Ancient Hoplites

Ancient Hoplites

Monday, August 15, 2016

Alternative Views of Spartan Sexuality - Excerpts from "A Peerless Peer"






Welcome to the Rave Reviews Book Club 2016 Book and Blog Party. Helena P. Schrader is delighted to participate in this an event featuring a wide-range of talent from all genres from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

If you leave a comment on this blog entry, you will qualify for a free ebook copy of "A Peerless Peer."  As I discussed in the last entry, Sparta differed significantly from other Greek cities with respect to it's laws against pederasty and attitudes toward women. In the following excerpts from "A Peerless Peer" I offer some alternative -- I believe far more plausible -- depictions of Spartan attitudes toward sex.


The first excerpt looks at reaching puberty in Sparta, starting with a helot mother's reflections and sliding into the views of a Spartan maiden and her grandmother:




Laodice had lived in Laconia long enough to know that the sexually active youths of the agoge considered helot girls “fair game.” Not that many of the youths of the agoge would actually rape the girls (though it happened now and again); most knew that using force against the helots working for another Spartiate could get them into serious trouble. The fact that Laodice’s girls were Leonidas’ helots made the situation even clearer. It was well known that Leonidas would not tolerate any abuse of his helots, and any youth who went too far would lose his hide.



The problem was that Laodice’s girls seemed to have picked up the Laconian attitude toward these youths—namely, that it was an honor to be deflowered by a true Spartiate. The neighbor girls candidly argued that there could be nothing better than a Spartiate lover who paid you in game he had hunted or trapped, or even made the girls pretty trinkets with rolled stones and carved figurines.



Their mothers had nothing to say against the practice. It seemed they had all done it in their youth, and could point proudly to this or that item that had been a gift of this or that Spartiate—now respectable citizens with wives and children and honors. So the mothers encouraged their daughters’ promiscuousness, saying that it added to the family diet and income, while the girls themselves loved being courted and bedded by the “golden” youth of the agoge.



The smarter girls even built up a dowry from the gifts of their Spartiate lovers to make them more attractive to their own class. To Laodice’s incomprehension, the offspring of such unions carried no particular stigma. They were simply raised like other helot children, either by the girl’s family or by the girl herself after she married.



To be sure, helot youths sometimes resented the deflowering of their future brides by their masters if they already fancied a girl, but there wasn’t much they could do to stop it. Mantiklos had gotten into a terrible fight because he caught the girl he was courting with a meleirene. He’d attacked her in his rage, provoking her brothers to come to her defense. Mantiklos had ended up with a broken nose, several cracked ribs, and more simmering hatred toward the Spartiates than ever. But Laodice knew that the more mercenary helot youths actively encouraged their sweethearts to get as much material gain from their lovers as possible.



….








As the summer progressed, even the Eurotas shrank to a ghost of its normal self. With baskets of washing on their heads, the helot women had to cross the mud flats left behind on the riverbed as the water retreated. The mud clung to their legs and drew them deeper into the morass with each precarious step. When finished, they had to trudge back with the wet laundry on their heads, and sometimes women lost their balance in the treacherous quagmire, spilled their laundry, and had to start all over again.

For the youths of the agoge, the low water meant they had to wade through the stinking mud just to go for a swim at all—and then wade through the mud again afterward, getting dirty and sweaty again. The boys therefore chopped down trees and built a precarious walkway across the mud to the deeper parts of the river; but this only led to fierce fights between gangs of boys defending the bridge and those trying to take it. Generally they all ended up in the mud flats on either side of the bridge, coated in mud like piglets.

Disgusted, the teenage girls withdrew and found their own swimming hole farther downstream. The currents of the river, flowing over the roots of some ancient plane trees on a little island, had carved out a deep pool. The girls could reach the island with dry feet, because the channel on the eastern shore had dried up and the girls could leap across the narrow gully. The maidens stripped down, hanging their chitons on the trees, and with squeals and giggles of delight slipped into the cool water. They sank under the surface and let the water sweep their long hair downstream, then popped up again to catch their breath and wring the water from their hair. Their high-pitched chattering and giggling seemed to carry for miles.

The girls were soon discovered by some off-duty meleirenes, who didn’t bother with the detour around the eastern shore and plunged right into the river, chasing the girls back to their island and their clothes. It was a silly game, as far as Gorgo could see. Disgusted with the brainless behavior of her friends, she grabbed her things and fled.

One of the meleirenes tried to cut her off at the gully, but she gave him a kick in the direction of his groin that he just managed to deflect and told him bluntly, “I’m not interested!” Her tone of voice was too decisive for him to mistake it as flirting. He let her go.

