Wednesday, June 20, 2012

A Woman of Sparta

A Woman Of Sparta
By Kallistos Alexandros, January 16 , 2005

The freedom of spartan women came at a terrible price.

"So many young women come to Spartan Studies in the belief that, in Sparta, a woman’s life was better than that of women in other parts of Hellas. It was different and offered different freedoms, but these freedoms came at a high price. Whether or not it was a better life is a matter of values. The women whom I encounter, who are admirers of Spartan culture, are usually young feminists. They are unmarried and none are mothers. Past a certain age, these young women disappear and are replaced by others. I have yet to meet a married woman raising children who thought a Spartan woman's lot to be better than that of any other woman living in Hellas. I suspect that a deep love and commitment to a husband might effect that, I’m certain that the first time she held her newborn son to her breast the price of these freedoms would become starkly obvious. The Spartan woman did not live with her husband until an age, which, in those times, was quite old. They had no shared life; he knew little of her daily life, her troubles, or her achievements. They did dot share the myriad ups and downs of each day. They could never come to that deep understanding of each other which is the truest part of love. They could not have known each other with that intimacy which only comes when two lives are so intertwined as to become one.
“A Spartan woman could come and go on the streets as she pleased without incurring any social opprobrium.” Legally, she had a husband. He came only in darkness and only when he wished. She had no say in the matter. He came for pleasure and in the hope of impregnating her with a son whom men would take from her when he had finished with her, the man would be gone by dawn. There were the muchtouted compensations. The Spartan woman could own property in her own name. This would be income. Her Helots would work the land and the profits would go to her. She could use these profits as she so chose, but only within socially acceptable limits. Sparta always tried to maintain a facade of social equality between Spartiates. This was, as in all socialist systems, a fiction, but it was a rigorously maintained fiction. Any display of luxury and wealth was a serious violation of social mores. A Spartan woman might appear naked at an athletic event, but she would never be seen on a colorfully embroidered peplos or in one of the golden snoods so popular in Korinthos. That would be shocking. Her wealth could not be seen. She would live in a house very like all other Spartiate houses. Her larder might be better stocked, but her husband and sons would not be there to share her meals. Whatever surplus wealth she enjoyed would be in the form of the iron spits The Spartans used for trade. She might sit alone and count her pile of iron spits; she had traded a great part of her life as a woman for them. A Spartan woman could come and go on the streets as she pleased without incurring any social opprobrium. This was a right dearly bought; she would give her sons for the privilege of wandering the streets alone. When the son she had born and nurtured reached the age at which we should be sending him to second grade, her little boy would begin his military life. She had no say in his life after this, no woman ever would. The men would take him from her and mold him as they saw fit. When they boasted of their sons, there would be no reason to mention the mother’s name. Still she could go off to the gymnasium and exercise. It was written into the laws; the purpose was also written. She was permitted to exercise in order to strengthen her body that she might bear strong Spartan children, boys to be taken from her like colts from a brood mare, and girls to be strengthened for the same fate as hers. The young women who so espouse the Spartan social system fail to notice that there never was a queen in Sparta, there was never a woman ephor, and no older woman of experience ever sat in The Gerousia. There were, to be certain, some freedoms not enjoyed by women elsewhere in Hellas, but upon inspection, it becomes evident that all of these freedoms, in some way, served the men who granted them. The women of Sparta were as brainwashed from birth as the men. Their words and their actions display the patriotic party line of a totalitarian society. It should be remembered that when the Spartan mother admonishes her son to, “come back with your shield or upon it”, she is speaking to a man she hardly knows. This is not the little boy whose boyhood wounds she kissed. This is not the teen-aged son who could read to perfection the slightest change of expression in her voice. He has changed and she has changed over the years of their forced separation. Their bond had been unnaturally altered. She speaks to him formally, as she would speak to any Spartiate. She has paid the price of her social freedom. She has paid a high price indeed and paid in the currency of love. Speak to me of Sparta, young woman, when you are newly wed to the man you love so much. Tell me how you admire the brave Spartans when you send your first son to second grade and he does not come home.
He never shall."


Related links: Sparta - Wikipedia

Gender in Ancient Sparta