Sparta – VII

sparta

The discipline of suffering, of great suffering—do you not know that it is this discipline alone which has created every elevation of mankind hitherto? —Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil


The education of children

At seven years of age—the age at which the pituitary and pineal glands begin to degenerate—, Spartan children were tougher, stronger, wiser, fiercer and more mature than most adults of today. And even though they were not men, they were already well prepared for the arrival of masculinity. At this age—five according to Plutarch—they began their Agoge, which means training or instruction. (It is intriguing how this coincided with the learning process of European medieval chivalry, when at seven children were separated from their families and became apprentices. Seven years later, at the age of fourteen, passed to be squires. And seven years later, at twenty-one, they were knighted.)

A motion process was set related to maternal influence—reminiscence of the time of delivery—, and in a single blow the other, intangible “umbilical cord” was cut, which still subsisted between mother and son. Children were torn, therefore, from their mothers and placed under military tutelage with other children of the same age, under the command of an instructor, the paidonomos: a kind of supervisor who was usually an outstanding lad between eighteen and twenty years old who would soon end his own instruction. When he was absent for some reason, any citizen (that is, any Spartan male who had already finished his instruction) could order them whatever, or punish them as he saw fit. Instruction lasted no more and no less than thirteen years, during which children were already educated and disciplined by men, in order to become men.

The Agoge is perhaps the most brutal and effective system of physical, psychological and spiritual training ever created. The education that Spartan children received was obviously of paramilitary type, which in some cases was clearly oriented to guerrilla war in the mountains and forests, for the child to fuse with nature and feel like the king predator. For all we know it was a superhuman process, a living hell almost of spiritual and physical alchemy, infinitely harder than any military training of the present because it was far more dangerous, lasting (thirteen years), exhausting, and because the tiniest faults were punished with huge doses of pain—and because the “recruits” were children of seven years.

Immediately after entering the Agoge, the first thing done to the kids was shaving their heads. Certainly that was the most convenient for those who were destined to move through dense vegetation, bite the mud and fight each other. But the sacrifice of the hair implied a kind of “mystical death”: waived possessions, decorations, individuality and beauty were renounced, even one’s own welfare was neglected (the hair is important for physical and spiritual health). The “recruits” were homogenized and given a sense of nakedness, loneliness, helplessness and of a beginning (babies are born bald), a “start from scratch,” throwing them sharply to a world of cruelty, pain, resignation and sacrifice.

This is not isolated or arbitrary. The first armies, composed of many men who had to live together in a small space, saw the need to keep the hair short to prevent the spread of lice and disease. Furthermore, a shaved head must have meant something more to them. The Egyptian priests of the highest degree, the Roman legionaries and the Templars also shaved the head as well as, to this day, Buddhist monks and numerous military units. When a group becomes uniform its members will not be differentiated anymore by their “personal” appearances or by their external differentiations, but for the qualities that protrude from scratch on equal footing with their comrades. Paradoxically, standardizing a group is the best method to observe carefully what really distinguishes individuals.

Children understood what it was suggested: giving up on themselves, or as Goethe said “give up existence in order to exist.” Only the one who does not cling pathetically to his life can live as a real man, and only one who does not cling desperately to his ego and his individuality may reach a truly consolidated and distinct character.

After shaving the head, children were organized by Agelai (hordes or bands) in paramilitary style. The hardest, more beautiful, fiercest and fanatical children (i.e., the “natural leaders”) were made horde chiefs as soon as identified. In the area of doctrine and morals, the first thing was to inculcate the recruits love for their horde: a holy obedience without limits for their instructors and their bosses, and make it clear that the most important thing was to show immense energy and aggressiveness. For his brothers his relations were perpetual rivalry and competition. Those children were treated like men, but those who treated them so would not lose sight they were still children. They were also stamped with the mark that distinguishes every fierce and confident puppy of his abilities: impatience, the desire to demonstrate and be tested, and the desire to be distinguished by his qualities and merits within his pack.

