Volume 7, Issue 5: Historia
The Renaissance of Spartan Masculinity
Spartans were the "real men" of classical antiquity. Infantry was the dominant
military arm in ancient Greece, and the Spartan infantry eclipsed all others.
A Spartan hoplite (footsoldier) wielded a pike of seven and a half to nine
feet in length, which he handled more skillfully than his opponent did his own
weapon of lesser stature. He donned a helmet, breastplate, and greaves and carried
a short sword at his waist. He held so large a shield that it could be used
as a stretcher to carry wounded from the field. This shield protected its bearer's
left side and front, and extended far leftward to protect his neighbor's right
side. Dependence upon a neighbor's shield encouraged each hoplite to keep rank.
These trained hoplites maneuvered in a formation, called a phalanx , of at
least eight ranks deep. The Spartan phalanx was the most formidable sight
on battlefields in the fifth century B.C .
The Spartan warrior's lifestyle began with the reforms of Lycurgus, the ninth-century
lawgiver who turned Sparta into a garrison state. With the blessing of the Delphic
Oracle (the prophet of Apollo, god of war), Lycurgus brought all aspects of family
life under the care of the State. He produced a regimented society and fearless
Lycurgus first reformed the economy. He divided the land, with each Spartan
having one of thirty-thousand equal plots. "That there might be no odious distinction
or inequality among them,"[*] Lycurgus confiscated all gold and silver, and distributed
coinage so worthless that nobody would envy another's wealth ("who would rob another
of such a coin?"). He also outlawed trades that were deemed "unnecessary," which
put sculptors, jewelers, rhetoricians, silversmiths, and the like out of work.
This ended all foreign trade, for there was no demand abroad for Spartan wares
and currency. Lycurgus followed these reforms with the final death-blow to class
distinctions: all were required to eat the same food at common tables.
He then addressed the bearing of children. "Lycurgus was of a persuasion that
children were not so much the property of their parents as of the whole commonwealth."
Each newborn was presented to the elders, and "if they found it stout and well
made, they gave order for its rearing," but if it was "puny and ill shaped" they
ordered it to be left to die of exposure. Marriage was regulated to breed the
best children. Moreover, a good man could go into another's wife, "that he might
raise, as it were, from this plot of good ground, worthy and well-allied children
for himself." Lycurgus reasoned that if animals are bred to produce the best
stock, how much more should we work to breed the best children!
Educating children was to Lycurgus "the most important and noblest work of a
lawgiver." Boys were taken from their homes at age seven and placed in an academy.
"Reading and writing they gave them, just enough to serve their turn; their chief
care was to make them good subjects, and to teach them to endure pain and conquer
in battle." Each of the better boys was personally tutored by an old man who
taught him valor and manners. This personal tutelage, and the sexual relationship
that came with it, continued until the boy reached adulthood.
Because the women had to manage their affairs while the men were off at war,
girls were raised to be rugged, disparaging "overgreat tenderness." They trained
in wrestling, running, and throwing to improve their bodies. Thus they would
be better equipped for childbearing. Maidens were required to dance naked in
public processions. The fittest enjoyed praise, while the less fair-bodied were
humiliated by critical jesting. These processions encouraged the maidens' diligence
in their training, and also induced marriages.
The boys were barely fed. They were encouraged to steal food, which taught them
stealth and cunning. They were severely beaten, often mortally, if caught.
"So seriously did [Spartan] children go about their stealing, that a youth, having
stolen a young fox and hid it under his coat, suffered it to tear out his very
bowels with its teeth and claws and died upon the place, rather than let it be
seen." Similarly, young husbands continued to live in barracks, dining and sleeping
away from home. Husband and wife came together only in secret, for it was shameful
to have their meetings made known. This again required cunning, wit, and deception:
good training for warriors.
The Spartan way of life differs in many respects from Western culture today.
Things common to them shock us, as they would surely find our ways quite shocking.
But at their core, Spartan values are much the same as those of our modern West.
Massive government school programs, intrusive adoption regulations, and other
social programs betray our conviction (like it or not) that child rearing is
a civic concern, not a family matter. We abort unwanted children rather than
leaving them to exposure. Reproduction is increasingly divorced from marriage,
and we even regulate our offspring by mixing reproductive partners through surrogacy
and in vitro fertilization. And through its public display of barely-clothed
maidens, our media testify that we share the Spartan vision for the ideal woman.
Back of it all is modern masculinity in the West. Men surrender their property
to the state, and even vote for politicians who want more of it. Rather than
cherishing their wives, men treat them as side shows. Men leave their daughters
to the mercy of scoffing young mencountless "dates" who disrobe them before they
find a husband. The modern man is truly a Spartan.