What else may rule all men free,

Then that great ideal, Democracy

America was not the first to fight

That all may be equal with god-given rights

Nay, the first great defense of freedom resides

In a small coastal pass called Thermopylae

The year was four hundred and eighty B.C.

An era when man was not yet deemed free

Yet there in a country, hope still remained

For the sparks of freedom were bursting aflame

Sparta, it’s kindling, Athens, it’s breeze,

The inferno known to the world as Greece

But Greece was alone, in beliefs and desires

For a flood was now coming, to put out the fire

The Persian Empire, over the whole world reigned

Their ideals were polar, that men should be chained

All enemies vanquished, all nations to him,

All enslaved by Xerxes, Supreme God-King among men

Yet after conquering all, Xerxes still could not let,

The memory of one, he had not conquered yet

There opened a scar, to bleed afresh once more,

The Greeks dealt at Marathon, ten years before

Against his father Darius, outmanned three to one

There did they stand and there they had won

But an ever present danger, now faced all Greece,

Persia was back, it would not taste defeat

With yet one last fruit to pluck from the tree,

Would all Greece now fall, enslaved to tyranny?

This fight they all knew, would test them to the core

For there to be peace, there must sometimes be war

A prophecy was given, by the Oracle at Delphi on high,

That all Greece should fall, lest a king of Sparta die,

One stood up, his destiny sealed by fate

He knew of the place, he just knew not the date

His name was King Leonidas it’s told,

Said to be descended from Herakles of old

He knew the outcome, he knew the price,

He knew the fulfillment would cost him his life,

The bribery came, for riches and splendor,

Should Leonidas choose only surrender,

To bow down to Xerxes and serve only Persia,

To which the King cried “This is Sparta!”

Arrangements were made, the defense of the pass,

There Greece and Persia, would have their first clash

But instead of the 50,000 men that were promised,

Only 300 would go, to die true and honest

With all of their dues and wages then met

The 300 departed, not a hint of regret

Those chosen were fathers, men who’d bore sons,

So their lines would not perish, once Persia had won

They all knew what they needed, to sacrifice,

Their lives, for Greece, their children, their wives

So the 300 Spartans left their homes to die,

In a small coastal pass, called Thermopylae

With Leonidas to lead them, that forsaken band,

There facing 2 million, would they make their stand

For all Greece needed was a little more time,

To ready it’s forces, it’s fate on a dime

Should any of these Spartans, fail in their cause

All Greece would burn, all freedoms lost

The Spartans soon looked ‘pon the crumbling pass,

Defenses were readied, where 300 must last

Yet not alone were they, to be remembered forever,

3000 free Greeks would aid their endeavor

That night Leonidas addressed the swell,

“Eat hearty my brothers, for tonight we dine in hell”

Sunrise then dawned when the Persians arrived,

Once more they implored the Greeks, surrender or die

When again the Greeks denied the Persian request,

It is said to have caused them little unrest,

“Our arrows, so numerous, will blot out the sun!’

“Then we shall fight in the shade” was replied, all talks of peace done

Challenge accepted, the Greeks did commence,

To ready the ranks, prepare their defense,

Their armor was bossed, displaying its shine,

The Spartans were ready, now was their time

Spears all facing forward, shields overlapping

One body, one unit, their helmet plumes flapping

Xerxes first choice of men to make fight

The Medes, a people who were armored quite light

These men stood no chance, a slaughter ensued

An army of conscripts just wouldn’t do

Yet their numbers filled in where experience could not,

Until day turned to night, the Spartans they fought

Night arrived and the ground was ridden afresh

With all forms of gore, carnage and death,

Very little did the Greek line suffer that day,

Little did they know that this was just play

Exhausted the warriors fell into rest,

All knowing that tomorrow they could be next

The very next day the Persians sent forth

All manners of nations, hailing east, south and north

The Spartans never faltered, never ceased to sound

Though little by little were they narrowed down

The ground soon churned sick, up to the knee

With all manner of blood, urine and fluids unholy

Xerxes, the third day, gave one last moment,

For the Greeks to consider his final proponent

“All you must do is lay down your weapons”

“Exclaim me your king, all sins be forgiven”

Leonidas, in his tongue, replied that day,

“Come take them” or “Molon Labe”

Enough is enough, the Persian king thought

So he sent his Elite, the Cream of the Crop

Immortals were they, feared throughout the land,

For their numbers never dipped beneath 10,000

These were his family, his nobles and kings

The loss of these soldiers would actually sting

The Hellenes knowing this were filled with a zeal

Kill a thousand Immortals and Xerxes might yield

The Greeks numbers soon were quickly depleting

Now four days time had they been constantly fighting,

Yet never once, their courage, flee from within

To die was an honor, among comrades and friends

The fifth and sixth day passed with even more death,

The Spartans not succumbing to painstaking breath,

For now did a man not walk upon ground,

But on corpses and bodies, mounds upon mounds,

No longer did one step on dirt but on flesh,

The dead, the dying or those otherwise blessed

But on the seventh day did word reach the Greeks,

A traitor among them, who to the Persians had leaked

The whereabouts of one, a secret mountain pass

Where the enemy could surround and destroy them at last

This news caused dissent on the few who remained,

Whether to flee and to live, or to join countless slain

This thought Leonidas, pondered just for a while,

Until he turned to his brothers and said with a smile,

“My place his here, though I’ll let you decide”

“That all Greece must fall, lest a king of Sparta die”

Some chose to leave, to fight on again

Yet the 300 would stay, with 1000 Thebans

The time came, the Spartans completely surrounded,

Their weapons all broken, their armor discarded,

They now fought with their hands, feet, teeth and rocks

Yet the battle still stood in rigid deadlock

Slowly and slowly the Spartans were beaten,

Until the last of them all were finally defeated,

None of the Spartans were then left alive,

The Persians though suffered some 5000 times 5,

Leonidas was dead, the prophecy fulfilled,

He was but 65 when finally killed,

His sacrifice would now spark the fire needed,

For Persia to later be defeated

Centuries later, there remains

An epitaph to all those slain,

“Go tell a Spartan’s passerby”

“That here by Spartan law we lie”

For the first great defense of freedom resides

In a small coastal pass, called Thermopylae


Jaxon Washburn

Prize Winner of the 2012-2013 Annual Poetry Contest,
Arizona College Prep
Prize Winner of the 2014-2015 Annual Poetry Contest,
Williams Field High School



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