Under construction.

"As Time Goes By": Notes and Digressions

Digression 1:

You will find Spartan education mentioned, perforce, in many of these introductory books, usually in tones suitable for discussing the Hitler Youth. The sending of children to the agoge (public educational system) where they were sorted into an agela or age-group covering one or two years, and the boys, at least, lived away from home in conditions designed to toughen them up, was simply too different from the other Greeks to ignore.

You may also find the mention of Spartan marriage customs, sometimes in the wildest tabloid stories ever put out by propagandists. The other Greeks thought the Spartans were very bizarre because they waited until several years after puberty to marry off their daughters, rather than doing it before they hit puberty, and because the laws against celibacy past a certain age were rigidly enforced. Again, some of the stories may be true, but at which period? Xenophon does report polyandry (that's multiple husbands) or wife-swapping on a long-term lease basis, depending on how you read that paragraph, but that may have been an emergency measure brought on to stem the decline in citizen numbers. When did it start? When did it end?

Digression 2:

The exact dating of this, if you are interested, goes:

371 BC Defeated at the Battle of Leuktra, forced to fall back on Sparta itself, the Lakedaemonians are deprived of Messenia, they and their new realm being called Lakonia. The Lykourgan discipline of agoge and syssition is outlawed or falls into disrepute.

244 BC Agis IV comes to the throne, and attempts to restore the Lykourgan disciplines.

241 BC Agis IV killed in counter-revolution. Lykourgan system outlawed.

227 BC Kleomenes III, of the other line of kings, enrolls new Spartiates from the disenfranchised descendants of Spartiates, perioecs, and foreigners of merit, and restores the Lykourgan system.

222 BC Macedonians defeat Spartans at Sellasia, take the city, and outlaw Lykourgan upbringing.

187 BC Nabis, supposed descendant of the Demaratos deposed at the time of the Persian War, becomes king and enrolls the helots as citizens, distributing land to them.

Digression 3:

I personally believe that the bloodier rite was not only a product of the Roman tourist trade (I've lived too long in tourist-dependent cities not to know how much the travel trade can warp a culture), but based on the neo-Spartans mis-remembering the annual event when their helot ancestors were beaten to remind them that they were not freemen, as they had so many liberties that slaves did not.

Digression 4:

It must be trying to be a professional academic. Whether or not you get tenure, advancement, grants, etc., depends on your intellectual politics. The mavericks often leave or get dumped, or languish in low posts at small colleges, not because they are right or wrong, but because they do not support the status quo. I remember when isostasy was the only acceptable geologic theory, and anyone who supported those crazy, fringie, pseudo-scientific crackpots advocating continental drift was headed for academic Siberia. Now continental drift is obviously the only rational explanation for global structures.

Unlike them, you can pursue a reconstruction of the actual practices of ancient Greece, rather than having to bend all your efforts to serving the sexual politics of the pseudo-Foucaultians, and others, who feel that no realm of knowledge is worth the office space it takes unless it serves to enoble or liberate modern oppressed peoples (women, homosexuals, people of colour, etc.). As a result, some reconstructions of the Hellenic world have become extremely bizarre fantasies, like the Black Athena cultists.

Digression 5:

In his biography of Agesilaos, Plutarch says that the Olympic Games are held every five years, when everyone else says every four. This could be blamed on a copyist's error, of course.

However, he specifically tells a cute story about Agesilaos, that he was fined by the ephors for marrying a petite wife, as they would raise "a race not of kings, but of kinglets." Athenaeus tell the same story, but he says the fined Spartan was Arkhidamos, the father of Agesilaos.

The story, if factual, must belong to Arkhidamos, and Plutarch has assigned it to the wrong king. Arkhidamos was the eldest son of a king, and the ephors would assume that even if he did not live to reign, his son or grandson would. At the age of marriage, between 25 and 30, Agesilaos was the younger brother of a king, who might be expected to have sons to take the throne after him. Agesilaos would not be considered to be raising either kings or kinglets, but ordinary Spartan nobles.

How many other tales did Plutarch misassign? How many tall tales did he gulp entire? He suddenly becomes a source one cannot believe in the face of any contradiction, rather than the sterling truth on whom to base all one's theories. Yet it is a short paragraph in this same flawed biography on which the whole structure of "Spartan institutionalized homosexuality" rests.