Monday, October 09, 2006


"Honour to those who in the life they lead
define and guard a Thermopylae.
Never betraying what is right,
consistent and just in all they do…
And even more honor is due to them
when they foresee (as many do foresee)
that Ephialtis will turn up in the end,
that the Medes will come after all."
Personally, I originally blamed Cavafy for our predicament, though it is highly unlikely that our homocultural partakers in the globocultural imperium across the Pacific would have ever heard of him, let alone his accomplished poem: "Thermopylae." In that poem which graciously guides this Diatribe through the mountain passes of cognition and into the hearts and minds of true defenders everywhere, Cavafy extols the virtue as well as the irony of those who take a stand and defend it to the end, all the while knowing that their valiant efforts are doomed to failure. Perhaps this message, in its raw artistic form, existing only as typeface and not on celluloid is all too complicated and organic for our trans-Pacific cousins to comprehend, too selfless and subtly Alexandrian self-indulgent to transcend the grand cultural divide and though we do not absolve him wholly of his crime, we must seek other contributory tortfeasors than Cavafy, though his portrayal of events bears as little relevance to the truth as the modern day antics of the demented stormtroopers of the present discourse.
The words «Μολών Λαβέ» are to be originally found in Plutarch's "Apophthegmata Laconica" or "Spartan Sayings" where he refers to the Persian Empire's invasion of Greece. Having allied himself with Macedonia and subdued Central Greece, Xerxes found the mountain pass through to Athens blocked at Thermopylae by Leonidas, King of Sparta, 300 of his "Sire troops" (ie. soldiers that had fathered a child and therefore could be sent on suicide missions - a precursor of the kamikazes if you will) and various other allies ideologically linked to the violent Spartans, who had the temerity to make the world unsafe for Persianocracy. It was well known in ancient times that Greece was a haven for terrorists. The Achaeans, known as the Ahiyawwa in the Luwian tongue terrorized the peace-loving Hittites, the Sea-peoples of Crete invaded Philistia and the Spartans invented political terrorism when maintaining that their spiritual sheikh at the Oracle of Delphi had told them that in order for Sparta to survive the Persian onslaught, one of her two kings must die in battle. Such violent and un-Persian sentiments horrify us today, but apparently, they were all the rage back then, among primitive cultures.
Plutarch picks up the story at this point: «Πάλιν δε του Ξέρξου γράψαντος «πέμψον τα όπλα», αντέγραψε «μολών λαβέ». Metaphrasing into the approved idiom of the imperium, the noble Xerxes acted in the following manner: He sent a messenger to Leonidas, who, bowing and kow-towing in the subtle, Persian manner, prefacing his remarks by a long and rambling introduction in which he alluded to a hot and steamy union of east and west that would confound and arouse the other cardinal directions, announced the following: "Dear Leonidas. We know you have been secretly hiding and supporting the mad sheikh of Delphi. We know also that your way of life is evil in that you expose little children on mountain tops and make fat kids that don't like sport very much run around Cape Taenarum really fast. Your invasion of Messenia and subjugation of her people as helots has also not gone unnoticed. It violates all principles of Mithraic law and is downright un-Persian. Now we are given to understand that you are harbouring a secret weapon so powerful that when released, will cause the entire known world to descend into clouds of flatulence. Therefore, we the Iranian Alliance of Persians, Medes, Bactrians, Sogdians, Carmanians and Gedrosians (are they really with us or not?) demand:
1. That you recognise the importance of the letter C, the number 4 and permit representatives of the Children's Television Workshop to inspect your training camps;
2. That you adopt our way of life immediately;
3. That you resign and submit to trial for your crimes against Persia;
4. That you reveal to us the hiding place of the mad sheikh of Delphi and
5. That you hand over all your weapons of mass flatulence to us immediately. Leonidas replied with a curt: "Come and Get them."
