This Is the Gun-Loving Right’s Favorite Greek Taunt

Amid the banners, flags and emblems displayed at the Jan. 6 insurrection , it was strange, especially for a classicist like myself, to see some in ancient Greek. The phrase molon labe , “come and take [them]”—a phrase attributed to King Leonidas of Sparta, in reply to demands he lay down his arms—was on full display there, as it has often been elsewhere, including on the face masks of Marjorie Taylor Greene . Dozens of products—T-shirts, decals, epaulets, bumper stickers, tattoo templates, and, oddly enough, noise-canceling headphones—now bear the slogan. Above all, the terse Greek sentence—its brevity showing why Sparta, situated in the region called Laconia, has given us the English word “laconic”—adorns guns of every size and description. Pistols bear it on their grips, rifles on their stocks, semi-automatic weapons on their barrels and ammo clips. One gunmaker, the Swiss-German firm Sig Sauer, markets a handgun with molon labe inlaid in 24-karat gold, as part of its “Spartan” line of personal-carry weapons. Leonidas allegedly spoke those newly prominent words in the narrow pass of Thermopylae, 2,500 years ago this month. He and his corps of three hundred Spartans, along with members of other Greek states, had held the pass for days against a vastly more numerous force of Persian invaders. But the Persians found a way around to the rear of the pass, quickly surrounded the Spartans, and cut off all hope of retreat. At that point, according to Plutarch, an exchange of written messages took place. King […]

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