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Wednesday, December 19, 2018

A Spartan in Athens

In the excerpts below, Leonidas is in Athens for the first time and finds himself trying to explain Sparta. In the first he is attending a symposium at the home of a wealthy Athenian and is approached by a hetaera.

Leonidas laughed but retorted, “It is a long story. Do your master’s bidding with someone else.” 

Several others at once started clamoring for her to come to them, and Therapne shrugged and turned to smile at them; but Kallixenos said for all to hear, “You are a fool or a coward, Leonidas. You could have enjoyed her first and then told her she was barking up the wrong tree. What true man turns away pleasure like that when it comes crawling to him!” 

“What is the pleasure in being another man’s pawn?” 

“Don’t be so puritanical! What pleasure is more basic or universal than sexual satisfaction?” Kallixenos challenged him. 

“Satisfaction of the loins is animal, while the joys of love cannot be purchased.” 

Kallixenos looked at him, uncomprehending; but Therapne spun around and, clapping her hands slowly, declared: “And the lion has claws! Well said, Leonidas!” She went toward him again, her hips swaying provocatively and her eyes fixed on him. “But tell me, if you scorn the pleasure I offer you, where do you take your pleasure? Have you a mistress to whom you have sworn fidelity? Or is there some boy who has turned your head?” Her lips curled in a sneer and her eyes fell contemptuously on the little boy, who sat naked on his lover’s couch, blushing bright red with natural shame. 

“Mine is the pleasure of the sun breaking over Taygetos after a long, chilly night on watch; the pleasure of diving into the cool waters of the Eurotas after a morning in the dust and sweat of the drill fields; the taste of my helot’s apple tarts; or the sight of my dog, bursting with pride, when she brings me a stolen duck.” 

Kallixenos broke out laughing. “You are going to give your countrymen a reputation for garrulousness with answers like that.” 

Leonidas looked down, embarrassed and ashamed of himself. He had indeed said too much. Therapne reached out and stroked his thigh, smiling at him. “Are you sure?” 

“You can see for yourself you have aroused me, but I still prefer Beggar with her stolen duck,” Leonidas retorted stubbornly, lifting his chin and staring her in the eye. His loins were full to bursting, and he was acutely aware of wasting his youth as a bachelor, but his obstinate streak had taken over. He was full of sexual energy and resented the fact that he had no place to expend it in his current lifestyle, but he hated even more the feeling of being manipulated. These Athenians wanted to see him turned into a mere animal, panting and gasping in his desperation to satisfy the hunger of his loins. 

The Athenians protested that he had no right to insult such a magnificent example of womanhood, while the hetaera stared down at Leonidas with narrowed eyes, now full of hatred because she felt insulted. “I came here to make a friend, but you have made an enemy. Are you so certain that was in your city’s interests?” 

“I am certain that my city cannot be bought any more than I can. If Sparta fights the Persians, it will be in her own interests and not those of Athens or your master.” 

In this second excerpt, Leonidas speaks with a Corinthian youth, whose life he saved from a wild boar a few years earlier. They are together in Athens and becoming friends.

"You see what a favor you did me that day by Acrocorinth?” Lychos pressed Leonidas. The latter shook his head. “I was on my way to becoming just like Kallixenos. Indeed, I admired him and tried to imitate him. I looked up to him so much that I allowed him to be my lover, when I was younger—a sporadic affair that lasted almost until I was sixteen. I was still under his spell when the boar got me.” Leonidas stirred uneasily, and Lychos looked over at him. “Did you never have a lover? A man you let use your body any way he pleased because you thought he was the most wonderful thing in the world?” 

Leonidas sensed it was almost rude to tell the truth, but he was poor at lying. “No. Sparta is different.” 

“So everyone says,” Lychos agreed, staring at the stars. “One day maybe I will be able to visit there.” 

“You are welcome any time. You can stay at my kleros, and although our cooking is not so sophisticated as here, my housekeeper is an excellent cook.” 

