Two weeks ago, I saw an intriguing documentary (at BBC); “Spartans at the gate of fire”.( It’s not produced by them.)
It was about the war of the Spartans (a city-state in ancient Greece) and the great Persian army in 480 before Christ, at Thermopylae (in northern Greece). The Persians in those days were a superpower and the number of Spartans was very small compared to them.
It struck me from the beginning that the way the Spartans were described was glorifying them; the tone of admiration as well as the specific ingredients of what seemed to be Spartan culture at 480 be.
Spartans had immersed their life’s, their culture, their "everything" in service of fighting and winning any defensive war.(I believe they didn't have real offensive aspirations). Was also impossible)
They saw themselves clearly as a superior race and chosen by god to win any war.
Because of this "mission" they enslaved other Greeks to make their own economy work, because all Spartan men served from childhood the army.
Boys were at the age of 7 separated from their parents and totally immersed to the culture of fighting. When they became about fourteen they were supposed to be "unstable" and were supervised 24 hours a day until about eighteen! Five years in a row being supervised, day and night! (to mention something).
Women were "needed" just as "brooders".
In the first ten years of marriage, a Spartan warrior was not supposed to actually see his wife in daylight but only at night, so he'd fully "use her as a sexmachine".
(All quotes are just by head)
Giving birth to a boy was "better" then to a girl.
Whenever a war was needed you were supposed to come back or as a winner or dead. Nothing else.
Everybody in the Spartan community was keeping an eye at his neighbors.
Whatever you might think of; it all was shaped to serve war. Emotions, marriage, childhood, families, race, believes, morals, sexuality, aspirations, just name anything.
It all had the serve war and in principle just for their own small Spartan state.
Their whole existence was to fight and win any defensive war. (they didn't dare to go that far from their own state in the North of Greece, because they had enslaved many other Greeks and these might rebel when the Spartans were outside their territory.)
It all was described in this T.V. production with a tone of great admiration and gratitude.
Yes, it all was described with a tone of thankfulness.
For - as the story goes - Spartans appeared to have been able to obstruct the Persian attack for three days and that gave the rest of Greece enough confidence to fight back effectively "and save our civilization".
Just at the very, very end it is said with another voice and tone,
that "it is rather odd" that the culture of the Spartans saved Greece’s specific democratic city-cultures which we know in the West as "democracy".
Yes, that indeed is rather "odd".
To me the Spartan culture was by its own roots a disgusting fascist culture that destroyed all that is specific human, except the body and brain and then only to serve as warrior.
"A superior race chosen by god to fight" was the way they saw and behaved themselves.
By accident this repulsive culture made it possible that other Greeks could defend their democratic states, but that had never been the basic aim of the Spartans.
By accident they also defended something good, indirectly.
It was a sickening culture.
Rotten to the core.
Our admiration of all of ancient "Greece" is much too slavishly. (Humor != the pope in Rome in the middle ages decided that Plato and other famous Greek philosophers were allowed to enter heaven, “because they were so very special” – I see humor in the fact that those who are admired by the vatican are adopted by it and put into heaven…)
The program that came after this one was called; "Journey to Hell" and was about the war poet Wilfred Owen. Wilfred was for a long time in the trenches in France in the First World War
Wilfred Owen wrote because of the letters of his cousin the poem;"The Sentry". (What a difference in attitude compared to the docu "Spartans")
We'd found an old Boche dug-out, and he knew,
And gave us hell, for shell on frantic shell
Hammered on top, but never quite burst through.
Rain, guttering down in waterfalls of slime
Kept slush waist high, that rising hour by hour,
Choked up the steps too thick with clay to climb.
What murk of air remained stank old, and sour
With fumes of whizz-bangs, and the smell of men
Who'd lived there years, and left their curse in the den,
If not their corpses. . . .
There we herded from the blast
Of whizz-bangs, but one found our door at last.
Buffeting eyes and breath, snuffing the candles.
And thud! flump! thud! down the steep steps came thumping
And splashing in the flood, deluging muck —
The sentry's body; then his rifle, handles
Of old Boche bombs, and mud in ruck on ruck.
We dredged him up, for killed, until he whined
"O sir, my eyes — I'm blind — I'm blind, I'm blind!"
Coaxing, I held a flame against his lids
And said if he could see the least blurred light
He was not blind; in time he'd get all right.
"I can't," he sobbed. Eyeballs, huge-bulged like squids
Watch my dreams still; but I forgot him there
In posting next for duty, and sending a scout
To beg a stretcher somewhere, and floundering about
To other posts under the shrieking air. Those other wretches, how they bled and spewed,
And one who would have drowned himself for good, —
I try not to remember these things now.
Let dread hark back for one word only: how
Half-listening to that sentry's moans and jumps,
And the wild chattering of his broken teeth,
Renewed most horribly whenever crumps
Pummelled the roof and slogged the air beneath —
Through the dense din, I say, we heard him shout
"I see your lights!" But ours had long died out.
Wilfred Owen, 1893 (GB) – 1918 (France)