Sparta’s Counterfeit Myth

Myke Cole ushers us into the month of August with a fine overview of how Spartan cosplay and mimicry infects right wing movements in the US and abroad (“The Sparta Fetish is a Cultural Cancer”, The New Republic). He rightly–and for some, surprisingly–points out that the myth of Sparta was something carefully cultivated by the Lacedaimonians themselves (and, when useful, by opportunistic statesmen like the Athenian Themistokles)

This fight against the misinformation of Spartan myth and its reuse in the modern world is constant and perennial. Last year,  Dr. Sarah Bond published a piece for Eidolon  about the appropriation of Spartan iconography and values in the modern world (“This Is Not Sparta: Why the Modern Romance with Sparta is a Bad One”).  Neville Morely’s subsequent post on the use of Sparta by the far right is also a must-read.

If you live in Europe, the coasts in the US or some other blissful bubble, you may be unaware of the fact that the motto μολὼν λαβέ now adorns weapons and military gear of all kinds and is a favorite of certain right-wing political affiliations.

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.’

(When people hear I teach ancient Greek and tell me they love Sparta, I take the same deep breath I take when others ask about ‘Ancient Aliens’ or Atlantis. ‘Sparta’ is a production of modern culture as much as ancient. Every time I have taught the Peloponnesian War I found myself hoping it might turn out different this time…)

In addition to the eugenics, racism, and fascism at home on this constellation of beliefs, there is this: Sparta was a militarized state which enslaved its neighbors and produced little of worth for the world beyond a mythologized memory of a great fighting force.

When it comes to everything else for which we prize ancient Greece, Sparta was terribly and completely deficient. Tragedy, Epic poetry, lyric poetry, visual art, vases, sculpture, architecture, philosophy, science, history, rhetoric, everything Western cultural chauvinist champion about the ‘Greek miracle’* developed every where else in Greece.

Quintilian, Institutio Oratoria 3.7.24

“In Sparta, literary pursuits will win less honor than they would in Athens, while endurance and bravery will earn more.”

Minus Lacedaemone studia litterarum quam Athenis honoris merebuntur, plus patientia ac fortitudo.

Read Cole’s article. Read Bond’s piece. And here is some fun And, here are some selections from Spartan ‘culture’. Martial poetry; pithy sayings; puppy sacrifices. If enslaving entire populations, dedicating their whole culture to a war machine, and killing puppies is not enough for you to rethink Sparta, well there’s just not much left to say.

*These are scare quotes. Even as a Hellenist I do not believe in this terminology.

Sparta left some martial poetry. It is, well, uninspiring.

Tyrtaeus, Fr. 10.1-2

“It is a fine thing when a noble man falls
In the first ranks while struggling for his country.”

τεθνάμεναι γὰρ καλὸν ἐνὶ προμάχοισι πεσόντα
ἄνδρ’ ἀγαθὸν περὶ ἧι πατρίδι μαρνάμενον·

Tytaeus, fr. 11.5-8

“Make your life hateful and make the dark fates
Of death as dear as the rays of the sun.
For you know the destructive deeds of much-wept Ares
And you have learned well the fury of fierce war.”

ἐχθρὴν μὲν ψυχὴν θέμενος, θανάτου δὲ μελαίνας
κῆρας αὐγαῖς ἠελίοιο φίλας.
ἴστε γὰρ ὡς ῎Αρεος πολυδακρύου ἔργ’ ἀΐδηλα,
εὖ δ’ ὀργὴν ἐδάητ’ ἀργαλέου πολέμου

Callinus 1. 12-21

“There’s no way for a man to avoid death once it is fated,
Not even if he is a descendant of the immortal gods.
Often when someone has fled strife and the din of spears
Death’s fate will find him at home.
The unsteady man isn’t dear to the people or longed for,
They grieve for him a little even if he suffers something great.
But the whole host misses a strong-hearted man when he dies
A man the equal of living heroes.
They look at him like a tower before their eyes_
He does work of many though he is just one.”

οὐ γάρ κως θάνατόν γε φυγεῖν εἱμαρμένον ἐστὶν
ἄνδρ’, οὐδ’ εἰ προγόνων ἦι γένος ἀθανάτων.
πολλάκι δηϊοτῆτα φυγὼν καὶ δοῦπον ἀκόντων
ἔρχεται, ἐν δ’ οἴκωι μοῖρα κίχεν θανάτου,
ἀλλ’ ὁ μὲν οὐκ ἔμπης δήμωι φίλος οὐδὲ ποθεινός
τὸν δ’ ὀλίγος στενάχει καὶ μέγας ἤν τι πάθηι·
λαῶι γὰρ σύμπαντι πόθος κρατερόφρονος ἀνδρὸς
θνήσκοντος, ζώων δ’ ἄξιος ἡμιθέων·
ὥσπερ γάρ μιν πύργον ἐν ὀφθαλμοῖσιν ὁρῶσιν·
ἔρδει γὰρ πολλὼν ἄξια μοῦνος ἐών.