Inherent to the Spartan instruction was the feeling of selection and elitism. Would-be candidates were told they were the best of Spartan childhood, but that they had to prove it, and that not everyone was worthy of becoming a real Spartan. They got into their heads that they were not all equal, and therefore were all different. And if they were different some were better or worse or had different qualities. And, if so, the best should be over the worst, and each placed in its rightful place according to their qualities. This is why an Order was named thus.

Children were taught to use the sword, the spear, the dagger and the shield, and they marched in close formation even in rough terrain, making the movements with precision and perfect timing. A hardening, physical processes prevailed and they were delivered to many physical exercises designed to encourage the development of their strength and their latent warlike qualities: running, jumping, javelin and disc hurling; dancing, gymnastics, swimming, wrestling, archery, boxing and hunting are some examples.

To promote competitiveness and fighting spirit, and to accustom them to violence and teamwork, hordes of Spartan children were made to compete with each other in a violent ball game which was basically a variant, much freer and brutal, of rugby. The players were called sfareis (ball players). We can imagine those little shaven heads delivering each other wild jolts in every possible way, colliding, dodging and trying to fight for coordination, obtaining possession of the ball and taking it to the agreed target, beyond the opponent’s territory and over the bodies of the opponent. We almost can, also, hear the thuds, the screams, the coordination signals, the creaking of the elbows, knees, punches, the headers, the tackles and sprains there must have happened in that game that transformed characters and personalities and leaders as a smith.

In the sanctuary of the goddess Artemis took place many melee fighting rituals among the very young Spartans. They were also faced without further ado horde against horde, child against child or all against all, in fierce fights tooth and nail and clean punches to stimulate aggression, competition and an offensive spirit, to develop their sense of mastery in the chaos of struggles and to build hierarchies. It is easy to imagine the chipped teeth, crushed noses and cheekbones, bloody faces and hands, fainting and open heads in those fierce children fights. In addition, instructors were responsible for setting them on so that they measured the forces between them, provided it was only for competition and desire to excel, and when they saw the foaming of hatred to emerge, the fight was stopped. Perhaps it would have been normal that at the end of the fight the opponents would salute or compliment each other, commenting the fight among them, with their peers and with their instructors and trying to learn. In Sparta ruled that ancient cult that we may call “mysteries of the fight.”

Besides boxing and wrestling the Spartans also exercised other popular martial art in Greece: the pankration. It consisted of a mix of boxing and wrestling, similar to the modern disciplines of mixed martial arts and vale tudo, but more brutal: participants could incorporate into the bands of their fists the accessories of what they believed was suitable to increase their offensive power: some added pieces of wood, tin foil and even lead plates.

The rules were simple: everything was allowed but biting, poking in the eyes, nose or mouth of the adversary. It was also forbidden to deliberately kill the opponent, but yet many were those who died in this bloody sport. In those combats if you could not proclaim a winner before sunset they resorted to klimax, a solution equivalent to tie on penalties in soccer games. By turns, each wrestler had the right to hit the other, without the receiver being allowed to dodge or defend in any way. One who would strike the blow told his opponent what position he should take to receive the attack. The goal was to see who first fell out of combat.

Greek history gives us an example with a bout between such and such Damogenes and Creugas, which reached a “draw,” so klimax was applied. After drawing lots, the first to hit was Creugas, who asked his opponent to come down the arms, so that he gave him a powerful punch in the face. Damogenes received the tremendous blow with dignity, after which he asked Creugas lift his left arm. Immediately afterwards he inserted his fingers violently under his ribs and tore the bowels out.

The pacifists and progressives of today that praise Greece should know that force, ferocity and violence were worshiped, in addition to wisdom. The Greeks philosophized and were “civilized,” yes, but when needed (or just as a hobby) they knew how to be perfect animals. That was their duality—a duality of union, not separation, a duality that sought the perfect integration of mind and body, light in darkness, overcoming their separation.

