Lynn W. Petty
A-3-Arellius Fuscus - Poem by Lynn W. Petty
What is the question asked, remain or flee?
Are our picked ranks made up of raw recruits;
Our Spirits likely to be cowed; are we
To shrink from unaccustomed steel? Our roots
Are those of Greece. Shall I bestow that name
On Spartans or Eleans? What? Must I
Rehearse the countless battles, the acclaim
Of ancestors, the cities sacked? Supply
The names of nations spoiled? Do not men dare
To boast our temples need no walls to guard
Them? Shamed am I by our conduct. From where
Come thoughts that entertain such flight? Regard,
Indeed, that Xerxes comes with countless hosts.
Oh, Spartans! Who is better matched for such
Barbarians? Pay homage to the ghosts
Of your grandsires, venerate your sires, clutch
The honor of their deeds, it is from they
Whose stern example Spartan's souls have learned
To gather thoughts of lofty measure. Yea,
Though I am loath to offer such unearned
Expostulations, for those battles fought,
I speak, exhorting now, you Spartans. Look,
Around us, we are safe. What if he brought
With him the whole of East, we overlook
The sea, which spreads its vast expanse before
Us. We are pressed in narrow scope, beset
By treacherous straits which, around this gore,
Will scarce admit a single rowboat. Set
Beneath the chopping swells, are shallows; wedged
Between the deeper bottoms, rough with sharp
And cutting rocks that rend with double-edged
Abrasive grating and of this sharp scarp
Protecting us from flank attack. All this
Will mock a sailor's prayer. I am ashamed
that Spartans, standing on this precipice,
Should ask their vulnerability. Claimed
Have I, before the battle, Persian spoils.
Shall I not carry home the sacked? The least,
I shall relieve the Persians of their toils,
And they shall know that we fear not the East.
Now, we have yet three hundred men who thus
Have scorned to flee; who thus do mean to fall.
I ask you, think of this: though perilous,
Have we not trained to answer such a call?
Perhaps we can prevail and conquer. Doomed
To death, I do not say you are — to you
Whom I address these words; but, if assumed
You are, and think that death be feared, then through
Your thinking you have greatly erred. No thing
That lives does nature give unending life.
On day of birth had death not fixed its sting?
From weak materials, alloyed with strife,
Has heaven wrought our frames. With slightest stroke
We yield, unwarned by fate. Do not all youth
And children lie beneath that selfsame yoke,
That same inexorable law? In truth,
We long for death, so perfect is the rest,
From struggles born with life but, glory claims
No limits. They who fall, like we, are blessed
To rise the nearest to the gods. Who blames
The person choosing death, is not that road
The road that leads to glory? Need we speak
About Lycurgus? Time cannot erode
The fame of those as handed down by Greek
Account; those heroes whom no peril could
Appall. Enough examples would awake
The spirits of the sleeping gods, which would
Be more than good enough for our own sake.
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