The most famous epigram associated with Sparta was not composed by a Spartan:

Simonides, Epigram (Greek Anthology,7.249): An Epitaph at Thermopylae

“Stranger, go tell the Spartans that we lie here
obedient to their commands.”

Ω ξεῖν’, ἀγγέλλειν Λακεδαιμονίοις, ὅτι τῇδε
κείμεθα τοῖς κείνων ῥήμασι πειθόμενοι.

Aelian, 13.19

“Cleomenes the Laconian asserted—in the manner of Spartans—that Homer was a Spartan poet because he spoke about the right way to go to war and that Hesiod was the Helot’s poet, since he talks about how best to farm.”

῎Ελεγεν ὁ Κλεομένης Λακωνικῶς κατὰ τὸν ἐπιχώριον τρόπον τὸν ῞Ομηρον Λακεδαιμονίων εἶναι ποιητήν, ὡς χρὴ πολεμεῖν λέγοντα· τὸν δὲ ῾Ησίοδον τῶν Εἱλώτων, λέγοντα ὡς χρὴ γεωργεῖν.

Part of what has helped to spread the Spartan myth and mystique are the collections of sayings attributed to Spartans made centuries after the fall of the city. The cottage industry of constructing ‘Sparta’ as an austere, manly, independent utopia is two thousand years old. And it is a selected, curated load of nonsense.

Plutarch, Sayings of the Spartans (Apophthegmata Lakonica )

208b “When someone was commending a politician for his talent at amplifying minor matters, Agesilaos remarked that a cobbler is not good at his job if he puts big shoes on small feet.”

Ἐπαινοῦντος δέ τινος ῥήτορα ἐπὶ τῷ δυνατῶς αὔξειν τὰ μικρὰ πράγματα, οὐδὲ σκυτοτόμον, ἔφησεν, εἶναι σπουδαῖον, ὃς μικρῷ ποδὶ ὑποδήματα μεγάλα περιτίθησιν.

215d “[Agis] said that the Spartans never asked “how many” of the enemy there were, but only “where are they”.

Οὐκ ἔφη δὲ τοὺς Λακεδαιμονίους ἐρωτᾶν πόσοι εἰσὶν οἱ πολέμιοι, ἀλλὰ ποῦ εἰσίν.

222e “When asked what kind of men the Ionians were, he said “bad free men but good slaves”

Ἐρωτηθεὶς δὲ ὁποῖοι ἄνδρες εἰσὶν οἱ Ἴωνες, “ἐλεύθεροι μέν,” ἔφη, “κακοί, δοῦλοι δὲ ἀγαθοί.”

217d “In response to the Athenian who said the Spartans were uneducated, he said “At least we are the only ones who have learned nothing evil from you.”

Πρὸς δὲ τὸν ἀμαθεῖς καλοῦντα τοὺς Λακεδαιμονίους Ἀθηναῖον, “μόνοι γοῦν,” εἶπεν, “ἡμεῖς οὐδὲν μεμαθήκαμεν παρ᾿ ὑμῶν κακόν.”

218 “In response to someone who praised a musician and was amazed as his talent, he said, “Sir, what prize will you have left for good men when you praise a musician this much?”

Πρὸς δὲ τὸν ἐπαινοῦντα κιθαρῳδὸν καὶ θαυμάζοντα τὴν δύναμιν αὐτοῦ, “ὦ λῷστε,” ἔφη, “ποῖον γέρας παρὰ σοῦ τοῖς ἀγαθοῖς ἀνδράσιν ἔσται, ὅταν κιθαρῳδὸν οὕτως ἐπαινῇς;”

220a “While he listened to a musician play, [Demaratus] remarked, “he doesn’t seem so bad at this nonsense”

Ψάλτου δὲ ἀκροώμενος, “οὐ κακῶς,” εἶπε, “φαίνεταί μοι φλυαρεῖν.”

221f “When someone showed him a city wall and asked if it was strong and high, he said, “isn’t this a place for women?”

Ἐπιδεικνυμένου δέ τινος αὐτῷ τεῖχος καὶ πυνθανομένου εἰ καρτερὸν καὶ ὑψηλόν, “οὐ δὴ γυναικών;” εἶπεν.

224 e-f “This is what Leotychidas said to Philip, the master of the Orphic mysteries who was extremely poor but was claiming that those initiated into the mysteries by him would be blessed after the end of life: “Fool, why don’t you die as quickly as possible so you can stop whining about your bad luck and poverty?”