In all the struggles, battles, competitions and games, the instructors put great attention to distinguish whether each child’s screams were of anger, stress or aggression; or of pain and fear in which case they were punished. If a boy complained to his father that he had been hit by another child, his father gave him a beating for snitching and failing to seek life: “Complaining is of no use at all: it is something that comes from weakness.” And that weakness, in a Spartan, was unacceptable. As said, all citizens had the right to reprimand the children, so that parents had authority over their own children and those of others.

Thus, each parent treated other children as he wanted others treat his, as Xenophon observed. If a child, then, complained to his father that a citizen had given him lashes, the father whipped him even more. In Sparta all was this rotund, blunt, brutal and simple. Indeed, every Spartan child called “father” any adult male, similar to when today we respectfully call “grandfather” an elderly stranger. This habit of calling “father” the grown-ups also was suggested by Plato in his Republic, a book that looks like a carbon-copy of Sparta.

It is through the conquests, victories and defeats that the warrior does know himself and the enemy—in the case of Sparta, his fellows. And when a man knows himself, his neighbors and the enemy, wisdom of life is accomplished. Thus he acquires security, prudence, intuition and high confidence. Each Spartan knew his brother because surely he had fought against him, or seen him fight, or had played with him in this rough rugby, or otherwise had suffered together. His whole life was a civil war. They fought against themselves and each other, which did not mean they were no longer together: quite the opposite. This system was a useful outlet for the anger of the race, which was elsewhere tragic in fratricidal conflict, and Sparta almost harmlessly vented such aggression in competitions.

All aspects of the Spartan child’s life were regulated to increase his insensitivity to suffering and aggression. You will be put under a ruthless discipline that requires you to learn to control pain, hunger, thirst, cold, heat, fear, fatigue, disgust, discomfort and lack of sleep. You will be taught survival skills in the field including tracking, guidance, hunting, water extraction and knowledge of edible plants. This will reduce your dependence on civilization and you will be put in touch with the tradition of our hunter-gatherer ancestors of more primitive times.

To achieve all this, the strict and unscrupulous instructors used any means possible to their reach. Wear situations imposed on the young were so intense that they would probably come to a state very close to dementia, with the presence of hallucinations induced by lack of sleep and food. The mastigophora (carriers of the whip) were charged to brutally beat and even torture anyone who failed, complained or moaned in pain, so that the tasks came up perfect.

Sometimes children were whipped for no reason, only to harden them, and the Spartan boys would rather die than groan and ask why they were whipped. Spartan philosophy coincided with Nietzsche’s when they thought “Blessed is what hardens us!” There even were competitions to see who could hold the most numerous and intense lashes without shouting. This was known as diamastigosis.

Sometimes the priestess of Artemis ordered that, in her presence and before an image of the goddess, some children chosen by her to be whipped. If the ceremony-torture was not liked by the priestess she ordered the whipping intensified. These children not only had the obligation not to show pain, but to show joy. The macabre winner of the competition was he who endured longer without complaint. It happened that some died without groaning. It would be said that this is sadomasochistic nonsense, but we cannot judge an ancient custom with modern mentality.

Surely the event inculcated in the victims the notion of sacrifice for the archetype of their homeland (Artemis) and taught them to master suffering with that divinity in mind. Meanwhile, in the rest of Greece athletes underwent voluntarily lashes sessions since it helped tighten their skin and body, and purging the impurities. And Sparta was, undeniably, an athletic state. (He who has been in countries where lashes are still used as punishment will have noticed how much the unfortunate victim transpires, leaving a huge puddle on the floor at the end of execution.)

Nietzsche described the lack of pity towards the promising candidates: “I spare you not, I love you from my very heart, my brethren in war!” And in words that seem aimed at an instructor, a manufacturer of overmen, he says: “To thee one law—be pure and bright!” Compassion was the worst poison for Sparta, because it preserved and prolonged the life of all weak and dying—whether it was compassion towards themselves, their peers or the enemies. In the Song of the Lord, the monumental Indo-Iranian Bhagavad-Gita, it is written that “the truly wise mourn neither for the living nor for the dead.”

