"Spartans are the best educated in philosophy and speaking.” The words of Socrates according to PlatoThe legacy of the Spartans is rooted not only in their martial ability but in their ability to unite body and mind. Their strength of heart, body/mind and spirit eclipsed all other Greeks. It is this heartfelt spirit and the power of their body/mind that deems them—Warrior Philosophers. Their philosophy was one of the heart and nature. The heart of each Spartan fused into a unity of culture and society where equality and community reigned supreme. No idle chatter or gossip escaped from their lips, only silence where they listened and witnessed each other with an open heart and mind. In their silence they were one with nature and listened to the voices of nature—the cry of the wolf, the screech of the owl and the singing of the rivers. Theirs was a life philosophy of oneness and equality ever seeking the mysteries of life and death, of heaven and earth. The word philosophy comes from the Greek φιλοσοφία [philosophia], which literally translates as ‘love of wisdom.’ Wisdom derives from the following formula: information without experience remains just information; information combined with experience results in knowledge; wisdom flows from the combination of knowledge and experience. Based on these definitions alone, the Spartans were supreme philosophers.
Secondhand KnowledgeSecondhand knowledge is just that: secondhand. Many scholars, but not all, approach their theories, premises and assumptions on information or knowledge that is secondhand and on their life experience as an observer. They are usually not active participants in the subject matter basing their writings solely on observation and the past writings of others, which are sometimes millennia old. Many times these same scholars and researchers will introduce comparative philology and etymology into their scholarly thesis to justify and support their hypothesis. Once again this is without actual experiential knowledge of the subjects and the lands involved in their subject matter. There are many problems with this secondhand approach when we are seeking truth. The most glaring one is that history is written by the victors not the vanquished. Even though Sparta defeated Athens in the Peloponnesian (Athenian) War, they realized defeat in their victory. On the other hand, Thermopylae was the exact opposite. The courageous and gallant last stand of Leonidas and his brother Greeks was a victory in defeat.
What is the meaning of Sparta’s Peloponnesian War defeat in victory? The majority of the written history of the Spartans has been viewed through the prejudicial prism of the Athenians. “Historians are by profession compelled to keep ‘strictly to the facts,’ but when facts are few, imprecise, garbled by translation and all come from outsiders, then the picture they deliver is incomplete at best, probably distorted, and possibly deceptive at worst. Trying to understand Sparta based only on the historical record is like trying to understand Africa based on Colonial records.”[i]
Firsthand Knowledge – Participation Mystique
Participation Mystique is a ‘knowing’ of the things of life and their inherent mysteries through the experience of the mundane as well as the spiritual. It is an immersion in the mysteries of nature and the seeking firsthand knowledge through mystical participation. This ‘doing’ may be as simple as sitting alone under a tree and listening to the sounds of nature and our own heart or as demanding as martial training on a legendary hilltop site in a foreign country.If you are ‘into the Spartans,’ and never trained your body/mind in Sparti on the land under the Spartan sky, then your knowledge and love of the Spartans is only secondhand. This would be the same as a scholar based in Cambridge MA making assumptions about the ancient Spartans without ever having traveled or trained in Sparti.Understand that I am not talking about all scholars or novelists but scholars who put forth thesis as truth based on secondhand knowledge and possibly a belief system that runs counter to conflict and so-called pagan beliefs.An Alternative View It is easy for the majority of people to accept the view of the ancient Spartans as muscle bound illiterate warriors concerned only with their bodies and war. This illusion does provide fertile soil for movie makers who are only concerned with money, but not with truth. Entertainment it may be, but it does impact weak minds in a detrimental way concerning the true state of martial body/mind training and conflict. There is an alternative view that establishes the ancient Spartans as Warrior Philosophers. It runs counter to the accepted belief that they were nothing more than homosexual, body-building war thugs. There is a commonly accepted truth that in Sparta there was a statue of the Ares—the Greek War God. Ares represented violence, war-like frenzy, slaughter and bloodlust. This statue was wrapped in chains and supposedly symbolized that the spirit of Ares was never to leave the environs of the Spartan lands. According to the second Pausanias “in Lakonia they think the god of war will never desert them if they keep him