Πρὸς Φίλιππον τὸν ὀρφεοτελεστὴν παντελῶς πτωχὸν ὄντα, λέγοντα δ᾿ ὅτι οἱ παρ᾿ αὐτῷ μυηθέντες μετὰ τὴν τοῦ βίου τελευτὴν εὐδαιμονοῦσι, “τί οὖν, ὦ ἀνόητε,” εἶπεν, “οὐ τὴν ταχίστην ἀποθνῄσκεις, Fἵν᾿ ἅμα παύσῃ2 κακοδαιμονίαν καὶ πενίαν κλαίων;”

“When someone was asking why they did not dedicated the weapons of their enemies to the gods, he said that it would neither be right to show the youth or to dedicate to the gods weapons which were taken thanks to the cowardice of their owners.”

Πυθομένου δέ τινος διὰ τί τὰ ἀπὸ τῶν πολεμίων ὅπλα τοῖς θεοῖς οὐκ ἀνατιθέασιν, ἔφη ὅτι τὰ διὰ τὴν δειλίαν τῶν κεκτημένων θηραθέντα οὔτε τοὺς νέους ὁρᾶν καλὸν οὔτε τοῖς θεοῖς ἀνατιθέναι.

Some Sayings Attributed to Spartans in the Gnomologicum Vaticanum

69 “When Agesilaos was asked by someone why Sparta was unwalled he said “don’t lie. It is walled not by stones but by its occupants’ excellence.”

῾Ο αὐτὸς ἐρωτηθεὶς ὑπό τινος, διὰ τί ἀτείχιστός ἐστιν ἡ Σπάρτη, „μὴ ψεύδου”, ἔφη, „τετείχισται γάρ, οὐ λίθοις, ἀλλὰ ταῖς τῶν <ἐνοικούντων ἀρεταῖς>”.

394 “When a Spartan man was asked why the Spartans have small spears he said “because they fight close to the enemy”

Λάκων ἀνὴρ ἐρωτώμενος διὰ τί οἱ Λακεδαιμόνιοι μικρὰ ἔχουσι τὰ ἐγχειρίδια εἶπεν· „ὅτι ἐγγύθεν τοῖς πολεμίοις μάχονται”.

396 “To someone asking why Spartans foster brevity of speech, a Spartan man said “because it is closest to silence”

Λάκων ἀνὴρ πρὸς τὸν εἰπόντα αὐτῷ· „διὰ τί οἱ Λακεδαιμόνιοι τὴν βραχυλογίαν ἀσκοῦσιν;” εἶπεν· „ὅτι ἔγγιστά ἐστι τοῦ σιωπᾶν”.

Spartan Sayings, 241f6

“Another spartan woman as she was passing her son his shield advised him, “child, [come home] either with this or on it.”

῎Αλλη προσαναδιδοῦσα τῷ παιδὶ τὴν ἀσπίδα καὶ παρακελευομένη ‘τέκνον’ ἔφη, ‘ἢ ταύταν ἢ ἐπὶ ταύτας.’

Sayings Attributed to Spartan Women, 568-576

“When a Spartan woman was speaking to her son who had been crippled in battle and was depressed because of that she said “don’t be sad, child—for each step recalls your private virtue”

Γυνὴ Λάκαινα τοῦ υἱοῦ αὐτῆς ἐν παρατάξει χωλωθέντος καὶ δυσφοροῦντος ἐπὶ τούτῳ „τέκνον”, εἶπε, „μὴ λυποῦ· καθ’ ἕκαστον γὰρ βῆμα τῆς ἰδίας <ἀρετῆς ὑπομνησθήσῃ.”>

“A Spartan woman said of her son who was thankful that he was the only one to survive a battle-line “why aren’t you ashamed that you’re the only one alive?”

Λάκαινα γυνὴ σεμνυνομένου τοῦ υἱοῦ αὐτῆς ἐπὶ τῷ μόνον ἐκ τῆς παρατάξεως σεσῶσθαι ἔφη· „τί οὖν οὐκ αἰσχύνῃ μόνος ζῶν;”

“When a Spartan woman heard that her son died in the battle line she said “Child, you paid your country back well for your upbringing.”

Γυνὴ Λάκαινα ἀκούσασα τὸν υἱὸν αὐτῆς ἐν παρατάξει τεθνηκέναι „τέκνον”, εἶπεν, „ὡς καλὰ τροφεῖα τῇ πατρίδι ἀπέδωκας!”

Valerius Maximas, 6.3 Ext 1

“Although it is possible to use the whole planet to offer examples of Roman cruelty, it is not useless to learn of foreign instances in summary. The Spartans ordered that the books of Archilochus were to be expelled from their state because they believed that they were insufficiently modest and were also shameful reading.

They did not want their children’s minds to be filled with these ideas in case they might harm their characters more than it sharpened their wits. For this reason they exiled the greatest or nearly greatest poet because he wounded a household he hated with vulgar curses.”