To suffer and endure pain without complaining was part of the Spartan idiosyncrasy. Boys were proud of the amount of pain they could endure through clenched teeth, and remember that Nietzsche also said that the degree of suffering to which a man is able to tolerate determines his hierarchical place. It is perfectly understandable that this kind of stoicism be interpreted as a masochistic cult of suffering, but we must avoid falling into this error of interpretation. In Sparta the suffering was a means to awaken the fighter’s instincts of a man and to liaise with his body and with Earth itself. Suffering was not meekly accepted with the head down: it was struggled to dominate it, and everything was intended to achieve indifference to suffering—unlike the masochistic cults, as are some variants of modern Christianity or the modern “humanitarian” atheist which produces sentimental and tender beings even for the pain of others.

Loyalty was a very important part of Spartan training. According to Seneca, “Loyalty is the holiest good in the human heart,” and according to Goethe, it “is the effort of a noble soul to match a bigger soul than his.” Loyalty conducted the children towards higher forms and served to make them greater. Spartan boys were inculcated into unswerving loyalty to themselves, their peers and their own Order—i.e. the Spartan state. “My honor is called loyalty,” said the SS, and it could have also been a good motto for the Spartans. For them, loyalty was an asceticism that led them down the road of the right order, morality of honor (aidos and timé) and compliance with the sacred duty.

As mentioned, obedience was also paramount in the instruction, but to what extent was such obedience fulfilled? The answer is: it had no bounds. It was put to the test every day. A Spartan boy could be ordered to kill a helot child or provoke a fight with a partner, and it was assumed he would not ask questions but obey quietly and efficiently. He could be given seemingly absurd or unworkable orders to test him, but the important thing was that, without hesitation, he blindly and unquestioned sought the obedience of such order. Obeying was sacred and basic, because the higher knows something the subordinate does not know. In the Army it is said, “He who obeys is never wrong.” Young Spartans were constantly tested. If a Spartan boy were told to jump off a cliff, he probably would not have hesitated and would throw himself without blinking and furious conviction.

All this, to profane eyes, all of it may seem exaggerated and outrageous, but the profane still does not understand what it means. When the individual is sure to belong to “something,” of being directly in the service of the divine, the orders are not questioned because they come from Above, from somewhere they cannot understand—for now. Serving a similar but higher individual is self-serving, because that control is the community of which the individual is a part. When all the pieces of a gear assume their role with conviction it gives a general sense of calm, confidence, and order that allows men to perform the most dangerous and heroic deeds naturally.

Adolf Hitler said: “the conviction that obeying the voice of duty works for the conservation of the species helps the most serious decisions.” If something unjust is ordered it was for the greater good, and in any case questions were never asked. They were obeyed for the sake of obedience, as part of a military-monastic discipline. Obeying an order was obeying to oneself and to the clan, because the chief was an embodiment of the will of the clan. Nietzsche himself advised: “So live your life of obedience and of war!” This magic of loyalty, duty and obedience is what leads the great men to the path of glory.

Instruction was outdoors. The Spartan boys were always immersed in Nature: in nature’s sounds, vibrations, landscapes, animals, trees, changes, cycles and nature’s will. They learned to join their homeland; know it, love it and consider it a home. They were forced always to walk barefoot and directly touch the earth: feeling it, understanding it, connecting directly to it as trees. The masseuses know that the feet are the “remote control” of the bodily organs. Having your feet directly in contact with the earth is, undoubtedly, an important massaging effect on the whole body—a destroyed effect today with soles and heels that rumple the natural shape of the foot at work. And not only that: walking bare feet hardened the feet as wood, and eventually the young Spartans moved more lightly on the land than those who had softened their feet with shoes, as feet are designed for that, and if presently this does not work is because we did not develop them, nor tanned them as would be natural.

