Eugenics and early childrearing
The Spartan upbringing exudes what Nietzsche called “master morality” referring to the superior man, as opposed to “slave morality” that, for example, Christianity uses. What the Spartans did was to maximize natural selection to obtain a race of perfect men and women. Today, the cult of perfection raises uproar among the champions of the politically correct, always happy to say that perfection is unattainable, thereby seeking to justify and excuse their own laziness and even avoid approaching the subject. But Lycurgus and his disciples had contemplated this ideal of perfection as a goal and to achieve it they renounced all scruple adopting a detached philosophy, “beyond good and evil” in the vernacular.
It can be said that the system of eugenics preceded even birth, because the young pregnant maid and future mother practiced special exercises designed to encourage that their future child was born healthy and strong, and that labor was easy. There is nothing more insane than the present day, when women who have not played sports in their lives are forced to give birth in traumatic ways without the necessary physical and mental preparation, like a soldier going to war without military training.
Once the baby was born, the mother bathed him in wine. According to the Spartan custom body contact with the wine made the epileptics, decrepit and sickly enter into convulsions and fainted, so that the weak died soon, or at least could be identified for disposal, but the strong were as hardened steel. This may seem a kind of baseless superstition, but Aristotle himself defended it and the French Enlightenment criticized as “irrational” the peasant custom of bathing newborns with water with wine: a sign that in the 18th century rural France the custom continued. We now know, for example, that a bath of alcohol hardens the feet, preparing them to support prolonged activity. We also know that red wine contains tannins, substances of plant origin that are used for tanning leather and other animal skins and make them tough and resistant to extreme temperatures and microbial invasions.
If the baby passed the test, he was taken by his father to the Lesjé (“porch”) and inspected by a council of wise elders to judge his health and strength, and to determine whether it would be able to withstand a Spartan life. All babies that were not healthy, beautiful and strong were taken to Apothetae (“place of rejection”) on the Eastern slope of Mount Taygetos (2407 meters high), from which were thrown into Kaiada (Spartan equivalent to the Roman Tarpeian Rock), a pit located 10 km northwest of Sparta. To this day, Kaiada is a place that has always been surrounded by sinister legends. Not only defective children were thrown into the depths, but also enemies of the state (cowards, traitors, Messenians rebels and suspects) and some prisoners of war. Recently numerous skeletons have been discovered buried there, including women and children.
At other times the defective were delivered to the helots to be raised as slaves, but maybe this should be read that sometimes a caring shepherd (or rather a pastor needed for labor) picked up a baby who had been abandoned to the elements to die, taking him home and rising him as a son.
Let us recall, moreover, that the ancient Germans abandoned defective babies in the woods to be devoured by wolves. In the SS, babies being born deformed, weak or sick were stifled at birth, and subsequently informed the parents that the child was stillborn. According to Plutarch, for the Spartans, “leaving alive a being that was not healthy and strong from the beginning did not benefit either the State or the individual himself.” Under this principle there were executed, in an act of true compassion, all babies who were not perfectly healthy. Along with eugenics this was aristogenesis (“best birth” or “birth of the best”).
What Nature usually has done in a slow and painful way the Spartans did so quickly and almost painlessly, saving unnecessary work and suffering. Rather than ignoring the laws of nature—as does the modern techno-industrial society by getting into the red with Nature and the future—, the Spartans rose Nature’s laws to the maximum exponent, and created a world where it was impossible to escape from them.
Most Hellenic States (like all Indo-European peoples of antiquity, as well as many non-Indo-European) followed similar eugenic-selection tactics in which it was assumed that the right to life was not for everyone, but that it must be earned proving oneself strong and healthy. This idea comes from the unconscious conviction that the people to which one belongs has internalized a pact with Nature. In the rest of Greece, eugenics was optional and the decision was up to the fathers, so that the babies were selected privately as a domestic policy. In Sparta, on the other hand, the selection was a fully institutionalized state policy. The Spartans saw in these measures a matter of life and death, and survival in terms of community of blood. They assumed these measures with conviction, because in the past the measures had helped them to overcome extremely adverse situations. Its aim was to ensure that only the fit survive and favor evolution, thus maintaining a high biological level for the country and, on this basis, make an improvement on all levels.
