Thursday, April 30, 2009

History Lessons: Ancient Sparta (Part I)

I’ve decided to try out a new type of article. It dawned on me that there are three things that everyone loves: history, ice cream, and things that comes in threes (sorry about the padding). Not only does everyone love history, but combined with a bit of creative re-imagining, it can serve to inspire and lead by its own example.

So today we’ll be hitting the history books and going back to Ancient Sparta, and hopefully, if we’re lucky, taking one or two lessons home with us. Think of it like a trip to the Creation Museum.

Since Frodology has recently experienced an influx of SMRTies who may not be used to the evidenceless-based learning we engage in here, this could be a great place to start. So, again, a trip to the Creation Museum.


Humble beginnings

In its earliest days, Sparta’s politics were dominated by the softer sex, but it wasn’t long before women muscled their way into power and set the militaristic tone of government by which it would forever be remembered.

This fun new policy of fighting kicked off with the Trojan War, a protracted conflict for which we should actually credit the Mycenaeans, the Spartans' progenitors.

Fun fact! ‘Progenitor’ means ‘in favor of genitals’ in English. 

Legend has it that the war started when Prince Paris of Troy eloped with Helen of Sparta, the betrothed of its King Menelaus. Apparently she was comely enough to warrant the launching of 1,000 ships, though this was likely inflated by hyperbole, not be confused with a hyperbola, a really bad case of Ebola; or with Hyperbowl, my local 10-pin lanes.

The Spartan army landed on the beach outside Troy and promptly fell in love with the scenery, quickly forgetting all about Helen. With the Spartans stuck outside the city gates for the better part of a decade, Troy looked impregnable, unlike the bitchin' hot Helen. Unfortunately, the dispute flared up again following a quarrel with a greedy Trojan beach vendor. Things quickly went sour for Troy when a seer in the employ of King Priam prophesized that Paris would be portrayed by the particularly effeminate Orlando Bloom in a retelling of the event three millennia later.

The news must have been shocking, because the Trojan troops opened the city gates to the Mycenaean army, captained by a large, wheeled stray horse, in a bid to hasten their own destruction and end the ignominy. The city was promptly sacked and its population enslaved.

Fun fact! The term ‘sacking’ originates from the ancient practice of placing an entire captured city inside a burlap sack as plunder. Of course, cities were much smaller then.

A version of the story has survived in the form of the Biblical telling of the Rape of Dinah. There are of course some differences, the chief one being that Dinah is thought to have been far more attractive than Helen, as thousands of adult men were willing to be circumcised merely to live in the same city as her.


Gender bender

Sparta was quick to incorporate its hard-earned lessons into a largely pragmatic legal system. They rightly concluded that the conflict was entirely the fault of the harlot Helen, and absolutely nothing to do with trade routes, greed and geopolitics.

This conclusion led to the curious marriage ritual of shaving the bride’s head and dressing her in a man’s tunic, obviously an attempt to ensure no escaping woman would be worth chasing after. This tradition has survived today, in the sense that Greek women still aren't attractive enough to be put on film. When attractive foreign actresses aren’t available, movies about Greece simply aren’t made.

Fun fact! The beautiful women in these films were not Greek: Alexander, Troy, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, The 300, For Your Eyes Only, Mamma Mia!

Sad fact! My Big Fat Greek Wedding had dozens of Greek women. 


Family life

In Sparta, military service took precedence over all other areas of life. While men married around age 20, they stayed in barracks until they could live with their families at age 30. Frodologists call this “not having to live with your family until age 30.” The difference is subtle, but telling.

From an early age, Spartan boys took part in vigorous military training, called the agoge. As far as historians can determine, this was just a funny-sounded word with no actual meaning. The training was long and grueling, and if you were going to depict it in a film, I imagine you’d make an uncomfortable-to-watch montage of half-clothed boys, caked in mud and soaked with sweat, tumbling with each other on a river bank. To round out the queasy vision of youthful innocence, everyone would look like male versions of Dakota Fanning.

Oscar-worthy stuff.

But it wasn’t all hard work. Spartans knew how to love too…



Military philosophers of the time believed that a bond of love between an experienced warrior and a novice would make soldiers far more willing to fight for each other (known as “giving”), and also prepared to take a fatal blow meant for the other (“receiving”). It also engendered trust, a vital ingredient in hoplite warfare, as each man was responsible for protecting the man to his left with his own shield (known as a “reach around”).

Fun fact! Sparta’s impressive phalanxes were easily wiped out when tackled from left to right

The reach around leaves your flank exposed

Blog reader attention spans being what they are, I'm going to stop here for today. Check back in a couple of days to learn more about exciting events which may have (but probably didn't) happen, and the juicy details of 5th Century BC agricultural reform.

Carry on to Part II...


ExPatMatt said...

"It's not 'beware of Spartans bearing gifts' it should be; 'beware of Trojans, they're gullible fuckers'," - Eddie Izzard [paraphrased]

I look forward to Part 2...

UNRR said...

Hmm, that's pretty interesting. But what about the gods? I mean, since you are operating based on evidenceless-based learning, how can you tell the story of the Trojan Wars and leave out the gods? After all, what's more evidenceless than gods and their activities?

Postman said...

You should get acredited, FrodoSaves. This is as good as a degree from Liberty University.

Dani' El said...


Dude, this is one of your best.
Very, very funny.

If you would only use your talents for goodness, instead of badness.

Dani' El said...

Oh, and the name of my second band was, "Splatterbole"

Don't ask.

Ashley Joseph said...

Man I wish all history lessons were presented in this manner. Simply hilarious :D

FrodoSaves said...

The gods were omitted from this lesson as it was intended to be puritanically historical in its account, as you can no doubt see. Also I couldn't be bothered.

Liberty University would be far too great an honor for the likes of me. I would gladly accept a degree from Patriot University however. If it's good enough for Kent Hovind, it's good enough for Arthropoda and the lower orders.

Thanks guys ;)

Eternal Critic said...

Don't knock the house in the middle of the desert!

Geds said...

I hope that at some point you decide to remind everyone of the all-important motto of the Spartan army:

Never leave your buddies behind.

FrodoSaves said...


Easy with the word 'house'! What we're dealing with is a prefab bungalow. We don't want to give people the impression that Patriot University thinks it's something it's not, do we?



If you'd like to render that into Greek, perhaps with a smiley and a Hu'ah! or two thrown in, I'll be glad to make a mention of it in Part II.

FrodoSaves said...

Never leave your buddies behind.If that's what I think it is, then I just got it. The lack of an apostrophe threw me.

Man I'm slow.

Rachel E. Bailey said...

Orlando Bloom was a lot prettier than the woman playing Helen.

And that Achilles . . . what a delightful bastard . . . whose nephew bore a strong resemblance to Dakota Fanning. You know, back when she was adorable.

I wonder if there's anyone who's "No"-genitors--meaning they're not in favor of genitals.

I hope in part two you discuss more about how the Spartans thought they were gonna win against those all Persian ninjas, and rhinos. And that huge, scary drag-queen leading them.

Geds said...

The lack of an apostrophe threw me.That's one of those jokes that's better told aloud...

Vagon said...

Dear Frodosaves,

I am pleased to announce you have been honoured with a doctorate in Frodology from Major University. Congratulations on unwittingly (unwillingly?) complete distance education in both the Masters of Bation and Doctorate of Frodology.

Yours faithfully,

Prof. Vagon

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