Molon labe

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The words ΜΟΛΩΝ ΛΑΒΕ as they are inscribed on the marble of the 1955 Leonidas Monument at Thermopylae.

The Ancient Greek phrase μολὼν λαβέ (molṑn labé; reconstructed Ancient Greek pronunciation [mo'lɔːn la'be]; Modern Greek pronunciation [moˈlon laˈve]) means "Come and take them". It is a classical expression of defiance reportedly spoken by King Leonidas I in response to the Persian army's demand that the Spartans surrender their weapons at the Battle of Thermopylae. It is an exemplary use of a laconic phrase.



The first word, μολών molōn, is the aorist active participle (masculine, nominative, singular) of the Greek verb βλώσκω blōskō "to come", meaning "having come".[1] The form λαβέ labe is the aorist active imperative (second person singular) of the verb λαμβάνω lambanō, translated "take [them]".

The two words function together in a grammatical structure not present in English called the circumstantial participle.[2] Where English would put two main verbs in two independent clauses joined by a conjunction: "come and take", a strategy sometimes called paratactic, ancient Greek, which is far richer in participles, subordinates one to the other, a strategy called hypotactic: "coming, take". The first action is turned into an adjective. In this structure, the participle gives some circumstance (the coming) attendant on the main verb (the taking).

The aorist participle is used to signify completed action, called the perfective aspect. That is, the action of the participle occurs before that of the main verb. Thus the Greek provides a nuance not seen in English translation, making clear that the coming must precede the taking.


The phrase was reportedly the defiant response of King Leonidas I of Sparta to Xerxes I of Persia when asked to lay down their arms and surrender, at the onset of the Battle of Thermopylae (480 BC).

Instead, the Spartans held Thermopylae for three days and, although they were ultimately annihilated, they inflicted serious damage upon the Persian army, and most importantly delayed its progress to Athens, providing sufficient time for the city's evacuation to the island of Salamis. Though a clear defeat, Thermopylae served as a moral victory and inspired the troops at the Battle of Salamis and the Battle of Plataea.

The source for this quotation is Plutarch, Apophthegmata Laconica, 51.11.[3] This work by Plutarch is included among the Moralia, a collection of works attributed to him but outside the collection of his most famous works, the Parallel Lives.

Modern usage

Molon labe has been repeated by many later generals and politicians in order to express an army's or nation's determination not to surrender. The motto ΜΟΛΩΝ ΛΑΒΕ is on the emblem of the Greek First Army Corps,[4] and is also the motto of United States Special Operations Command Central (SOCCENT).[5] The expression "Come and take it" was a slogan in the Texas Revolution.

Molon labe has been used once again in Greek history, on 3 March 1957 during a battle in Cyprus between members of the EOKA organization, and the British Army. After someone had betrayed his location, the British forces surrounded the secret hideout of the second-in-command of EOKA Grigoris Afxentiou near the Machairas Monastery. Inside the hideout was Afxentiou and four of his followers. Realizing he was outnumbered, Afxentiou ordered them to surrender themselves whilst he barricaded himself for a fight to the death. The British asked Afxentiou to come out and surrender. He replied with the phrase Molon labe, imitating the ancient Spartans. Unable to get him out, and after sustaining casualties, the British set fire to the hideout, and he was burnt alive. The British buried his body in the yard of the central jail at Lefkosia, where it lies today.

In America, both the original Greek phrase and its English translation are often heard from pro-Second Amendment activists as a defense of the right to keep and bear arms. It began to appear on web sites in the late 1990s and early 2000s.[6] And when the government of New Orleans defied Federal court orders to return weapons that had been seized during Hurricane Katrina,[7] the phrase again gained popularity among supporters of the Second Amendment, as the phrase has connotation of a strong belief in the ideals of personal freedom and in the individual right to self-protection.[citation needed] In the Second Amendment or firearms freedom context, the phrase expresses the notion that the person uttering the phrase is a strong believer in these ideals and will not surrender their firearms to anyone, including governmental authority, without strong resistance.[8]

Molon labe has been recently used in the 2007 feature film 300 in which Leonidas speaks this famous line in English in response to "Spartans! Lay down your weapons!" as "Persians! Come and get them!" In the 1999 comic book of the same name, upon which the film is based, the phrase becomes "Come and get it", with no exchange concerning the laying down of arms.[9] In the earlier 1962 film The 300 Spartans Leonidas says the phrase both in Greek and English to the Persian general Hydarnes.

Molon labe is the title of episode 7 of the second season of the TV show Falling Skies.

Michigan State Spartans

On 13 September 2011 the Michigan State Spartans unveiled the special Nike Pro Combat uniforms for their 15 Oct 2011 home game against rival Michigan, where the Spartans extended their winning streak to four games over their archrivals. Stitched inside the jersey collar and on the front of the helmet is the phrase "ΜΟΛΩΝ ΛΑΒΕ."[10]

Castleton Spartans

The Castleton State Spartans adopted the phrase "ΜΟΛΩΝ ΛΑΒΕ" as a slogan for their athletics teams, and even have the phrase inscribed onto a Vermont marble monument dedicated to the wife of college president Dr. David S. Wolk at the players' entrance to Spartan Stadium.[11]

See also


  1. ^ see e.g. entry βλώσκω at Liddell & Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon.
  2. ^ Different ways to phrase this name are in use. For simplicity, the one used here comes from Alston Hurd Chase and Henry Phillips Jr., A New Introduction to Greek, Lesson 21. Chase and Phillips is an elementary textbook on ancient Greek.
  3. ^ Plutarch, Apophthegmata Laconica 51.11
  4. ^ Insignia with Motto.
  5. ^ See the top of the page for the two logos and their motto usage.
  6. ^ "Senate To Vote On Legislation That Allows U.S. Military to Detain Americans".,1428.msg10379.html#msg10379. Retrieved 2012-07-31. 
  7. ^ Bird, Chris (2007). Thank God I had a gun : true accounts of self-defense. San Antonio, Tex.: Privateer Publications. p. 307. ISBN 978-0-9656784-5-2. 
  8. ^ "Signatures of the gun culture". ESR. 3 June 2002. Retrieved 10 March 2012. 
  9. ^ Miller, Frank (w, a). 300 (1999), Dark Horse Comics, ISBN 1-56971-402-9 Collected hardcover edition.
  10. ^ "Photo Gallery". Retrieved 10 March 2012. 
  11. ^ Haley, Tom. "A monument to love and commitment". Retrieved 20 September 2011. 

External links