Inspirational Message

There’s a quote I keep on my wall that I’ve had since my college days. Its from Herodotus’ Histories, and it is one of the first one-liners written. 2,500 years before Arnold said “I’ll be baack” the goddess Athena made a quip that started a battle which won the war. But first, the back story.

The Persians, under the leadership of Xerxes, were attempting to do what his father Darius had tried (and failed at) 10 years before; conquer the land on the other side of the Aegean. (wiki) If you’ve seen the movie 300 then you have some idea about the battle at Thermopylae which was a holding campaign to help the southern parts of Greece gather together to stop the huge army collected by Xerxes. The last large city to fall to the invaders was Athens. Because of the sacrifice at Thermopylae, most of the Athenian citizens were able to cross over from the city to the small island of Salamis. When the Persian fleet and the Persian army moved into Athens, the citizens could watch their town being destroyed across the narrow straights. It was probably not a pretty sight.

The Greek naval plan was to trick the Persians fleet to following with their much larger (and less maneuverable) triremes into the straights of Salamis, where the smaller area would favor the smaller Greek vessels. To accomplish this, the Greeks first rowed out to meet the Persians fleet (all of the ships were human powered), and then “back-watered” (rowed backwards) into the narrow straights.

The plan worked well, with only problem being that at some point they had to stop rowing backwards, and engage the enemy. As Herodotus correctly points out, the first boat to do this, to essentially be ahead of the other Greeks, would be a sitting duck. Armeinias of Pallene, commanded the first ship to stop “backing-water,” and thus will forever have the honor being first, at the cost of his life.

Before that actually happened, it was not clear if the combined Greek fleet would actually engage the enemy. So it was at this crucial point, when the enemy was now fully engaged within the narrows, and the Greeks needed to start rowing forwards, that Athena gets her line. The quote, in Greek, is:

“ὦ δαιμόνιοι, μέχρι κόσου ἔτι πρύμνην ἀνακρούεσθε”

Roughly translated it reveals the question: “Oh men, how long will you back-water?” But this doesn’t quite capture the feeling. Sacred texts (the bottom of paragraph 84) has translated this as “Madmen, how far will ye yet back your ships?” A more modern translation into American English (as used by Sergeants in the Army) would be, “Common, you fucking pussies. How long are you going to keep fucking around?”

And this line of Athena’s (the patron saint of Athens) is what I keep on my wall. “Common, asshole. Get a move on.” A reminder that no matter what the preparation, at some point one needs to face one’s dreams, and either make them real, or die trying.

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