Ancient History & Civilisation


The Breaking Point

Like some tawny hedgehog that is riled by the hunter’s dog out of his deep field hole with spines erect, the Boiotian phalanx had shuddered and then, at last, had lumbered out to face the red Spartan line—this, the best army of men Boiotia had ever fielded in the memory of the elders, better even than the men at Delion who beat back the Athenians over fifty summers before. Never had Mêlon marched leftward. He squinted out the eye-holes of his Korinthian helmet. But he could see no helper god Herakles yet at his side. He thought he saw a glimpse of some deity in the sky, but it was a harsh one—in black with white incisors, and a pale female one at that. She flapped her long wings of ugly skin and feather, the length of two, maybe three hoplites. Ugly pale breasts with black braids bounced about on this thing, this monster, the Kêr, scavenger of the dead, the courier woman of Hades. Where were the virgins of Leuktra, who were promised to fly up and bat away the smelly daughters of night?

Then Mêlon’s trance ended as the two armies kept on course for the crash. Spartans ahead. A long spear line of them. Now not more than twenty paces away. Their death music louder. He could hear that much. They would come on, shield touching shield—not like the farmers of Boiotia running with underhanded spears hoping to crash in and break through the slow-moving wall.

Lichas had already led the Spartan cavalry against the Theban horse and saw his mounted men beaten back and mostly killed. Now he leaped down and headed to the king’s guard on foot, his side braids flapping out of his helmet, his retainer taking his mount behind the phalanx. Lichas was laughing in joy to be spearing as a hoplite, even as he yelled to the flutists, “Play them louder still, my pipers. It makes the pigs mad with the god Pan. We will eat them by noon. Look how they herd up. All good and ready to be slaughtered. All in a neat bunch. Follow me to the kill. Keep in step, not a gap in the ranks. Don’t let them get to our sides! Shields chest high. Forward into the spears—eis dorata. Slow, steady in our walk of death. Spear, bleed these pigs. I rout their horsemen as play. Hear our Tyrtaios, hear him—‘Let you never relax from war.’ Where are you now, my Antikrates, where is my boy killer?” He screamed on without worry that not a one of his helmeted Spartans heard him and that the mass of Thebans was heading right for him.

Mêlon across the way knew that none could hear him either, given the clatter of gear and their bronze helmets, and the war cry of the Spartans. But the same advice came out nonetheless to Chiôn on his right and the quivering Staphis on the left. “Run. Keep moving. Shields out. High and out. Bunch together. No gaps. No gaps. No stops—all eyes ahead. Look at the men you kill. Steady, men, steady. Spears level. All at once. All at once, aim for their throats. Hit them as one, all together. Chiôn, my Chiôn, here they are, the eyes of these Spartan snakes. Endure it, men. Endure it, my Staphi. Staphi, Staphi stay left. Left. Left, left—drift to the good side. Always to the good side move. Hit them on their right, from the flank on their naked right. We go left. Pros t’aristeron. Eis euônumon.”

Still, few heard a word. There was too much iron and wood—and, for most of the terrified, the shrieks of the circling black Kêres above. Mêlon’s helmet was down. Dust was in his mouth and ears. He was dizzy and wondered why he was running. No more trot now, he was running with the bad leg—faster even to the hated left, faster than he remembered from the old battles. The rear ranks are pushing me ahead, he thought. They’re knocking me over, my own men, the fifty aspides from the rear. My elbows are free as we run. Good sign, good sign in these early moments. Yes, the big shove, the ôthismos that knocks us ahead. Do these doomed reds, these blurs up ahead, do they have any notion of these fifty shields at our backs? Poseidon’s wave is about to knock them over. Yet they walk, walk into our charge?

What would the others, these young ones—Mêlon kept thinking—these who had never stood down the Spartan, what would they do with this wave, this push of their friends’ shields breaking on their backs? They might panic. Or be knocked over before they hit the wall of the red-capes. He could hear the Boiotian paean, the war cry—eleleleu, eleleleu, eleleleu.

Chiôn alone was quiet and a step ahead, worried that his master’s slow leg meant they could not be four or five paces closer to the oncoming Spartans. The Boiotian front lines hit the enemy at a run, shuddered, recoiled, bunched back up, and then began to push, stab, and pour into any gaps where Spartans had gone down. In a few moments, it was all Mêlon could do to keep his feet, even as he was struggling to move to the left with the others on the front line and get to the flank of the Spartan right wing. His left arm was battered and stung. The hard rims of the friendly shields from the rear kept pushing on his back shoulder to force him forward. He could not hear his Chiôn yell, “Forget your hobble. No Chôlopous now, master. Let them at our backs do the work. Jab our spears into their faces.”

