Back in the Spartan camp, Suicide wakes Xeo before dawn. Rooster has been captured and interrogated as a deserter; he wants to speak to Xeo before he’s executed. He gives Xeo an ancient Messenian coin to be given to his wife. Then he tells Xeo and Alexandros that the Persians are going to find a way through the Spartan rear and will envelop the Greeks in no more than a day; there are no reinforcements coming, and Leonidas will never pull them out. He also tells them exactly where Xerxes’ tent is located, and it’s lightly guarded, at a spot thought impassible. Rooster begs Xeo and Alexandros to relay this news to someone in authority.
Xeo returns from his memory of seeing Diomache to recounting the situation after the first day of battle. Rooster, previously turned loose on the Greek frontier, has unexpectedly returned to relay vital information to the Spartans, despite his longstanding hatred of them. It seems that Rooster, knowing that he will soon die, has had a change of heart and no longer views the Spartan as worthy of his ire.
Meanwhile, forty Theban allies have deserted overnight. Most were killed or escaped, but three terrified captives are brought before the Spartans. While allies yell for the deserters’ blood, Dienekes decides to intervene. He walks forward and cuts the prisoners loose. To the outraged onlookers, he says that he despises the men’s cowardice, but hates even more “that passion, comrades, which deranges you now.” He points out that these men fought valiantly the day before, and that everyone on the battlefield felt tempted to desert as well.
Dienekes has always hated “katalepsis,” or battle, that seizes soldiers when they give way to hatred or fear. This scene shows both—the deserters allowed their fear to get the best of them, and the soldiers have ceased to view the deserters as their brothers and only want their blood.
Dienekes says that these captives must live out their days cursed by the knowledge of their cowardice, a kind of “living death” from shame. The men beg, but Dienekes relentlessly drives them out of the camp. The men slouch pitifully through the ranks of their former comrades. The other men give up their self-righteous rage and turn their energies to resolution for the coming battle. Dienekes returns to Xeo and Rooster and says that he’ll slit his “bastard nephew’s” throat himself.
From the Spartan point of view, living out their days in shame really is a worse fate for the deserters than immediately execution. The rest of the army snaps out of their anger and focuses on the coming renewal of battle.