Within minutes, the Spartans and allies are on their feet and armed. They spend the night in final battle preparations, setting menacing bonfires across the plain. In the morning, they exchange shouted insults with the Persian scouts and archers who are visible across the river. By the following day, the plain is filled with enemy units. Leonidas speaks to his officers. He reminds them that they must show courage if they expect the same from their men. He urges them to be attentive to “the little things”—training schedules, sacrifices, drills, even dressing their hair. He also reminds the Spartans that their allies are mostly citizen-soldiers.
For Leonidas and his men, the key to battle, even at such a crucial moment as this, is doing things the way they’re customarily done, in training and in any other battle engagement. This Spartan ethos enables calm to reign instead of giving a foothold to fear. The same can’t be expected of Spartan allies, however, who likely haven’t been drilled accordingly.
As the non-Spartan officers join the gathering, Leonidas reminds all the men that they should set an example for their men by being unafraid, doing whatever work needs doing, and sleeping in the open. He reminds them that idle talk turns to fear, but action “produces the appetite for more action.” They should also remember that the terrain is to the Greeks’ advantage—no more than a dozen of the enemy at a time can squeeze through the narrow cliffs.
Leonidas gives all the men some final encouragement. They must simply do what needs to be done and focus more on action than on talk that fuels fear. They should also remember that Thermopylae has historically been a very defensible site, an intentional choice for encountering the Persians.
Leonidas’s whole demeanor calms the men, focusing on the practical, rather than trying to produce a state of mind that will quickly fade. His attitude is that “war is work, not mystery.” He also mentions an oracle that the men have heard about—saying that Sparta will either lose a king in battle, or the city will be destroyed. Leonidas himself has taken an omen and determined that he will be that king. But he will do everything possible to spare his men. He also assures the non-Spartans that Spartans have no monopoly on courage, which is the thing most needed in battle.
Leonidas is the epitome of a Spartan king, not trying to give a meaningless pep talk, but reminding the men of what they already know how to do. He also calmly faces the likelihood of his own death, promising it doesn’t mean his men will face the same. He also shows respect to the non-Spartan allies, not seeing them as mere fodder for the Persians, but true partners with a contribution to make.