The End of Sparta

The End of Sparta by Victor Davis Hanson

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Authors: Victor Davis Hanson
another notch on the windlass of the new olive press. When you live to kill the bad, you can do more good than the good, or thus Chiôn claimed his own ideas had the sanction of Pythagoras and called his plans to kill the god’s wisdom to save his own soul.
    Chiôn had been told that Malgis, the slave collector, had picked him up cheap—for almost nothing—at age three, when Malgis was on the way home from the wars in Asia. Malgis had once marched with the Ten Thousand and then stayed on to fight for better pay with the lords of the Spartans. Before Derkyllidas and the Spartan fleet sailed west, the Egyptian plague swept the islanders. Most island clans were selling off their scarred orphans—those few survivors who were free for life from the boils—for an owl coin or two from Athens to the ships as they passed to the Peloponnesos.
    Chiôn also had been told that Malgis had paid only three obols—a half Athenian owl—for the pox boy with the ugly Spartan brand. It was a lambda burned into his cheek. Scars covered most of his face and arms from the nosos . “This sick worm, not much to be sure,” the Spartan pilot had offered when he sold him to Malgis. “He’s an ugly white toddler, too, maybe a snowy Thrakian. But then three obols is not much of a gamble either, is it, for a raggedy thing splashing about the currents of death?” Malgis had made the exchange. Only then the Spartan had grumbled, “No buyer’s second anger for poxy boy—but the priestess of Artemis on Chios told me to kill this half-dead thing, since the pox and the hungry belly couldn’t. She says he is a killer of Spartan royalty, Lichas’s bane. Beware—or be happy—over that.”
    The words of the island trader had been forgotten, even if Chiôn had heard them enough. What was pock-marked and yellow soon grew on Malgis’s farm into a near giant. Six-cubit Chiôn he was, with the stone shoulders of the Titans of old. Just like the vines on the high trellises that got stronger with the more sunlight, Chiôn had taken off on the mountain, and his remedy for a day behind the ox was “More work.” He chanted no Tyrtaios as did Gorgos, but strains from Helikon’s native Hesiod as he pulled Nêto’s plow: “Ergon epi ergô, ergon epi ergô —work on top of work.” As the great year of settling up with invading Spartans approached, Chiôn often went out alone to the sycamores on the crests of Helikon. He stalked the wilds, eating berries and killing game for the poor for days at a time—as if he were a hunter, perhaps a hunter of men with no need of the polis or even the meat for his own belly. “The Panther Chiôn,” Nêto called him, the all-beast panthêr . With that, the dreams of Chîon ceased and black sleep held him a while longer.
    But not so Mêlon, whose mind still saw visions as he snored. For all the tranquility of the farm, rumors of a new war had bored deeply into Mêlon. He knew that. They never really left him in peace again. It was not a mere battle anymore to showcase courage but something quite different—a struggle to overturn the ancient order itself that needed a hoplite like himself who could put his lore to good use for thousands of democrats. That bothered—but intrigued—him. Worried him that a man who promised to change the world would enlist a broken-down man like himself, and yet goaded him on that Epaminondas might see in Mêlon, sore back, and a deaf ear, and a locked knee, something he sensed untapped in himself as well. Now Mêlon joined Chiôn in a final slumber, blank and without memory, as if both were ordered by the One God to banish both dark and light dreams and rest for Leuktra and the sunup.
    Up on the hill above, Nêto was not dreaming of Helikon, but still awake. Proxenos, the Plataian, was sleeping under the wagon nearby, sent there by Mêlon after the meeting to guard against Gorgos, who grew reckless as he neared his Spartans. The One God had this night sent to her the dreams of Chiôn

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