As the Persian empire bore down on the Hot Gates of Thermopylae, an envoy called out to the 300 Spartans standing in opposition, commanding them to lay down their weapons and surrender. The Spartan King, Leonidas, delivered his answer in succinct fashion, “Molon labe!” or “Come and take them!”. You might recognize this story from Zach Snyder’s “300”
While the Spartans were probably not the muscle bound giants of Snyder’s movie, Leonidas’ cry of defiance is actually attributed to him, and has remained a lasting battle cry for standing in defiant opposition to a superior enemy, a promise to never surrender for what is worth fighting for. “Molon labe” has become the battle cry of armies from Greece to The United States Special Operations Command Central (SOCCENT).
I love the story of the 300 Spartans, love the idea of a brave few standing against impossible odds in order to protect what their homes, to protect their way of life. Battling an invading army is obviously something that I will never have to do (I hope), but nonetheless the battle cry of “Molon Labe” or even the English “Come and Take Them” speaks to me because of this relentless devotion.
All of which brings me to the subject of tattoos, which in and of themselves were once (and sometimes still are) seen as acts of defiance against the norms of society. Tattoos can be viewed as either a person who is crying out for help, or as the ultimate sign of a person who is in control of his/her own body. Ultimately getting a tattoo is an extremely personal choice, especially given the permanence of the decision. So when I think to myself of what I would get as a tattoo, I find the only thing I am drawn to is that laconic Spartan battle cry. A signifier that like the Spartans, I will stand up for what I believe is right, I will stand up for those that I love.
Unfortunately, if I were to tattoo “Molon Labe” onto myself, I think I would inadvertently be lumped in with a group with which I am not trying to be associated. Namely, these guys:
Somewhere along the way, and this shouldn’t surprise me, but “Molon Labe” was adopted by Gun Rights enthusiasts. Now look, I have no problem with people owning weapons. If responsible people can own weapons responsibly, fine. I do think that if you feel the need to walk around in your daily life with an assault rifle, you
might need to rethink your daily routine.
All that aside, my problem here is not with the gun rights movement, my problem is that I cannot get that tattoo without being lumped in the “gun rights” category, and that is not why I would be getting that tattoo. I do not think that the point of Leonidas’ quip was literally about not wanting to hand over his spear, it was about much more than a sharp stick. Regardless of what someone may think about history or gun rights, “Molon Labe” or “Come and take it” is now associated with people who want to carry AR-15s into Chilis.
I think we see this a lot today, lots of sayings or symbols that have been reduced from their original meaning. I guess we don’t really get an individual say in the matter (other than me venting to you fine people). On the other hand, maybe that’s the true meaning of “Molon Labe”, maybe I would have to constantly explain that no, I’m not referring to gun rights, I’m just a history dork. Maybe in my own way I could rebel against the rebellion, maybe Leonidas would be proud. Or maybe I’m reading too much into this?
Probably reading too much into this. Maybe I need to think of another phrase to go with. Hmm…maybe I’ll go sit in the shade 😉
Also real. The Spartans were so awesome.