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The words "MOLON LABE" (ΜΟΛΩΝ ΛΑΒΕ) in Greek as they are inscribed on the marble of the modern era monument at Thermopylae.

The Greek phrase Molōn labe! (Μολὼν λαβέ; approximate Classical Greek pronunciation [molɔ̀ːn labé], Modern Greek [moˈlon laˈve]), meaning "Come and take them!" is a classical expression of defiance reported by King Leonidas in response to the Persian army's demand that the Spartans surrender their weapons at the Battle of Thermopylae. It corresponds roughly to the modern equivalent English phrase "over my dead body," "bring it on" or, most closely, "come and get it." It is an exemplary use of a laconic phrase.

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Grammar

The first word, μολών, is the aorist active participle (masculine, nominative, singular) of the Greek verb βλώσκω "blōskō," meaning "having come."[1] Λαβέ is the aorist active imperative (second person singular) of the verb λαμβάνω "lambanō," translated "take [them]."

The two words function together in a grammatical structure not present in English called the circumstantial participle.[2] Where English would put two main verbs in two independent clauses joined by a conjunction: "come and take", a strategy sometimes called paratactic, ancient Greek, which is far richer in participles, subordinates one to the other, a strategy called hypotactic: "having come, take." The first action is turned into an adjective. In this structure, the participle gives some circumstance attendant on the main verb: the coming.

In regard to aspect, the aorist participle is used to signify completed action, called the perfective aspect. Moreover, the action must be completed before the time of the main verb. The difference in meaning is subtle but significant: the English speaker is inviting his enemy to begin a process with two distinct acts or parts – coming and taking; the Greek speaker is telling his enemy that only after the act of coming is completed will he be able to take.[citation needed] In addition there is a subtle implication: in English "come and take it" implies that the enemy might not win the struggle – the outcome is uncertain; in Greek, the implication is that the outcome is certain: "after you have come here and defeated me, then it will be yours to take."[citation needed] For comparison, these elements happen to be present in the previously-noted English phrase, "over my dead body", or the similar phrase "I'll give you my gun when you take it from my cold, dead hands."

History

Μολὼν λαβέ was reportedly the defiant response of King Leonidas I of Sparta to Xerxes I of Persia at the onset of the Battle of Thermopylae (480 BC). Xerxes, whose forces vastly outnumbered the Spartans and their allies, offered to spare the lives of Leonidas and his three hundred warriors if they would only surrender and lay down their weapons.

Instead, the Spartans held Thermopylae for three days and, although they were ultimately annihilated, they inflicted serious damage upon the Persian army, and most importantly delayed its progress to Athens, providing sufficient time for the city's evacuation to Salamis Island. Though a clear defeat, Thermopylae served as a moral victory and inspired the troops at the Battle of Salamis and the Battle of Plataea.

The source for this quotation is Plutarch, Apophthegmata Laconica, 225c.11. This work may or may not be by Plutarch (ca. 46 - 127) himself, but it is included among the Moralia, a collection of works attributed to him but outside the collection of his most famous works, the Parallel Lives.

Modern usage

Molon labe has been repeated by many later generals and politicians in order to express an army's or nation's determination to not surrender. The motto ΜΟΛΩΝ ΛΑΒΕ is on the emblem of the Greek First Army Corps,[3] and is also the motto of United States Special Operations Command Central (SOCCENT).[4] The expression "Come and take it" was a slogan in the Texas Revolution.

Molon labe has been used once again in Greek history, during the 3rd of March 1957 battle between EOKA guerilla fighters in Cyprus, and the British Army. On March 3, 1957, after someone had betrayed his location, the British forces surrounded secret hideout of the Second in Command in the hieararchy of EOKA Grigoris Afxentiou outside his secret hideout near the Machairas Monastery. At the time, inside the hideout was Afxentiou and 4 fellow guerilla fighters. Realising he was outnumbered, Afxentiou ordered his teammates to surrender whilst he barricaded himself for a fight to the death. The British have asked Afxentiou to come surrender as well and he replied with the phrase Molon labe, imitating the ancient Greek Spartans. Unable to drive him out and after sustaining casualties, the British forces resolved to pouring petrol inside his hideout, burning him alive. In fear of popular uprising, the British buried his scorched body at the Imprisoned Graves, in the yard of the Central Jail of Lefkosia, where it lies until today.

In the Anglosphere, both the original Greek phrase and its English translation are often heard from pro-gun activists as a defence of the right to keep and bear arms. It began to appear on pro-RKBA web sites in the late 1990s and early 2000s. In the wake of firearm seizures during Hurricane Katrina and the subsequent defiance by the New Orleans government of Federal court orders to return seized weapons, the phrase has again gained popularity among Second Amendment supporters.

Molon labe has been recently used in the 2007 feature film 300 in which Leonidas speaks this famous line in English in response to "Spartans! Lay down your weapons!" as "Persians! Come and get them!" In the 1999 comic book of the same name, upon which the film is based, the phrase becomes "Come and get it", with no exchange concerning the laying down of arms.[5] In the earlier 1962 film The 300 Spartans Leonidas says the phrase both in Greek and English to the Persian general Hydarnes. The same exchange contains Dienekes' remark about "fighting in the shade" (as Persian arrows would "blot out the sun"), assigned to Leonidas.

Notes

  1. ^ Refer to the Internet version of Liddell and Scott (the standard ancient Greek lexicon, which exists in many editions).
  2. ^ Different ways to phrase this name are in use. For simplicity, the one used here comes from Alston Hurd Chase and Henry Phillips Jr., A New Introduction to Greek, Lesson 21. Chase and Phillips is an elementary textbook on ancient Greek.
  3. ^ Insignia with Motto.
  4. ^ See the top of the page for the two logos and their motto usage.
  5. ^ Miller, Frank (w, p, i). 300 (1999), Dark Horse Comics, ISBN 1569714029 Collected hardcover edition.

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