wildbill
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To: All
I'm starting a Western Civilzation Military History ping list. Let me know if you want on or off.
9 posted on 11/15/2002 2:49:05 PM PST by Sparta
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To: Sparta
Frank Miller's "300" is a fantastic graphic retelling of this story. He takes some creative liberties, but it really captures the essence of this battle.

Thanks for the post.
10 posted on 11/15/2002 2:50:17 PM PST by Lizard_King
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To: wildbill
"When someone said: 'Leonidas are you here like this, to run such a rish with a few men against so many?', he replied: 'If you think that I should rely on numbers, then not even the whole of Greece is enough, since it is a small fraction of their horde; but if I am to rely on courage, then even this number is quite adequate.'"

- The Sayings of Spartans
11 posted on 11/15/2002 3:01:20 PM PST by Toirdhealbheach Beucail
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To: Sparta
Sign me up...
12 posted on 11/15/2002 3:01:55 PM PST by Toirdhealbheach Beucail
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To: Sparta
ping me. thanks.
13 posted on 11/15/2002 3:02:22 PM PST by sphinx
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To: Toirdhealbheach Beucail
rish = risk
14 posted on 11/15/2002 3:02:23 PM PST by Toirdhealbheach Beucail
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To: MattinNJ
Ping
15 posted on 11/15/2002 3:14:08 PM PST by Sparta
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To: Sparta
Great post for a "newbie".

And sign me up for your ping list.

16 posted on 11/15/2002 3:18:45 PM PST by curmudgeonII
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To: Sparta
God bless Western Civilization in its battle for survival!!

Amen. As opposed to the looney left, we believe there are things such as home and hearth and our way of life worth defending.

17 posted on 11/15/2002 3:21:10 PM PST by roderick
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To: Sparta
Have no idea why this story keeps getting posted. The moral standards of the Greeks in those days were far removed from our own. The Persians were much more like modern Americans than were the Greeks.

Recall that in those days the Jews had been in captivity in Babylon. They were saved by the Persians and returned to rebuild the Temple. We derive more than our fair share of philosophy, legal principles, morality and religion from that event. A few interesting stories have been handed down from the Greeks, and that's about it. We look at them as though they were an alien culture, which they were.

18 posted on 11/15/2002 3:23:05 PM PST by muawiyah
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To: Sparta
Bump for later read.
19 posted on 11/15/2002 3:23:19 PM PST by Focault's Pendulum
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To: BrowningBAR
Ping
20 posted on 11/15/2002 3:23:49 PM PST by Sparta
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To: muawiyah
Because Ancient Greece is the birthplace of our Western ideals(capitalism, respect for civil liberties, consentual government, scientific reasoning, the right to live as you please).
21 posted on 11/15/2002 3:28:48 PM PST by Sparta
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To: Sparta
THE ORACLES by A. E. Houseman

'Tis mute, the word they went to hear on high Dodona mountain
When winds were in the oakenshaws and all the cauldrons tolled,
And mute's the midland navel-stone beside the singing fountain,
And echoes list to silence now where gods told lies of old.

I took my question to the shrine that has not ceased from speaking,
The heart within, that tells the truth and tells it twice as plain;
And from the cave of oracles I heard the priestess shrieking
That she and I should surely die and never live again.

Oh priestess, what you cry is clear, and sound good sense I think it;
But let the screaming echoes rest, and froth your mouth no more.
'Tis true there's better booze than brine, but he that drowns must drink it;
And oh, my lass, the news is news that men have heard before.

The King with half the East at heel is marched from land of morning;
Their fighters drink the rivers up, their shafts benight the air.
And he that stands will die for nought, and home there's no returning.
The Spartans on the sea-wet rock sat down and combed their hair.
22 posted on 11/15/2002 3:32:22 PM PST by Gael
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Comment #23 Removed by Moderator

To: Sparta
Count me in. I'd like on that ping list. Good post.

Molon labe bump.

