~ It’s a bit about Greece, but it’s more about the Greek-Texan connection.
Greece has been greatly criticized of late for not really knowing how many islands they have, exactly where they are, or even, sometimes, or often, who owns them. It is sometimes also said that this criticism applies too, to the land, meaning to the land holdings and even the monumental places of Greece, in Greece. To which I would reply, speaking perhaps from the wisdom of Hypatia, “all is fair in love and war.”
An astrolabe, used in Hypathia’s time, for finding ones way across uncharted waters. It beats ‘dead-reckoning’ any time.
You see, or perhaps you really don’t, that in times of war all the street signs come down, the road signs are rearranged, often the towns and small cities are renamed. The idea is to confuse the enemy, the traditional troops on the ground, the outsiders that don’t belong there. Sure the partisans know, know where everything is, and should be, and could be (all without the signs), but they are, well, partisan, patriates, patriotic; they have a love of country, their country, their land, and will do just about anything to love and protect it.
This all sounds, a bit strangely, like the feelings expressed in the state song, really national anthem, of Texas:. The original lyrics, and tune, are in the linked link; below I have substituted the obvious changes:
Greece, Our Greece! all hail the mighty State!
Greece, Our Greece! so wonderful so great!
Boldest and grandest, withstanding every test
O Empire wide and glorious, you stand supremely blessed.
Greece, O Greece! your freeborn single star,
Sends out its radiance to nations near and far,
Emblem of Freedom! it set our hearts aglow,
With thoughts of Thermopylae, Aristotle, Plato.
Greece, O Greece! from tyrant grip now free,
Shines forth in splendor, your star of destiny!
Mother of heroes, we come your children true,
Proclaiming our allegiance, our faith, our love for you.
God bless you Greece! And keep you brave and strong,
That you may grow in power and worth, throughout the ages long.
This birthing and borrowing thing goes way back. It goes back to what might be best described as ’26 Flags over Greece’. The first foreign flag being that of Persia, the modern nation being Iran. Anyway the Persians attacked and invaded Greece, took land and cities, burned Athens, like the British burned Washington, and after about a year they were beaten back and the war was over.
Both wars went on for about one year, the one in Greece and the one in America. Sure, the ‘War of 1812’ is named that, but most of the war in America was fought in 1814; from the burning of Washington to the Battle of New Orleans (January 1815). It was during this one-year war that America was given ‘The 1814 Overture‘, otherwise known as ‘The Star Spangled Banner‘ national anthem.
In the Battle of Thermopylae (August 480 BC), unlike in the Battle of Baltimore, the invading force won. That is probably why there are no long-lasting Greek anthems that are associated with it, meaning the battle that is. What was remembered about the battle was a phrase, a one-liner, a simple dare, like the nautical ‘don’t give up the ship’; Leonidas told Xerxes, “Molon labe,” “come and take them.” The demand by the Persians was to give up their weapons; when the Spartans refused the Persians simply marched forward and took them.
“Molon labe,” is probably the first of the six lost causes of Texas. But after the lost Battle of Thermopylae, Texas was not the first new Republic to use it, the expression ‘Molon labe’, that is. On November 25, 1778, Colonel John McIntosh of the United States Continental Army told the British forces assembled to “come and take it.” In the case of the American Republic, not like the Texas one, the enemy refused.
However, like Greek myths, Texas has hers too. The old story is that 140 ‘Texians’ braved down 100 soldiers of the local Mexican militia. The Texians were in the possession of a small cannon that did not belong to them, and the true owners of the cannon wanted it back. Sounds a little, or a lot like an IMF loan, in reality the cannon was a Mexican loan.
The Texians went so far as to create a whole new flag about it, the ‘black star flag‘ of Texas. this flag had a black star boldly depicted above an equally black cannon. This black star became the ‘lone star’ in time. The Texas myth is that the Mexican owners backed down and the Texians made off with the bad loan, never to give it back. And all that may make a very nice story, but it is really not true.
What really happened is that the ‘brave’ Texians kept the unpaid for cannon for a fairly long time, about five months of a ‘free lunch’ actually. The Texians had taken the unpaid for (now stolen) cannon for use at the Mexican Mission that they also had stolen, called the Alamo. By March 6 of 1836 the Alamo skirmish was over, The Mexicans had won and the ineffective very boring very small bore cannon was consigned (literally) to the trash heap of history. But in Texas history it is the basis for a very big myth – “Molon labe,” the Texas-American version.
For the sake of clarity, and all Greek speaking friends, I offer the following detailed information:
“Come and take them.”
When Xerxes requested: ‘Deliver up your arms’, King Leonidas’ defiant reply was “Come and take them.” It would have been said with the bitter taste of, “If you think you are good enough, come and take them.” Leonidas’ actual words were ‘Molon labe’ (μολών λαβέ) using Dorian Greek. “Molon” is a participle that means “after you come” and labe (λαβέ) comes from the verb lambano (λαμβάνω) that is still in use in modern Greek and as imperative (λάβε in modern, λαβέ in ancient) meaning ‘take’. In ancient Greek, with one or two words, you can have a very specific meaning like this. The exact translation in modern Greek would be ‘αφού έρθεις, να τα πάρεις’ or ‘ερχόμενος λάβε τα’ or not in exact translation ‘έλα να τα πάρεις’.
Hypatia would perceive a lesson in this, not necessarily by simple seeing, but through the eye of the astralabe and that of philosophy. It’s like seeing the light when one seems to find oneself in the dark, in uncharted waters perhaps, perhaps finding and locating islands, or real monuments upon the dry land.
