Monday, October 11, 2010

The 24 hour rule, the Peloponnesian War, and an Oracle.

I have this rule at work about what I do when someone sends me an email that sends me into a near apoplectic fit.

1). I resolve that I will not respond for 24 hours if at all feasible, or 12, or 1 hour as the situation warrants.

2). If I can, I will write out the angry response I want to write in Word, and then immediately delete it and close Word.

This has the advantage of getting everything off my mind that could be unfortunate before actually responding. So trust me to say that there was an epic post that went into the digital ether on Saturday night. I don't remember much of it, but I do know that there was a point where Dave, my college roommate and Michigan football partner in crime, and I were contemplating how cathartic the actions of certain Central/South American or Serbian "ultras" must feel at soccer games and we'll leave it at that.

It was a little later that I was struck by the story of the Peloponnesian War. The brief version of it was that for most of the 5th Century BC, Athens had leveraged its power into protecting the other Greek city-states, earning tribute from them and in turn had used it to build up temples and public works. It set forth the attitude that it was the greatest, the finest, and that it always won. Then, in 430 BC, a plague struck Greece, hitting Athens harder than any other city-state, killing anywhere for one-third to two-thirds of the population of Athens and their longtime leader, Pericles. Pericles had been a long time defensive strategist, a conservative who would rather force the enemy into making a mistake, but with him gone the Athenians now went for a bolder strategy, bringing in a clever new general who tried audacious new strategies. The Athenian population was excited but concerned, the Spartan leadership was staunch, the best it had been in decades and the Athenians were divided over whether the new general could win. It was not until the Athenians decided to get involved with Syracuse that the Athenians reached the point of no return and the Spartans would conquer the hated Athenians.

Now, it kind of falls apart from there. We could talk about how the Spartans repeatedly offered terms of peace to the Athenians, but the Athenians were too proud to accept them. We could talk about how Athens would be come to be ruled by the Thirty Tyrants as a reaction to their defeat, only to see democracy quickly restored. We could talk about how the Spartans were eventually humbled by the Thebans at the Battle of Leuctra thirty years later. We could talk about how Athens and Sparta were both eventually conquered by Philip II of Macedon. But these parallels fall apart. The reality is, for the third straight year, Michigan can only see that it lost to Michigan State. It can only see that Michigan State had an exceptional game plan, executed it to a T, and forced Michigan in to making mistakes. Michigan is left to stare at its glorious temple on a hill, dedicated to those who have protected the citizens for years, looking for signs from an oracle, and wondering if we are interpreting the ambiguous garbled messages correctly, or if what the holy man told us was only what we wanted to hear.

What I do know is that for the Athenians, the temple is still there on a hill, a glorious ruin of what once was, one of the true wonders of their Classical Age. For the Spartans, their legacy is a bunch of CGI abdominal muscles and kicking foreign diplomats into a bottomless pit in the center of their civilization. The side upon which you fall on this debate tells you all you need to know about yourself. Because the Oracle can't tell you anything. Even about the 3-3-5.

1 comment:

Old Alto said...

I don't know how true this is, but the story is that MSU picked the Spartans as their mascot because UofM was equated to Athens. Therefore, they picked the Athenians' rivals.

-Other Craig