24 posted on 11/15/2002 3:33:37 PM PST by Notforprophet
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To: Sparta
Please add me to your ping list..
Thanks
Semper Fi
25 posted on 11/15/2002 3:36:13 PM PST by river rat
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To: Sparta
bump
26 posted on 11/15/2002 3:37:25 PM PST by VOA
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To: Sparta
How much we owe those ancient Greeks!
27 posted on 11/15/2002 3:39:48 PM PST by WaterDragon
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To: Notforprophet
You ought to check out the linked thread in post 6.
28 posted on 11/15/2002 3:41:13 PM PST by Sparta
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To: muawiyah
The moral standards of the Greeks in those days were far removed from our own.

Depends on the Greek. Modern America is far more like Athens than Sparta.

The Persians were much more like modern Americans than were the Greeks.

In what sense? Neither Greeks nor Americans made obeisance to their rulers, as the Persians did.

A few interesting stories have been handed down from the Greeks, and that's about it.

Now that's an understatement.

29 posted on 11/15/2002 3:44:33 PM PST by Dumb_Ox
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To: Sparta
Also, the battle is good story of a last stand, like the Alamo.

It's even better in Herodotus.

30 posted on 11/15/2002 3:47:40 PM PST by Dumb_Ox
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To: Dumb_Ox; muawiyah
Can either one of you find me a Persian account of the battle. I need a source other than the immoral Father of History. After all, everyone knows the Persians are the fathers of Western Civilization.(sarcasm)
31 posted on 11/15/2002 3:50:45 PM PST by Sparta
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To: Sparta
Alright, who makes up this stuff? Aren't all those people current Hip-Hop and RAP stars?? Are they gonna make a muvee about this sometime? Spielenberger where are you???

GRRRRRRollin' 4 the USA!!

32 posted on 11/15/2002 3:52:34 PM PST by GRRRRR
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To: GRRRRR
Are they gonna make a muvee about this sometime?

I think they already made one about Thermopylae "The 300 Spartians"
33 posted on 11/15/2002 3:56:29 PM PST by Sparta
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To: Sparta
Please add me to your ping list. Thanks.
34 posted on 11/15/2002 3:58:53 PM PST by csvset
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To: Sparta
Thanks for this! I knew Leonidas was the guy who said molon labe, but I didn't know the whole story.
The first attempt was destroyed in a storm, which cost the engineers their lives. The second attempt was successful.
Note that in this history of great men the Tom Daschle of his day would appear here as a footnote, "this is just another terrible example of the Xerxes administration's union-busting policies." Little man!
35 posted on 11/15/2002 4:24:14 PM PST by LibWhacker
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To: wildbill
Even better in the original Greek: o xein', angellein Lakedaimoniois hoti täde/
keimetha tois keinon rhämasi peithomenoi!
36 posted on 11/15/2002 4:33:12 PM PST by aristeides
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To: muawiyah
The Greeks were free men, who thought they were ruled by law, and who despised tyrants. As free men, they thought for themselves, and thereby originated our civilization of reason. As free men, who had a stake in their society, Greek citizens fought with the strength of ten times as many barbarian soldiers.
37 posted on 11/15/2002 4:37:12 PM PST by aristeides
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To: muawiyah
I suggest you read Pericles' "Funeral Oration" for Athenian soldiers. I think it will surprise you how similar they were to us, or at least what they claimed to be was similar to what we claim to be.
38 posted on 11/15/2002 4:42:36 PM PST by yarddog
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To: Sparta; All
There is book called "Gates of Fire" by Steven Pressfield that is a fictionalized but accurate hitorical account of the battle of Thermopylae. It is the the Greco-Persian equivalent of "Killer Angels" or "Gods and Generals." I read it it is very good. The author also wrote the "Legend of Bagger Vance."
39 posted on 11/15/2002 5:25:47 PM PST by eeman
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To: Lizard_King
"Gates of Fire" is also excellent. I don't remember the authors name.
40 posted on 11/15/2002 5:26:46 PM PST by Tailback
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To: All
He realized that it was essentially a suicide mission. The 300 were chosen from men who already had a male heir so that no family lines would die out. As he started the march his wife, Gorgo, met him and asked what she should do. He told her "To marry good men and bear good children."

