[extropy-chat] 300 and the Gates of Fire

Amara Graps amara at amara.com
Sun Mar 11 07:57:47 UTC 2007


>You also have to look at what the Spartans actually were.
[historically accurate description of their lives and training deleted]
>These Spartans were not very 'nice' people.


Come on, they were human  too. I hate it when a culture (especially from
old history) is painted with a broad brush, losing the nuances of
context and the history and much more.

I understand well how some of the philosophy that the Spartans
represented laid the groundwork for many horrific events in human
history, but I would appreciate it they could be described with
a little more understanding. I think that J.B. Bury (as usual)
does an excellent job for the Greeks. The book that I recommended
previously can help in that regard too.

 From _History of Greece_ J.B. Bury, pg. 133-134. (My copy is published
in 1938, but there exist many newer publication dates for this work too)

{begin quote, typing errors mine}
Thus Sparta was a camp in which the highest object of every man's life
was to be ready at any moment to fight with the utmost efficiency for
his city. The aim of every law, the end of the whole social order was to
fashion good soldiers. Private luxury was strictly forbidden; Spartan
simplicity became proverbial. The individual man, entirely lost in the
state, had no life of his own; he had no problems of human existence to
solve for himself. Sparta was not a place for thinkers or theorists; the
whole duty of man and the highest ideal of life were contained for a
Spartan in the laws of his city. Warfare being the object of all the
Spartan laws and institutions, one might expect to find the city in a
perpetual state of war. One might look to see her sons always ready to
strive with their neighbours without any ulterior object, war being for
them an end in itself.

But it was not so; they did not wage war more lightly than other men; we
cannot rank them with barbarians who care only for fighting and hunting.
We attribute the original motive of their institutions, in some measure
at least, to the situation of a small dominant class in the midst of
ill-contented subjects and hostile serfs. They must always be prepared
to meet a rebellion of Perioeci or a revolt of Helots, and a surprise
would have been fatal. Forming a permanent camp in a country which was
far from friendly, they were compelled to be always on their guard. But
there was something more in the vitality and conservation of the Spartan
constitution, than precaution against the danger of possible
insurrection. It appealed to the Greek sense of Beauty. There was a
certain completeness and simplicity about the constitution itself, a
completeness and simplicity about the manner of life enforced by the
laws, a completeness and simplicity too about the type of character
developed by them, which Greeks or other cities never failed to
contemplate with genuine, if distant admiration. Shut away in "hollow
many-clefted Lacedaemon," out of the world and not sharing in the
progress of other Greek cities, Sparta seemed to remain at a standstill
and a stranger from Athens of Miletus in the fifth century visiting the
straggling villages which formed her unwalled unpretentious city must
have had a feeling of being transported into an age long past, when men
were braver, better, and simpler, unspoiled by wealth, undisturbed by
ideas. To a philosopher, like Plato, speculating in political science,
the Spartan state seemed the nearest approach to the ideal. The
ordinary Greek looked upon it as a structure of severe and simple
beauty, a Dorian city stately as a Dorian temple, far nobler than his
own abode, but not so comfortable to dwell in. If this was the effect
produced upon strangers, we can imagine what a perpetual joy to a
Spartan peer was the contemplation of the Spartan constitution; how he
felt a sense of superiority in being a citizen of that city, and a pride
in living up to its idea and fulfilling the obligations of his nobility.
In his mouth "not beautiful" meant contrary to the Spartan laws," which
were believed to have been inspired by Apollo. This deep admiration for
their constitution as an ideally beautiful creation, the conviction that
it was incapable of improvement-- being, in truth, wonderfully effective
in realising its aims-- is bound up with the conservative spirit of the
{end quote}


Amara Graps, PhD      www.amara.com
INAF Istituto di Fisica dello Spazio Interplanetario (IFSI), Roma, ITALIA
Associate Research Scientist, Planetary Science Institute (PSI), Tucson

More information about the extropy-chat mailing list