S.A. Bent, comp. Familiar Short Sayings of Great Men. 1887.
[King of Sparta; succeeded his brother, 492 B.C.; commanded the four thousand, or, as some say, seven thousand, Greeks who defended the Pass of Thermopylæ against the army of Xerxes, 480, until he found his position turned, when he died at the head of his Spartans.]
Unless I had been better than you, I had not been king.
When some one said to him, Abating that you are king, you are no better than we.
His wife Gorgo, when he went forth to fight the Persians at Thermopylæ, asked him what command he left with her. Marry brave men, and bear them brave children, was the reply. To the ephors, who remarked that he was leading few to Thermopylæ, he said, They are many, considering on what design we go. He assured one of the soldiers at Thermopylæ, who feared that the flight of Persian arrows would darken the sun, Therefore it will be pleasant for us to fight in the shade.
Xerxes wrote to Leonidas, that, if he would consult his interest, he might be lord of all Greece; to which the Spartan replied, If you understood wherein consists the happiness of life, you would not covet other mens; but know that I would rather die for the liberty of Greece than be a monarch over my countrymen; and to the Persian monarch, writing again for a delivery of the Spartan arms, Leonidas returned one of those answers, called, from Laconia, another name of his country, laconic,Come and take them. (All these sayings are inventions.)
When he had resolved to oppose the advance of the Persian army, he ordered his soldiers to dine, saying, This night we shall sup with Pluto! Simonides wrote the epitaph of the Spartans: