Each of the generals spoke to the assembly of soldiers. One after another they exhorted the men to be brave in this terrible hour.
Xenophon showed up in his finest outfit, all decked out for battle. “I figured that if the gods were going to give us a victory, I’d better dress up for it; and if I had to die, I might as well do it with grandeur.” He knew his gala outfit would remind the soldiers of the glory of their profession. It also brought “grandeur” to his words. Surprise, curiosity made the men silent.
Emperor Trajan addressing his troops, from Trajan’s Column, Rome
“Do you know what we are, gentlemen? We are the gods’ avengers. What could be more insulting to them than the way the Persian king broke his oath and murdered our comrades? We honor the gods, we sacrifice to them. They will protect us….”
Someone sneezed. They whole army cheered and “kissed their hands to heaven”. A sneeze was a good omen.
Xenophon knew how to use it. “Look, just now while we were speaking of the gods’ protection, here comes an omen from heaven, from Zeus the Savior. He is telling us that He is with us. Don’t you think we should now make a vow to give Him a Thanksgiving for our salvation as soon as we reach a friendly country? Whoever agrees let him hold up his hand.”
All hands went right up and the men made their vow with great devotion. Xenophon began to chant their battle hymn and the entire army followed him. By the end of that hymn they were standing and in tears.
When they had sat down again Xenophon said: “You know, the Athenians made a vow in their great hour of danger too—just before the Battle of Salamis. They promised Artemis that they would sacrifice to Her as many goats as they should kill Persians. Do you know what happened? There weren’t enough goats in all of Greece for that joyous sacrifice. (Cheers)
So they resolved to sacrifice five hundred every year. And they still do that, as you know.”
He went on to tell them about the bravery of their ancestors and how the little army of Greek patriots had defended their freedom. “And don’t think you men are any less than your forefathers. You were brilliant in that last battle with Artaxerxes’ crack troops and most of you had had no experience fighting. So brilliant, in fact, that after Cyrus was killed those Persians, many times your number, were afraid to attack you. (Laughter)
“ARE WE GOING HOME, comrades? Are you ready?”
A thunderous shout went up. The men stood, they hugged each other, they threw up their hands to heaven.
It was a long time before the army had quieted down. Xenophon waited with his head down.
General George Patton addressing his troops
Finally he lifted it and went on: “Though I’m not so sure we shouldn’t stay here,” he said, puzzling everyone. “Maybe we ought to settle down here in his territory just to get back at the king and make him miserable. Give him hell all year.” (Laughter)
“The trouble I see with that plan is that you fellows will get used to dallying with all the pretty Mede and Persian girls and go soft. You might end up like the lotus eaters and forget Hellas, your families, and your homes in the most beautiful country there ever was.” (Shouts of “No! Never!”)
“No, it’s better we go right home and teach our people a lesson.”
(Faces of doubt in the audience—teach OUR people a lesson?)
Xenophon nodded. “Yes. We’re going to come home so heavy with riches that they will see that they are poor only because they want to be.” (Smiles. Chuckles).
Xenophon’s face got stern. What he had to tell the men now was hard. “We’ll pick up all those riches later, gentlemen. Later. Now our job is to get out of here as fast as we can and to do that we’ve got to get rid of everything but our weapons and marching food. We can’t have good fighting men acting as porters and wagon drivers.
I say every man should burn everything he can’t carry! Burn the wagons! Burn the tents too! We can’t let them slow us down. Remember this: if we lose this fight, everything we have will belong to the enemy anyway; and if we win, they will be our porters.”
There was a vote and the men heartily agreed. During the next hour the camp was a place of great excitement. The men joked as they tore down their tents and brought them to great bonfires where their wagons blazed. Merrily they tossed onto them all the souvenirs they had accumulated on their long march into Asia. They kidded one another while they put on their armor and prettied themselves for battle.
It was only beginning to dawn when they formed their columns, ready to march back home to Greece.
Read how they did that in Your Time to Be a Hero 4
Back to Your Time to Be a Hero 1
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Thanks, erika. I hope I can wrap up the story in just one more post. Xenophon’s generalship seems more interesting than the episodes of the march. Anyway, you know the ending! It isn’t yet over when they reach the sea and cry “Thalassa, thalassa!”
I was looking forward to the conclusion only to find out there would be a part 4! Now I can only hope the wait for part 4 won’t be long. So much suspense.
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