[extropy-chat] 300 and the Gates of Fire

BillK pharos at gmail.com
Mon Mar 12 12:36:54 UTC 2007

On 3/12/07, The Avantguardian wrote:
> I certainly do, Amara. I have ever since I read "The
> Lion in the Gateway" when I was twelve. The Spartans
> are an archetype of courage, skill, and tactical
> prowess. The battle of Thermopylae is a textbook
> example of the power of proper choice of battlefield
> that is still discussed in military schools today.
> As far as your more general point goes, I agree with
> you there as well. There is a large amount of utility
> in warriors, weapons, and the martial arts. Whether
> that utility is positive or negative in sign depends
> mostly on which side of the thin red line you are on.
> One of the more interesting thing about the Spartans
> were that they were for the most part independent
> "stay at homes". While they did take over a good chunk
> of the Greek peninsula in the Peloponnesian Wars, that
> was the extent of their imperial ambitions. On the
> evil empire scale, it falls far short of the likes of
> Persia, Macedonia, Carthage, and Rome.
> In fact neither Phillip II nor Alexander the Great
> could threaten or convince the Spartans into helping
> create a Greek/Macedonian empire. To be an independent
> state in Alexander the Great's own backyard is quite
> an accomplishment in my view, considering that Thebes
> was burnt to the ground for challenging him.
> As a side note, Sparta's tradition of leaving babies
> who were weak out in the wild was probably the first
> recorded example of a eugenics program of which I am
> aware. Unfortunately it probably also hastened their
> decline by keeping their numbers low.
> Also Spartan women were somewhat fascinating as well.
> Their whole tradition of sending their husbands off to
> battle by giving them their shields and saying "with
> this or on this" is rather powerful as they were in
> effect saying "come back victorious, dead, or not at
> all." How refreshingly Darwinian is that?

There is much mythology written about the Spartans. Mainly because the
Spartans produced very little written documentation. Almost all the
ancient history source documents were written by outsiders, mostly
Athenians, or pro-Athenians. Plato idealized Sparta as an example of
his philosophy.

The Spartans didn't have written laws, for example. The men were all
soldiers. Even when they conquered Athens, their dislike of politics
and admin meant that they couldn't rule it for long. The 30 Tyrants
dictatorship that they installed hardly lasted a year.

The lack of written historical sources has not stopped many people
speculating about Sparta. Even some of the ancient Athenian writers
are probably of dubious quality. Ancient historians were poets and
story-tellers, not pedantic academics like we have today.

We have to be careful about imposing our modern myths on ancient
civilizations. Sparta was a very brutal, physical place. Education was
training for war. Scholarship had no place there. Spartans were
absolutely debarred by law from trade or manufacture.

Spending your life being trained to become an efficient killing
machine is not what I would call civilization. You can admire their
expertise and single-mindedness, just as you would any dedicated
endeavour, but it was a failure of humanity. They changed themselves
into a tool, an efficient implement of war, at the expense of almost
everything else.

Certainly, we effete first world nations do require an efficient
killing machine to defend ourselves from the barbarians at the gate.
But our robot warriors should be able to do that while we carry on
listening to our iPods and discussing the latest celebrity gossip.


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