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This is Sparta!

This course is expected to run but has not yet been scheduled.

Course Description

Why do we still glorify the Spartans in movies and books over 2000 years after their city and way of life fell to ruins? What about Spartan history and culture has captured the imaginations of those who have studied them, both in the ancient and modern worlds? Their strict, regimented lifestyle produced a class of dedicated, fearsome warriors, but did their eugenics and training program actually seal the fate of their society? What was life like for the women, children, slaves, and others who helped make up this society? How much can we really know about their culture when in fact so little of our written evidence comes directly from Spartans? Why did philosophers, from Plato to Rousseau, look to Sparta when they imagined an ideal society of their own?

In this course we will engage with these and other issues by studying the history and culture of ancient Sparta from her beginnings to her final decline into obscurity and impotence. We will learn about warfare in the ancient world, and why the Spartans excelled in it. We will examine some of the ancient literary texts that tell us about Spartan society, considering how these authors construct an image of Sparta that may or may not conform to historical reality. In the process students will be introduced to basic methods for learning about the ancient world -- for instance, how can a fragment of a poem tell us about the culture that produced it? How can a piece of pottery tell a story? Students will practice argumentative and analytical skills both in class discussions and in a final short essay that engages with literary and historical issues.

At the end of this course students should be more familiar with who the ancient Spartans actually were, what living in their society was like, and the complex legacy of the Spartans that reverberates to this day. This course will provide a solid background for anyone considering further studies in the ancient world, and the skills emphasized in it will be useful for future study in broader fields like history and literature.

Our class times will be divided between lectures and discussions (both small- and large-group). The lectures will contextualize and build on the information in the assigned readings and will introduce larger issues inherent to the study of the ancient world. We will also discuss your reactions to the day’s readings and practice critical reading skills with relevant “case studies” and short writing exercises.

By the end of this course students should:

  • Understand, in broad strokes, the history of Sparta, key aspects of her society and culture, and the problematic nature of the Spartan tradition.
  • Know how to read an ancient text critically, being sensitive to things such as authorial biases, use of language and detail, and the values that a text conveys.
  • Be able to apply both their critical reading skills and knowledge of Spartan history and culture in a brief, coherent essay that analyzes a particular aspect of the tradition surrounding ancient Sparta in its literary and historical aspects.

There are no prerequisites for this course, and all ancient sources will be read in translation.