Gorgo ran barefoot across the floodplain, which was now starting to bake and crack, and scrambled up the far bank, pulling herself up on dusty saplings. Only when she reached the road did she untie her sandals from around her neck and put them on her feet. She started tramping at a good marching pace in the direction of her grandmother’s kleros.

When she arrived half an hour later, the staff greeted her with exclamations of dismay. She usually rode over, and today she looked much the worse for wear. “Good heavens, girl! You look like something the cat dragged in!” her grandmother’s old housekeeper exclaimed with humor.

Gorgo was reminded of the way her mother had always said that to her. She snapped unkindly at the old helot woman, “Maybe I am something the cat dragged in! Leave me alone!”

Overhearing this remark as she arrived, Chilonis exclaimed sharply, “Gorgo! You’ve no right to use that tone of voice to poor Irene! Apologize at once!”

Gorgo was in no mood to apologize to anyone. “Why should I?” she retorted. “She says I looked like something the cat dragged in, and all I said—”

“I heard what you said! It’s not what you said but the way you said it! What on earth has got into you? Apologize to Irene and then come with me.”

Gorgo had been late to mature. At thirteen, many had mistaken her for a child of ten or eleven. She had not started her monthly flux until this past spring, as she turned fifteen, and her breasts were only just starting to develop. Chilonis had therefore already diagnosed teenage moodiness and insolence, and she doubted if there were much she could do but wait for Gorgo to grow out of this unpleasant phase.

Gorgo turned to the helot and said in an angry, uncontrite voice, “I’m sorry if I was rude to you, but I don’t think it’s particularly nice to call someone ‘something the cat dragged in.’ I’m sure you wouldn’t like it if I said it to you!”

The woman opened her mouth, flabbergasted, and then looked at her mistress, who sighed and said simply, “I’ll deal with her, Irene. You go back to your work.”

Chilonis then led the way out of the kitchen to her own study and sat down to face the now sullen Gorgo. “If you’re going to go around dressed like a boy of the agoge, with your hair hanging unkempt about your shoulders and your feet filthy, you deserve to be told what you look like.”

“Well, what do you want me to do? Sit around combing out my hair and oiling my skin for all the boys to see, like Nausica and Alkyone and Phaenna?”

Chilonis noted that now Phaenna, Gorgo’s one and only friend, had apparently joined the clique of girls who were taking a pronounced interest in the opposite sex. That was normal. But she understood Gorgo, too.

Gorgo plopped herself down on the bench by the door, her long, lovely legs thrust out in front of her, but with her shoulders hunched and her head hanging as she picked absently at her frayed belt, and complained, “The only thing they can talk about is boys, boys, boys—who’s won what race, who’s had to go down to the pits, who’s been caught with some helot girl. It drives me crazy!”

“Um,” Chilonis commented. It could indeed be tedious—but it was also biological and inevitable. “Aren’t you interested in any of them?”

“The meleirenes?” Gorgo asked, horrified. “A bunch of pimply little runts, whose only interest in us is sex! And they don’t care which of us they get their hands on, either!” Gorgo shot back.

Chilonis laughed—because it was so true.

“I don’t see what’s so funny!” Gorgo demanded, her green eyes flashing and her lips thrust out in a stubborn pout. “You’re the one who always said a woman isn’t just a bedmate or a breeding factory—not to use the language they do!”

Chilonis sighed. It wasn’t easy being fifteen.
 



In this second excerpt,  Leonidas and a Corinthian youth Lycos, who has been partially crippled in an accident, discuss the difference in cultures after precipitously leaving an Athenian symposium.


 
They caused a small commotion when they reached the ship, and at first the helmsman was angry. He insisted on sending a crewman to tell Archilochos where his son was; but eventually the crew calmed down and went back to sleep, while Leonidas and Lychos settled on the deck between the steering oars. Leonidas accepted wine in his water, and they talked while the stars turned slowly overhead.



Lycos asked, “Why aren’t you married?” 



“I’m still on active service and have to live in barracks,” Leonidas answered, hoping Lychos had not heard that many Spartiates married anyway.



“That sounds horrible,” Lychos admitted candidly.



Leonidas thought about it. “You’ll laugh, but in a way it makes me enjoy the rest of life more.”



Lychos did laugh, but remarked, “Now, perhaps, you understand about my pain! It is horrible, but it reminds me that I am alive. And without it, if I were dead, I would not be sitting on this warm deck with a cooling breeze and my first real friend beside me.”



“I’m honored. But what of Chambias?”



“Chambias?” Lychos looked up at the stars. “Chambias has always been my friend because our fathers want it; but, you see, tonight he would have been like the Athenians—”



“And Euryleon!” Leonidas snorted.



