[extropy-chat] 300 and the Gates of Fire

Lee Corbin lcorbin at rawbw.com
Tue Mar 13 00:08:54 UTC 2007

The Avantguardian also wrote

> 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."

What was really going on is not what you think.  It wasn't
"come back victorious, dead, or not at all".  The Spartans
realized that sometimes even the bravest and best troops
lose battles.

The deal with "the shields" was this:  the Greeks had reached
a state of advancement beyond that of the mere tribe or
horde, in which a warrior is praised for the number of
enemy he dispatches or for his ferocity in battle.  Spartans
and Athenians alike knew what modern nations know:
the victorious side is the side whose nerve doesn't fail,
whose men never run.

"Come back with your shield or on it" was a reference to
the fact that soldiers in phalanx who run  invariably throw
away their bulky shields in their desperation to get away.
What this phrase really meant was, "Don't abandon your
place in line; your teammates are depending on you; be
brave, no matter how horribly intimidating and frightening
is the other army, be they huge ferocious Celts or nearly
as tall and heavy Thebans charging at the run with a forest
of spears heading right at your face."

Worse, loss of your place in line makes the very soldier
to your left exceedingly vulnerable;  one or two people
run, and the whole phalanx may panic (under these
conditions that we genteel 21st century persons can
scarcely imagine).

Stand firm, never back down, and fight on till it's over,
over there. Too bad for the West that our women don't
have the fortitude of the Spartan women.

Nor our men, for that matter!


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