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LEONIDAS AT THERMOPYLÆ
 THE Persian army had come to the Pass of Thermopylæ;
and Xerxes, seeing that it was guarded by only a few
men, sent them a haughty message, bidding them
surrender their arms.
Instead of seeing a meek compliance with this request,
as they expected, the Persian heralds were amazed to
hear Leonidas reply with true laconic brevity, "Come
and take them!"
The Spartan king, however, had quickly seen that it
would be impossible for him to do much more than stop
for a while the advance of this mighty host. As a
Spartan never drew back, he made up his mind to die on
the field of battle, and bade his warriors comb their
hair, don their choicest armor, and dress themselves in
their richest attire, as was the custom when some great
danger threatened them and they expected to die.
The Persians, seeing this, were greatly surprised, and
advanced confidently, for they fancied that men who
took so much trouble to curl and perfume their hair
would not be hard to conquer. They soon found out their
As they advanced, the archers shot a volley of
arrows, and in such numbers that they fairly darkened
the sun. One of the allies, seeing this, ran to warn
Leonidas; but he received the startling news with great
coolness, and merely said, "Very well; then we can
fight in the shade."
When Xerxes saw that the Greeks would not yield without
striking a blow, he gave orders for the battle to
 begin. The Persians pressed forward, under the eye of
their king, who sat high up on the rocks to see them
conquer; but, to his surprise, they were driven back by
that mere handful of men.
Again and again they tried to force the pass, but all
their attempts proved vain. The Persian soldiers,
amazed at the courage of the Greeks, were filled with
superstitious fears, and began to refuse to advance,
except when driven onward under the stinging blows of
The king was furious to see their close ranks give way
time after time, and finally ordered his own Immortals to
march on and scatter the army, which, although so
small, was keeping millions of men at bay. He expected
that everything would of course give way at the very
first charge of these troops.
Imagine his wrath, therefore, when he saw the Immortals
also retreat, after many useless efforts to drive away
the enemy. The Persians did not know what to do. They
could not advance, and were ashamed to retreat.