Ceterum etsi Romanae severitatis exemplis totus terrarum orbis instrui potest, tamen externa summatim cognosse fastidio non sit. Lacedaemonii libros Archilochi e civitate sua exportari iusserunt, quod eorum parum verecundam ac pudicam lectionem arbitrabantur: noluerunt enim ea liberorum suorum animos imbui, ne plus moribus noceret quam ingeniis prodesset. itaque maximum poetam aut certe summo proximum, quia domum sibi invisam obscenis maledictis laceraverat, carminum exsilio multarunt.

Spartans Sacrificed Puppies

Pausanias, 15.14 [In Laconia]

“On each of the bridges there is a sculpture: one has Herakles, the other an image of Lykourgos. Lykourgos established laws for the rest of the state and also for the fighting of youths. There are other things done by the Spartan youths too. They sacrifice in the temple to Apollo before battle. The Phoibaion is outside the city and not too far from Therapne. There, each group of young men sacrifice a puppy to Enyalios, because they believe that the bravest of the tame animals is a sacrifice to the liking of the bravest of the gods.

I don’t know any other Greeks who are in the habit of sacrificing puppies except for the Colophonians. They sacrifice a black female pup to the Goddess of the Wayside. This sacrifice and that of the Spartan youths are performed at night. During the sacrifice, the youths have trained boars fight one another. Whichever group’s boar wins, that group ends up winning the battle when they fight with strength in the Plane-tree Grove. These are the things they do in the Phobaion.”

γεφυρῶν δὲ ἐφ᾿ ἑκατέρᾳ τῇ μέν ἐστιν ἄγαλμα Ἡρακλέους, τῇ δὲ εἰκὼν Λυκούργου. νόμους δὲ ἔς τε τὴν ἄλλην πολιτείαν καὶ ἐς τὴν μάχην τῶν ἐφήβων ἔθηκεν ὁ Λυκοῦργος. καὶ τάδε ἄλλα τοῖς ἐφήβοις δρώμενά ἐστι· θύουσι πρὸ τῆς μάχης ἐν τῷ Φοιβαίῳ· τὸ δὲ Φοιβαῖόν ἐστιν ἐκτὸς τῆς πόλεως, Θεράπνης οὐ πολὺ ἀφεστηκός. ἐνταῦθα ἑκατέρα μοῖρα τῶν ἐφήβων σκύλακα κυνὸς τῷ Ἐνυαλίῳ θύουσι, θεῶν τῷ ἀλκιμωτάτῳ κρίνοντες ἱερεῖον κατὰ γνώμην εἶναι τὸ ἀλκιμώτατον ζῷον τῶν ἡμέρων. κυνὸς δὲ σκύλακας οὐδένας ἄλλους οἶδα Ἑλλήνων νομίζοντας θύειν ὅτι μὴ Κολοφωνίους· θύουσι γὰρ καὶ Κολοφώνιοι μέλαιναν τῇ Ἐνοδίῳ σκύλακα. νυκτεριναὶ δὲ ἥ τε Κολοφωνίων θυσία καὶ τῶν ἐν Λακεδαίμονι ἐφήβων καθεστήκασιν. ἐπὶ δὲ τῇ θυσίᾳ κάπρους ἠθάδας οἱ ἔφηβοι συμβάλλουσι μαχουμένους· ὁποτέρων δ᾿ ἂν ὁ κάπρος τύχῃ νικῶν, ἐν τῷ Πλατανιστᾷ κρατῆσαι τούτους ὡς τὰ πλείω συμβαίνει. τοσάδε μὲν δρῶσιν ἐν τῷ Φοιβαίῳ·

Image result for ancient Greek spartan shield

Spartans and Rape in the Conquered Territory. Another poorly named “erotic story” from Plutarch

Plutarch, Love Stories 3

“A poor man named Skadasos used to live in Leuktra (which is a village in the land of the Thespians). He had two daughters who were named Hippo and Milêtia or, as some say, Thenô and Euksippê. Skedasos was a good man and solicitous of strangers, even though he did not have much. When two Spartan youths came to him, he welcomed them happily. Although they were lusting after the maidens, they were hindered from bold action by the good character of the father. On the next day, they went to Delphi. The same road laid before them.

So, after they got an oracle from the god about which they were in need, they returned homeward again, traveling through Boiotia and returning to the home of Skedasos. But he did not happen to be in Leuktra at the time. Still, the daughters welcomed the strangers in the family’s usual manner. But when the youths found them alone, they raped the girls. When they noticed that the girls were taking the offense pretty badly, they killed them and rid themselves of the burden by throwing the bodies in a well.

When Skedasos returned and did not see his daughters, he discovered that everything else he left behind was safe. He was at a loss over the affair until a certain dog kept pawing at him and often ran up to him and from him back to the well. From this he figured it out, and he raised his daughters’ corpses up from the well. Once he learned from his neighbors that they had seen those Spartans on the previous day and returning again on the next one, he attributed the deed to them because they were constantly praising the girls on the earlier day and counting as blessed the men they would marry.

