I’m Moving to Athens, Sparta Cramps My Style

I would prefer to live as an Athenian.  As an avowed pacifist, my normal tendency would be to automatically select the least warlike society, which seems to be Athenian.  Of course, they did engage in war with other city-states, but weren’t forced to start their combat training while still children.  Spartan society, on the other hand, was too draconian in its approach to preparing the young for war.  Starting at an age from 8 to 12, Spartan boys were forced to participate in cruel training practices and inhumane trials of fighting.  At age 24, they were then drafted to be front-line soldiers.  Talk about not having a childhood!  For boys and men, they spent their whole lives preparing for and making war.  Add to this the sexual abuse perpetrated upon them by their “mentors” and one could expect to get a potentially violent and sexually confused young man.  It just seems to be a life of hardship and deprivation.  Maybe not as much for the women, though.  But I have to answer this question as a man.
And as far as how women were treated in Sparta, there is much I would not condone.  The fact that newlywed brides were only given two weeks to become pregnant seems demanding and that they were compelled to sleep with other men if conception did not take place within that time frame sounds like a recipe for domestic disaster, at least in any contemporary sense.
As for aspects of Athenian culture that seem attractive to me, there are many.  For starters, their culture was dedicated to the enrichment of life through arts, music and cultural traditions.  They were also superior to the Spartans, architecturally-speaking.  The Acropolis in Athens is the “crown jewel” of the Greek Classic Age and it has no counterpart in Spartan pantheon.  So in this city-state, I see much more of an emphasis of arts and humanities, as opposed to warfare.

The Athenians were responsible for developing the basis of democracy.  And at this time, this was a radical departure from the sociological norms of an ascendant civilization.  The Chief Magistrate Solon also freed slaves, permitted exiles to return and abolished enslavement of debtors.  Under the Greek law of the time, slaves were also allowed to earn money, so that they could eventually buy their freedom.  This sort of reform was also very progressive for this period in history.  This seems to be the formation of a prototypical government system of checks-and-balances.  And although Athens, under Pericles, became once more subject to imperialistic government, the seeds of democracy and collective decision-making had taken root.
There is one aspect of Spartan society that seems superior to Athenian society, in my book.  It seems that Spartan women were raised to be more independent and assertive than their Athenian counterparts, giving them more freedom.  However, because most marriages were arranged in Sparta, the liberties given to the Spartan women did not extend into this realm of self-determination.
For both men and women in Sparta, the socio-cultural expectations were set really high.  Men were born to fight and women were born to breed.  Everything undertaken by a family or an individual was a sacrifice, or at least expected to be a tribute, to the state.  Ultimately, this is the reason that I would have preferred Athenian society to Spartan society; Athenian society had much more respect and consideration for the individual’s rights.  It gave its citizens much richer lives, as Athenian society emphasized arts and other forms of creativity, while Spartan society emphasized a strict obedience to the doctrine of the city-state and constantly keeping its citizens in a siege mentality.  Athens was a more relaxed place to live and raise a family, or just pursue one’s own inclinations.

It was not just another day

It was not just another day.

Strolling through Pahoa, the day’s errands completed, I considered dropping into the new café in town.  I really had no desire for anything in particular; I wasn’t hungry nor felt the need for coffee or any other refreshment for that matter.  Maybe it was the prospect of seeing a friend, named Kili, who works there.  Because of an impromptu meeting regarding the open mic night with the owner of the establishment that I had had some weeks ago, I was also vaguely inclined to drop in to touch base with him.  Little did I know that by going in I would meet someone who would leave an indelible mark upon me.

Shortly after walking in, I was greeted by the lone employee, who was playing guitar.  He then asked me about my hitchhiking sign, which I use regularly.  On one side is written in big black letters “UH Hilo” and on the other side is the name of the subdivision where I live “Black Sands”.  I was then asked by one of the patrons, a comely young woman, if I was indeed headed to Black Sands, and if I was, could she accompany me.  She asserted that she could aid in my efforts to secure a ride simply because she was wearing a purple garment.  I replied in the affirmative and thus began my friendship with Kali Ma.

She offered me some homemade kava drink, to which I complied.  She poured it into a coconut shell cup and handed it to me.  She was very outgoing and talkative and thus a conversation of sorts followed.  She told me a little about herself.  As it turned out, we both hailed from the same region of Maryland.  After a few minutes, I could tell that she was intelligent, idealistic and (reasonably) sane.  I began to look forward to the time we would be spending together, following our impromptu agreement.

About 15 minutes after I had first entered the café, we were on our way to the highway, and after about a mere 5 minutes of standing by the side of the road, we were picked up by a very nice older gentleman that also lived in Black Sands.  As it turned out, the black sands that Kali Ma was headed for was not my subdivision, but simply a black-sand beach some miles from where I reside.  We had a very enjoyable ride with this man but I was slightly saddened because I figured that Kali Ma and I would soon part ways.  I nervously asked her if she would like to visit my place, and after a moment’s indecision, she agreed.

Once we arrived at my place, we got comfortable on my porch, and I opened a beer for us to share.  And this was when we really got to know each other.

This woman genuinely fascinated me.  She could converse on a wide variety of topics and could cite authors from numerous works.  She was a fount of anecdotal references.  Her persona was somewhat of the beleaguered warrior-woman; Kali Ma explained some of the challenging, and at times torturous aspects of her self-imposed training.  The explanations she offered regarding the path she had chosen were brutally self-honest; I thought to myself ‘maybe this woman is a Bodhisattva and was sent to help me awaken myself.’  Such magical thoughts fleeted through my mind while becoming captivated with this woman.

As it turns out, Kali Ma had several names.  Katherine is her birth name, but she also went by Kateri.  I ended up calling her Katey.

I always thought that was a really cute name.  And Katey is pretty cute.  She’s about 5’4”, brunette and has luminous eyes, which are a sublime mix of brown, blue and maybe a little green.  They are playful eyes, refulgent eyes.  Anyway, I thought she was beautiful.  Back to the story.

So we just hung out on my front porch for hours, discussing a wide range of topics.  Katey liked to talk, yet she was also a good listener.  But whatever we talked about, at times it just didn’t matter; Katey was emanating this underlying commitment to love.  Maybe not towards me, but just to love in general.  A strong believer in the healing power of love, Katey is.  Say what you want about raw idealism but it’s inspiring to encounter someone who’s really trying to live by the Rule of Love.

She was a truly bohemian soul yet she seemed so driven.  She was passionate about self-discovery and didn’t hesitate to reveal details about herself that most women would be more discreet about.  I laughed inwardly as it occurred to me that I could only someday hope to be as forthcoming as this woman was.  Some of her regaling was bluster, but I could tell this was a brave woman, if for no other reason than because she had come thus far on this little journey-d-jour without any footwear.

 

We talked and shared long into the afternoon.  As the sun was about to set, I told Katey that she was welcome to stay the night if she liked.  I also offered to walk her down to the highway if she was inclined to leave.  She said she needed to go.
After escorting her to highway, we made some remarks to one another about how much we enjoyed meeting.  I kissed her briefly; it was a clumsy and tentative kiss but mutual.

She crossed the road and waved goodbye.