Thermopylae: the Second Day

So to continue on in a military vein for another entry, I ask you to consider the Battle of Thermopylae, not its import or impact, not the proto-fascist interpretations in recent graphic novels and films (“300”), but the real deal. There on the ground, shoulder to shoulder with 10,000 other Greeks staring off at the hordes assembled by Xerxes for the sole purpose of enslaving you, raping the wife and kids, and carrying off the livestock. I am always drawn to the second day of the three day battle, the 24 hours sandwiched between the first day and the hope of success and possibly relief from other Greeks, and the grim destiny of the third day when the progress of the elite Persian Immortals down from behind the battle front means that death is only hours away. What of the second day? Where a combatant has lost hope for both victory and defeat, when the only thing that occupies the mind is the battle itself. Who is fighting, the vast historical and spiritual forces behind the conflict, the political ramifications pale into nothingness on this day. The Mediterranean sun booms out overhead, the armor and greaves become leaden and burn in the heat, sweat pours down the neck and a wound scabs with dust as the battle roars on and the dead of Persia pile high. Is the only real thing in those hours a sip of water, perhaps some bread and cheese, the taste of hot wine? What happens when the fighting and dying become a meaningless never ending round of toil, when spear and sword have been broken and discarded and one is left with nothing but the will with which to continue to do battle? And the day ends in the twilight reflected off the sea, the sounds of gulls and the cries of the wounded and dying echo in the ears, the helmet is laid aside and sleep and weariness overtake mind and body. Is there a grim satisfaction that one is still alive, still able to fight one’s foe and to stop this madness from invading the homes of those one loves. Or is there a final thought — I did all I could to protect my freedom today, tomorrow, tomorrow I will fight harder.

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