He went to Sparta in order to take his case to the Ephors. When he was near Argos, because night overtook him, he stayed in an inn. There was another old man in the same inn who was from the city of Oreus in the region of Hestiaia. After Skedasos heard him groaning and cursing the Spartans, he asked him what evil he had suffered at their hands. He explained that he was a Spartan subject and that after Aristodemos was sent to Oreus as a governor, he proved himself to be very cruel and lawless.

He explained, “He lusted after my son. When he couldn’t persuade him, he attempted to rape him and abduct him from the wrestling school. Because the teacher was preventing him and there were many young men helping, Aristodemos retreated out of necessity. But on the following day, he outfitted a trireme, kidnapped the boy and sailed to the opposite shore where he was trying to rape the boy. He killed him because he was fighting back. After returned, he threw a dinner party.” The old man continued, “Once I learned of what happened and took care of the body, I went to Sparta and met with the Ephors. But they showed this no concern.”

Hearing these things, Skedasos lost heart because he was imagining that the Spartans would ignore his case as well. But he did explain his own misfortune to the stranger in turn. The man was advising him not to meet with the Ephors but just to return to Boiotia and build a tomb for his daughters. Skedasos, nevertheless, was not persuaded, but he went to Sparta to meet with the Ephors. When they did not pay attention, he went to the kings and then went up and wept before each of the citizens. When he gained nothing else, he was rushing through the city raising his hands to the sun. Then he was striking his fists on the ground and calling on the Furies. Finally, he killed himself.”

Ἀνὴρ πένης Σκέδασος τοὔνομα κατῴκει Λεῦκτρα· ἔστι δὲ κώμιον τῆς τῶν Θεσπιέων χώρας. τούτῳ θυγατέρες γίνονται δύο· ἐκαλοῦντο δ᾿ Ἱππὼ καὶ Μιλητία, ἤ, ὥς τινες, Θεανὼ καὶ Εὐξίππη. ἦν δὲ χρηστὸς ὁ Σκέδασος καὶ τοῖς ξένοις ἐπιτήδειος, καίπερ οὐ πολλὰ κεκτημένος. ἀφικομένους οὖν πρὸς αὐτὸν δύο Σπαρτιάτας νεανίας ὑπεδέξατο προθύμως· οἱ δὲ τῶν παρθένων ἡττώμενοι διεκωλύοντο πρὸς τὴν τόλμαν ὑπὸ τῆς τοῦ κεδάσου χρηστότητος. τῇ δ᾿ ὑστεραίᾳ Πυθώδε ἀπῄεσαν· αὕτη γὰρ αὐτοῖς προύκειτο ἡ ὁδός· καὶ τῷ θεῷ χρησάμενοι περὶ ὧν ἐδέοντο, πάλιν ἐπανῄεσαν οἴκαδε, καὶ χωροῦντες διὰ τῆς Βοιωτίας ἐπέστησαν πάλιν τῇ τοῦ Σκεδάσου οἰκίᾳ. ὁ δ᾿ ἐτύγχανεν οὐκ ἐπιδημῶν τοῖς Λεύκτροις, ἀλλ᾿ αἱ θυγατέρες αὐτοῦ ὑπὸ τῆς συνήθους ἀγωγῆς τοὺς ξένους ὑπεδέξαντο. οἱ δὲ καταλαβόντες ἐρήμους τὰς κόρας βιάζονται· ὁρῶντες δ᾿ αὐτὰς καθ᾿ ὑπερβολὴν τῇ ὕβρει χαλεπαινούσας ἀπέκτειναν, καὶ ἐμβαλόντες ἔς τι φρέαρ ἀπηλλάγησαν. ἐπανελθὼν δ᾿ ὁ Σκέδασος τὰς μὲν κόρας οὐχ ἑώρα, πάντα δὲ τὰ καταλειφθέντα εὑρίσκει σῷα καὶ τῷ πράγματι ἠπόρει, ἕως τῆς κυνὸς κνυζωμένης καὶ πολλάκις μὲν προστρεχούσης πρὸς αὐτὸν ἀπὸ δ᾿ αὐτοῦ εἰς τὸ φρέαρ ἐπανιούσης, εἴκασεν ὅπερ ἦν, καὶ τῶν θυγατέρων τὰ νεκρὰ οὕτως ἀνιμήσατο. πυθόμενος δὲ παρὰ τῶν γειτόνων, ὅτι ἴδοιεν τῇ χθὲς ἡμέρᾳ τοὺς καὶ πρῴην καταχθέντας ἐπ᾿ αὐτοὺς Λακεδαιμονίους εἰσιόντας, συνεβάλετο τὴν πρᾶξιν ἐκείνων, ὅτι καὶ πρῴην συνεχῶς ἐπῄνουν τὰς κόρας, μακαρίζοντες τοὺς γαμήσοντας.

