13 May 2008

The Spartans by Paul Cartledge

I just finished 281 pages that detail the birth and death of Sparta. My mind is reeling. The book was dense with historical information, centered on war, but surprisingly offering quite a lot of cultural insight through the inclusion of anecdotes and sayings attributed to various Spartans. Now, I have to admit the details of war, dates and names and battlefields and allies and enemies and political hoopla and the such not seem to sort of flow through me (especially dates). These form only the foundation necessary for understanding the more sociological, the anthropological, the cultural insights of which I am much more interested. But I realize that you can't have one without the other for the historical facts of a time and a people are entirely driven by the ideological - or you could invert that relationship if you would like as well, very yin and yang the events and the beliefs.

Anyway, I could write three hundred different posts about this text and what it made me think about, but currently I am stuck on the final section of the book, the one and only Appendix entitled Hunting: Spartan-style, which seemed so unbelievably random after reading the entire history that I actually got momentarily confused. The last chapter in the text discusses the myth of Leonidas and how he has infused the history of the West (and this book was written years before the now-epic 300 was produced). I was done after reading this chapter. I felt the book had culminated in a nice little on-to-modern-day recap. And then the Hunting: Spartan-style appendix. Strange.

I would have written off this appendix as a strange quirk of the author if not for the following passage:

"Besides, at least one of the objectives in hunting hares in most of ancient Greece is not exactly congruent with our modern conceptions and practice, though it was essential to the ancient Greek patterns of thought and behavior. For hares were a characteristic form of lover's gift, more precisely one of the hallmarks of the pederastic relationship of homoeroticism that most modern legal systems now outlaw on moral grounds as child-abuse."

The different revelations (of a sort) in this passage stand out to me. One, we do have a tendency to use ancient Greece (and Rome) as models - when it suits us - for obvious reasons. Two, our generally homophobic society is not supported by our "foundation" cultures. Three, oh god, here we go again with associating homosexuality with pedophilia. Number three, of course, being the argument used in many instances where a person argues that homosexuality is immoral. Yet still, the point is made. The cultures we exonerate tended towards bisexuality: men had female spouses and male lovers. And yet...

I think pointing out the ridiculousness of utilizing ancient cultures as a justification of modern activities or beliefs (such as hunting) was Cartledge's point in the appendix. We share many similarities with Greeks and Romans - hell, we share similarities with ancient Sumerians, or even pre-writing societies - but our differences are striking and can not be ignored whether we are using past cultures to support or tear down a modern belief or activity.

I think the other reason this quote stands out is far less intellectual; there's something about the phrase "pederatic relationship of homoeroticism" that really rolls off the tongue.

Buy  |  Borrow  |  Accept  |  Avoid

No comments:

Post a Comment

Talk to me baby!