Is This Sparta?

I have been followed by a mask: on the back of a truck in the Rockaways with a blue line through the center: blue lives matter, on the rear window of another truck, and on the back of a drunk man’s leg at the taco place by the beach. The three came jauntily in quick succession within a four hour afternoon. The image is of a protected nose with cheek guards that gape open from the eyes to the jaw. The helmet is minimal, without much decoration or intimidating design other than a horse hair plume that was sometimes place along the scalp, mohawk-style. Perhaps the simplicity on its own is the most terrifying aspect. After some research, I discovered that the helmet is based off of a Spartan helmet, which struck me as significant.

The helmet is a sign of strength and honor. Obviously: placed on the head, but without a specific design to separate it from the body, the connection of the head to the body signifies its connection with the body, or animal instincts, as opposed to a high intellectual or spiritual power. The primal power lies in the sameness of it with the rest of the armor and in its connection with the body. For high commanding officers, the helmet was adorned with the plume of horse hair. Indeed the horse is a connection to a collective, coming from a brute strength, a brotherhood.

Sparta is for the most part unknown to us, but the story of its supposed influence remains as a fantastic world in which we have often recently indulged, but what we know so far is the myth around the ancient kingdom.

The community was created during a “golden age” for war, when concepts in battle strategy and honor in battle were scared, a time when the brotherhood of soldiers was created alongside the Greek development of philosophy, Lycurgus formed a warrior kingdom called Sparta. Sparta was supposed to master it’s warrior citizens through impeccable strategy and military discipline that was succeeded through eugenics and through military priority over anything else.

According to Plutarch, the initiation of young men began when they were nine years old and taken from their mothers, and brought to an army barrack that was run by teenage boys. They underwent a Lord of the Flies-type of bullying that would either make or break the boys who, upon making it out at the age of around 19, would be cold and calculated warriors.

The tales of containment and insensitivity are hardly believable. But, what will they say about the United States in centuries from now? No, it is not Sparta, but the anthropological image might equally off-putting.

The story that we know about Sparta is almost solely through the Greek writer, Plutarch who was writing during the fall of the Roman Empire and who perhaps was seizing to popular ideas of the time of returning to a strict and dominant Rome that could allow it to, again rule the Mediterranean. Our other perspective on Sparta is through Homer’s The Iliad, which portrays the ruler, Menelaus as a simpleton and Sparta as relatively weak and not a first rate nation compared to Troy. However, it was the home of Helen, the queen whose kidnapping, or escape, would begin the famous battle of Troy.

There is something in this, to carry forward the fantasy of Sparta. The films at and around the theme of ancient Greece, and especially Sparta, portraying a desire to express a kind of ultimate togetherness, a strength that would take a culture shift to achieve, a desire for belonging. The films are, very obvious homoerotic images that celebrate and objectify the male body.

And is it not men who need to reach beneath their armor, and what is it to be a man and to be strong? Sparta’s fantasy of an over-the-top masculinity seems to be a plea for the very things that it seems to dismiss, community and exposure, of both body and emotion, a cultural investment in a person’s strength and character.

I hope that we can feel free from those things which will divide us so we can recognize those that invest in us.