“I love simple food. When sailing, we usually catch fish during the day and grill it at night over an open fire. It is better that way than in any sauce or fancy crust.” They both reflected on this for a moment, and then Lychos continued, “You aren’t married yet, are you?” 

That was a sore subject, particularly since Brotus had married for a second time before heading for Olympia. Leonidas shrugged and answered, “No more than you.” 

“My father has arranged it,” Lychos admitted, not looking at Leonidas. “Most Corinthians don’t marry until they are in their thirties, but he is afraid I won’t live that long and is desperate for an heir. The wedding was to take place after the Games, but we postponed it when you accepted our invitation.” 

Leonidas at once felt guilty. “I’m sorry to have disrupted your plans. Why didn’t you say something? We could—” 

“I don’t mind the postponement,” Lychos assured him. “I wouldn’t mind waiting for years. I’d rather not marry at all.” 

Leonidas didn’t understand. “Why?”

Lychos shrugged, clutched his knees, and looked at the stars. “Don’t you like your bride?” Leonidas ventured. 

Lychos shrugged again. “I’ve only met her once. At the betrothal. She seems nice … It must have been terrible for her when she learned her father was giving her to a cripple.” 

Leonidas thought about that a moment, impressed that Lychos could see things from the girl’s perspective, but he still couldn’t understand Lychos’ reluctance to marry. “But?” 

“It seems like a lot of responsibility,” Lychos admitted. “I’ll be responsible not just for her well-being but for her reputation and her happiness.” 

“I don’t think Kallixenos sees marriage that way,” Leonidas remarked dryly, his disapproval obvious. 

“No,” Lychos agreed. “But I don’t want to be like him. Why aren’t you married?” Lychos asked. 

“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 laughed, 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.”

... 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 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 tickers’ 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

The Spartans and their unique culture are depicted as realistically as possible in all my Spartan novels:


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Wednesday, December 5, 2018

A Spartan Arranged Marriage?

 In my last entry I discussed Spartan sexuality and its impact on sexual relations and marriage. One of the most famous marriages in Spartan history was the marriage of King Leonidas to his niece Gorgo.  She was the daughter of his half-brother Cleomenes and it is usually assumed that the marriage was purely political and dynastic. Yet given what we know about Sparta -- and Gorgo -- I think we can assume she had something to say about it. In A Peerless Peer I speculated a little. Join me in eavesdropping on a conversation between Leonidas and Gorgo.

Leonidas looked over at [Gorgo], but she was looking down self-consciously at her hands. “Just when did you come up with this idea that I should marry you?”

She shrugged a little awkwardly. “It just sort of evolved … You know, when girls reach a certain age, they start looking at boys and speculating about which ones might make good husbands. We’re expected and encouraged to do that. And, well, I looked just like the others did, but the boys all seemed so …” she shrugged and then admitted, “scrawny and silly and oversexed. I realized I wanted someone like you, so I looked at the older men. But most of them were already married, and there was none I liked as much as you. It dawned on me that I didn’t want someone like you, I wanted you.” 

Leonidas looked at her skeptically. “You carried me home on your shoulders when I was lost, remember? You let me ride your colts so I could win races. You put your arm around me and made me feel wanted when everyone else ignored me. And best of all, you never seemed to notice that I wasn’t pretty.” She looked down as she said this, ashamed to meet his eyes, because tears were forming. 

“Because you are pretty, Gorgo. You are one of the prettiest girls in Lacedaemon. Who told you otherwise?” 

“My mirror, for a start!” Gorgo told him sharply, looking up to see if he was mocking or pitying her. He met her gaze and she found herself adding practically, “No one ever picks me to welcome home returning heroes or Olympic victors!” 

“Weren’t you waiting for me when I came back from Corinth?” 

“I cheated and rode ahead of the official welcoming event. Surely you noticed?” 

Leonidas laughed and put his arm over her shoulder, drawing her to him. “At the time, I thought nothing of it. You were always a bit wild and self-willed.” 

“Is that very bad?” 

“No,” Leonidas told her simply. “When did you decide to force the issue by going to the ephors?” 

