Sunday, August 12, 2007


Ancient History

Democratic presidential candidate Mike Gravel, discussing the United States military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy on homosexuality, said:
If you have any knowledge of history, ancient history, in Sparta they encouraged homosexuality because they fight for the people they love. And if it's your partner and you love them, you're prepared to die for them, and that's the same ethic you see in the military today. It's not the country. It's my partner. Go see the movies on war, and it's always the person next to me who is in my foxhole with me. Well, I got to tell you, extend that a little further and you'll see why the Spartans trained their people to be homosexuals, because they're better fighters.
I don't know if Gravel got his knowledge of ancient history from movies, or books, or both. Victor Davis Hanson thinks that Gravel is perhaps confusing the Spartans of the movie 300 with the 300 of the Theban Sacred Band, although 300 was not released in the United States until March 2007, and Gravel apparently made his remarks in February 2007.

K.J. Dover, Greek Homosexuality (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1989), p. 192, cites two passages from Xenophon on this topic. Note that the Lacedaemonians are the Spartans.

Xenophon, Symposium 8.32-35 (tr. O.J. Todd):
[32] Yet Pausanias, the lover of the poet Agathon, has said in his defence of those who wallow in lasciviousness that the most valiant army, even, would be one recruited of lovers and their favourites!

[33] For these, he said, would in his opinion be most likely to be prevented by shame from deserting one another,--a strange assertion, indeed, that persons acquiring an habitual indifference to censure and to abandoned conduct toward one another will be most likely to be deterred by shame from any infamous act.

[34] But he went further and adduced as evidence in support of his position both the Thebans and the Eleans, alleging that this was their policy; he stated, in fine, that though sharing common beds they nevertheless assigned to their favourites places alongside themselves in the battle-line. But this is a false analogy; for such practices, though normal among them, with us are banned by the severest reprobation. My own view is that those who assign these posts in battle suggest thereby that they are suspicious that the objects of their love, if left by themselves, will not perform the duties of brave men.

[35] In contrast to this, the Lacedaemonians, who hold that if a person so much as feels a carnal concupiscence he will never come to any good end, cause the objects of their love to be so consummately brave that even when arrayed with foreigners and even when not stationed in the same line with their lovers they just as surely feel ashamed to desert their comrades. For the goddess they worship is not Impudence but Modesty.
Xenophon, Hellenica 4.8.38-39 (tr. Carleton L. Brownson):
[38] Then Anaxibius, judging that there was no hope of safety, inasmuch as he saw that his army extended over a long and narrow way, and thought that those who had gone on ahead would clearly be unable to come to his assistance up the hill, and since he also perceived that all were in a state of terror when they saw the ambush, said to those who were with him: “Gentlemen, it is honourable for me to die here, but do you hurry to safety before coming to close engagement with the enemy.”

[39] Thus he spoke, and taking his shield from his shieldbearer, fell fighting on that spot. His favourite youth, however, remained by his side, and likewise from among the Lacedaemonians about twelve of the governors, who had come from their cities and joined him, fought and fell with him.
Although "his favourite youth" (τὰ παιδικὰ) is plural in form, it is singular in meaning. See Liddell & Scott, s.v. παιδικός, III.2.

<< Home
Newer›  ‹Older

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?