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Sparta

Duration:
45 minutes
First broadcast:
Thursday 19 November 2009

Melvyn Bragg and guests Paul Cartledge, Edith Hall and Angie Hobbs discuss Sparta, the militaristic Ancient Greek city-state, and the political ideas it spawned.The isolated Ancient Greek city-state of Sparta was a ferocious opposite to the cosmopolitan port of Athens. Spartans were hostile to outsiders and rhetoric, to philosophy and change. Two and a half thousand years on, Sparta remains famous for its brutally rigorous culture of military discipline, as inculcated in its young men through communal living, and terrifying, licensed violence towards the Helots, the city-state's subjugated majority. Sparta and its cruelty was used as an argument against slavery by British Abolitionists in the early 1800s, before inspiring the Nazis in the 1930s and 1940s.Yet Sparta also produced poets of great skill: Tyrteaus wrote marching songs for the young men; Alcman wrote choral lyrics for the young women. Moreover, the city-state's rulers pioneered a radically egalitarian political system, and its ideals were invoked by Plato. Its inhabitants also prided themselves on their wit: we don't only derive the word 'spartan' from their culture, but the word 'laconic'. Paul Cartledge is AG Leventis Professor of Greek Culture and a Fellow of Clare College, University of Cambridge; Edith Hall is Professor of Classics and Drama at Royal Holloway, University of London; Angie Hobbs is Associate Professor of Philosophy and Senior Fellow in the Public Understanding of Philosophy at the University of Warwick.

  • FURTHER READING

    Cartledge, Paul, The Spartans: An Epic History (Pan Books, 2003)

    Cartledge, Paul, Spartan Reflections (University of California Press, 2001)

    Cartledge, Paul, Sparta and Lakonia (London & NY, 2nd edn. 2001)

    Cartledge, Paul, Ancient Greece: A History in Eleven Cities (Oxford University Press: Oxford, 2009)

    Hall, Edith, Bridges, Emma and Rhodes, P.J. Cultural Responses to the Persian Wars: Antiquity to the Third Millennium (Oxford University Press, 2007)

    Hobbs, Angie, Plato and the Hero: Courage, Manliness and the Impersonal Good (Cambridge University Press, 2000, reissued in paperback 2006)

    Hobbs, Angie, 'Plato on war' in Maieusis (ed. D. Scott), (Oxford University Press, 2007)

    Rawson, Elizabeth, Spartan Tradition in European Thought (Oxford University Press, USA, 1991)

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