Ἀπῄει εἰς Λακεδαίμονα, τοῖς ἐφόροις ἐντευξόμενος· γενόμενος δ᾿ ἐν τῇ Ἀργολικῇ, νυκτὸς καταλαμβανούσης, εἰς πανδοκεῖόν τι κατήχθη· κατὰ τὸ αὐτὸ δὲ καὶ πρεσβύτης τις ἕτερος τὸ γένος ἐξ Ὠρεοῦ πόλεως τῆς Ἑστιαιάτιδος· οὗ στενάξαντος καὶ κατὰ Λακεδαιμονίων ἀρὰς ποιουμένου ἀκούσας ὁ Σκέδασος ἐπυνθάνετο τί κακὸν ὑπὸ Λακεδαιμονίων πεπονθὼς εἴη. ὁ δὲ διηγεῖτο, ὡς ὑπήκοος μέν ἐστι τῆς Σπάρτης, πεμφθεὶς δ᾿ εἰς Ὠρεὸν Ἀριστόδημος ἁρμοστὴς παρὰ Λακεδαιμονίων ὠμότητα καὶ παρανομίαν ἐπιδείξαιτο πολλήν. “ἐρασθεὶς γάρ,” ἔφη, “τοῦ ἐμοῦ παιδός, ἐπειδὴ πείθειν ἀδύνατος ἦν, ἐπεχείρει βιάσασθαι καὶ ἀπάγειν αὐτὸν τῆς παλαίστρας· κωλύοντος δὲ τοῦ παιδοτρίβου καὶ νεανίσκων πολλῶν ἐκβοηθούντων, παραχρῆμα ὁ Ἀριστόδημος ἀπεχώρησε· τῇ δ᾿ ὑστεραίᾳ πληρώσας τριήρη συνήρπασε τὸ μειράκιον, καὶ ἐξ Ὠρεοῦ διαπλεύσας εἰς τὴν περαίαν ἐπεχείρει ὑβρίσαι, οὐ συγχωροῦντα δ᾿ αὐτὸν ἀπέσφαξεν.  ἐπανελθὼν δ᾿ εἰς τὴν Ὠρεὸν εὐωχεῖτο. ἐγὼ δ᾿,” ἔφη, “τὸ πραχθὲν πυθόμενος καὶ τὸ σῶμα κηδεύσας παρεγενόμην εἰς τὴν Σπάρτην καὶ τοῖς ἐφόροις ἐνετύγχανον· οἱ δὲ λόγον οὐκ ἐποιοῦντο.” Σκέδασος δὲ ταῦτα ἀκούων ἀθύμως διέκειτο, ὑπολαμβάνων ὅτι οὐδ᾿ αὐτοῦ λόγον τινὰ ποιήσονται οἱ Σπαρτιᾶται· ἐν μέρει τε τὴν οἰκείαν διηγήσατο συμφορὰν τῷ ξένῳ· ὁ δὲ παρεκάλει αὐτὸν μηδ᾿ ἐντυχεῖν τοῖς ἐφόροις, ἀλλ᾿ ὑποστρέψαντα εἰς τὴν Βοιωτίαν κτίσαι τῶν θυγατέρων τὸν τάφον. οὐκ ἐπείθετο δ᾿ ὅμως ὁ Σκέδασος, ἀλλ᾿ εἰς τὴν Σπάρτην ἀφικόμενος τοῖς ἐφόροις ἐντυγχάνει· ὧν μηδὲν προσεχόντων, ἐπὶ τοὺς βασιλέας ἵεται καὶ ἀπὸ τούτων ἑκάστῳ τῶν δημοτῶν προσιὼν ὠδύρετο. μηδὲν δὲ πλέον ἀνύων ἔθει διὰ μέσης τῆς πόλεως, ἀνατείνων πρὸς ἥλιον τὼ χεῖρε, αὖθις δὲ τὴν γῆν τύπτων ἀνεκαλεῖτο τὰς Ἐρινύας καὶ τέλος αὑτὸν τοῦ ζῆν μετέστησεν.

More from Plutarch

Plutarch, Moralia Sayings of Spartan Women 242c-d

“A certain girl who lost her virginity to a man in secret and forced an abortion of the fetus handled is so strongly and uttered no sound that she birthed the child without her father and those who were near her knowing. This is because the overcoming of her indiscretion with discretion prevailed over the magnitude of her pains.”