The Spartans were upon them all. Mêlon revived from a brief moment of darkness after the crash of the armies. Spartans everywhere—horsehair, braids, and plate bronze in a sea of red tunics and wooden shields, the lambdas on their shields eyeing him. His own to the rear kept blindly pushing him through these crimson lines. Shafts hitting at all angles, the battle now a maze of wood, round shields, and tall spears that not even the god of war could sort out. Mêlon’s long Bora struck something and shuddered, first before most others. Why not—his tip was four palm’s widths longer than most of the first line. He at least knew where they were—at the symbolê, at the first hit between the two armies. Then came the terrible counter-blows from Spartan spears. At first only a few spent jabs glanced off Mêlon’s breastplate. But soon his shield shuddered and cracked from hard spear thrusts. In these first moments none of the stabbers of the enemy line had hit his throat. His groin was untouched. Not so with the enemy. Thebans here on the left had struck the enemy royals at an angle, hit an entire line on their unshielded right sides as they had tried in vain to move to their right and behind the mass of Boiotians—who had won the race to the flank.

The noise reminded him of a hard spring hail on Helikon, when he worked on the olive press in the cold shed, under the din of Zeus’s storm. It was like clattering ice on the roof tiles above. Amid the clanging, Mêlon was stabbing and bashing with his shield as the Spartan resistance stiffened. Soon he was nearly crushed between the pressure of spear points ahead and his own shields behind—before breaking deeper into the Spartan mass ahead. Then as the line plowed on, Spartans inside on his flanks grabbed at him amid their ranks. “Just keep on your feet, fool,” he muttered to himself. Mêlon tried to steady himself, as the shields behind continued to send him forward, as he sought to keep his own shield high on his left to give Staphis cover, as he took safety in Chiôn’s wooden shield on his right, as he stabbed over the shield rims of the enemy, as shafts from the rear grazed his helmet, as he went ahead in unison with his own, as he stepped over spears and shields—and men—on the ground. The best hoplite was not the strongest right arm, Mêlon knew, but he who could cover his neighbor, stab, advance, keep his balance amid the flotsam at his feet, and hide in the shield cover from his right—all at once.

At Mêlon’s side, a husky Spartan broke through a small gap that just for an instant had opened between himself and Staphis. The long-haired killer—he was known in the south as Kobôn of the large hands—had plunged too deep into the Theban lines with not a Spartan shield in sight for his cover, and then fell to the stabs from the butt-ends of a half-dozen spears to his rear. “Lizard-killers”—saurôtêres—hoplites called these bronze squared spikes. Those with their spears still upright shredded anything that moved on the ground at their feet. This gnarly-hide Kobôn, even in the bronze of his grandfather Artemôn, was hammered apart by the feet and spikes of six men. “Keep rank, fools, keep rank, stay together,” Mêlon yelled, more to himself than down the line. He knew that if just two or three more of these red-shirts like Kobôn had made it through, the Boiotian front line would have split asunder. A phalanx was like water: It flowed through the easiest hole. A current soon became a deluge if there were quick-witted officers (and in the Spartan army there always were) to cry out, “Push”—ôtheite, ôtheite—when they found a channel to widen.

In the brief death lock of the two armies, three or four Boiotians toppled to the ground from the enemy spear jabs, over to his left beyond Staphis. They were hard hill men from the slopes of Messapian, and below near Oinoi and Tanagra, a few of Philliadas’s folk that seemed now to be always at the hottest spot in the fray. But they learned it was not so easy to hit these killers of the Spartan phalanx, who as one and with precision stabbed at their throats. Despite their small numbers in this pocket, many of the red-capes still penetrated three ranks in, before being swarmed by Thebans who filled these holes and put them all down. Yet for all the prebattle bluster of Lichas, for all the royal pride of Kleombrotos, the masters of war so far had been outsmarted by the plans of Ainias the tactician. The Spartans, in their arrogance, had let the smaller Boiotian force mass deeper with no idea that the shorter front had marched at an angle to their own right flank. They were dumbfounded how to get around and outflank this narrow fist of Epaminondas that slammed into them at a run. Somehow the shorter front had reached to the flank of the longer.

