I was enjoying a nice Sunday afternoon drive through Collierville -- one of my favorite things to do -- when I began pondering a recent blog post about war, which in turn reminded me of something I read a few days ago in regard to the heroic exploits of Charles Martel.
Greatly outnumbered, Martel led the Carolingian Franks to victories over the invading Umayyad Caliphate amid the Islamic Expansion Era -- most notably at the Battle of Tours (or Poitiers) in central France -- which prevented Muslim forces from advancing further into Europe, likely saving Christendom at that point in history from the same aggressor that America (among others) are essentially facing today.
Though some modern scholars now question the importance of Martel's defeat of Europe's would-be conquerors -- courageously creating elements of doubt over 1,200 years after the fact -- it's clear that the Italian poet Dante Alighieri had numerous reasons to write of Martel as one of the "Defenders of the Faith," not the least of which centered upon his bravery in the face of a hostile and potentially vanquishing adversary.
This brings me to the selected quote, which I pulled from the 2006 movie, 300. Reportedly "90% accurate," the story of Spartan King Leonidas and his men standing in defense of their people and their land speaks of a kind of valor that scarcely exists any longer, which was undoubtedly epitomized by Martel and his men some 1,200 years after the Battle of Thermopylae.
Although this particular exchange is largely fictional, there is no question that Leonidas's resistance to even the most seemingly generous peace offering was key to the survival of his people. Instead of saving himself, as most would have, the Spartan King stood his ground:
Leonidas: Let me guess. You must be, Xerxes?
Xerxes: Come Leonidas, let us reason together. It would be a regrettable waste, it would be nothing short of madness, were you, brave King, and your valiant troops to perish all because of a simple misunderstanding. There is much our cultures could share.
Leonidas: Oh, haven't you noticed? We've been sharing our culture with you all morning.
Xerxes: Yours is a fascinating tribe. Even now, you are defiant in the face of annihilation and the presence of a god. It isn't wise to stand against me, Leonidas. Imagine what horrible fate awaits my enemies when I would gladly kill any of my own men for victory.
Leonidas: And I would die for any one of mine.
Xerxes: You Greeks take great pride in your logic. I suggest you employ it. Consider the beautiful land you so vigorously defend. Picture it reduced to ash at my whim. Consider the fate of your women.
Leonidas: Clearly you don't know our women. I might as well have marched them up here, judging by what I've seen. You have many slaves, Xerxes, but few warriors. It won't be long before they fear my spears more than your whip.
Xerxes: It is not the lash they fear. It is my divine power. But I am a generous god. I can make you rich beyond measure. I will make you warlord over all Greece. You will carry my battle standard to the heart of Europa. Your Athenian rivals will kneel at your feet if you will but kneel at mine.
Leonidas: You are as generous as you are divine, O King of Kings. Such an offer only a madman would refuse. But the, uh, the idea of kneeling, it's... You see, slaughtering all those men of yours has, uh, well, it's left a nasty cramp in my leg, so kneeling will be hard for me.
Xerxes: There will be no glory in your sacrifice. I will erase even the memory of Sparta from the histories. Every piece of Greek parchment shall be burned, and every Greek historian and every scribe shall have their eyes put out and their tongues cut from their mouths. Why, uttering the very name of Sparta or Leonidas will be punishable by death. The world will never know you existed at all!
Leonidas: The world will know that free men stood against a tyrant, that few stood against many, and before this battle is over, that even a god-king can bleed.