At the conclusion of the almost three decade Peloponnesian War (404 BCE), Sparta was the most powerful Greek city-state. Sparta defeated Athens. Unlike other city-states that were known for producing musicians, poets, authors and philosophers, Sparta was known as a warrior society. Boys began military training at age 7. Life was brutal. Boys inflicted significant pain on their peers in violent competitions. At the hands of their older peers they learned to stoically endure pain. In their military training they learned obedience, duty, discipline, endurance, courage and self-control. They served as full-time soldiers from age 20 to 60. Even though marriage was encouraged, the men lived communally with their fellow soldiers until age 30.
I was interested in visiting Sparta as one of the most powerful Greek City-States, but also because my high school was the home of the Spartans. For two years, I was a sixth string running back for the Spartan football team. I recall gruelling two-a-day practices during the two weeks prior to the start of school. In the sweltering heat and high humidity of August, I recall being encouraged to pop salt pills and drink water during practice breaks. very popular Vince Lombardi approach to coaching during the late sixties. Since I barely weighed 120 lbs, it was pure torture. It hurt when big, fast and strong kids tackled me or blocked me when I was playing defense. When asked what position I played, I would joke, “left out.” About 25 years after I graduated I walked in the high school with my oldest daughter, Megan. Amost immediately I saw one of the assistant football coaches, Mr Malhorn. He glared and instantly said, “Mr. Outside…wow, Come see Coach Kuklick, he’ll get a kick out of seeing you.” Mr. Outside was my nickname based on my less than sterling skills as a running back. I could not believe the coaches recognized me after the passage of so many years.
Above is picture of my high school stadium that was new when I was sitting on the bench, more than 45 years ago. The spartan image was ever present during those years. At the lower right is head Coach Al Black who engineered a perfect season in fall of 1970.
Back to present day, the photo at the left is me at the Spartan statue that is by the entrance to the futbol stadium that is on the outskirts of present day Sparta. As Marcia and I were taking this picture a Greek tourist asked us if knew what the inscription meant. He said it translates as “Come and Take” and was a taunt that Spartans used. He explained it dared the enemy to die trying to take Sparta. My new Greek friend also posed next to the statue. Eventually, I took a picture of him and his wife in front the statue. According to Wikipedia, Molon labe (Greek: μολὼν λαβέ molṑn labé), means “come and take [them]”, and is a classical expression of defiance. According to Herodotus, when the Persian armies demanded that the Greeks surrender their weapons at the Battle of Thermopylae, King Leonidas I responded with this phrase.