26. Κρύφα τις διαπαρθενευθεῖσα καὶ διαφθείρασα τὸ βρέφος οὕτως ἐνεκαρτέρησε μηδεμίαν προενεγκαμένη φωνήν, ὥστε καὶ τὸν πατέρα καὶ ἄλλους πλησίον ὄντας λαθεῖν ἀποκυήσασα· τὸ γὰρ μέγεθος τῶν ἀλγηδόνων τῇ εὐσχημοσύνῃ τὸ ἄσχημον προσπεσὸν ἐνίκησε.

“A Spartan woman who was being sold and was asked what she knows how to do, answered, “To be faithful.”

27. Λάκαινα πιπρασκομένη καὶ ἐρωτωμένη τί ἐπίσταται, ἔφη, “πιστὰ ἦμεν.”

“Another Spartan woman, when she was captured and asked a similar question, answered, “to keep a house well.”

28. Ἄλλη αἰχμαλωτευθεῖσα καὶ ἐρωτωμένη παραπλησίως, “εὖ οἰκεῖν οἶκον,” ἔφη.

“When a Spartan woman was asked by some man if she would be good if he he purchased her, answered, “I will. And if you don’t purchase me too”

29. Ἐρωτηθεῖσά τις ὑπό τινος, εἰ ἔσται ἀγαθή, ἂν αὐτὴν ἀγοράσῃ, εἶπε, “κἂν μὴ ἀγοράσῃς.”

“The Equal of Living Heroes”: Sparta’s Counterfeit Myth

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.’

The remarkable and tireless Dr. Sarah Bond has composed a piece for Eidolon  about the appropriation of Spartan iconography and values in the modern world (“This Is Not Sparta: Why the Modern Romance with Sparta is a Bad One”). If you live in Europe, the coasts in the US or some other blissful bubble, you may be unaware of the fact that the motto μολὼν λαβέ now adorns weapons and military gear of all kinds and is a favorite of certain right-wing political affiliations.

(When people hear I teach ancient Greek and tell me they love Sparta, I take the same deep breath I take when others ask about ‘Ancient Aliens’ or Atlantis. ‘Sparta’ is a production of modern culture as much as ancient. Every time I have taught the Peloponnesian War I found myself hoping it might turn out different this time…)

Dr. Bond does a great job out outlining the sordid modern history of the appropriation of Spartan ideals. But she is especially good at pointing out “A problematic area for valorizing the Spartans lies not only in quoting their famously short (and often witty) turns of phrase and turning them into bumper stickers, but rather in also looking to the Hellenistic culture as a socio-political model for our own society.

In addition to the eugenics, racism, and fascism at home on this constellation of beliefs, there is this: Sparta was a militarized state which enslaved its neighbors and produced little of worth for the world beyond a mythologized memory of a great fighting force.

When it comes to everything else for which we prize ancient Greece, Sparta was terribly and completely deficient. Tragedy, Epic poetry, lyric poetry, visual art, vases, sculpture, architecture, philosophy, science, history, rhetoric, everything Western cultural chauvinist champion about the ‘Greek miracle’* developed every where else in Greece.

Read Bond’s piece. It is a good one. Also, Neville Morely’s post on the use of Sparta by the far right is also a must-read.

And, here are some selections from Spartan ‘culture’.

*These are scare quotes. Even as a Hellenist I do not believe in this terminology. I find it ironic, however, that those who do still cleave to the example of Sparta which is, in many ways, antithetical to ‘core Western values’.

Sparta left some martial poetry. It is, well, uninspiring.

Tyrtaeus, Fr. 10.1-2

“It is a fine thing when a noble man falls
In the first ranks while struggling for his country.”

τεθνάμεναι γὰρ καλὸν ἐνὶ προμάχοισι πεσόντα
ἄνδρ’ ἀγαθὸν περὶ ἧι πατρίδι μαρνάμενον·

Tytaeus, fr. 11.5-8

“Make your life hateful and make the dark fates
Of death as dear as the rays of the sun.
For you know the destructive deeds of much-wept Ares
And you have learned well the fury of fierce war.”

ἐχθρὴν μὲν ψυχὴν θέμενος, θανάτου δὲ μελαίνας
κῆρας αὐγαῖς ἠελίοιο φίλας.
ἴστε γὰρ ὡς ῎Αρεος πολυδακρύου ἔργ’ ἀΐδηλα,
εὖ δ’ ὀργὴν ἐδάητ’ ἀργαλέου πολέμου

Callinus 1. 12-21

“There’s no way for a man to avoid death once it is fated,
Not even if he is a descendant of the immortal gods.
Often when someone has fled strife and the din of spears
Death’s fate will find him at home.
The unsteady man isn’t dear to the people or longed for,
They grieve for him a little even if he suffers something great.
But the whole host misses a strong-hearted man when he dies
A man the equal of living heroes.
They look at him like a tower before their eyes_
He does work of many though he is just one.”

