Thursday, May 31, 2007


Hot Tub Tom and the Hot Gates

Jeffrey Goldberg, Party Unfaithful: The Republican Implosion, The New Yorker (June 4, 2007):
Earlier this year, he [Tom DeLay] published a memoir called "No Retreat, No Surrender" (his spokeswoman says that he was not stealing from Bruce Springsteen, and that the phrase has been used many times throughout history, including by the Spartans and as the title of a Jean-Claude Van Damme movie), in which he claimed that as a young congressman he would on occasion drink ten to twelve Martinis at a time. In this period, he earned the nickname Hot Tub Tom.
One of my guilty pleasures is watching cheesy martial arts movies, and I confess that I have seen Jean-Claude Van Damme's "No Retreat, No Surrender." Bruce Springsteen is a different matter. I know he's some kind of singer, but if you offered me $1000 to hum "No Retreat, No Surrender" or any other Bruce Springsteen ditty, I would perforce retreat emptyhanded.

What about the Spartans? Did they ever say the equivalent of "No retreat, no surrender?" Apparently in the movie The 300 (which I haven't seen), Leonidas the Spartan says, "Never retreat, never surrender," but Hollywood is not exactly an impeccable source for ancient history.

The Spartans may well have said something like "No retreat, no surrender," although I can't recall offhand ever seeing such a phrase in Greek literature. It is definitely a laconic, if not a Laconic, statement. The Online Etymology Dictionary, s.v. laconic, says:
"concise, abrupt," 1589, from Gk. Lakonikos, from Lakon "person from Lakonia," the district around Sparta in southern Greece in ancient times, whose inhabitants were famous for their brevity of speech. When Philip of Macedon threatened them with, "If I enter Laconia, I will raze Sparta to the ground," the Spartans' reply was, "If."
There is an implied prohibition against retreat or surrender in the famous statement of the Spartan mother as she handed her son his shield: ἢ τὰν ἢ ἐπὶ τᾶς, "either it or on it," in other words, "either bring back your shield or be carried back from battle dead on top of your shield." It was the quintessential mark of cowardice in ancient times to drop your shield on the battlefield and run away. The poet Archilochus bragged about doing just this, and there is a story that as a result the Spartans forbade him even to set foot in Sparta, lest he be a corrupting influence.

I'll be on the lookout for "No retreat, no surrender" in my reading from now on. I did check book 7 of Herodotus, a major source for the Battle of Thermopylae (Hot Gates). The closest I could find to any statement about retreating was 7.207 (tr. Aubrey De Sélincourt):
The Persian army was now close to the pass, and the Greeks, suddenly doubting their power to resist, held a conference to consider the advisability of retreat [ἐβουλεύοντο περὶ ἀπαλλαγῆς]. It was proposed by the Peloponnesians generally that the army should fall back upon the Peloponnese and hold the Isthmus; but when the Phocians and Locrians expressed their indignation at this suggestion, Leonidas gave his voice for staying where they were and sending, at the same time, an appeal for reinforcements to the various states of the confederacy, as their numbers were inadequate to cope with the Persians.
Hot Tub Tom has now become Hot Gospeller Tom, according to Jeffrey Goldberg's article:
"God has spoken to me," he said. "I listen to God, and what I've heard is that I'm supposed to devote myself to rebuilding the conservative base of the Republican Party."
Heaven preserve us! Far be it from me to encourage backsliding, but perhaps the United States of America and even the Republican Party might be better off if Tom DeLay would retreat from the political fray and surrender to the pleasures of his hot tub, there to sip a martini (or ten, or twelve).

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