Soon the force of fifty shields began to grind down the enemy’s depth of twelve, as the Boiotians to the rear dug in their heels and pushed their own into the Spartan phalanx. Time, quick time was everything in this choreography of death: to break the lambda-shields before they got to the flank. Battle hinged on kairos, the moment, the akmê of position, of the first blow, of hitting hard men on their open sides. “With me, Chiôn. You, me, Staphi. Get to the king now—before they get to our rear. Plow on to the king.” Who decided who lived or died this day at Leuktra? As in getting the harvest in, not always the greater nerve and muscle, since a coward might stab on the blind side and hit the hero’s cheek. As often it was luck. The length of fate’s long thread determined who stayed on his feet and who did not. The goddess Tuchê, or at least Klôthô and her two sisters of the Moirai had as much say as man’s right arm in massed battle. If by chance he lined up across from lesser enemies—the allied Peloponnesians or freed helots—then a Boiotian farmer might live; but should he draw the lot to face the peers of Lichas, then even those of the Sacred Band could well die before such killers.

The line of killing peaked and ebbed. In this klonos, this frenzy of battle, those who were hit and went down at first were quickly replaced. In the world of the phalanx, the Thebans stepped forward to close and isolate these pockets of Spartan intruders and yet still keep the files and ranks tight—and the wall of shields unbroken. The Spartans were like their fathers of old in closing ranks and keeping even the most brutal of enemies from boring into their phalanx. A few Boiotians, Antikrates knew, would have their necks crushed this day by the edges of Spartan shields. Like the scaly serpent’s jaws, the rims slammed shut on any fool who stuck his helmet forward into the Spartan wall.

Antikrates, still advancing on the Spartan right after the crash, almost alone cared little that his wing behind was buckling under the Theban weight. He thought that he could give room to Kleonymos and his guardsmen to range out to kill these pigs, even as enemy hoplites from three sides started to bang their shields against his collapsing wing. We can’t kill enough of these men, Antikrates knew now, to stop the mass—even as he bashed down Eurynomos from the hills of Kithairon, and speared in the groin his brother Antalkidas who rushed in to take his fallen sibling’s place. But it was not easy to kill brothers like these, not here on their soil. They did not run, these gnarled farmers who took three or more blows before stumbling. Nonetheless, Antikrates kept telling himself, we can kill the Malgidai and still save our king. We of the line of Lichas, alone the professional killers of Hellas, can kill Epaminondas, kill their best and teach others before we die the price of fighting men like us.

Or so he thought, but for every Eurynomos and Antalkidas of the enemy who were on the ground, four Spartiates had already been ground down. And they were the best of the Spartiates: Dorrusas, nephew of Agesilaos, himself screaming as a black iron spearhead broke the barrier of his teeth; the ephor Araios buried beneath five spear stabs—under the jaw, in the armpit, below the navel, above the knee, through the groin; and now even Anaxilas, the henchman of Antikrates. Anaxilas had married his cousin Kreusa, was hamstrung and flailing like a crushed scorpion on the red ground of Leuktra, as the rustics under Philliadas from Tanagra shredded his thighs, slamming down their butt-spikes. Worse still, few Spartans stepped up from the files to plug the holes. The Boiotians were now even into the middle ranks. And the terrified Spartans were backing up, some even turning about, and fighting their way through their own hoplites to flee the crazed men of Boiotia. It was not just Antikrates who noticed the novelty of Spartan failure; the catastrophe was spreading throughout the army as the royal guard screamed orders to stay fast, commands that were never heard and were as shrill as they were brief.

At this moment beside the stream of Leuktra, for the first time in three hundred summers, the dreaded thrust of the Spartan Right ended and went for good from the memory of the Hellenes. Instead, the unaccustomed stiffening of the enemy already sent a shiver throughout the entire Spartan column. The king’s guard felt the unease in the ranks that an enemy line had not collapsed when hit hard, but had grown rather than receded with the blow. Of course, the old hands like Deinon and Kleonymos and Sphodrias, too, were spearing the Thebans as they always had. Yet why, Antikrates wondered, were even they not moving forward, not even holding their ground, but slowing being pushed backward? Antikrates through his eye-slits saw the bobbing crests about him. The horsehair plumes of his confused men began nodding in all directions. The circle of Spartans was collapsing around their king.

