Last night I stayed up till almost midnight finishing up Victor Davis Hanson’s A War Like No Other: How the Athenians and Spartans Fought the Peloponnesian War. This was not a book I was able to cruise through easily – instead I’ve worked hard over the last 11 months to finish it. I didn’t have a ton of background knowledge of the classical world going into it, so I had to spend time cross-referencing names and going back to re-read earlier pages. While parts of the text were a bit dry, large chunks of the book were riveting reading that brought to light the plight of the ancient soldier, along with many interesting parallels between the worlds of classical Greece and 21st Century America.
A few noteworthy items from the text:
-This destructive 27-year war, which brought an end to Greece’s cultural apex, had its roots in Athenian arrogance. Though Athens was undoubtedly the hearth of Greek culture and art, the home of its most famed intellectual heroes, and the most powerful of all the city-states, its domineering attitude toward other Greeks proved to be its downfall. The so-called Delian League of city-states was actually little more than an Athenian Empire that Athens used to (somewhat ironically) enforce its democratic ideals against the will of monarchical or oligarchic city-states. Sparta, sensing that the Athenians were corrupting traditional Greek ideals of autonomy and a balance of power, launched an invasion against the Athenians. This history is a good warning for we as Americans to heed.
-Socrates approved of the modern world of San Dimas, CA.
-The Peloponnesian War was an utterly destructive one for the Greeks. It featured civilian deaths on a scale unseen- in classical history, a terrifying plague that ravaged Athens, scattered civil wars across the countryside, and sea battles that killed tens of thousands in minutes. All in all, about a third of the population of Athens and Sparta was killed – in modern America, the equivalent would be over 100 million people.
-Historians agree that if the ancient Greeks had ever tried a Pop-Ice, they would have shit themselves.
-The Athenian national anthem was actually “Walk of Life” by Dire Straits.
-Athens’ famed democracy played a complex role in the long conflict. While the democratic virtue of civic involvement made all men feel invested in the war and willing to personally take up arms, the people of Athens were also grossly impatient for ultimate victory. All citizens were valued, so the loss of any in a battle was considered a grave offense that Athenian generals were to be held accountable for. In an excellent example of cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face, many of their best military leaders or tacticians were banished or executed.
-Bush lied, Athenians died.
-Greek men had cool names like Aristarchus, Xenophon, Demosthenes, and “The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase.
-Greek triremes (pictured above) were brutally destructive, yet cumbersome weapons of war. They operated like a javelin on the water, designed to build up great straight-line speed and ram into enemy ships. Over 200 men were crammed into each ship, with three levels of rowers working like clockwork. The men on the bottom rowed in sitting water in excruciating heat below decks with sweat, urine, and worse draining from the men above them. When triremes received a direct hit, they could sink in a matter of moments, which usually meant that nearly all the men aboard would be killed.
-The Greeks, like all ancient societies, had slaves, but slavery isn’t really that bad if you think about it.
-In addition to their innovations of democracy, philosophy, and theater, the Greeks invented kissing with tongue.