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Thermopylae

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Thermopylae

Honour to those who in the life they lead
define and guard a Thermopylae.
Never betraying what is right, 
consistent and just in all they do
but showing pity also, and compassion; 
generous when they are rich, and when they are poor, 
still generous in small ways, 
still helping as much as they can; 
always speaking the truth, 
yet without hating those who lie. 

And even more honour is due to them
when they foresee (as many do foresee) 
that in the end Ephialtis will make his appearance, 
that the Medes will break through after all. 

This poem is by Cavafy, one of the preeminent Greek poets of modern times. Thermopylae was the narrow pass where in 480 BCE Leonidas and his 500 Spartans held up the entire Persian invasion army long enough for the other Greeks to prepare their defence. Eventually they were outflanked when a local guide showed the Persians a mountain path that let them bypass the Spartan roadblock. Leonidas and the 500 famously refused to surrender and fought on to the last. When the Persian king Xerxes demanded they lay down their arms Leonidas is supposed to have answered “μολὼν λαβέ” - molon lave - “you come and get ‘em”.

There’s an interesting discussion of Cavafy and his work here

http://www.patrickcomerford.com/2013/11/reading-poems-of-cp-cavafy-in-greek.html

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