In winter, Spartans children had to take baths in the icy river Eurotas. They dressed alike in winter than in summer, and slept outdoors on hard reeds torn by the river and cut by hand. The maneuvers and marches they carried out were exhausting, and would kill almost any man of our day—in fact some Spartan boys died of exhaustion. Gradually, the bodies of the boys grew accustomed to cold and heat, developing their own defense mechanisms. Gradually, they became increasingly harder, stronger and more resistant.

As nutrition, they were deliberately assigned an insufficient ration, which included the harsh and bitter Spartan black bread and the famous Spartan melas zomos (black soup), which was downright inedible for any non-Spartan. (The bitter black bread was also common in the German military of World War II.) It is said it contained, among other things, blood and pig entrails, salt and vinegar (think of the ingredients of the sausage or black pudding). Probably the ingestion of such concoction was itself a practice of self-control that helped to harden the mouth, stomach and digestive tract. Spartan food, generally, was considered by other Greeks as very strong, if not disgusting. (The development of very strong “delicacies” whose mere ingestion shows courage and resistance is a common military motif. Think of a concoction called “panther’s milk” including condensed milk and gin, popular in the Spanish Legion who sometimes even added gunpowder.)

Moreover, rough and scanty food rations moved the Spartan boys to seek their own food by hunting and gathering or theft, which they themselves cooked. If discovered in the act of stealing food they would expect brutal beating or whipping and deprivation of food for several days, and not for stealing the food which could be stolen from the helots—but for having been caught. Somehow, this reminded the tradition of “right of prey” of the ancient Indo-European hordes: ancient armies usually lacked any campaigns of logistics and survived thanks to taking it from Nature or by plundering their enemies and indigenous populations.

Sparta wanted to teach people to obtain food by their own and getting them used to this; thus adapting them to a lifestyle of uncertainty and deprivation. They lived in a perpetual state of war, and they wanted a right mentalizing. Already Xenophon said, “A hunter, accustomed to fatigue, makes a good soldier and a good citizen.” On the other hand, Sparta greatly respected the animals and like the Dorians even retained archaic cult divinities with animal parts (like the Apollo Karneios with ram’s horns), which symbolizes the condensation of the totemic qualities associated to the animal in question. Spartan boys who lived in the open should have felt identified with many of the animals around them, forging a certain complicity with them.

We know the story of the Spartan boy who, having captured a fox as food, hid it under his cloak to hide from a group of approaching soldiers. The fox, desperate, began using his teeth and claws to attack the child’s body, but he endured it without shouting. When the blood flowed, the fox became more aggressive and began to rip pieces of flesh of the child, literally eating him alive. And the boy endured the pain without screaming. When the fox had come to his gut, gnawing the organs, the small Spartan fell dead and silent in a discrete pool of blood, without leaving out a moan or even having shown signs of pain. It was not fear that made him hide his hunting, for surely that slow and painful death was worse than a lot of lashes. It was his honor, his discipline, the capacity for suffering, will, strength and toughness—qualities that in his short life he had developed more than any adult in the present. This macabre anecdote, related by Plutarch, is not intended as an apology (after all, Sparta lost in this child an excellent soldier), but an example of Spartan stoicism, which sometimes reached delirious extremes.

With measures of food shortages they wanted to encourage the body, by being deprived from growth in the width, to have more strength and stature. (This produced results, as Xenophon described Spartans as higher than the other Greeks, although heredity also played an important role in this.) They favored the emergence of higher, compact, robust, flexible, slender, hard, agile, strong and athletic bodies; taking a maximized advantage of it with a concentrated, trimmed and fibrous-to-the-end muscles, not prone to injury and with great endurance to pain, fatigue, hunger, thirst, heat, cold, disease, shock, tremendous efforts or prolonged and terrible wounds.