Gorgo looked up at him uncertainly. His arm felt wonderful around her, and he seemed anything but hostile, and yet he was hardly acting like a lover, either. Just like her favorite uncle. “Well, my father started teasing me about who he was going to marry me to. One day it would be one tyrant, and the next day another. It was just a game to him. He liked to see me get angry and indignant. He liked to frighten me.”

“I had no idea.” Leonidas sounded upset—and that suggested a depth of sympathy Gorgo had not expected from any man. 

“Grandma says I provoked it. She says I shouldn’t have humiliated him in front of Aristagoras the way I did. Our relationship hasn’t been the same since. In the last few years we fought a lot, and I often accused him of being fickle and ineffective. He drives me crazy with his cynicism and plotting.” Leonidas snorted, because he agreed entirely. Gorgo continued, “But I suppose I shouldn’t tell him what I think of him as bluntly as I do. If I were him, I wouldn’t want me as a daughter, either,” she concluded honestly, making Leonidas laugh and hold her more firmly. She looked up at him uncertainly. 

“Go on. When did you decide to go to the ephors?” 

“After a particularly ugly scene with my father, when he said he had already sent word to Aristagoras offering me to him. Oh, Leo! If you knew the way that man looked at me! With hate in his eyes! He hated me just for being a girl and for hearing him plead with my father and then for speaking out. The thought of being married to him was unbearable! “Of course,” Gorgo admitted in a calmer tone, “I should have known Aristagoras would never agree to the marriage, since he despised me; but at the time, I was so upset I couldn’t sleep. I tossed and turned all night, trying to think what I could do. I knew I had to tell someone who could stop my father. But who had that power? My father doesn’t listen to anyone anymore, not even Grandma or Nikostratos. Then I thought of the ephors, and I realized they were the only people in all Lacedaemon who had the power to prevent my father from doing anything. I thought if they could force your father to have two wives, surely they could stop mine from giving me away to a foreigner. 

“But I foresaw that they might ask who I wanted instead. And I thought, why not tell them the truth? Why not name you, since you were free to marry? Uncle Leo! Don’t be angry with me anymore. Please! I know now that it was stupid of me. Grandma explained to me how stupid it was—how I put you in an impossible situation by naming you. But I didn’t mean to pressure you. Please don’t be angry.” She looked up at him and tears spilled out of her eyes, the emotional strain of the whole situation too much for her. 

Leonidas reached up his free hand and wiped her tears away. “How can I be angry at you for using your brains to serve your heart?” He paused to reflect on what he had just said, and then added, “As I said to Hilaira not so long ago, you are by far the cleverer of the two of us; and if you honestly think that being married to me would be a good thing, then who am I to disagree?” She swallowed and waited for the “but.” Instead, Leonidas continued, “So I’ve decided we should get married.” 

Gorgo started. “Just like that? But what do you want? I mean, why have you refused for the last month?” 

“Stubbornness. Ask anyone. It is my greatest weakness.” 

Gorgo frowned. Leonidas was infamous for being stubborn—or tenacious, if one wanted to word it more positively. “But what do you want?” Gorgo insisted. 

“That’s just it, Gorgo. I want to be married and start a family; and when I started thinking about all the young maidens down there,” he nodded in the vague direction of the city, “the bold ones flirting and preening and the shy ones blushing and awkward, I just couldn’t imagine being married to any of them. Hilaira has tried to interest me in one or another of them often enough, poor thing. But when I thought about being married to you, I realized it would be the simplest thing in the world.”

Gorgo looked at him, unsure if that was a compliment or not. “But you know that in addition to being stubborn to a fault, I am notorious for being law-abiding. I will not break the law, even for you.” 

“But what law? Your father married his niece—” Gorgo started to protest at once, and Leonidas held up his hand to silence her. 

“Lycurgus’ laws say it is illegal to marry a girl too young to enjoy sex.” Leonidas looked her straight in the eye. 

Although she blushed slightly, she met his gaze and said very steadily and deliberately, “You will not be breaking the law if you take me to wife.”

An Excerpt from: