by Victor Davis Hanson
The End of Sparta  comes out today. Now and then I will post excerpts from the novel. Today’s is the Theban council before the battle of Leuktra. As the Thebans debate whether to meet the Spartans the next morning on the plain of Leuktra, Nêto the prophetess assures them that the omens are good — and the virgin ghosts about Leuktra will fly above protecting them, keeping the Boiotians safe from the Spartans and the dreaded daughters of night — the demon Kêres who swoop down and feast on the wounded and dying:
Even the glum ones such as Philliadas were stunned silent once they heard that the violated virgin ghosts of Leuktra were to be in the skies floating above them in battle, tearing at the red-capes. They would keep away the winged demons of death from the Thebans. These were the Kêres, the blood- sucking goddesses who appeared, at one time or another, at all the battles of the Hellenes, drawn from afar by the shouts of battle and the smell of gore — with their craws full of man-flesh and sharp claws plucking up any who were tottering — assured that the life-threads of these victims were already spun by Klôthô, measured by deathless Lachêsis, and then cut by their partner Atropos, and that all three of the divine Moirai had nodded to their flying henchwomen that the doomed could now be stripped, their carcasses feasted upon, their souls whisked off to Hades.
In battle, the untouched hoplites saw none of the Kêres of this nether world. Only the blood- spattered and dying were given the sudden vision of these feathered vultures, who grew fat from the carnage. When sated, the women of the night landed in weariness among the flies and dung to walk off their meal, and vomit and crap out tooth and bone, and then fly up for more. They flapped off cackling and farted out the fumes of human blood. Yes, on oaks around the battlefield the Kêres perched and fouled the ground with their red pus dung. They stank, as they always dove back, eye- level over the battlefield, with their pale breasts, bloody tunics, and long white fangs — eyeing any falling hoplites that could be grabbed and torn apart before the souls went down into Hades. The foolish among the dying saw their female full-white breasts and long red nipples, and paused — only to find fangs in their necks and talons under their arms as they were snatched up.
All these would fly above the battle tomorrow — and yet the hoplites were encouraged that perhaps the good ghosts of the virgins of Leuktra might keep the black daughters of night away from them.
As the Spartan phalanx crumbles at Leuktra and King Kleombrotus falls, suddenly Lichas of legend appears to save his king and any left of his army:
Wrinkled almost beyond recognition of being a Spartan hoplite, scarred, and bald, this monster stormed into the final killing, scoffed at the spears tips bobbing in his face, and tried to save his dying lord whom he had ridiculed the last nine years. His huge son Antikrates followed him, eager to outdo the father, and himself prepared to carry out both their corpses, if need be— father and king one on each shoulder.
Lichas and his son were frantic. “Save the king! To the camp! All alive back to the camp! Eis to stratopedon. To me, rally to me!” Neither cared anything for the collapse of the Spartan ranks, much less the truth that the day of his parochial state was over. No, it was enough this day that they were Spartans — now in the joy of battle, with their grip on shield and spear, whether that be here in the north or far to the east. Lichas’s last son was with him. Good men lived — even if his other boy, Thôrax, was gasping now for breath, after Chiôn’s spear had torn apart the sinews of his neck behind the ear.
Whether in the heyday of Spartan power or amid its twilight also counted for nothing. He was stalking proudly upright despite his age. If the Spartans were to lose, they would lose in the way of Leônidas and Lysander — and Lichas — killing as they protected their king with all blows to their front. The stabbing in this last battle grew fiercer still. But Lichas laughed as he heard the dying around him in vain begging the Kêres to pass them by, the vultures of death back above Mêlon and Chiôn. The black deities kept their wide distance from Lichas — lest such a man strike even these deathless ones a fatal blow. No, Lichas laughed, even Nyx, queen of her dark brood, fears my smell.
©2011 Victor Davis Hanson