Those were not bodies with overdeveloped muscles, requiring an immense diet and constant and impractical maintenance. Bodies were concentrated, whole and proportionate, designed to survive with the minimum: perfect biological machines which could be studied at a glance in every vein, every tendon, every ligament, every muscle and muscle fiber at the skin’s surface. Their strength should have been awesome, otherwise they would not have been able to live, march and fight with the full force of weapons, armor, shield, etc. Plutarch said that the bodies of the Spartans were “hard and dry.” Xenophon, on his part, stated that “it is easy to see that these measures could only produce an outstanding race and strength and building. It would be difficult to find a people more healthy and efficient than the Spartans.”

This was the most appropriate body for the fighter. Plato in his Republic, made clear that the careful diet and regimen of specific exercises that the athletes practiced made them not to surrender when suddenly they were deprived from their routines—during a military campaign for example—, as their bodies were too used to have such amount of nutrients and rely on them. In extreme situations, such bodies reacted instinctively by reducing muscle mass and producing exhaustion, weakness and malaise. At the Battle of Stalingrad many German fighters inexplicably dropped dead. It was later learned that it was a combination of both hunger, cold and exhaustion. The most affected by this death were precisely the burly and massive men, that is, those requiring more maintenance in terms of food and rest.

Wrestlers of all ages were able to understand this, among them the Roman legionaries who looked for hard, strong and concentrated bodies; and the SS, who exercised without pause, eating a poor diet that included the famous porridge oats: a porridge that so much influenced physiologically the proverbial impassivity of both the English and the Swedes. (We know that oats also influences the tranquility of racehorses, and the athletic diets usually incorporate it.)

As shown by their lifestyle, the Spartans were certainly muscular, but not overdone as far as volume is concerned. They were not massive like the body-builder monsters of today, and to be sure of what we say it is enough to see the nutritional deprivation they suffered, and the exercise regimen they had, so abundant and intense in aerobic efforts. Their level of definition and muscle tone, however, must have been awesome.

Spartan boys were taught to observe, to listen, to learn, to be discreet, not to ask questions and assimilate in silence. They were taught that withdrawal or surrender in battle was a disgrace, that all combat should end in victory or death and that, as Xenophon said, “A death with honor is preferable to a life without honor.” Or in the words of Nietzsche, “To die proudly when it is no longer possible to live proudly.”

The Spartans, like the Celtic Druids and the perfect Cathars and Templars were forbidden to do heavy manual work: their job was war. However, when giving up manual labor they also renounced the fruits of such work: They were imbued with austerity, simplicity and asceticism in all aspects of his life, eliminating anything that might soften or weaken them. Their gestures were measured, reduced, and righteous, and their manners solemn and respectful. Their houses totally lacked any decoration and had a rustic and rough look, of stone and wood. The aim was to increase the lack of need for each Spartan, his personal self-sufficiency.

In fact, they were not allowed the luxury of the language, so they spoke the right words, dryly, directly, firmly and martially. A Spartan child should remain silent in public, and if you spoke to him he had to respond as soon as possible, with elegance and conciseness, military-style. The Spartan language was like the Spartan village: scanty but of high quality. It was a language of voice, command and obedience. It was infinitely more unpleasant in sound, more mechanical, hard and rough even than the legionnaire Latin or the most martial German. The rough Dorian dialect spoken in Sparta, the “laconic,” has become synonymous with dryness and simplicity of speech.

And simplicity of speech is essential for a higher spirituality. Lao Tzu, the legendary messenger of Taoism, said “To speak little is natural.” There are numerous and illustrative examples of Spartan brevity. This is a good one: On one occasion in which a Spartan garrison was about to be surrounded and attacked by surprise, the Spartan government simply sent them the message: “Warning.” That was enough for men spending a lifetime in military exercising. “To a good listener, few words” (are enough) says Spanish proverb.

The Spartan laconic manners are the direct opposite to the vulgar quackery of today when many opinionated, hysterical voices blend miserably without harmony, destroying silence with nonsensical words: a silence that would be infinitely preferable to that hustle. Speech is far more important than what is accepted today. It condenses communication between people, decisively influencing the way that the individual perceives those around him, particularly his fellow-men. The individual learns to know himself better through knowledge of their fellows, and the concept he has of their peers will have an echo in his own self-esteem. Nietzsche himself, a scholar of philology, attached great importance to speech, dedicating lengthy paragraphs to it.

