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ARETE

by
Tyrtaeus (Tyrtaios)

Seventh century BC


NOTE: It is said that Tyrtaeus was a lame schoolmaster, sent by the Athenians as likely to be of the least assistance to the Spartans. He later became a citizen of Sparta.  In Greek, Arete meant excellence, virtue, and superiority. The poems Tyrtaeus wrote were used to inspire the Spartan soldiers to deeds of heroism in the field.

&/\&/\&

Rise up, warriors, take your stand at one another's sides,

your feet set wide and rooted like oaks in the ground.

Then bide your time, biting your lip, for you were born

from the blood of Heracles, unbeatable by mortal men,

and the god of gods has never turned his back on you.
 

So cast off whatever fears arise at the armored legions

they'll muster before you, hedge yourself round

with hollow shields, and learn to love death's ink-black

shadow as much as you love the light of dawn.

So that when the hour comes, the battle lines drawn,
 

you won't hang back beyond javelin and stone but,

marshaled into ranks, advance as one to engage your enemy

hand to hand. Then hefting your bronze-tipped

spears and raking the air with your broadswords,

set foot to foot, battle dress to weaponry,
 

horsehair crest to polished mail, and --- helmet to helmet,

eye to eye --- mangle their gear, hack off limbs, lay open

the organs that warm their chests, then beat them down

until the plain runs red with enemy blood and you

still stand, breathlessly gripping your wet sword's hilt.
 
 

&/\&/\&


 
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