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Two Hundred and Ninety-Nine

 

By HENRY P. RALEIGH
ART TIMES June 2007

NOT LONG AGO I was leaving my local theater after seeing “300” and ran into Mikis T., an elderly fellow who is thought to be the oldest man on the North Fork of Long Island. Mikis is a descendent of one of the early Greek fishing families that had settled there on the East End. In a neighborly way I asked the old relic if he too had just seen the film. He shrugged and said he had but, “…they never get it right.” He uttered this with such seriousness that I couldn’t help laughing and rather smugly said, “Sounds like you were there, oh venerable ancient.” A poor jest I realized and was about to hastily apologize when I was brought up short by his next remark. “As a matter of fact, I was.” What followed was unbelievable perhaps; nevertheless not without interest and I will report all this grizzled barnacle claimed:

Mikis:  I was your typical Spartan citizen-soldier. Started training at twelve years

of age. By thirteen I had learned to sing ‘Marching Through Carthage’ while a fox under my tunic gnawed my stomach.

HR:        The Battle of Thermopylae was in 480BC, which would make you almost 2500 years old — how do you account for that?

Mikis:  Fish — Spartans have always eaten a lot of fish.

HR:        And you’re the only one of the 300 Spartans to survive?

Mikis:  Well, I’m not proud of it, you know. For accuracy’s sake the film should be titled 299.

HR:     How did you manage to miss the finale?

Mikis: Too much of the grape. I passed out on the third day. The Persians left me for dead. Boy, did I feel like I was.

HR:     You were drunk?

Mikis: Sure, we were all juiced. It was the custom back then. In the morning before a big battle we partied it up. Got good and tanked, held a sphagia…

HR:     Pardon me, what’s a sphagia< style='font-family:Times'>?

Mikis: A sacrifice of whatever happened to be around — a sheep, a goat, the camp cook — you know, for good luck. Then a few more rounds and off we went shouting our paean to beat the band.

HR:     A paean?Mikis: Yeah — ours went:

Sparta, Sparta, looking fine
Come one boys hold that line
Are we in it, well I guess  
Are we in it, well I gues
Will we win it, yes, yes, yes.

                   Sounds better in Greek, of course.

HR:     You could hardly fight your best after all that drinking.

Mikis: Oh, the Persians did the same so it all evened out. You don’t think a sober man is going to throw himself at a bunch of spears, do you?

HR:     I see your point.

Mikis: And that’s how we could do that slow motion stuff. You’ve got to be pretty sloshed to pull that off.

HR:     How did that get started?

Mikis: It was Leonidas’ idea — thought it made us look really cool and it would throw the Persians off their game, but they got into it right away. But I can tell you, kiddo, it’s not easy to hack off a man’s head in slo-mo.

HR:     Were you trained in martial arts, too?

Mikis: Hell no. The only fancy thing we could do was the Spartan Shuffle.

HR:     Shuffle?

Mikis: That was a phalanx thing. You see, a fighting shield holder was always edging to the right to sneak under a piece of his buddy’s shield so it didn’t take long before the whole bunch of us are pivoting off to the starboard. Made it hard for the Persians to keep up with us.

HR:     That seems a little cowardly, doesn’t it?

Mikis: Look, we weren’t the fire-breathing, muscle-bound, suicidal nut-cases you saw in the film. Five-ten, hundred fifty, sixty pounds tops, and not the sharpest spears around — what do you expect?

 

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