The End of Sparta: An Excerpt

Private Papers

After the battle of Leuktra, and the defeat of Sparta, the Thebans parley with the Spartan general Lichas, who remains as defiant as ever:

“I said hear your Lichas. You won a battle. A big one. But not this war. A bigger war — megas kindunos. That you will have in days. Then my men from the coast get here with our other king’s son. Or now we march out home. Then go home. Or will we stay here? And kill you all?”

Whether he smiled or grimaced, few could tell. So far his talk was nonsense. “We go in the night. It is written by the gods that Sparta survives Leuktra. You do the second thinking; Lichas does the first killing of the enemies of Hellas. No, you won’t kill me, the last true Hellene. You’d miss, need me too much. Kill me? Then you would kill Sparta. Then who would protect you weaker ones from the wild men from the north and east?”

Pelopidas came up and raised his spear, but he was checked by the hand of Epaminondas. Still, Pelopidas thought it better to kill this man now. Ainias nodded to him and grasped his hilt. Never again would such men as their own be together to get this close to the Spartan. If it was not done now, both sensed that this man would bring them and their own catastrophe upon catastrophe in the year ahead. But it was the softer Proxenos who already had his spear out. He was lowering it in the shadows for a groin stab, for a foul black mood had come over him as Lichas and his brood neared. He was a man of vast lands and black soil and halls with marble columns, while these lords of Sparta lived in hovels and knew not a plum from an apricot. Proxenos did not believe Nêto’s prophecies about a bad end across the Isthmos, but he did sense that one day he would march safer in the Peloponnesos without the evil of Lichas and his tribe.

Epaminondas stepped even closer, to within five palms’ width of the Spartan’s face. “You claim to be Lichas? You carried the dead king out. I apologize — for not killing you myself. But we had others of the royal blood today to deal with first. You yourself have lived too long, old man.”

Lichas blustered at that. “None of us ever explain what we do. We do all for Hellas — make her free. I keep the good on top to take care of the weak like you on the bottom. You only talk of making the bad equal to the good so that we all end up bad. Yes, what you cannot be, you would tear down. But we are the Hellenes, you its polis destroyers. Sparta is Hellas, Hellas Sparta, nothing more, nothing less.”
Lichas spat out some of the dried goat meat he was gumming on. Then he continued, looking at Mêlon.

“Is it to be more war? Or do my Spartans march out under truce? No difference to me. I killed ten of you today, and got back Spartan armor from the babe in diapers who thought he could wear it.” Then he laughed at all that and stepped a pace closer….

©2011 Victor Davis Hanson

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