My first memories of learning were The Iliad and The Odyssey. This was Greece, after all, and although it was mythology, as a three- to four-year-old I took Achilles, Helen, Menelaus, Hector, and Odysseus very seriously. After that came the Persian Wars. My father had just left for the front against the Italians in Albania, so the great victories of Marathon and Salamis sounded even sweeter as our first win against Mussolini’s troops in Koritsa was announced by nonstop church-bell ringing and my mother’s crying and thanking God that my father’s name was not on the dreaded list of the fallen. Confidence reigned.
Thermopylae, alas, came into the picture when the Greek army put up a desperate fight against impossible odds when the Wehrmacht invaded six months later. It didn’t end well, but the victories against Persia have made me proud to this day to be Greek. As J. S. Mill said, had the Athenians not stopped the Persians in Marathon in 490 BC, there never would have been a Western civilization.
So Xerxes tried again ten years later, and this time he lost his fleet outside the port of Piraeus, in Salamis, when Themistocles rammed his heavy boats with our much quicker ones oared by citizens rather than slaves, and Persia has not invaded a country since. After that Alexander the Great invaded Persia, defeated the great King Darius, married his daughter, and at age 33 died in Mesopotamia, just about the same place where Uncle Sam’s troops fought for naught some 2,325 years later.