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).
(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.