Dienekes Quotes in Gates of Fire
We talked for hours in secret on the pursuit of esoterike harmonia, that state of self-composure which the exercises of the phobologia are designed to produce. As a string of the kithera vibrates purely, emitting only that note of the musical scale which is its alone, so must the individual warrior shed all which is superfluous in his spirit, until he himself vibrates at that sole pitch which his individual daimon dictates. The achievement of this ideal, in Lakedaemon, carries beyond courage on the battlefield; it is considered the supreme embodiment of virtue, andreia, of a citizen and a man.
This, I realized now watching Dienekes rally and tend to his men, was the role of the officer—to prevent those under his command, at all stages of battle—before, during and after—from becoming “possessed.” To fire their valor when it flagged and rein in their fury when it threatened to take them out of hand. That was Dienekes’s job […]
His was not, I could see now, the heroism of an Achilles. He was not a superman who waded invulnerably into the slaughter, single-handedly slaying the foe by myriads. He was just a man doing a job. A job whose primary attribute was self-restraint and self-composure, not for his own sake, but for those whom he led by his example. A job whose objective could be boiled down to the single understatement, as he did at the Hot Gates on the morning he died, of “performing the commonplace under uncommonplace conditions.”
“The gods make us love whom we will not,” the lady declared, “and disrequite whom we will. They slay those who should live and spare those who deserve to die. They give with one hand and take with the other, answerable only to their own unknowable laws […] Now, inspired by blind impulse,” she spoke toward me, “I have saved the life of this boy, my brother’s bastard’s son, and lost my husband’s in the process.”
“Now consider, friends, that which we call women’s courage.
What could be more contrary to female nature, to motherhood, than to stand unmoved and unmoving as her sons march off to death? Must not every sinew of the mother’s flesh call out in agony and affront at such an outrage? Must not her heart seek to cry in its passion, ‘No! Not my son! Spare him!’ That women, from some source unknown to use, summon the will to conquer this their own deepest nature is, I believe, the reason we stand in awe of our mothers and sisters and wives. This, I believe, Dienekes, is the essence of women’s courage and why it, as you suggested, is superior to men’s.”
Nothing fires the warrior’s heart more with courage than to find himself and his comrades at the point of annihilation, at the brink of being routed and overrun, and then to dredge not merely from one’s own bowels or guts but from one’s own discipline and training the presence of mind not to panic, but to yield to the possession of despair, but instead to complete those homely acts of order which Dienekes had ever declared the supreme accomplishment of the warrior: to perform the commonplace under far-from-commonplace conditions.
“Brothers, I’m not a king or a general. I’ve never held rank beyond that of a platoon commander. So I say to you now only what I would say to my own men, knowing the fear that stands unspoken in each heart—not of death, but worse, of faltering or failing, of somehow proving unworthy in this, the ultimate hour […] Here is what you do, friends. Forget country. Forget king. Forget wife and children and freedom. Forget every concept, however noble, that you imagine you fight for here today. Act for this alone: for the man who stands at your shoulder. He is everything, and everything is contained within him. That’s all I know. That’s all I can tell you.”