Come, But Leave It: Firearms on Campus

According to Plutarch, Alcibiades once punched a teacher because he didn’t have any books of Homer to lend him. Imagine if the volatile Alcibiades were a student today in Texas or one of the other American states where students at public universities may now legally carry concealed firearms (if licensed)!

(Many smarter people than I have already written about the conversation-chilling effect of the threat of weapons on campus: see David Perry’s commentary, for example. There is an ongoing lawsuit at the UT Austin campus).

I mention this today because the campus carry law was one of the things that unnerved me about staying in Texas. The law went into effect this Monday and already a group is protesting the policies adopted on several campuses allowing faculty members to ban guns in their own private offices.  In anticipating this policy last year, I designed the following for my office door.




[Molôn aphes not Molôn labe: trans: “Come, but leave it”.]

Of course, this is riffing on the ubiquitous  “μολὼν λαβέ” motto that has appeared on everything from t-shirts to personalized  guns (I went through a couple iterations of this with the inimitable Armand D’Angour last fall).

SIG-SAUER-Molon-Labe-courtesy-The-Truth-About-Guns (1)

(seriously. do a google image search for “molon labe”. it is sickening).

Plutarch, Apophthegmata Lakonica 225 c11-12

“When Xerxes wrote again, “send me your weapons”, [Leonidas] wrote back, “Come and take them”

Πάλιν δὲ τοῦ Ξέρξου γράψαντος ‘πέμψον τὰ ὅπλα’, ἀντέγραψε ‘μολὼν λαβέ.’

Before I announced my departure for New England I actually had a few conversations with students about the policy and was shocked by how many said they would likely carry a weapon. When I first moved to Texas I was surprised by how many people blithely assumed they were not safe unless they had a firearm and how many rode around with long-guns in their vehicles or slept with them by their beds.

Just to be clear–I grew up with a closet full of guns in rural Maine. Gun safety consisted of not playing with guns and keeping ammunition elsewhere.  I actually had a friend in seventh grade whose brother accidentally shot him in the face (not with our guns; the friend lived, thankfully). I am not an ignorant, inexperienced anti-gun nut. No, I am a reflective person who thinks campuses are sanctuaries and more guns do not make people safer. Period.

I had a brief fantasy about writing about the cultural appropriation of this phrase from the apochryphal Plutarch to the Texas revolution, constructions of Spartan and American masculinity, and political fantasy. (Wikipedia gives a decent history.) But I was (1) too depressed by it and (2) didn’t want to get shot.

So, for my friends staying in Texas and those in similar states, I have made the poster above modelling the phrase μολὼν ἀφές on the original (and probably made-up) Laconic saying. Stay safe.

5 thoughts on “Come, But Leave It: Firearms on Campus

  1. I seem to remember a certain little-known poem which began thematically with

    ARMA virumque cano [I sing of WEAPONS and a man]

    A lot of things happen in the middle, but eventually it ends with:

    hoc dicens ferrum adverso sub pectore condit 950
    fervidus; ast illi solvuntur frigore membra
    vitaque cum gemitu fugit indignata sub umbras.
    [“Saying this in a heat of passion, he plunged his sword into Turnus’ heart; whose limbs were loosed with cold as his life fled off to the shades with a groan.”]

  2. Joel,
    You don’t need a gun to straighten out a professor; “Hercules was taught to drive a chariot by Amphitryon, to wrestle by Autolycus, to shoot with the bow by Eurytus, to fence by Castor, and to play the lyre by Linus.This Linus was a brother of Orpheus; he came to Thebes and became a Theban, but was killed by Hercules with a blow of the lyre; for being struck by him, Hercules flew into a rage and slew him. When he was tried for murder, Hercules quoted a law of Rhadamanthys, who laid it down that whoever defends himself against a wrongful aggressor shall go free, and so he was acquitted.” (Apollodorus 2.4.9]

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