Far too late, Kleombrotos and Lichas ordered Sphodrias and his folk at the tip of the spears to get the men moving to the far right, to bypass this onrushing mob so much deeper than anything they had ever fought. Mêlon was now right in front of the king’s line. Yes, he was to face Lichas once more, perhaps as Malgis had. But now Mêlon took heart that once more Lichas would bear out a Spartan king on his back, perhaps this time dead rather than wounded. He pressed on; yes, this time Lichas would carry out a dead king.

Mêlon could feel that gaping holes were opening, as yet more pockets of Theban rustics surged in. Too few Spartans stepped up to plug the gaps made by such spearmen. Mêlon and Chiôn, with Staphis and Antitheos and his men to the left, were already, at this very beginning of battle, three or four ranks beyond the Spartan front line. They were almost as far into the enemy phalanx as Pelopidas and the Sacred Band fifty or so feet farther to their left on the wing. Over there out of sight, the Sacred Band had avoided the crash. Instead they had already trotted around the Spartan line, and well past the king. From the side and now from the rear, the Sacred Band began to encircle the Spartan horn. Pelopidas’s men were herding the enemy back into the spears of the advancing left under Epaminondas, Mêlon, and Chiôn. Already the Spartans were nearly surrounded, their entire right flank blocked at every side. Mêlon’s Thebans were like Helikon goat dogs, nipping the ankles of the rams, herding them together as they were forced into the pen. The Spartans were in danger not of losing, but of being destroyed to a man.

Across the way, Lichas saw the disaster. Almost alone he felt this doom of his royal right. He pointed to the king’s guard to keep to the right. “Break out of the pig jaws. Trot out. We break out of their ring, quick time, now. March on the double-step. Listen to our pipers.”

As the Spartans tried to spear a way out of the closing circle, Staphis, Chiôn, and Mêlon held firm. The three were drifting more and more to the left as planned, batting down spear thrusts, jabbing Spartans as they worked their way onward toward the royal guard itself. More Spartan bodies lay at their feet as they stepped ahead—twitching like the fishermen’s speared tunny, but trapped in their scales of armor. Staphis crushed a prone man’s throat with his hobnailed sandal. Those coming up behind with their still-raised spears finished him off, slamming their butt-spikes straight down through his eye-slits, once the Spartan’s shield was splintered and then hammered down flat. For these in the rear who would not meet the first storm of the Spartan, their grand tales back home at the pottery stalls would be of pushing their friends ahead and smashing their spear-butts, their saurôtêres, into hundreds of Spartans that they trampled and stepped on. Soon the Thebans, as song would have it in the years to follow, were walking over the dreaded schoolmasters of war—Spartans cast down like mere scraps of meat on the dirty floor of the raucous banquet hall.

Just then Mêlon felt a surge of warm power in his arms, a flow, a rheuma of heat. It came without warning over him. As he moved more freely, his muscles became fluid, no longer stiff, his leg limber, his knee no longer fused, his back loose. I am now an ephebe, he thought, younger even than at Koroneia some twenty-three seasons ago, more like at Haliartos when I was a down-beard. Just as if Mêlon had left the tall trees over the gloomy pass of Mt. Kithairon and reentered on the downward hike the sunlight of the rolling foothills, so he pressed on as fewer spears glanced off his wood and bronze. The battlefield had changed yet again. He now had far more space to swing wide his arms. Above Helios had long ago come out; the clouds of gloom were gone. He could hear and see far better now. For all the dust and noise, his senses sharpened with each step ahead as he saw fewer shapes and shadows. His shield felt as if the willow was instead oak, his breastplate more like iron than thin bronze, his helmet impenetrable to a jab from Zeus himself.

Everything was clear. This was the aristeia, the surge of victory and power that Homer sung of Achilles in battle. Now it was infused in him. He was light on his feet, his arms were supple and hot—and he would win this day. No more Chôlopous. No, he was Ôkupous. Lord of the fast feet. Like swift-footed Achilles of old. Then Mêlon felt that the grip on his shield was not quite right, that the straps and clasp, the porpax and antilabê, had been torn and bent and were out of balance. His shield string had long ago snapped. From the corner of his left eye he saw the problem: a Spartan spearhead and two fingers’ worth of the wood of its broken socket still stuck into his boss. How forceful the collision a moment earlier had been with the front line of the enemy.