To learn about politics, solemn manners, respect for the elders and government affairs, Spartan children were taken to the Army guilds or Syssitias (which I will describe later), where young and old men philosophized, talked, and discussed about the affairs of the day. Plutarch said that for the very young attendance at these circles was like a “school of temperance” where they learned to behave like men and “trick” an adversary. They were taught to make fun of others with style, and face teasing. Should it be bad a joke, they should declare themselves offended and the offender immediately ceased. The grown-ups tried to test children to know them better and identify their strengths, and the children should manage to make a good impression and look good during those congregations of attentive veterans, responding with greater ingenuity and promptly to the most twisted, malicious and gimmick questions.

In the Syssitias children learned also the aristocratic and ironic humor typical of the Spartans, learning to joke with elegance and humorously. It is not strange at all that a people like the Spartans, aristocratic, solemn and martial, accorded great importance to humor and laughter—the Spartans had to be especially masters of black humor. Although the helots probably found fascinating the seriousness of the Spartans and would consider them repressed, the Spartans among themselves were like brothers. On order by the very Lycurgus, a statue of the god of laughter decorated the Syssitias. Laughter was indeed of great therapeutic importance. We can imagine the joy, the emotions and laughter that were heard in the sporting competitions, matches and tournaments of Sparta, as in the hour of playing and competing the most solemn and trained men become children.

Education, courtesy and manners were greatly appreciated in Sparta. Why was this so important? Simply because when members of a group follow exemplary behavior, respect prevails; and you want to do well to maintain the honor and gain the respect of your comrades. Further, when members of a group indulge in deplorable attitudes or decadent diversions, respect diminishes, and the prestige within the group disappears. Why earning the respect of the unworthy through sacrifice if they not even respect the spirit of excellence? The result is plain to see when those renounce to act exemplarily: one is left to soak in the degenerated atmosphere and imitates what he sees. The Spartans sensed this, and established a strict code of conduct and solemn manner at all times to start a virtuous circle.

Spartan instructors often caught the helots and forced them to get drunk; dress ridiculously, dance grotesque dances and sing stupid songs (they were not allowed to recite poems or sing songs of the “free men”). Thus adorned they were presented to the children themselves as an example of the damage caused by alcohol, and the undesirability of drinking too much or drinking at all.

Let us imagine the psychological impact of a proud, hard tanned Spartan boy contemplating an inferior ridiculously dressed, dancing awkwardly and singing incoherently. All this staging served for the Spartan boy to experience a good deal of disgust towards his enemies, who were taught to despise. In Sparta there was no vice of alcoholism, as a drunkard would had been fanatically pulp-beaten to the death as soon as spotted. It was Lycurgus himself who had ordered to weed the grapevines outside Sparta, and overall alcohol was something considered with utmost caution, distrust and control.

The lifestyle of the Spartan children would kill in less than a day the vast majority of adults of today. How did they endure? Simply because they had been bred for it. From an early age they were taught to be tough and strong, tanning in nature and neglecting the comforts of civilization. And the children’s bodies and spirits learned quickly and adapted easily to any situation, developing the qualities they needed to survive. Moreover, they were not allowed contact with anything that might soften them in the least, and so grew uncorrupted and uncontaminated.

As they grew, children discipline became tougher: puberty approached. Such transit in a society as close to its tribal roots as the Spartan must necessarily be accompanied by some kind of initiation ritual, probably in the brotherhoods to which they belonged. It is in adolescence when young people are initiated in their own incipient masculinity, and in Sparta they were prepared so that the advent of the male forces did not catch their innocent instincts by surprise. So, on the fly, and day to day, they were learning to become men without the chaotic physiological and mental imbalances currently rigged at arrival of adolescence.

Published in: on September 25, 2013 at 6:12 pm  Leave a Comment  

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