“The Spartans do not ask how many are the enemy, but where are they.”
This is a quote from Plutarch, two thousand years ago. I love it because it brilliantly encapsulates what I would call the Warrior Archetype. And it’s also very “Spartan” in the sense that it’s short, lean and mean, and the meat of its message is left unsaid.
The Spartans do not ask how many are the enemy, but where are they.
If you’ve been following my Instagram series recommending books on leadership … I’ve decided to expand and deepen the project. For the past twenty-five years, I’ve been studying and writing about ancient cultures-the Spartans, the Athenians, the Romans, the Macedonians under Alexander the Great … and the one thing that comes through over and over is the ideal of the Warrior, not just externally in battles and clashes at arms, but internally in the codes of honor and ethics and the aspirational principles that these ancient peoples lived by and that still influence us powerfully today.
To illustrate what I mean, let me refer to a couple of books of my own, the two most popular ones I’ve written-Gates of Fire, about the 300 Spartans at the battle of Thermopylae, and The War of Art, about the inner struggle of the artist and the writer. The twain never seems to meet. People who read and like Gates of Fire don’t cross over to The War of Art … and vice versa.
I want to try to change that in this series because these two are really the same book. One is about the external battle. The other is about the internal.
Many of us these days think of ourselves as warriors. Not just the obvious examples, like those in the serving military, retired, first responders, law enforcement, firefighters, athletes, fitness people, male and female. I’d include as well entrepreneurs, mothers, writers, and artists. Who’s more of a warrior than a single Mom, trying to put food on the table and advance her own dreams and those of her kids? Life on the street is a war just to find a place to lay your head. And as we move up the food chain to the corporate boardroom, it becomes even more of a dog-eat-dog struggle. Many of us-and I definitely include myself in this category-know we’re in a fight from the minute we open our eyes in the morning. We try to organize our days and years to face the enemy, external and internal, and acquit ourselves with honor.
That’s why I’m doing this series. Over the coming weeks, I’m going to talk about the ancient codes, the warrior cultures that I spoke of earlier. What did the Spartans and the Romans believe, what was important to them, how did they think of themselves, how did they live life? I’m going talking about writing too. I’m going to talk about how a writer attacks a project, where ideas come from, how do you investigate the deep past, how do you make it come alive. And I’ll talk, as I said, about the inner war, the “war of art” … the interior evolution of an individual and a writer or artist.
What does it mean, the “Warrior Archetype?” It’s a mindset that’s as ancient as the primitive hunting band. You were born with it and so was I. It’s indelible, and it empowers us and influences us and drives us crazy, whether we realize it or not, whether we like it or not. It’s in our DNA.
How do we use it? How do we access it? Not to kill people or make wars for no reason, but in our own real lives day-to-day? What do the Spartans have to teach us? What do other warrior cultures?
That’s what we’ll be talking about in the coming weeks. The series, as I said, is called “The Warrior Archetype.” I hope you’ll join us.
I forgot who said: “We don’t see things as they are – but as who we are”.
So, how do we perceive the archetype warrior? Do you see a true warrior as a hero governed by a spiritual force that battles for love, righteousness and something that is worth dying for? Is the warrior’s journey and emotional experience more important than the battle? Or is the transition of the way of the warrior, from start to final outcome more important than the battle itself?
So, what characteristic does a warrior have? And does their reason to endure at whatever cost, make them hero’s whatever the outcome?
Rule 1: Never do your VAT returns after a bottle of Shiraz;
Rule 2: Don’t be distracted – and wonder to your favourite author’s forum;
Rule 3: Learn some self control, and refrain on posting on ‘said’ blog;
If that fails, acknowledge that you will need to fight off that cringing feeling the next day because you ignored all ‘said’ rules.
I apologize. This is the only forum that resonates. It’s a place where you can find the inspiration from Steve, and all the advice from writers who comment that actually have something worthwhile to offer. In a world where everyone is selling but there’s nothing I want worth buying – I can find a measure of creativity here.
True voices expressing themselves without fear, or for audience approval, is a rare commodity these days. And if you want to know what a true warrior looks like – find yourself a mirror.
Just so you know…Scarily enough, I am classed as sane. I have a certificate written in red crayon adorned with a rainbow that proves it!