in chains….” (Pausanias, Book III, 15:6). The first Pausanias was a Spartan general of the fifth century BCE. The second Pausanias, the one quoted above as an authority on Sparta, was a geographer of the second century CE. Do you see the disconnect here; writing hundreds of years later, are we going to take at face value the word of a travel writer about symbolic martial/religious meanings? If you are a typical scholar and a secondhand observer of life, I suppose that the writings of the geographer would explain the ‘fetters’ on Ares, and since Ares represented war and bloodlust, the travel writer’s explanation could be true. It would also further promote the prejudicial mindset that the Spartans were violent and solely focused on war. It was a well established fact that Ares (blind violence) symbolized bloodlust. But this was not an attribute of the Spartans. In fact, bloodlust was the antithesis of the Spartan mind and heart. So what is the truth? There are two points that direct us to truth. First, Helena Schrader's excellent blog Sparta Reconsidered states: “Sparta was not, as modern commentators would like us to believe, a society obsessed exclusively with war, but a society which placed as high a value on training the intellect as the body. Sparta valued thought and science.” (http://spartareconsidered.blogspot.com/) Please see our link page for her other websites. She goes on to state: “Pausanias, in his detailed guide to the ‘significant’ sites of Sparta, records only three temples out of more than 150 temples, sanctuaries and shrines that are dedicated to Ares.”[ii] I find more validly in the geographer Pausanias’ numbering of Ares sites than his assumptions to the symbology of the ‘fetters’ on the statue of the war god. Second, there is an alternative explanation that elevates the ancient Spartans from just blood-thirsty soldiers to Warrior Philosophers with not only strong bodies, but more importantly when in conflict, Strong Minds. The Spartans recognized the totality of human emotion always striving to achieve harmony within oneself and within the Spartan community even to the extent that there were religious cults based on such things as fear (Ares) and desire (Aphrodite). The importance to the Spartan mind of understanding fear and the detachment to it and the ‘pressing down’[iii] of it is revealed by the evidence of a temple in Sparta devoted solely to phobos or fear and the chained statue of Ares. Both of these speak volumes of truth concerning Spartan culture. The chains did not symbolize that the spirit of war should never exit the city of Sparta. They symbolized the detachment and pressing down of fear and the resultant bloodlust, which was not acceptable in their philosophical culture of perfected minds and hearts. Even though the Athenians, and others would want you to think otherwise. Interestingly enough, the statue of Ares was not the only statue that was wrapped in chains. A statue of Aphrodite, the wife of Ares, was similarly fettered. Why, we may ask. In Greek mythology, there is a concept called “Harmonia, which is usually translated as ‘harmony,’ but means any union in which the parts form a seamless whole while retaining their distinct identities. Harmonia is the daughter of sea-born Aphrodite and fiery Ares, whom Empedocles[iv] identified with Love and Strife, the two primary cosmic forces, which bring about all change in the universe. Pythagoras[v] likewise said that cosmic Harmonia is born of the union of Love and Strife. She reconciles all oppositions.”[vi] In other words, the chains on both statues symbolized the concept of control or ‘pressing down the energy’ of both the blind violence and bloodlust of Ares and the desire of Aphrodite. This is the desire, the worldly lust (voluptas mundi), which may lead to illicit love. This type of love causes dysfunctional behavior and actions that result in strife and possibly even in war. Even though the fuse for the Trojan War was supposedly lit by the abduction of Helen, a female shopkeeper in Sparti told us, “The Trojan War was not about Helen, even though she was beautiful, it was purely about money.” Fear, sex and money are ever present no matter what culture, time or place on earth. The Spartans in their eternal wisdom recognized the problems inherent in these very human driving forces. There resolve was not one of denial of these issues but one of power, the power of the mind and spirit to transmute them. The Spartans were Warrior Philosophers. If you would like to follow in their footsteps and learn about the power of the body, mind and spirit and the various powers of the mind such as detachment and ‘pressing down the energy’ and actually physically train on the same ground as the ancient Spartans, then join us in Sparti!
[iii] It refers to the process of the acknowledgement of fear but fear is ‘pressed down’ only to be purged later on after battle. This is not the suppression or denial of fear where fear stays hidden but is still active within a person’s behaviors, patterns of being and actions.
[iv] Greek pre-Socratic Philosopher
[v] Greek philosopher and mathematician
[vi] John Opsopaus, Guide to the Pythagorean Tarot, p. 88