Tonight, we dine in hell!
Lacedaemon. Most of you know it as Sparta.
Sparta was a city-state in ancient Greece. It wasn't the largest, that was Athens. But it was the one that everyone else stayed the hell away from.
Spartans were tough. I don't mean they were strong, (although they were), but they were about as bad-assed as ancient soldiers got.
And, all Spartans were soldiers. Well, all male Spartans, that is.
A Spartan boy was taken from his parents at the age of seven. He was put into a class with other boys his age and given a blanket. And nothing else. The blanket was his clothes, his bedding, his sole possession. To make a sleeping mat, the boys had to pull rushes and reeds by hand to weave them into a mat. Anyone who has tried to pull one knows exactly how cut up your hands would get after pulling several.
A boys childhood was spent training for a future in military life. And Sparta didn't tolerate wimps. At the age of 12 or so, the boys had their blankets taken away, and they were sent out into the wild on their own. They had to spend a week, surviving, catching their own food with their bare hands. Killing Helots, (state owned slaves), was encouraged. But, if a boy was seen and captured during this week, they were taken back to town and whipped. They didn't always survive.
After 'Hell Week', an older Spartan gentleman, (late 20's-early 30's), would select a protege from amongst the survivors. The older warrior would continue his training. This included one on one training with weapons, and what we would call a pedophilloic relationship.
One of the things the older Spartan taught was Eros, or love. Modern society looks back and thinks it's wrong, but it actually served a purpose. The main formation the Spartans employed was the phalanx. And, in the phalanx, the closer together the men were, the harder it was to break. And if you didn't break the phalanx, it would walk right over you.
So, by engaging in a little creative pedophilia, the Spartans ended up with one of the finest armies in the ancient world.
But, the Eros that was taught was put to good use. When the boy turned 15-16, it was time to move on to women. The older man would help select the girl that would eventually become the wife of his protege.
Another odd thing about Sparta was the way they treated their women.
In Sparta, women were in charge of the house and all property. As young girls, they were encouraged to train in athletics along side the boys. (girls got to go home at night, though).
This co-ed training was watched closely by the adults. And not just because it was done naked. Just as Spartan men were to be mighty warriors, Spartan women were also supposed to be fit. It was one of the ways the Spartans ensured women survived childbirth. Another way was by having their women wait until they were at least 20 before getting married.
And, it worked, too. Spartan women lived an average of 10 years longer than other Greek women.
Like other ancient civilizations, Spartans didn't eat at home. They joined a dining group and gathered in large cafeterias for their meals. This helped Spartans to maintain a tight knit community.
The rest of Greece learned very early on that it was ok to make war with their neighbors. But you didn't mess with the Lacedaemonians. And when foreign powers started threatening Athens, it was the Spartans who they asked for help.
I'm sure a lot of you have seen the movie 300, and marveled at the stand the 300 made against the Persians at Thermopylae.
Well, it was impressive, but maybe not as impressive as it sounds. See, along with the 300 Spartan warriors were, 700 Thespians and 400 Thebans. That makes for 1,400 warriors. The Spartans themselves had about 1,500 slaves with them as well, who also fought. So, the last stand of the 300 was more like the last stand of the 3,000. Still took cajones made of steel, but not as heroic as it first sounds.
Anyway, back to my original point, and the reason for this post:
The way the boys of Sparta were trained is where we get our word 'spartan', meaning, (1) rigorously self disciplined, or (2) simple, frugal or austere.
So, next time your 7 year old starts complaining about having to clean his room, or your tweenage daughter starts whining about needing the latest gym clothes, just let them know how lucky they have it.
They could have grown up Spartan.