Monday, May 26, 2008

Paul Cartledge's The Spartans

Finished listening to the Spartans yesterday. I didn't finish it as excitedly as I began it because I had to listen in hour-long bites instead of in four hour chunks. I think it would be a much better book to read rather than listen to in the car.

It covers Sparta from roughly 700 BCE to the time of Octavian/Augustus in Rome in the late 1rst century BCE. The parts of Spartan history with which I had more familiarity were much more enjoyable because I could follow them much more easily. Since the only parts I know anything about are (i) Thermopoylae in 480 BCE and the subsequent ousting of the Persians following the naval battle at Salamis and land battle at Beotia and (ii) the Peloponnesian War 431-404 BCE, that's about 625 years about which I know very little.

Had I been able to read the book on the pages, I probably would have done much better with the names of people and places. Everybody knows about Leonidas, Alcibiades and Pericles (wow, the spell checker actually knows those names) but others were tough. Also, a history covering so much time is difficult to listen to without timelines. Shorter subjects covered in much more detail are easier because there is so much repetition.

One interesting item that seems a bit incongruous for Sparta. It was the only Greek city-state that formally educated its women. To be sure, women were second-class citizens but they could own property in their own right and were easily the most free of all the Greek women. When asked by an non-Spartan woman why this was the case, a Spartan woman (a royal, I think, whose name escapes me) apocryphally said, "Because we bear Spartan men." Aristotle apparently disdained Sparta in part due to the fact that they were "ruled by their women."

The author suggests that at the time of publication (2004), George Clooney (nooooo) and Bruce Willis were being considered for Leonidas in another live action version of the Battle at Thermopoylae based on Pressfield's Gates of Fire. (See also, The 300 Spartans and 300.) This is the first I've heard of such a movie but would pay dearly to see it.

One other item that was thoroughly confusing to this little mind as I listened. The early (or at least first quartile of) 4th century BCE would be 400-376 BCE and the late 4th century would be 325-301. When the author wrote "the turn of the" or the "late" or "early" __th century," I would always think the wrong end of the century.

No comments: