Lord Vicar – “The Spartan”

“Many have sung about the Gates of Fire.” Indeed, the story of King Leonidas and the 300 Spartans is one of the most iconic episodes in the history of ancient Greece, and it is especially popular among metal bands who take on classical themes. The Manilla Road album “Gates of Fire”, for instance, takes its name from the site of this battle, Thermopylae (lit. “Hot Gates”), and that album is the current profile picture for this page (I got an artist at work on a new logo – stay tuned!).

Herodotus provides our fullest account of the battle, how Leonidas commanded a few thousand Greeks, led by his royal bodyguard of 300 Spartan hoplites, against what well may have been the largest army yet assembled, numbering in the hundreds of thousands. Herodotus numbers the Persian king Xerxes’ multinational coalition in the millions, but ancient sources love to exaggerate. Among the tiny force defending Greece from invasion in 480 BCE, the Spartans welcomed death and glory with a cheerful demeanor, and in obedience to their national custom of standing their ground, following orders, and never surrendering. This force was eventually surrounded and annihilated, but their memory is immortal, commemorated in song from that time to now.

The poet Simonides was among the first to do just that, penning a fitting epitaph for the 300 shortly after the war:

ὦ ξεῖν’, ἀγγέλλειν Λακεδαιμονίοις ὅτι τῇδε
κείμεθα, τοῖς κείνων ῥήμασι πειθόμενοι.

Stranger, report to the Spartans that here
We lie, obedient to their words.

The Finnish doom metal band Lord Vicar carry on the tradition begun by Simonides, and echo his words in their tribute to the fallen in this song from their 2008 debut album “Fear No Pain.”

“Let the whole world remember:
We took our sacred oaths
and never ran”

The song ends as though spoken by the dead who fell, speaking to us through the millennia. They speak of how they followed the example of their leader, king Leonidas, who “would give his life away.” Indeed, there was a prophecy that the Spartans would lose a king as a sacrifice for the preservation of their liberty. The song is in part a meditation on how the charisma of a single person can persuade people to give even their lives for a cause. To the 300, it was worth it, since even though the soil that covers their grave reaches ever higher, it cannot eclipse their immortal fame. The fame of those who “fear no pain.”

Many have sung
about the Gates of Fire
About the narrow way
which leads to Hell
Guarded by the men
who never tire
Three hundred braves
who laughed before they fell

They were led by a strong
and restless soldier
At his peak
he would give his life away

Running side by side
his men would follow
A deadly wall of bone
that would remain

“Hear me, my respected brothers;
Take as many with you as you can!
Let the whole world remember:
We took our sacred oaths
and never ran”

Reaching higher every day
The soil that covers our graves
Still remembering the pain
We died protecting our way

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