οὐ γάρ κως θάνατόν γε φυγεῖν εἱμαρμένον ἐστὶν
ἄνδρ’, οὐδ’ εἰ προγόνων ἦι γένος ἀθανάτων.
πολλάκι δηϊοτῆτα φυγὼν καὶ δοῦπον ἀκόντων
ἔρχεται, ἐν δ’ οἴκωι μοῖρα κίχεν θανάτου,
ἀλλ’ ὁ μὲν οὐκ ἔμπης δήμωι φίλος οὐδὲ ποθεινός
τὸν δ’ ὀλίγος στενάχει καὶ μέγας ἤν τι πάθηι·
λαῶι γὰρ σύμπαντι πόθος κρατερόφρονος ἀνδρὸς
θνήσκοντος, ζώων δ’ ἄξιος ἡμιθέων·
ὥσπερ γάρ μιν πύργον ἐν ὀφθαλμοῖσιν ὁρῶσιν·
ἔρδει γὰρ πολλὼν ἄξια μοῦνος ἐών.

The most famous epigram associated with Sparta was not composed by a Spartan:

Simonides, Epigram (Greek Anthology,7.249): An Epitaph at Thermopylae

“Stranger, go tell the Spartans that we lie here
obedient to their commands.”

Ω ξεῖν’, ἀγγέλλειν Λακεδαιμονίοις, ὅτι τῇδε
κείμεθα τοῖς κείνων ῥήμασι πειθόμενοι.

Aelian, 13.19

“Cleomenes the Laconian asserted—in the manner of Spartans—that Homer was a Spartan poet because he spoke about the right way to go to war and that Hesiod was the Helot’s poet, since he talks about how best to farm.”

῎Ελεγεν ὁ Κλεομένης Λακωνικῶς κατὰ τὸν ἐπιχώριον τρόπον τὸν ῞Ομηρον Λακεδαιμονίων εἶναι ποιητήν, ὡς χρὴ πολεμεῖν λέγοντα· τὸν δὲ ῾Ησίοδον τῶν Εἱλώτων, λέγοντα ὡς χρὴ γεωργεῖν.

Some Sayings Attributed to Spartans in the Gnomologicum Vaticanum

69 “When Agesilaos was asked by someone why Sparta was unwalled he said “don’t lie. It is walled not by stones but by its occupants’ excellence.”

῾Ο αὐτὸς ἐρωτηθεὶς ὑπό τινος, διὰ τί ἀτείχιστός ἐστιν ἡ Σπάρτη, „μὴ ψεύδου”, ἔφη, „τετείχισται γάρ, οὐ λίθοις, ἀλλὰ ταῖς τῶν <ἐνοικούντων ἀρεταῖς>”.

394 “When a Spartan man was asked why the Spartans have small spears he said “because they fight close to the enemy”

Λάκων ἀνὴρ ἐρωτώμενος διὰ τί οἱ Λακεδαιμόνιοι μικρὰ ἔχουσι τὰ ἐγχειρίδια εἶπεν· „ὅτι ἐγγύθεν τοῖς πολεμίοις μάχονται”.

396 “To someone asking why Spartans foster brevity of speech, a Spartan man said “because it is closest to silence”

Λάκων ἀνὴρ πρὸς τὸν εἰπόντα αὐτῷ· „διὰ τί οἱ Λακεδαιμόνιοι τὴν βραχυλογίαν ἀσκοῦσιν;” εἶπεν· „ὅτι ἔγγιστά ἐστι τοῦ σιωπᾶν”.

Sayings Attributed to Spartan Women, 568-576

“When a Spartan woman was speaking to her son who had been crippled in battle and was depressed because of that she said “don’t be sad, child—for each step recalls your private virtue”

Γυνὴ Λάκαινα τοῦ υἱοῦ αὐτῆς ἐν παρατάξει χωλωθέντος καὶ δυσφοροῦντος ἐπὶ τούτῳ „τέκνον”, εἶπε, „μὴ λυποῦ· καθ’ ἕκαστον γὰρ βῆμα τῆς ἰδίας <ἀρετῆς ὑπομνησθήσῃ.”>

“A Spartan woman said of her son who was thankful that he was the only one to survive a battle-line “why aren’t you ashamed that you’re the only one alive?”

Λάκαινα γυνὴ σεμνυνομένου τοῦ υἱοῦ αὐτῆς ἐπὶ τῷ μόνον ἐκ τῆς παρατάξεως σεσῶσθαι ἔφη· „τί οὖν οὐκ αἰσχύνῃ μόνος ζῶν;”

“When a Spartan woman heard that her son died in the battle line she said “Child, you paid your country back well for your upbringing.”

Γυνὴ Λάκαινα ἀκούσασα τὸν υἱὸν αὐτῆς ἐν παρατάξει τεθνηκέναι „τέκνον”, εἶπεν, „ὡς καλὰ τροφεῖα τῇ πατρίδι ἀπέδωκας!”

Image result for ancient Greek spartan shield