“Add a step to it.”
Spartan mother to her son, when he was issued his first xiphos sword and remarked upon how short its blade was.
Who were the Spartans? They were, as I’ve said, with the possible addition of the samurai, the Zulu or the Masai or the Native American Apache, the warrior culture and warrior society in its purest form. In other words, the ideal jumping-off point for this series on the Warrior Archetype.
But who exactly were they?
For comparison let’s consider their arch-rivals, the Athenians of the fifth century B.C. If we could beam an Athenian of that era into a contemporary gathering in America, a cocktail party say, he would feel absolutely at home.
Athenians were cosmopolitan, creatures of the world, cultured, conversant with literature, architecture, sculpture. Citizens of a vibrant democracy, familiar with debates in the assembly, courts of law, even abundant political corruption. Their city was a thriving seaport populated by goods and people from all over the world. An Athenian would have no trouble fitting in in contemporary America.
A Spartan on the other hand, if we could beam him into our living room today, would seem like a creature from another planet. And he would utterly despise us and our culture — a society based on consumerism, the pursuit of money, fame, and pleasure, hyper-individualistic, in which each member of the society is out for his or her self, with little or no concern for the greater good. Not to mention secular, impious, arrogant. loud, rude, and fractious. The Spartan would shake his head at how far from virtue the world had fallen.
Here are a few anecdotes from the ancient sources, to illustrate the Spartan attitude and the Spartan frame of mind:
Athens and Sparta were rivals, as I said. Their land forces had fought against each other many times. In one story, an Athenian is bragging to a Spartan about the success of his city in past battles against the Spartans. (The Kephisos is the river at Athens; the Eurotas is the river of Sparta.) The Athenian boasts, “We have buried many Spartans beside the Kephisos.” “Yes,” says the Spartan, “but we have buried no Athenians beside the Eurotas.” In other words, the Athenians never got that far.
Another time a Spartan commander was visiting Athens, being hosted for a reception at an affluent Athenian home. The host, showing off, pointed out certain illustrious guests attending the event. “That man there is the most famous sculptor in Greece. And that fellow across the way is Athens’ most celebrated actor.” The Spartan indicated a servant of his own company. “Yes,” he said, “and that man makes a very tasty bowl of soup.”
A law in Sparta decreed that the roof beams of houses must be in their unmilled state, straight from the tree, in keeping the unadorned Spartan ideal. Once a Spartan was visiting Athens. He noticed that the roof beams in his Athenian host’s home had been hewn and shaped to be square. The Spartan asked the Athenian if trees grew square in Athens. “No, of course not,” replied the Athenian, “but round, as everywhere.” The Spartan considered this. “And if they grew square,” he asked, “would you make them round?”
The ideal Spartan remark was curt and lean. Our English word “laconic” comes from Laconia, the region in Greece of which Sparta was the principal city.
At Thermopylae, when King Leonidas replied to the Persian king Xerxes’ demand that the Spartans lay down their arms, he did it in two words—Molon labe, “Come and take them.”
Once a Spartan expeditionary force captured an enemy city. The dispatch the commanders sent home to the ephors (the magistrates) said, “City taken.” When the commanders returned home several months later, they were fined for verbosity. “Taken” would have been quite enough, declared the ephors.
But the shortest dispatch ever was the Spartans’ response to King Philip of Macedonia, Alexander the Great’s father. Philip was preparing to invade Greece from the north with his army, which was in truth the most powerful force ever, up to that time. “If I enter the region of Sparta,” Philip declared, “I will destroy your city utterly.”
The Spartans responded with one word: “If.”
Love these talks!!
Just one word: “If.”
Great way to close it.
Very good! Motivating, I just started writing a new book yesterday. These are giving me fuel. Thanks! S/F
These are simply fantastic. In fact, as much as George Guidall is one of my FAVORITE narrators–I wonder if you’d ever consider re-publishing the War of Art in your voice? As many of your books I’ve read/listened to, blog posts I’ve read–I know your voice. There is something even more powerful when we hear your spoken word than simply your written word. I think I actually hear you speaking when I read–but these videos reminded me how much I prefer your books read by you.
I’ve watched the first few of these from my phone will walking the dogs and never noticed there was a comments section. I’ve been meaning to forward these emails to all my buddies knowing these videos might resonate more with my friends than the usual blog posts.
I will send them out today for sure. This will be such a great way to bring more people into the tribe. I’ve ‘met’, simply from the comments people have made 2 people with whom I now consider very good friends. I have never met these them in person, but the interactions started from comments to comments…then an email or social media/website inquiry, to now a regular exchange via text/email/phone calls.
My long-winded point? This is what social media is supposed to be. Find a group of people with whom you share values/ideals–then learn & exchange from them. There are millions of people out there who are fans–they just haven’t been introduced to your work, this place.
Lastly, I am again so grateful for your service. Your willingness to do something of value/instruction in these precarious times.
You can get it read by me, Brian. How about that? Here’s the Audible.com link: https://www.audible.com/search?keywords=the+war+of+art+steven+pressfield&ref=a_hp_t1_header_search
But we also have it, read by me, on http://www.blackirishbooks.com.
Thanks for asking. All me best, mate! Steve
Thanks Steve! I got the Audible version, and have already listened to a few chapters.
I do prefer to listen to it with you as the narrator. I think non-fiction should be read by the author, but probably not fiction.
Brian… other excellent narrators are Stefan Rudnicki (first heard him narrating “Revolutionary Summer” by Joseph J. Ellis), Will Patton (narrates most of James Lee Burke), and John Lee (a compelling narration of Steve’s “The Afghan Campaign”). Hearing an author read his own stuff brings another layer of depth… they can bring inflection that illuminates beyond what the words themselves can do. I’m glad to have this audio version (and the interview at the end there).
Thank you for doing these great stories!
And, thank you for talking about the women in a “warrior culture” first. As a retired senior Army officer who commanded units that deployed, my wife was instrumental in keeping the faith among the other spouses. Naturally, she wasn’t alone, but she stepped up to the plate more times than not. I’ve met other spouses in the military, law enforcement, teaching, medical fields who have the same challenges and do the job because it needs to be done!
The children fall into the same category. They live with the uncertainty of a parent in this type of environment. It’s not always easy, but they manage.
Again, thanks for your videos. They are amazing and entertaining to watch.
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