Thursday, 11 June 2015

300 or hoplites and helots

Sparta-worship is nothing new and has gone through numerous and at times—maybe mostly, dangerous revivals. Revolutionaries as varied as those who fought for independence under the British Mandate of Palestine or under colonial Britain in North America based their extolling, exhortation and sometimes lament in failing to live up to that example on a long chain of praise that extended all the way back to times contemporaneous with the Spartan civilisation. This romancing of the austere and disciplined lifestyle practised goes by the name laconophilia (from Laconia where they lived and hence laconic or blunt) and while the course of history may have was neither steered solely by either admirers or detractors (who importantly saw the Spartans’ faults and warned that theirs was not a society to emulate) their battle-cry is heard sometimes in unexpected places. That Nazism was steeped in Nordic traditions and mythology (including fabricated volk-etymologies purely to forward their agenda) is patently well-known but I never knew that the Nazis had cast their maniacal nets further south as well and believed that the Spartans (as part of the larger “race” of Dorians) also embodied their ideal. 
Of course it was not their deportment as rational stoics or temperate individuals that held the appeal (then and now, and die neue Dorier did not go unheard) but rather the reputation of these hoplites (citizen-soldiers) on the battlefield, whose glory came at a high price—with most willing to dismiss this fascination as sophomoric, the Spartans excelling only at war through a regiment that left trainees little better than broken and brainwashed, a strict caste-system, peace untenable and dependent on a subjugated population of feudal farmers called the Helots (considered to be natural slaves).  The ability to achieve and sustain this proto-fascist state through eugenics (though without the nobles lies of The Republic) was aligned with what Nazi Germany hoped to emulate, but I am not sure what brought about that political syncretism that mingled the Norse gods with Mediterranean traditions, but perhaps it was how just a few decades prior, a German entrepreneur and amateur archaeologist was able to dynamite his way to Priam’s Treasure and significantly prove to the world that there was at least a kernel of historical fact behind the legends. Feats of renown are especially prone to misappropriation.