Babies who survived the selection were returned to their mothers and incorporated into a male or female brotherhood according to their sex—usually the same one to which belonged his father or mother. Little or nothing is known about these brotherhoods, maybe guilds where children were initiated into religious worship. After being accepted into this fraternity, they went to live with their mothers and nannies, growing up among women up to their seventh year.
During these seven years, the female influence would not soften the children, as these were women who could raise their offspring without softening them. Spartan mothers and nannies were an example of solid maternity: harsh young, severe, and virtuous women imbued with the profound importance and sacredness of their mission. They had been trained since birth to be real women—to be mothers. Any excessive tenderness or compassion for their child was removed. If the baby was defective he should be killed, and if not, should be tanned as soon as possible to be able to withstand a Spartan life. The first years of the existence of a toddler marked him for the rest of his life and this was understood by the Spartan women, who carefully applied themselves into the task of raising men and women.
Instead of swaddling the babies in bandages, warm clothes, diapers and blankets like larvae, the nursing mothers of Sparta put them on supple, thin and light fabrics; freeing the limbs so they could move them at will and experience the freedom of the body. They knew that babies have a fresher and intact immune system than adults, and if they were taught to endure cold and heat at an early age, not only they would not resent it, but would harden them and make them more immune in the future. Instead of giving in to the cries of babies, Spartan women accustomed them not to complain. Instead of allowing whims for food or overfeeding them with super-purified, ultra-hyper-sterilized and disinfected food that made their immune systems lose attention, they fed them with a coarse and natural diet. Instead of committing the aberration of feeding them with animal, pasteurized, boiled milk stripped of its natural qualities, Spartan women nursed their children themselves, helping to form the maternal bonding.
During the first seven years one more task was ensured so that the infants faced their fears. Spartan mothers and nannies resorted to various methods. Instead of allowing babies to develop fear of the dark, newborns were left in the dark so they could get used to it. Instead of making the babies feel they do not fend for themselves, the were often left alone. They were taught not to cry or complain; to be tough and endure loneliness, although they did remove the objects or impede situations that could make children upset or cry justifiably.
Little Spartans were not exactly pampered like children today are overprotected, overfilled with warm clothes, bulky diapers, hats, scarves, mittens, booties, lace, bells, effeminate and garish designs that make the poor creature look like a ridiculous, swollen and multicolored ball: restricting his growth, stunting his immunity, isolating him from his environment and preventing feeling it, adapting to it and developing a complicity with it. They were not surrounded by sycophants at all hours hanging on their whining. Nor were subjected to concerts of cries, cuddles and hysterical laughter from unhealthy women: noises that confuse the child and make him feel uncomfortable and ridiculous.
Spartan mothers did not reprimand their children when they showed curiosity, or when they ventured or soiled in the field; or when they went alone or out exploring or playing hurt because that would hinder their initiative. This custom of over-pampering children and reproaching when taking risk is not typical of Indo-European, demanding and manly societies. Spartan children were allowed to penetrate nature, run through the fields and woods; climb trees, rocks, getting dirty, bloodied, being together and fighting and walking totally naked; not letting outdoors a single portion of untanned skin.
All physically and spiritually healthy men felt the call of heroism, war and weapons from an early age: an instinct that the race has injected them into the blood to ensure its defense. Far from encouraging a distaste for violence that is always given to children, the Spartan women encouraged it when possible. Each time the children looked a Spartan soldier it was created around him an aura of mystery and adoration: they admired him and had him as model and example, and wanted to emulate him soon.
As a result of these wise policies Spartan nurses were famous in all Hellas, for their ways produced as mature, tough, disciplined and responsible children that many foreigners rushed to hire their services to raise their own children under Spartans methods. For example, the famous Athenian Alcibiades (450-404 BCE), nephew of Pericles and student of Socrates, was raised by the Spartan nurse Amicla.