Friday, December 30, 2011

Tyrtaeus' Spartan Creed

We don’t know the exact dates for the Greek poet Tyrtaeus, but his poem The Spartan Creed was written around 650 B.C. Tyrtaeus was a poet and a general in Sparta at the time it was becoming the dominant military power in Greece. Sparta’s social system and constitution were focused almost completely on military training and proficiency. Women in Sparta had more rights and greater equality with men than did women in other parts of Greece. The modern usage of the word “spartan” derives from the austere conditions under which Spartan soldiers lived and trained.

The Spartan Creed

I would not say anything for a man nor take account of him
for any speed of his feet or wrestling skill he might have,
not if he had the size of a Cyclops and strength to go with it,
not if he could outrun Boreas, the North Wind of Thrace,
not if he were more handsome and gracefully formed than
Tithonos, or had more riches than Midas had, or Kinyras too,
not if he were more of a king than Tantalid Pelops,
or had the power of speech and persuasion Adrastos had,
not if he had all splendors except for a fighting spirit.
For no man ever proves himself a good man in war
unless he can endure to face the blood and the slaughter,
go close against the enemy and fight with his hands.
Here is courage, mankind's finest possession, here is
the noblest prize that a young man can endeavor to win,
and it is a good thing his city and all the people share with
him when a man plants his feet and stands in the foremost spears
relentlessly, all thought of foul flight completely forgotten,
and has well trained his heart to be steadfast and to endure,
and with words encourages the man who is stationed beside
him. Here is a man who proves himself to be valiant in war.
With a sudden rush he turns to flight the rugged battalions of
the enemy, and sustains the beating waves of assault.
And he who so falls among the champions and loses his
sweet life, so blessing with honor his city, his father, and all his people,
with wounds in his chest, where the spear that he was facing
has transfixed
that massive guard of his shield, and gone through his
breastplate as well,
why, such a man is lamented alike by the young and the elders,
and all his city goes into mourning and grieves for his loss.
His tomb is pointed to with pride, and so are his children, and
his children's children, and afterward all the race that is his.
His shining glory is never forgotten, his name is remembered,
and he becomes an immortal, though he lies under the ground,
when one who was a brave man has been killed by the furious
War God
standing his ground and fighting hard for his children and land.
But if he escapes the doom of death, the destroyer of bodies,
and wins his battle, and bright renown for the work of his spear,
all men give place to him alike, the youth and the elders, and
much joy comes his way before he goes down to the dead.
Aging, he has reputation among his citizens. No one tries to
interfere with his honors or all he deserves;
all men withdraw before his presence, and yield their seats to
him, the youth, and the men his age, and even those older than he.
Thus a man should endeavor to reach this high place of
courage with all his heart, and so trying, never be backward in war.


-Translated by Richmond Lattimore

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