Palatine Manuscript

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"Go, Tell The Spartans"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: In 480 B.C. Xerxes, seeking revenge for Darius' defeat at Marathon in 490 B.C., invaded Greece. The Pass of Thermopylae was defended by 300 Spartans under their King Leonidas and by 7,500 other Greeks, who held out for three days until a traitor revealed to the Persians a back path. Then many of the Greeks retreated, but Leonidas and his Spartans died trying to hold the pass. A contest was held to choose a fitting inscription for a monument to their memory. It was won by Simonides of Ceos who had beaten Aeschylus for a similar epitaph for those killed at Marathon. He submitted a two-line epigram, a poetic form that sums up a situation or makes some terse or apt comment, or is antithetical. This poetic form, of which Simonides is recognized as the greatest Greek writer, went into Latin literature with Catullus, Martial, and others, where it was often accompanied by a barb of satire, as later in the epigrams of Voltaire. With Alexander Pope and his heroic couplets, it appeared in English literature. The epigram of Simonides was engraved on the monument, which has since disappeared, but the words have survived. Strabo (c.63 B.C.–c. A.D. 21), who saw it on the column, quoted it. So did Herodotus (VII, 228), Cicero, Plutarch, and others. About 90 other epigrams remain of those written by Simonides, greatest Greek lyric poet before the Persian invasion. Many are contained in a tenth century Byzantine Greek anthology found in 1606 in the library of the Counts Palatine. Others have been discovered in an anthology compiled by Maximus Planidus, and printed in Florence in 1484. Literally the two lines declare:

Oh passerby, tell the Lacedaemonians
That we lie here, obeying their orders.