Despite the Spartan Information Minister sending scrolls to all and sundry proclaiming: "Masses and masses of Spartan troops are waiting to repulse the evil hated invader who in reality is merely a stooge of the Canaanite State. The mountains will drink the Persians' blood. This shall be the Cybele of all battles," Ephialtes, a collaborator from Malis, revealed the existence of the Anopean path to the Persian armies, they outflanked the recalcitrant Spartans, their allies melted away and the 300 remaining suicide warriors were destroyed. The Persians lingered for a while longer in Greece as the country descended into chaos. Finally, considering that they could find nothing in Sparta other than beans and that the Greeks were ungovernable anyway, Xerxes surreptitiously pulled his troops out of the country, sweeping his brother Artaxerxes, who was campaigning at home for the Peacock Throne under a platform of "bringing the troops back home," into political oblivion.
No one these days would have remembered the words of Leonidas if it were not for two unfortunate events. One is the 1962 movie entitled "The 300 Spartans" shot in Technicolor at Perachora near Corinth, by Hollywood screenwriters inspired by Cavafy's poem. Their take on the movie was full of subliminal Cold War messages, accompanied by a scintillating soundtrack comprising of the first ten bars of the Greek demotic folk song: «Κάτω στου Βάλτου τα Χωριά.» It was implied that our trans-Pacific cultural cousins were guarding the passes of Democracy against an onslaught by the descendants of Kievan Rus and that if the said descendants of Kievan Rus wanted their land and way of life, they could "Come and Get It." Assuredly, viewers were given to understand, our cultural defenders were possessed of enough weapons of mass destruction as to guard the Free World from any concatenation of unfavourable events that would displace the equilibrium of their hegemony. What leads one to believe that this movie indeed was inspired by Cavafy, is the fact that despite the vast build up of armaments, the descendants of Kievan Rus, never actually came, providing the Alexandrian poet with the last laugh and an interesting moral fable.
In Australia, only the legend of Leonidas' magic beans seem to have been attached to his famous quote as can be evidenced by Peter-Russell Clarke's short cooking segment on the ABC in the eighties entitled "Come and Get It." Quite a few people did, despite this being prior to the emergence of the era of infotainment. The whole show was a savvy critique of Spartan society, suggesting that world peace and the heights of civilization could have been easily achieved, had the Spartans resolved to cook for the Persians, rather than fight them. Generations of Greek restaurateurs attest to the wisdom of this stance.
The NRA advertisement you see accompanying this Diatribe is an abomination of all those Persian inspired historical attempts to make the world a safe place to be. We see the words «Μολών Λαβέ» forming the background of the said advertisement and also emblazoned upon the gun-toting Amazon's cap. This is a savage indictment in itself upon the Greek government's capability to protect our national heritage from misuse. Think how more facile Balkan politics would have been if the Greek government had the foresight to trademark such logos as the Star of Vergina and words as Macedonia and Molon Lave. They could hire them out to interested parties at a premium. Now, it is too late and it is conceivable that in generations to come, descendants of current NRA members will maintain that they are the only true Spartan race and stake an irredentist claim against the Pallaconian Brotherhood and its distinguished dance group.
The caption itself is sobering, implying as it does that any attempt to disarm NRA members will result in them meting out some form of physical violence that will most probably take the form of the firing of a ballistic projectile, as is alluded to in the picture. What the creators of the advertisement, which enjoys a wide circulation in our Trans-Pacific Cultural Motherland don't seem to have picked up upon, is that Persians did not fail to stop Leonidas' 300 Spartans and that 80,000,000 "lawful" Americans, and an unquantifiable number of "unlawful" Americans would do better to re-visit Plutarch and Cavafy and having done so, draw the appropriate lessons from the text, though their threat of domestic armed insurrection seems to be a lesser evil to those who seek to make the world safe and secure, given that it stems from an approved training ground, than that posed by Delphi-trained David Hicks. Perhaps they should stick to their original plan of completing the construction of the Death Star. Cue in heavy breathing and light sabres.
As enraged NRA members fill the mountain passes with their righteous second-amendment anger and their overloads in the Guano-Bleached House continue the hunt for Red October, we, the descendants of those who have been there and done that, send them subtle consolation, in the form of a balm slaved from the genius of John Letts:
“There was once an old man of Thermopylae
who could never do anything properly:
an unhappy fate,
in which I can state
He certainly had no monopoly.”


First published in NKEE on 9 October 2006