This is the reason why we will defeat the Islamofascists in this clash of the civilizations. We are willing to sacrifice our lives, fortunes, and our sacred honor to protect everything we have accomplished in the past 2500 years of civilization and most of all for our loved ones. We did not create the only successful economic, governmental, cultural system known to man only to be murdered, enslaved, robbed, and forcibly converted by a group of self-appointed Caliphs and a rag-tag band of suicidal fanatics.

MOLON LABE!!!
41 posted on 11/15/2002 5:32:07 PM PST by Sparta
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To: Sparta
Sparta:
If you would please add the name of TEXICAN to your list. I have long admired the bravery of the Greeks in war. I have a poem that I still remember from the ninth grade (60 years ago) about that stand.

Have a good day, and the very best to you and yours.

Semper Fi
Tommie

42 posted on 11/15/2002 5:40:01 PM PST by Texican
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To: Sparta
On the list for me, please?
43 posted on 11/15/2002 5:43:13 PM PST by denydenydeny
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To: Tailback
Stephen Pressfield.
44 posted on 11/15/2002 5:50:24 PM PST by denydenydeny
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To: Sparta
I don't think there is a Persian version of the battle of Thermopylae. There is one of the battle of Marathon, as translated by Robert Graves:

The Persian Version

Truth-loving Persians do not dwell upon
The trivial skirmish fought near Marathon.

As for the Greek theatrical tradition
Which represents that summer's expedition

Not as a mere reconnaissance in force
By three brigades of foot and one of horse

(Their left flank covered by some obsolete
Light craft detached from the main Persian fleet)

But as a grandiose, ill-starred attempt
To conquer Greece--they treat it with contempt;

And only incidentally refute
Major Greek claims, by stressing what repute

The Persian monarch and the Persian nation
Won by this salutary demonstration:

Despite a strong defense and adverse weather
All arms combined magnificently together.

45 posted on 11/15/2002 5:53:33 PM PST by Verginius Rufus
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To: Sparta
Please add me to your list.
46 posted on 11/15/2002 5:53:33 PM PST by Polybius
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To: Verginius Rufus
I kinda figured that. After all, the barbaric God-Kings didn't publicize their defeats or publish casualty lists of the ordinary soldiers.
47 posted on 11/15/2002 6:07:04 PM PST by Sparta
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To: eeman
There is book called "Gates of Fire" by Steven Pressfield that is a fictionalized but accurate historical account of the battle of Thermopylae. It is the the Greco-

Ah nuts, you beat me to it, I wanted to be the one to reveal this masterpiece to my fellow Freepers. I could NOT put this one down. An equally good book is his next work "Tides of War" Its another fictionalized historical account, this time about Alcibiades and his impact on the Peloponesian War.

Both books are brilliant and compelling. I learned more about the Spartans reading that one book than from a year of "Humanities" (aka European history) in high school. And considering that I never heard of, or remembered, Alcibiades, thanks to this book I now notice him repeatedly mentioned in accounts of the time. The two books certainly don't qualify as official history, but they've gone a long way towards giving me a useful perspective on which to hang the actual facts when I read them.

I haven't picked up his latest book, "Last of the Amazons" because the summary notes mentions a lot more "love" and chicks and other mushy stuff than in the other two. He's pretty prolific, I'm hoping his next book is more along the lines of "Gates of Fire"

48 posted on 11/15/2002 6:12:41 PM PST by MichiganMan
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To: Sparta
Please put me on your ping list Sparta.
49 posted on 11/15/2002 6:14:15 PM PST by Chuckster
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To: Sparta
Good to see poinant old posts revisited.

Molon Labe!
50 posted on 11/15/2002 6:16:25 PM PST by Freemeorkillme
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