But even his shield mattered less now. The willow of all the Thebans of the front line rattled less frequently as fewer blows bounced off their aspides, following the grand pararhexis of the enemy front. Soon the lines would open up even more as the Thebans’ push sent his own men on through the Spartans. Now the hoplites at his rear would have their own room to swing their shields and stab down over the enemy’s shield rims. Mêlon was ready to go for his sword on his shoulder, since even his father’s spear Bora was cracked. But for now it was enough to keep heading left. Always lean, Mêlon remembered, lean left. Cover little Staphis with the shield. Cover him. He lives yet.

Mêlon knew that from the feel of the man at his side. Staphis had matched his own step. This farmer of grapes could yet make it through the din, if there were no longer a solid line of Spartan spears ahead. With Chiôn always a pace ahead, and Staphis on the left one to the rear, their small bulge in the line went ahead at a sort of diagonal—just as Ainias had foreseen for the entire Theban left.

As in any great enterprise, the surge of passion comes not from the enjoyment of the success, but mostly in the immediate anticipation. There are only a few moments in this life when a man can gauge that all good things are just about to happen to him. Not even the gods can stop what surely is fated. The Spartans, Mêlon felt, were being obliterated. They were all stumbling, falling, turning. He let out another yell. How could he have stayed back on Helikon while the men of Boiotia bled on the ground of his Leuktra? For the next ten summers he would not have sat in the shadows of the wheelwright, with head down at the smithy, only to hear other, lesser men boast of their kills here at White Creek. Mêlon clobbered another bare neck of a falling Spartan with his shield rim and kicked at two squirming at his feet. How good he was at the work of war and how easily in a mood like this he would kill any men in his way.

No, he liked this leftward plunge, as the new Theban army pushed him ever on toward a collision with the Spartan king. “Stay with me, Staphi, stay close with your fast foot, my taxupous.” As the Spartans gave way, still more Thebans surged from the rear, left their files, crowding forward in the blood lust for killing. Just then Mêlon felt iron from the rear tear his forearm. The same fool Theban behind him—Aristaios he thought this olive-crusher was—a moment later hit the back of Mêlon’s helmet with his shield. But Aristaios’s hot breath on his neck ended when a long Spartan thrust went over his right shoulder and into the tall Theban’s throat. That was about all Mêlon could tell. A taller Spartan, one of these guardsmen of the king perhaps—Mêlon would later learn his name was Klearchos, son of the famous drill-master who recruited the Ten Thousand—jabbed his spear right toward Mêlon’s jaw. The Spartan aimed to hit somewhere between his nose guard and the upper rim of his shield. Mêlon ducked well in time from the clumsy effort. Then he rose to bash at the man’s face with his shield rim.

Klearchos was knocked to the side into Staphis. The slight rustic held firm. With a jab of his spear shaft he hit the falling Spartan in the back of the neck as he strove to keep pace with Mêlon. Staphis knew more than just how to prune the choice canes of his winter vines. For the first time he had hit living flesh, and so robbed the strength from a Spartan peer no less. Is it ever an easy thing to kill the better man? Staphis in his greenness speared too deeply. Now, if just for a moment, his point stuck on the enemy’s backplate near the rim by the neck, and threw him off balance. That pause gave the dying Klearchos a last opening. On his way down, the broad-shouldered Spartan grabbed at Staphis’s thigh—just as Chiôn crossed over in front and in an instant finished off the falling Spartan with his spear.

Chiôn nearly tore Klearchos’s helmet off with a single thrust to the back of his neck. He pulled out far more gore than did Staphis. For the arms of the slave were as thick as the lower legs of the vine grower. Yet the dying Spartan—he was young and stout, this Klearchos, and like his father also of large arms and thighs and just as cruel—still clung to Staphis. Both arms were frozen around the Thespian’s shins in his final death grip. Klearchos would take Staphis down with him to the lower world. As the two intertwined, they rolled in the dirt and were smothered by the hobnails of dozens of oncoming Thebans. The killer Spartan opened his mouth, flashing his white teeth against his black beard as he gave up the ghost.

The last words of Staphis were a desperate shriek to his protectors at his side, “Mêlon, Mêlon, he kills me—me apokteinei! apokteinei me! Chiôn. Mêlon …” Then he disappeared. Even in this fluid final stage, Mêlon was pushed ahead by pockets of Thebans still in file. Might perhaps Staphis have risen back up and survived the stampede to come over him? No. When a hoplite went down, he rarely rose under the weight of his armor. Mêlon answered his own question. Once flat on the ground only the veterans survived if they could cover with shield and ride out the stomping above. Still, Mêlon for a blink had tried to withstand the pressure at his back, to ward off the thrusts in his face, to stop and grab an arm of the downed Staphis. But the farmer from Helikon was already buried amid legs, bodies, and shafts, as if he were a crushed rabbit in the coils of the long grass snake that had wrapped him from head to ankles.