“Yes, and Euryleon. He would have justified staying and drinking until he couldn’t walk in a straight line and had to vomit in the street while slaves guided him home. That’s what they’re all doing now, you know? They will drink until they can’t see straight or stand upright, and then they will stagger home, feeling miserable but telling themselves they are ‘real men.’ What does being pissing drunk have to do with manhood? I don’t understand it.”



Leonidas didn’t understand it either, so they were comfortably silent together until Lychos remarked, “When Kallixenos was my lover, he often hurt me. He knew he was doing it, yet he did it intentionally—just to see how far he could go, to test just how great my love for him was.”



“Then Kallixenos is more than an ass, he is a bastard.”



“He will be a very powerful bastard,” Lychos reflected. “He is the kind of man who would be a tyrant if he could be.”



“You know that in Sparta the sexual misuse of a child, male or female, is against our laws, don’t you?” Leonidas asked.



“And do all Spartans live by your laws?”



“Of course not. There are as many cruel and selfish men in Sparta as anywhere; but at least they have to do it in secret and fear the scorn of their neighbors and officers if they are discovered. If a child’s parents find out, for example, they can demand terrible punishment.”



Lychos thought about that and nodded. “You know, it sometimes seems as if you Spartans live your whole lives in fear of your neighbors and officers. You have so little chance to be yourselves, for better or for worse. You must all wear the same clothes. You even have to wear your hair and beards the same way! And you must behave in set ways and follow the same profession.”



Leonidas thought about this carefully, because there had been times when he had resented all these things; but he asked back, “Is it really all that different in Corinth and Athens? Don’t potters’ sons become potters and tinkers’ sons tinkers? And it seems to me the dictates of fashion are as stringent as our traditions.



“On the whole, yes, but there is no compulsion about it. I think what horrifies outsiders about Sparta is that it is all enforced by law and custom and is so, well, brutal.”



“But it was Kallixenos who hurt you,” Leonidas pointed out. “And Spartans aren’t really all the same. In fact, the reasoning behind us all having a kleros of the same size and all dressing in the same manner is that then the real differences—those of character rather than mere wealth or station—are more evident. On the surface, Kallixenos is a well-educated, well-mannered young man. I imagine that his good clothes and good looks deceive many about his true nature.”



“Yes,” Lychos admitted; “but so do your clothes and looks deceive, Leonidas. When we see you, muscular and tanned and standing straight as a spear, we see only a stupid Spartan hoplite, but you are far more subtle and complex than you appear to be.”



“I suppose we all are,” Leonidas concluded. They left it at that and drifted off to sleep.


Thanks for stopping by and don’t forget to share your thoughts and comments below.  Good luck on winning my giveaways!  

I’ll see you at the next stop of this awesome BOOK & BLOG BLOCK PARTY! Today you can visit Lizzie Chantree at Creativity and Inspiration with a Smile and Jan Hawke at Dreamless Roads

81 comments:

  1. Hi. Thanks for inviting us to your blog today. I popped by early, as I am also hosting a party today. I hope you have an amazing day with lots of visitors to your page! I have shared your page on social media.

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    1. Thanks for stopping by. I added a link to your post too. Have a great day!

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  2. Another interesting blog - thanks for these historical insights. Time and stereotypes can blur facts so it's refreshing to have a glimpse of what life was like in Sparta.

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    1. The stereotypes about Sparta are particularly ridiculous. Thanks for being open-minded.

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  3. I really enjoyed your excerpt from your book. It sounds like a very interesting story! I like the time frame it is set in. I will be adding this book to my kindle and look forward to reading it. Great post!

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    1. Thank you! Hope you enjoy it, and will give me feed back. I always love to hear from readers. Reviews also welcome, of course.

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  4. Another interesting and informative post, The excerpt from "A Peerless Peer" is thought provoking; with insights into a society that has long fascinated me. I hope the remainder of your day is great. Thanks for sharing your knowledge.

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    1. Hope you find time to read the books one day. Meanwhile, thanks for stopping by.

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  5. Hi Helena - am I really the first? What an honour! :-D For someone who puts classical mythology on a par with mother's milk I'm woefully ignorant about Spartan society - possibly because of a Catholic upbringing... such things not being too open when I was at school in the 1960s & early 70s ;-) With films like 300, it's good to see a resurgence in the culture of Ancient Greece and having scholarly authors like you writing accessible fiction, it can only be good for everyone to learn more about the true culture of ancients that have shaped our modern world. :-)
    Love your book cover too - hope the rest of your day goes with a fizz! :-D

    Sian Glirdan is also known as Jan Hawke! ;-)

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    1. Thanks, Sian. Just re-designed the cover so I especially appreciate you mentioning that! Hope you'll read the books one day.
      Jan, you were also the winner of a copy of "Envoy of Jerusalem" but I'd be happy to swap that for "A Peerless Peer" if you prefer Ancient Greece to the Crusades for reading material.

