The boy who knew too much: a child prodigy

This is the true story of scientific child prodigy, and former baby genius, Ainan Celeste Cawley, written by his father. It is the true story, too, of his gifted brothers and of all the Cawley family. I write also of child prodigy and genius in general: what it is, and how it is so often neglected in the modern world. As a society, we so often fail those we should most hope to see succeed: our gifted children and the gifted adults they become. Site Copyright: Valentine Cawley, 2006 +

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Wisdom of the Spartans.

The Spartans are a fabled people; a people whose entire culture was built around war. So, one would think they would have known something about war, then? They did. They knew something which modern man has forgotten.

King Leonidas of Sparta led what amounted to a suicide mission to defend a pass at Thermopylae from invasion by an army of Persians, under Xerxes, so large that it was clearly incalculable. Herodotus spoke of 2.5 million Persians and as many support staff. Modern sources argue about this, with some guessing 250,000. The numbers are, however, immaterial, for King Leonidas led a force of just 300 men to defend Thermopylae, though he was accompanied by various allies gathered on the way, numbering in the hundreds, each. In all, it was a small force to meet and defend against what could have been millions and may as well have been an infinite horde so unequal were the forces, numerically. The Spartans had a secret weapon, though: they were Spartans.

King Leonidas and his minute force delayed the Persians for a full seven days including three days of battle, before the Persians, informed by a betrayer, Ephialtes, how to outflank the Spartans, killed every last Spartan and ally remaining.

King Leonidas had died, and all his men, but a legend had been born: that of a tiny force holding off a vast horde and winning a moral victory, of a kind, even if it was a terrible loss. King Leonidas' last stand gave the Greek world a chance to prepare for the invasion - a chance that allowed them to be victorious ultimately, over the Persians thus saving their entire culture from being overrun. No doubt this changed the course of the history of the Western world, which owes so much to Greek culture.

Now, what struck me about this tale of great bravery was not the bravery, itself, which would impress anyone who paused to imagine what those Spartans faced. No. What struck me was the wisdom of King Leonidas in how he chose his warriors. King Leonidas specifically ordered that NO MAN WHO DID NOT HAVE A LIVING SON COULD BE IN HIS FORCE. The idea was simple. All who were to join him on the battlefield faced certain death and King Leonidas wanted to make sure that all who fought that day, had male heirs to look after their families and carry on the family name. None of them would die without issue, since they had already raised children.

King Leonidas' view touched me. You see, I have spoken to modern military men (US) and, generally speaking, the men fighting and dying in American wars are young, single men. When they die, they die without issue. They have no sons. They have no family to carry on their "name" and lineage. When they die, all dies with them.

Why have we forgotten this? How is it that the Spartans - a race that founded its entire culture on war - should have known this: no man should die, without having fathered descendants. King Leonidas ensured that, whatever happened at the Battle of Thermopylae, that no family line of a Spartan would die out because of it. There is great wisdom in that - a wisdom modern men have forgotten.

One in four American soldiers serving in Iraq ends up on disability benefit. One in four has permanent health consequences as a result of a short stint on the battle field. Many are disfigured. Many have brain injuries. Some lose organs in explosions that a man would least want to lose. Many of these men will never father children. Their family line dies with them. All because modern men have forgotten what the Spartans so clearly knew: a single man should not go to war, but only those who have descendants to look after those they leave behind.

I find it strange that we see it as the other way around, now. There is the idea that the family man should not go to war because if killed he will leave his family without him. That is tragic, true...but is it not more tragic when a single man dies and leaves no-one behind?

Generous insurance packages would ensure that the families of departed soldiers were looked after, if they were family men. At least, they would have descendants.

I wonder what the Spartans would have thought of modern armies and their strange practice of sending single men to the slaughter, without thought of the consequences? I doubt that they would be impressed by our "advanced" ways.

King Leonidas knew he was going to die on that battlefield, but he faced the prospect with a certain equanimity. His last words to his wife, Gorgo, Queen of Sparta were: "Marry a good man who will treat you well, bear him children, and live a good life." His concern, as ever, was with the continuity of life, even as he went to his death.

Labels: , , , , , , ,

AddThis Social Bookmark Button
posted by Valentine Cawley @ 10:09 PM 


Post a Comment

<< Home

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape