Blame Leonidas

Statue at Thermopylae

A little excerpt today for a team interview to be published in the upcoming Sword of the Stars premium Lore Book. Just one of a series of questions about how I came to write the Morrigi background fiction in the summer of 2008.

The history of the Morrigi is actually pretty tragic. Why did you give them such a brutal backstory?

It may be a cliché, but…I blame Leonidas.

My group went to Thermopylae one weekend, and walked around the site. They’ve erected a heroic statue of Leonidas for tourists by the side of the road. It left me completely cold. Did not move me at all.

But then we went to the site of Kallipodi a week later, which was being excavated by a German team at the time. And at Kallipodi I stood looking down into the ruins of a lovely little temple to Artemis which had once stood there in the rolling hills, quietly minding its own business. The place had been destroyed by the Persians. There are similar destructions at other sites all over northern Greece. Looking at them, you can see that they aren’t random, they aren’t casual, they aren’t even opportunistic. This destruction is brutal and complete. You can see that it represents a genuine intention to wipe out someone else’s way of life.

In the scatter of fallen stones and charcoal smears I could see it all. Everything that the implacable bronze statue of “Heroic Warrior Dude” does not show. The beauty of this place desecrated, its treasures sacked, its columns toppled, its roof and banners burning…and its clerics and devotees abused, and put to the sword.

What I saw, in other words, was what Leonidas and his army had died trying to prevent. Real pain. Real sorrow. This was the aftermath of a battle where the defenders failed, and it was a true loss, bitter and complete. A place of beauty and grace had once stood on this site, and it was obliterated by a cruel enemy. Never restored, never re-built…just gone.

I did understand that the fighting at Thermopylae was not completely futile. Leonidas was returning a favor that the Athenians had done him ten years earlier, at Marathon, when they stopped the first Persian invasion. He blunted the attack. He raised the price of admission. And he bought time, even if it was just a few more days, that this temple could continue to stand. He fought so that people could plow their fields, herd their sheep and worship their gods, without having to see what they loved, what they believed in, on fire.

In the end, he gave the Athenians the time they needed to prepare, and ultimately win the decisive battle. His blood did not save Kallipodi…but the enemy never reached Sparta. And who knows, maybe Leonidas really wasn’t just a suicidal fool who wanted to die romantically. Maybe he was king enough, general enough, to know where best to spend his life–and warrior enough to make it flashy.

So while the looming bronze monument to empty heroics did nothing for me, the suffering of the people he tried to save was devastating. Seeing that wrecked me for an entire afternoon. And that suffering made it into the story of the Morrigi.

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About Arinn

Author, Game Developer, Anthropologist, Feminist, reformed Supervillainess.
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