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    2. I want both! I've already received 'Envoy' from you thank you, and it's leaping to the top of my TBR already! :-D Hope I get lucky with this draw, but will probably add Peerless to the TBR as well v. soon. :-)

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  6. While I don't write historical fiction, history fascinates me. (Yes, my husband and I are History Channel addicts.) This research is so interesting! Loved the post.

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    1. Glad you enjoyed the post. I watch a lot of History Channel too -- but beware! Some of the alleged "documentaries" are very "doctored." Some of the professors interviewed claim that after cutting and editing their words were turned into the reverse of what they were saying. Makes me hesitant to trust anything I see there.

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  7. I always enjoyed learning about the Spartans way back when I was in high school.

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    1. Hope you'll risk reading one of my books on Sparta then. If not this one, maybe one of the others. There are a total of six. All are on amazon, but only the Leonidas trilogy is available on kindle.

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  8. As an archaeologist married to historian, I can never get enough of learning about the past.

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    1. Hope you'll take a moment to check out my books set in Ancient Sparta. All are on amazon.

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  9. Another couple of great historical bits. Enjoy the blog party today.

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    1. Thanks. Will do. Lizzie and Jan's posts are also wonderful today.

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  10. Very tantalizing excerpt! We meet again Helena... :) Even your name fits into the period of your stories... Helena of Troy! :) So, I am not surprised that you are deep into the mythologies of the past. :) Enjoy your party

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    1. Thank you. Yes, I've wondered about how much of my interest in Helen of Sparta/Troy was predetermined by my name. Then again, I think it was a coloring book I had in 2nd grade....

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  11. Interesting excerpts, thanks so much for sharing! The book will be added to my long TBR list as you definitely peeked my interest. It's great to get to know more about a fellow RRBC author. Thanks! :)
    Jenny Hinsman

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    1. Thank you. Hope you will get to it eventually. Meanwhile, this blog tour has been a terrific way to find out about fellow RRBC authors. Glad you stopped by.

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  12. What a lovely post, Helena! You've given me yet more books to add to my TBR. I've learned lots about Sparta that I didn't know until today :) Hope you have a great day on todays blog party! :)

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    1. Harmony, I'm sure you TBR list is very long, but if you ever get to my books, I hope you'll enjoy them. Sparta was very, very different from the way it is portrayed on TV and by Hollywood. Much more complex and human.

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  13. This is fascinating, Helena. I know so little about the Spartans, and your writing very effectively illuminates their lifestyle and beliefs. Thank you for the information and the Party!

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  14. I enjoyed these excerpts, Helena. They are quite insightful and entertaining at the same time. I'm sure "A Peerless Peer" is an excellent read. Have a great day on the Block Party!

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    1. Thanks, John! It's been a fun party so far!

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  15. Another Tour De Force, Helena. Your knowledge and research efforts are stunning. Best for today.

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  16. I love history but have not read much on Sparta so i found this blog post very interesting. You have obviously done your research! Nice job.

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    1. Tara, most popular literature about Sparta doesn't make anyone want to know more. But most of that popular literature (starting with "300") is very misleading. Sparta was far more complex, and far less misogynous than Athens. Women had economic power and respect. A long topic... Thanks for stopping by.

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  17. Good Morning Helena! I have enjoyed both of these excerpts, tremendously! Your writing, while informative, is also an enjoyable lesson on ancient Spartan society and culture.You make the character, Gorgo as relatable as any 21st century adolescent. I'm sure we will love "A Peerless Peer"! Have a Great Party Day!

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    1. Thank you! Hope you do read and enjoy "A Peerless Peer."

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  18. I would have hated to live during those times. lol! Thanks for sharing a glimpse of that world with us. :-)

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    1. Sorry to hear that, but thanks for stopping by anyway.

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  19. Hi Helena, I really enjoyed the post. The time you spend researching an era really shines through in your writing. You can't fake that type of detail.

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    1. Thanks, Brent. Did you get a winner among your covers yesterday?

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    2. Cover 2 seemed to be the clear favorite. It was my daughter's version! I am going to write a follow up post about it. Thanks for asking.

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  20. Good Morning, Nice to have a stop here on your blog. I read all the way down your blog and found each paragraph quite interesting. Greek antiquity isn't always what one thinks and your blog shows that other interpretations cause one to think about what they really know versus what they think was done during that time period. Have a awesome blog stop today!!!

