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Meaning of “A Forlorn Hope” phrase of Idiom, definition and synonyms use in sentence.

A Forlorn Hope

“Before the vantguarde marched the forlorn hope.” —DYMMOK : Ireland (1660).

The word “forlorn” means to be helpless, forsaken; from the Teutonic “verloren,” meaning to lose; while “hope” is not, as may be supposed, the same English word signifying an aspiration for some good thing, but derives from the Dutch “hoop,” a troop or band of men. It is akin to our word “heap.” A “forlorn hope,” therefore, means, literally, a lost company: really a body of men, military, scientific, industrial, political, who lead any desperate movement attended with unusual difficulty, or peril, which is very unlikely to result in achievement.

Of all the forlorn hopes in the story of man’s struggle for freedom, perhaps the most glorious was the heroic defence by Leonidas, King of Sparta, with a handful of soldiers, against the Persian invasion of ancient Hellas under Xerxes, in 48o B.C. The barbaric host, which, Herodotos tells us, numbered 300,000, had been assembled in Asia Minor for the purpose of avenging the defeat of the king’s father, Darios, ten years before at Marathon, and had marched from Sardis. Thus, the odds against the Greeks were nearly Soo to one. The Persians were checked in a narrow defile between the mountains of Lokris and a huge swamp which stretched to the sea. Here was barely space for a road. This is the famous Pass of Thermopylae (Hot Gates)—an appropriate name for such an event as that which now took place; for here it was that Leonidas and his bray:”three hundred” held at bay, for three whole days, the might of Persia.

It was a “forlorn hope”; for the Spartan leader had received word of an attack in the rear, through the treachery of t,000 Phokians, who had been sent to defend the only other road, higher up the mountain. The Spartans gave battle, therefore, knowing well that they would most probably be wiped out to a man, as they eventually were, the last few survivors of this gallant band fighting, in the words of Herodotos, “with the most furious valour” astride the corpse of the noble Leonidas.


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