So funny, Madelena, I liked the first post better. Don’t stress. You are among friends. Creative people, trying to make our own path. We’re all hacking through the underbrush together. You made a great post better by musing with us about it. Encouraging us to consider what our take was. Thanks for being here. I look forward to your thoughts on future episodes.
I’m very much looking forward to this series — I think it will be exactly what I need. Thank you for this Steve!
amazing series.. i just loved it..
Excited about this series and I also love hearing the birds in the background!
The “warrior” mindset is one of “Us versus Them.” It’s a fighting, defensive stance against something or someone. It’s about a battle and the mental mindset is one at odds and hyper-vigilance. Is that the best mindset for you? It works for some, but not others. Police who have a “warrior mindset” see their world as “Us (police) against Them (community).” A Guardian mindset is better for them. Yet, for our military, a warrior mindset is better. It keeps them alive.
Are there more than Warrior and Guardian mindsets available? Of course. They’re archetypes and there are many – wise man/wise woman, healer, teacher…maybe it’s not about one specific mindset all the time, but about the traits or characteristics of that mindset. A warrior is:
Protective. and so on.
Rather than focusing on the “fighting” – as in “War on Drugs,” or “War on mental health,” or “War on ____” examine what qualities a warrior has rather than search out that endorphin rush from anger, or the imagery of battle. The reason OLD generals dictate battle strategy and young men fight that strategy is that war is STRATEGIC and fighting and dying is EMOTIONAL.
“Strategy is the art of the conduct of war, tactics the art of fighting.”
Be an OLD, wise warrior, not a young, dumb one.
If the muse is a mysterious lady of night, resistence is the ogre that has her chained to a shack in the swamp. You must rescue her every time you sit down to write.
Steven, you changed my life. Thanks.
Thank you for these videos I have only just stumbled across.
Gates of Fire has been my favourite book since reading it over 20 years ago while serving in the military and I have literally just finished War of Art.
Kind regards Rich Newman
I just wondered into your camp. I have a battle to fight that just became escalated unexpectedly. I look forward to following your leadership into the fray.
I have exhaustively read and re-read BOTH Gates of Fire and War of Art. Both have contributed imensely to my development. When can I get you backat West Point?
Dr Nate Zinsser
Steven Pressfield is brilliant. Thank you for sharing your wisdom and encouragement to man. Blessings. It is also very encouraging to read other people’s “sane” comments.
From an unknown Zen master:
The teacher and the taught create the teaching.
I am going to walk this path one more time. Just for fun.
Thank you to everyone who contributed to this ‘Buffalo Hunt’…
What can one man do?
I’m with you Jim. This video series is powerful, but I suspect my learning was surface this first time through.
We step into the same river at different times–the river is different as are we. Love the Zen quote. I’ve always learned as much from my fellow students as I have any instructor–and the relationships built along the way are the true gold. I rarely remember what the curriculum was, but my friendships have sustained me much better than MDMP, Strategy, or math for that matter.
What can one man do? That is probably the best question we need to ask ourselves daily. The book that immediately popped to mind was, “The Power of One” by Bryce Courtenay. If you haven’t read it, it is a must read. I re-read Courtenay as frequently as Steven Pressfield. Their truths require continual reminders for me.
I have not. But I will. I know one thing for sure. It is not even close. What has came out of the wars for me as individual? The wonderful relationships I made. Sometimes, I can’t really remember what all the fighting was about. But I remember those I fought alongside and against – as well as – the ones we left behind to deal with life. I also think about the ones who were not involved in the war other than the fact it was on their doorstep. So many people in Iraq and Afghanistan just wanted peace. Just wanted to be able to do what everyone else in the entire world wants to do. Live.
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I am starting out the series, wish me good luck.
Just finished the series. Great stuff
Thought that the perfect combination of Warrior and King is Jesus Christ.
When he saw injustice he fought against it calling out the hypocrisy of the Jewish leaders to the point that they have him executed.
When he saw the people being stolen from in the Temple he took up arms (fashioned a whip from cords) and chased out the crooked money changers
When teachingon personal vengeance he taught “turn the other cheek”
but when defending others he taught “sell your coat and buy a sword”
but warned “that those who live by the sword will die by the sword”
And who ultimately sacrificed himself for the betterment of all.
And who has had more effect on the history of the world than any other historical figure who has ever lived.
The goal of the Warrior and King is the protection and betterment of the whole- a good world
But it won’t be a good world until it’s GOD’s world
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