Mêlon and Chiôn in the front ranks strode ahead, banging as much with their bosses as they stabbed with spears. Bora shattered for good. Mêlon was using the broken back end as a sword. In fury at the loss of his Staphis, Mêlon had switched weapons. He was swinging his shield sideways in offense, hitting Spartans with the rim, while he kept them back and protected himself by fending with the broken spear as if it were some long dagger, its butt spike and most of the shaft gone.

The lesser folk of Thebes, those who had chosen the safety of the middle ranks and back, saw even more of an opening. In their frustration at pushing rather than killing, some of these farmers tried to burst through their own ranks and beat the front line to the shrinking enemy circle, at last feeling a chance to boast about glorious war—and get a bit of Spartan blood splattered on their breastplates to show their womenfolk back home. The killing, all thought, was almost over and now easy. Thirty, maybe forty rows of the Thebans were deep inside or even beyond the enemy phalanx and spreading sideways among the files of the Spartans—if there were any files left to see. The greater danger for the advancing Thebans was mostly the dead at their feet, not the living in front. The soil was strewn with bodies and flotsam—cracked shields, broken spears, and the carnage of an army slowly being ground down as Spartan hoplites backtracked, tripped, fell, and were in turn stepped upon as their friends gave way.

For a moment Mêlon turned to his right, held his shield up high, and gave another hard bash to the neck of a falling Spartan. Leobotas, a royal cousin to King Agesilaos himself, had tumbled into the gap, grasping the waist of Chiôn. He hoped to take him down, as Klearchos had done to Staphis. But Chiôn was not like Staphis, and Leobotas was no Klearchos. Instead, the dying Leobotas was dragged along the ground. Chiôn paid Mêlon no attention nor did he pause for his help. He just quickened his pace. Without much bother, he slammed his shield rim on this nuisance, hard down on the neck of Leobotas between his backplate and helmet rim, cracking his upper spine in two. Freed from the mossy barnacle on his greave, a maddened Chiôn resumed his charge toward the king. No one heard him yell, “Off, dead man. Get below.” In battle, a wide arm like Chiôn’s was worth far more than fifty plethra of vines or two chests full of gold.

All these dying Spartan lords had names and past stories of brave kills in battle, and wives and children, and fathers as well, all in Holy Sparta under the shadows of Taygetos and Parnon to the south. But to the slave Chiôn, did any of their lineage and honor matter now? No more than the now dead Staphis, the vine man who had only wanted to do some big thing for his Thespiai. That Leobotas owned one hundred plethra on the Eurotas as it roared down from Taygetos, or that his grandfather’s grandfather Hippokratidas had speared nine Argives at the battle of Sepeia and then died over the body of Leônidas at Thermopylai, swinging his klôpis as he fell to one knee as the Persians sought to cut off the head of his dead king—all that meant nothing at all in faceless battle, battle without memory, class, heritage. No, again, this was the new age of Chiôn, where rank was earned, not given. This was his own aristeia as the towering slave slaughtered six of the Spartan elite on his frenzied path right through the royal guard. What did it matter to Chiôn that Staphis’s killer, the dead Klearchos, claimed his ancestor was an Agiad king—as if his exalted ghost would save him from a poxy slave from Chios?

Here next went down Mindauros and his son, Isidias. The boy had failed the brutal training of the agôgê and was later branded a tresôn—a “shaker” who trembled in battle. With them fell bald Glaukôn with his twin boys of twenty, Deinokrates and Adamantos. These two grandees proved to Chiôn to be neither “terribly powered” nor “unbreakable.” The beardless bad-eyes Kleomenes too fell to a Boiotian brute, Polyneikes, who farmed near the Phokian border. The mother of Kleomenes had ordered her near-blind son to the front ranks, hoping he might kill a Theban lord and then die with wounds on his breast. Only that way might he match the fame of his unhinged grandfather, the Argive-killer who had burned his captives alive. Fool—he never saw the spear thrust from Polyneikes to his gullet until it came out the other side and three Kêres came shrieking his way.

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