The parallels are clear. In Texas they refused to return the cannon, thus making it legally stolen, though then and still now there is no admission of that. In Greece the claim is that the loans were always illegal, made under duress, rightfully unenforceable. In Texas the taunt was, “come and take what is lawfully yours.” In Greece it seems more the polite invite, “If you want it so badly it’s yours.” The difference is all about the carnage to follow. In Texas the Mexican side at first wisely walked away, came back another day. In Greece we have yet to see what will happen, but the Greek Trojan horse has clearly breached the gates.
A modern Hypatia would explain: “The ‘horse’ led to water may not be able to drink. It’s the ‘black star’ effect, the ‘tar baby’, like with Brer Rabbit, a Georgia State story, not Texas. Let me enlighten you, if you will only read here:
Retold version courtesy of S.E. Schlosser:
Well now, that rascal Brer Fox hated Brer Rabbit on account of he was always cutting capers and bossing everyone around. So Brer Fox decided to capture and kill Brer Rabbit if it was the last thing he ever did! He thought and he thought until he came up with a plan. He would make a tar baby! Brer Fox went and got some tar and he mixed it with some turpentine and he sculpted it into the figure of a cute little baby. Then he stuck a hat on the Tar Baby and sat her in the middle of the road.
Brer Fox hid himself in the bushes near the road and he waited and waited for Brer Rabbit to come along. At long last, he heard someone whistling and chuckling to himself, and he knew that Brer Rabbit was coming up over the hill. As he reached the top, Brer Rabbit spotted the cute little Tar Baby. Brer Rabbit was surprised. He stopped and stared at this strange creature. He had never seen anything like it before!
“Good Morning,” said Brer Rabbit, doffing his hat. “Nice weather we’re having.”
The Tar Baby said nothing. Brer Fox laid low and grinned an evil grin.
Brer Rabbit tried again. “And how are you feeling this fine day?”
The Tar Baby, she said nothing. Brer Fox grinned an evil grin and lay low in the bushes.
Brer Rabbit frowned. This strange creature was not very polite. It was beginning to make him mad.
“Ahem!” said Brer Rabbit loudly, wondering if the Tar Baby were deaf. “I said ‘HOW ARE YOU THIS MORNING?”
The Tar Baby said nothing. Brer Fox curled up into a ball to hide his laugher. His plan was working perfectly!
“Are you deaf or just rude?” demanded Brer Rabbit, losing his temper. “I can’t stand folks that are stuck up! You take off that hat and say ‘Howdy-do’ or I’m going to give you such a lickin’!”
The Tar Baby just sat in the middle of the road looking as cute as a button and saying nothing at all. Brer Fox rolled over and over under the bushes, fit to bust because he didn’t dare laugh out loud.
“I’ll learn ya!” Brer Rabbit yelled. He took a swing at the cute little Tar Baby and his paw got stuck in the tar.
“Lemme go or I’ll hit you again,” shouted Brer Rabbit. The Tar Baby, she said nothing.
“Fine! Be that way,” said Brer Rabbit, swinging at the Tar Baby with his free paw. Now both his paws were stuck in the tar, and Brer Fox danced with glee behind the bushes.
“I’m gonna kick the stuffin’ out of you,” Brer Rabbit said and pounced on the Tar Baby with both feet. They sank deep into the Tar Baby. Brer Rabbit was so furious he head-butted the cute little creature until he was completely covered with tar and unable to move.
Brer Fox leapt out of the bushes and strolled over to Brer Rabbit. “Well, well, what have we here?” he asked, grinning an evil grin.
Brer Rabbit gulped. He was stuck fast. He did some fast thinking while Brer Fox rolled about on the road, laughing himself sick over Brer Rabbit’s dilemma.
“I’ve got you this time, Brer Rabbit,” said Brer Fox, jumping up and shaking off the dust. “You’ve sassed me for the very last time. Now I wonder what I should do with you?”
Brer Rabbit’s eyes got very large. “Oh please Brer Fox, whatever you do, please don’t throw me into the briar patch.”
“Maybe I should roast you over a fire and eat you,” mused Brer Fox. “No, that’s too much trouble. Maybe I’ll hang you instead.”
“Roast me! Hang me! Do whatever you please,” said Brer Rabbit. “Only please, Brer Fox, please don’t throw me into the briar patch.”
“If I’m going to hang you, I’ll need some string,” said Brer Fox. “And I don’t have any string handy. But the stream’s not far away, so maybe I’ll drown you instead.”
“Drown me! Roast me! Hang me! Do whatever you please,” said Brer Rabbit. “Only please, Brer Fox, please don’t throw me into the briar patch.”
“The briar patch, eh?” said Brer Fox. “What a wonderful idea! You’ll be torn into little pieces!”
Grabbing up the tar-covered rabbit, Brer Fox swung him around and around and then flung him head over heels into the briar patch. Brer Rabbit let out such a scream as he fell that all of Brer Fox’s fur stood straight up. Brer Rabbit fell into the briar bushes with a crash and a mighty thump. Then there was silence.
Brer Fox cocked one ear toward the briar patch, listening for whimpers of pain. But he heard nothing. Brer Fox cocked the other ear toward the briar patch, listening for Brer Rabbit’s death rattle. He heard nothing.
Then Brer Fox heard someone calling his name. He turned around and looked up the hill. Brer Rabbit was sitting on a log combing the tar out of his fur with a wood chip and looking smug.
“I was bred and born in the briar patch, Brer Fox,” he called. “Born and bred in the briar patch.”
And Brer Rabbit skipped away as merry as a cricket while Brer Fox ground his teeth in rage and went home.
You see, Hypatia would explain, the Greek people really aren’t so afraid of messes. “They are of the islands, the briar patch perhaps. We know our territory, the land and the sea, and can and do count and count on the stars all above. There are foxes out there, but we are eternally the dolphin.”