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The Dangers of believing the Mythology of Others

By Andrew Klein

“Come back with your shield – or on it” (Plutarch, Mor.241) “was supposed to be the parting cry of mothers to their sons. Mothers whose sons died in battle openly rejoiced, mothers whose sons survived hung their heads in shame.“

Plutarch was not even breathing the same air as the alleged speakers of such hard-hearted love and Sparta and its military glory was well past its use by date having ended about 300 Years before these morality tales were written.

Call it tough love if you like, but I am yet to find a mother that would tell her son that his next suicide mission better be successful or setting foot in the kitchen at home asking for a cuppa would be the end. The kitchen itself becoming the final resting place for those coming home after having served their country. Rather a sad outlook for veterans from any of the many Wars that have been fought throughout the 20th and 21st Century.

To me it points out the dangers of education systems that relied heavily on using the accepted classics to inculcate their young. The idea of carrying a shield and battling alongside the 300 Spartans against great odds could well seem attractive to a young mind that has never seen the outcome of metal meeting flesh.

The glories of ancient Greece and Rome still tantalize us, we can see their buildings and read and as we read we can imagine. Such imaginings of the hero saving the maiden or his death being the turning point in world history is as old as humanity itself.

Marcus Aurelius had a few things to say about the human condition in his ‘Meditations‘. How he find time to write always fascinates me as he was also keeping busy being a Roman Emperor and fighting at the head of his Legions. I digress, my point being; what loving mother would seriously encourage the fruit of her womb to die in battle? No doubt this happens and has been documented.

During the drawn out war between Iran and the then Iraq, young boys found themselves ‘adopted’ by senior clerics and send to the front assuring them a quick trip to paradise. This practice allegedly saved the heavy armour being blown apart by mines and sadly there are always young men that most States see as expendable.

I have met mothers who have lost sons, women who have lost loved ones. One lady in particular stands out in my memory. She was much in love with a rear tail gunner attached to the RAF via the RAAF and was killed when his aircraft was hit and he was blown out of the aircraft. I met her in the late 1970s and her memory was very vivid. She never married and was still grieving for the one man that she had loved so dearly. I expect that she might also have mourned for that which never was a family and children and she stayed true to her love.

Never married, working hard as a clerk in some Melbourne city office. Having lost her ‘love’ it seems incongruent to me that she would have ever suggested to a child that ‘Plutarch’ was a good piece of advice.

Much like most of that which we find in history, it must be read in context. Following dead dreams is folly and teaching them other than for academic reasons dangerous.

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  1. Terence Mills

    Slightly off point !

    Our school song was Jerusalem as I’m sure was the case with many other schools.

    We would sing with gusto :

    Bring me my bow of burning gold!
    Bring me my arrows of desire!
    Bring me my spear! O clouds, unfold!
    Bring me my chariot of fire!
    I will not cease from mental fight,
    Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand,
    Till we have built Jerusalem
    In England’s green and pleasant Land.

    On a personal note, because of my name, I would always dread having some bully knee me from behind when we got to :

    And was Jerusalem builded here
    Among those dark Satanic Mills?

    So I was known by some as dark satanic but at least I was saved the distress of my friend Roger Sole who dreaded prize giving, hoping he wouldn’t win a prize to avoid the call out : R Sole – he had the misfortune of being nicknamed bumboy.

    As you were !

  2. Phil Pryor

    Good stuff, Terence.., BUT, to the topic of mythology and history (I’m an old historian, no “supporter” though a lover of mythology), one can only vomit at the abuse of mythology in modern life, with assorted poxes as superheroes, advertising cartooning, the Disney/Hollywood/ Commercial T V loaded and bulging bowels of stupidity. Bludging nohopers and selfobsessed scriptrapists have created a J Wayneism, a C Eastwood scriptism, even a Trump or Morrison or Johnson abuse of superhero erectional inflation, except it is all FILTH, LIES, ruinous, uncivilised, disastrous, We now hear Joris Bonkfist-Flailer is to GO, having joined the jobless turdery lines with Morrison the mangy maggot of manipulation and mendacity, and, Trump, the Super Orifice of the Milky Way. Ordinary, folk, the us types, are whining, shouting, regretting, denouncing, but we are drowned in the pustular printed perversional poxes of Murdoch, the cadaverous nightmare of media droppings. These untreated mad egodriven fools have buggered the present of contemplation and reflection, have wellington booted the future and might get away with it all. SICK. UNFAIR.

  3. RoadKillCafe

    From my limited knowledge, I would suggest Spartan history and not rely on a movie to inform yourself. The woman you speak of had not, obviously, been raised in the Spartan culture, of course she would have a different point of view. I am at a loss to find any relevant point to this rave.

  4. pierre wilkinson

    isn’t it funny how those that extol warfare and sacrifice have failed to follow their own tenets

  5. leefe

    I always thought “With your shield or on it” was meant to disallow surrender (which entailed handing over one’s arms to the enemy) rather than glorify death in battle regardless of the result, hence the “with”.

  6. wam

    the indoctrination of the spartans is legion. From my meagre education they prepared for the afterlife dressed to kill with carefully combed hair. It was honourable to die in battle. Unlike post war women, the indoctrination of preWW2 girls was not tempered by access to an alternative gender role. So many remained true to their men. As a youngster I dances many barn dances and there was always soft bodies light on their feet widows. Did they suffer the jealousy of women whose husband returned?
    win or die
    The Samurai, in their very culture, insist on reminding themselves of the inevitability of loss. They commonly used the phrase “to die before going into battle”

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