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On this day in 479 BC the invasion of Greece by the Persian emperor Xerxes was defeated by the Spartan general Pausanias at the Battle of Plataea.
Xerxes liked to be called by his official name – Shayansha – King of Kings, but the proud Greeks preferred ‘Xerxes’ (pronounced ‘Zurkseez’) which has a contemptuous ring to it.
Today many centuries later, we can only marvel at the mind-set of the ancient Greeks who were prepared to fight so positively for their freedom and their democracy.
Byron certainly admired the Greeks so much that he eventually died in their service. He expresses some of these feelings in his poem, Isles of Greece:
Isles of Greece, the Isles of Greece!
Where burning Sappho loved and sung,
Where grew the arts of War and Peace,
Where Delos rose, and Phœbus sprung!
Eternal summer gilds them yet,
But all, except their Sun, is set.
The Scian and Teian muse,
The Hero’s harp, the Lover’s lute,
Have found the fame your shores refuse:
Their place of birth alone is mute
To sounds which echo further west
Than your Sires’ “Islands of the Blest.”
The mountains look on Marathon
And Marathon looks on the sea;
And musing there an hour alone,
I dreamed that Greece might still be free;
For standing on the Persians’ grave,
I could not deem myself a slave
Today I give thanks for the amazing flowering of Ancient Greece and for the benefits it gave to the world.