(Greek: Μολών Λαβέ, modern (IPA): [molon lave])
The first word "μολών" (molon), is the aorist active
participle (masculine, nominative, singular) of the Greek verb "βλώσκω",
meaning "having come". "Λαβέ" is the aorist
active imperative (second person singular) of the verb "λαμβάνω",
The two words function together in a grammatical
structure not present in English called the circumstantial participle.
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. The English
speaker can understand it with a little thought, but he would never
use it. In this structure the participle gives some circumstance
attendant on the main verb: the coming.
The Greek has a nuance not present in
the English: aspect. The aorist participle is used to signify
completed action, called the
perfective aspect. Moreover, the action must be completed before
the time of the main verb. The difference in meaning is subtle
but significant: the English speaker is inviting his enemy to begin
a process with two distinct acts or parts — coming and taking;
the Greek speaker is telling his enemy that only after the act
of coming is completed will he be able to take. In addition there
is a subtle implication: in English "come and take it" implies
that the enemy might not win the struggle — the outcome is uncertain;
in Greek in the implication is that the outcome is certain—"after
you have come here and defeated me, then it will be yours to take."
"Μολών λαβέ" was the response
of King Leonidas I of Sparta to Xerxes I of Persia at the onset
of the Battle of Thermopylae.
Xerxes, whose forces vastly outnumbered the Spartans and their
allies, offered to spare the lives of Leonidas and his few thousand
defenders if only they would lay down their weapons. Instead, the
Spartans held Thermopylae for three days and, while they died to
the last man, they inflicted serious damage on the Persian army,
delaying it and essentially preventing the conquest of the Greek
When he uttered this response Leonidas
was completely aware that he and all his men were doomed. Leonidas
had known this since before
leaving Sparta. So his response "Μολών λαβέ" might best
be rendered into English as "After you finish coming here
(we will be dead) then you can take our weapons."
The source for this quotation is Plutarch, Apophthegmata Laconica,
225c.11. This work may or may not be by Plutarch himself, but it
is included among the Moralia, a collection of works attributed
to him but outside the collection of his most famous works, the
In the Anglo-American world, the phrase is often
heard from pro-gun activists as a proclamation of the natural
right to keep and bear
arms (see the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution
or the English Bill of Rights 1689) and as a challenge to those
supporting stricter gun control laws (or what they fear would
be a government seizure of firearms). It began to appear on pro-RKBA
web sites in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
The motto ΜOΛΩΝ ΛΑΒΕ is on the emblem of the Greek First Army
The term has been recently used in the feature film 300 (and comic
of the same name), Leonidas can be heard reciting this famous line.
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The text is based on material from the Wikipedia article "Battle of Thermopylae"
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