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  21. Helena, I have many interests and you tapped into one I haven't explored in awhile. Your work looks great, I'll need to give you a read soon as possible.
    Rob Kimbrell

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    1. Hope you'll enjoy it! Don't hesitate to send feed-back, I always love hearing from readers.

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  22. Really cool stuff! I'll have to check it out soon!

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    1. Please do! I hope you'll enjoy reading the whole book or any of the others set in Sparta. All are on amazon, although on the Leonidas Trilogy is available in Kindle format. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

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  23. Enjoyed the history lesson and am impressed with your knowledge and your skill to weave that into your books.Will look forward to reading your work.

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    1. Hope you'll enjoy which ever book you choose to start with. Thanks for stopping by.

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  24. Always interesting to learn about historical characters and ancient Spartan society from an alternative viewpoint. Thanks for the informative post!

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    1. Thanks for stopping by. Sparta has been consistently misrepresented and distorted in much popular culture, which is why I've developed this "Sparta Reconsidered" blog and a website by the same name.

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  25. Sorry I missed you on the 15th as I was traveling. Very interesting excerpts. The books sound fascinating!

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    1. Better late than never. Glad you did stop by.

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  26. A most interesting blog. Your stories have been well researched and therefore interest me.

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    1. That's wonderful! I know fantasy is preferred over fact by most young people, so it's great to hear when someone wants books based on sound research rather than sheer imagination.

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  27. So I'm now in Addis, Abba, Ethiopia. How nice!! Its nice to meet you Helena and a chance for being educated on your culture. Thank you for having us.

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    1. Ethiopia is a fascinating place! But it's also great to be connected with "home" and indeed the whole wide world via internet.

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  28. Hello again, Helena. Your works are so informative and intriguing. I've followed you on amazon and have added your works to my TBR. I'm impressed! Cheers! S.J. Francis

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    1. Thank you! Hope you'll eventually get around to reading one or the other. TBR lists have a tendency to grow indefinitely -- at least mine do...

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  29. Hi Helena - thanks again for this very interesting insight into the culture and mores of the ancient Spartans. They were a fascinating culture and city-state. Best of luck again with all your works! - MikeL

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  30. Excellent excerpt, Helena. Best wishes to you on this project.

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  31. I really enjoyed this post. I don't write historical novels, but I do love to read them. Especially when the plot is interesting. I hope you're having a great day on the tour.

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    1. Hope you'll try one or another of my novels. If Ancient Sparta isn't your thing, I have novels set in WWII and the crusades. In any case, thanks for stopping by.

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  32. Hi, Helena. Hope you've enjoyed your party day. Nice glimpses into your books. Best of luck!

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  33. Hi Helen, nice to meet you here. I love Spartan history, legends and especially their gods. The covers and pictures are pure artwork--nice job!! I'm fond of the Crusades too--wish I could write historicals like you. Good luck and enjoy the rest of your tour. I came in late tonight--busy day.

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    1. Micki, glad you stopped by. I'm thrilled that you like the covers as I just re-designed them. Hope you'll read one or the other of my Sparta books eventually.

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  34. Interesting post! You obviously have spent a lot of time researching the Spartan history.

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    1. Fortunately, I like doing research! The problem is that the deeper one digs the more one realizes that popular images of Sparta are so very wrong.... Hence my blog and website "Sparta Reconsidered."

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  35. Hi Helena! Sorry I'm a bit late to the party, but I'm so glad I stopped by - yet another fascinating and informative post! Thanks for sharing, take care, and have a wonderful week! :) ~Stephanie

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    1. Nice close to a great day! Thanks, Stephanie

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  36. This shows quite a lot of insight into ancient Grecian culture! Enjoy your day hosting the party!

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  37. Hi Helen,

    Sorry I'm running a day behind, but wanted to stop by anyway and check out your blog stop.

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  38. Awesome! Helena, you've had three stops along the tour. You are a brave woman! I can't even imagine all the work you put into this, so thank you for taking the time. Hope you had a ball!

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    1. Yes, it is a huge amount of work and it takes a lot of discipline and commitment. I often wonder if it's worth it, but this book and block party made it seem worthwhile -- speaking of a huge amount of work and commitment. I really appreciate the effort you have put into this. It's been fascinating getting to know some of the other RRBC authors. I did want to warn you though, I'm going into intensive training the next two weeks and won't be able to be so active -- that's why I asked to have my blogs up before the 15th. Thanks again!

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  39. A fascinating glimpse in the past. Thank you for that!

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  40. Your Fan from Norway. nice Content. whats its Based off

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